Ding Liren defeats Boris Gelfand 3-1

by Albert Silver
7/21/2015 – Match of generations, or call it what you like, the match between young Ding Liren versus Boris Gelfand was a contrast in styles, which nearly always promises a thrilling game. Held in Wenzhou, China, parallel to the high-profile Russia-China match a four-game confrontation took place between China's top-rated Ding Liren versus Israeli legend Boris Gelfand, and it did not disappoint.

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On paper the match was as balanced as could be, with Boris Gelfand rated 2751 to Ding Liren's 2749 Elo, but that is where the similarities ended. Boris Gelfand has been a force to reckon with since the late 1990s, having stormed through the world championship cycle in 1993, beating Adams and Kramnik in matches, only to succumb to Karpov in the final match. Nearly 20 years later, in 2012, he fought his way to earn the right to challenge Anand for the world title. Although he entered this match handicapped slightly by age, since at age 47 he is more than twice his opponent's 22 years, his incomparable match experience had to be an equalizer.

Boris Gelfand also gave simuls to the many young fans in China

Ding Liren has been on the rise for some time, having won the Chinese Championship three times before he was even 20, but had trouble shining when he played outside his home country. That all changed for good when he helped his team win the Gold medal at the Tromso Olympiad in 2014 for a historic victory, and in the beginning of 2015, when he was one of the stars of Wijk aan Zee with his incredibly entertaining King's Indian wins.

The match was held in Wenzhou, China, a city whose name translates to "a mild and pleasant land", and derives its name from its climate, as it is neither extremely hot in summer nor extremely cold in the winter. It is a modest metropolitan city, by Chinese standards, with a population of three million people (2010 census), and the locale was the Overseas Chinese Hotel, a five-star establishment.

The start of the match and game one

The first two games showed the players like two boxers, feinting, observing and trying to spot any immediately obvious weaknesses. Game one was a King's Indian played by Ding Liren, just as the doctor prescribed, with Gelfand choosing the 9.b4 AKA "Bayonet" variation. White decided to simply shove his queenside pawns, innovating with 11.a4, but Black fought back on the same side, and his active rooks and powerful drak-squared bishop were enough to hold the balance.

Game two was a demonstration of just how well-prepared both players were. Gelfand chose a Gruenfeld, for which Ding was clearly ready, and they both rattled off 17 moves in ten minutes. Until then it was all well-known, and it was a position Cuban GM Dominguez had reached twice in 2014 with a draw at the end. Gelfand seemed uncomfortable for whatever reason, and continuously took off his jacket and put it back on shortly after. After the players shook hands on move 25, he requested a rest day before resuming the next rounds, but the schedule had already been set, and only five days were allotted for the match, the fifth day being for a tiebreaker should the need arise. His request was denied, a fact he was reluctant to accept.

Gelfand strolls, lost in thought. Time management issues would come to bite him.

Having been unable to achieve anything in game one with the King's Indian, the Chinese player showed he had more than one trick up his sleeve and pulled out the Slav defense as his alternate. This clearly caught the Israeli off-guard as he began to consume a great amount of time on the clock, and after ten moves was already 30 minutes behind. Ding Liren chose to use this to his advantage, and explained after the game that he had tried to play a little faster in order to put pressure on his opponent.  "After 30 moves he was very uncomfortable because of time trouble", he added. Gelfand replied by playing for a risky attack on the kingside, but this did not go well and after precise play by Black, it was repelled and he was lost. He put up stiff resistance, but was unable to save the game, and resigned after 75 moves.

[Event "Ding Liren - Gelfand 2015"] [Site "Wenzhou CHN"] [Date "2015.07.18"] [Round "3"] [White "Gelfand, Boris"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D30"] [WhiteElo "2751"] [BlackElo "2749"] [PlyCount "150"] [EventDate "2015.07.16"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Bd6 6. Nc3 O-O 7. Bg5 c6 8. Bg2 h6 {Although officially a Catalan, the opening left the main lines of theory a while ago. This is the official novelty.} 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. O-O Bc7 11. e3 Nd7 12. Qe2 Qe7 13. Rfd1 Nf6 14. e4 dxc4 15. e5 Nd5 16. Qxc4 Rd8 17. Ne4 a5 18. Rac1 Bd7 19. a3 Be8 20. Ne1 b6 21. Nd3 (21. Nf3 {was worth considering. While it might seem like a waste of time, having just left f3, the position has already changed. From e1 it might have played Nd3-c5, but b6 has been played. After Nf3, White might instead play Qc2/e2 followed by Nfd2-c4 and possibly d6. }) 21... Rac8 22. Qc2 Qf8 23. Qe2 Ne7 24. Ne1 Nf5 25. Nf3 Qe7 26. Rc3 Qf8 27. h4 Ne7 28. Rcc1 {White is already anticipating Black's Nd5 so that not only is his rook not attacked, but so that he can challenge the knight with Nc3.} Bb8 29. Qa6 Nd5 30. Nc3 Nxc3 31. Rxc3 Bc7 32. Rdc1 Rb8 33. Qe2 b5 34. Rd3 Bb6 { White has been unable to really develop any play of his own, spending more time countering Black's options and as a result his advantage has completely evaporated. Karpovian prophylaxy is valuable, but the difference is that when Karpov did this, somehow the opponent suddenly found himself lost, wondering what had happened.} 35. Rcd1 Qe7 36. g4 {White seems unsure what to do now, and under serious time trouble opts for an all-out attack. This is a very risky decision for a number of reason, not least of which is to deliberately complicate the position with far less time to work out the calculations than the opponent. This choice is highly dubious.} c5 37. g5 c4 38. R3d2 h5 39. g6 f6 40. Ng5 $6 (40. Qe4 {was simpler, with the idea} f5 41. Qe2 Bxg6 42. Ng5 $1 {followed by d5!}) 40... Bxg6 41. Be4 Bxe4 42. Nxe4 fxe5 43. Qxh5 Bxd4 44. Ng5 {It is pretty clear that either White reaps something from this attack, if only equality, or it is all over} Qf6 45. Qh7+ Kf8 46. Qe4 Ke7 47. Qc6 Qf5 48. Re1 Rdc8 49. Qg2 Rd8 50. Qc6 Rb6 51. Qg2 g6 52. Nf3 b4 53. axb4 axb4 54. Rde2 c3 55. bxc3 Bxc3 56. Nxe5 Bxe1 57. Rxe1 b3 58. Nc6+ Rxc6 59. Qxc6 Rd2 60. Qc7+ Kf8 61. Qc8+ Kf7 62. Qc7+ Kg8 63. Qb8+ Kg7 64. Qg3 Rc2 65. Qe3 b2 66. Qa7+ Kh6 67. Qe3+ Kh5 68. Kg2 e5 69. Qa7 Kh6 70. Qe3+ Qf4 71. Qxf4+ exf4 72. Rb1 Kh5 73. Kf3 Kxh4 74. Rh1+ Kg5 75. Rb1 Rd2 0-1

The final game in which only a draw was needed to win the match, but Ding Liren fought for the win

Round four saw Gelfand choose the Semi-Slav as his must-win opening, but again he fell victim to time issues. Ding Liren repeated his strategy to play faster in order to pressure his rival, and it worked well as he found himself with a full hour more time by move 30. "There was a chance of a repetition", Ding Liren recalled, "but on move 35 I found a way to still fight for a win. White is at no risk, and Black will struggle to draw, so i continued fighting." This explanation was not without point since a draw was all that as needed to secure the match win.

[Event "Ding Liren - Gelfand 2015"] [Site "Wenzhou CHN"] [Date "2015.07.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2749"] [BlackElo "2751"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2015.07.16"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bxc4 b5 10. Bd3 Bb7 11. a3 h6 12. Rd1 a6 13. b4 a5 14. Rb1 axb4 15. axb4 Nd5 16. Nxd5 exd5 17. Bh7+ Kh8 18. Bf5 Re8 19. Bd2 Nb6 20. Ne5 Bxe5 21. dxe5 Rxe5 22. Bc3 Re8 23. Ra1 Qe7 24. Bd4 Nc4 25. Qc3 Qg5 26. Bc2 Kg8 27. Rxa8 Rxa8 28. Ra1 Rxa1+ 29. Qxa1 Qg4 $2 {Time trouble already shows its ugly head.} (29... Nd6 30. h3 (30. Qa7 {is not a problem.} Qd8 $1 $11)) 30. h3 Qe2 $2 ( 30... Qg5) 31. Bf5 Nd6 (31... Nd2 $1 {chaining the white queen to the back rank to avoid ...Qe1+ and Nf1+}) 32. Bg4 Qd2 33. Qa7 h5 $4 {and in four short moves, all played in time trouble, Black is now dead lost. Ding Liren later opined that Gelfand's poor time management was probably decisive in the final score.} 34. Qb8+ Kh7 35. Bxh5 $4 {White's desire to pressure Black on the clock nearly backfires. The rule of thumb is to not try to play at the saem speed as your opponent who is in time trouble, for the obvious reason: If you play as quickly, you are giving up your advantage of extra thinking time. Instead punish your opponent with better moves!} (35. Qf8 $1 {threatening mate on g7.} f6 36. Be6 Ne4 (36... Qxb4 37. Bf5+ {threatens the same mate pattern as in the main line.} Nxf5 38. Qxb4) 37. Bf5+ Kh6 38. Qh8+ Kg5 39. Bxe4 dxe4 40. Qxg7+ Kf5 41. Qxf6#) 35... Ne4 36. Qf4 Qe1+ 37. Kh2 Qxf2 38. Bxf7 Qxf4+ 39. exf4 {Thankfully for White's sanity, the game should still win in the endgame.} Nd6 40. Be6 Bc8 41. Bxc8 Nxc8 42. Bc5 {This knight on the rim doesn't get any dimmer, unable to move a single square.} Kg6 43. g4 Kf7 44. f5 Kf6 45. h4 Ke5 46. h5 d4 47. Kg3 1-0

This final victory meant not only winning the match by an impressive 3-1 score, but also earning 10 Elo, taking his rating to 2759, just six Elo short of taking over Aronian in 10th place.Ding Liren won US$20 thousand for his match victory, while Boris Gelfand left with US$10 thousand.

Photos by dsb.66wz

CCTV did a small report on the match


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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daftarche daftarche 7/23/2015 12:39
if i want to speculate, fatigue is not the first thing that comes into my mind.
firstly he had played only two games. this guy is playing in top tournaments regularly and in top tournaments you usually have a rest day after four games in a row. secondly an exprienced pro like Gelfand don't ask for a rest day just because he feels tired. probably he suddenly felt ill and asked for a rest day to recover.
AzingaBonzer AzingaBonzer 7/22/2015 05:51

I didn't say they should have granted his request, I just said I was wondering how he would have done if it had been granted.

@The D M G:

Age is a particularly salient factor in competitive sports. Now, you might argue that chess isn't a sport per se, but it's doubtlessly true that concentration for hours on end wears on the nerves (remember that guy who died at the Tromso Olympiad?), and late 40's/early 50's are usually when the brain starts to deteriorate.
The D M G The D M G 7/22/2015 01:17
Man, we talk about this guy (Gelfand) as if he's a toothless bald wreck. He's only 47 fer chris sakes!!! Not the personification of decrepitude... I'm 44 and I'm definitely fitter than a lot of 20 yr olds I know, so lets get that age thing into perspective please!!!
daftarche daftarche 7/22/2015 11:00
fatigue is unlikely after two games. besides fatigue is part of professional sport. a professional don't ask organizers to change schedule just because he is tired.
AzingaBonzer AzingaBonzer 7/22/2015 06:27

Probably issues with fatigue. Age does take its toll. I wonder if Gelfand would have done better during his last two games if his request had been granted...
guest1227491 guest1227491 7/22/2015 01:57
What was the problem for which Gelfand requested a rest day?