Ding Liren through the microscope

by Nagesh Havanur
11/30/2019 – Grandmaster Ding Liren needs no introduction. The young, unassuming talent from China has fans all over the world. He particularly distinguishes himself in blitz games. In the just concluded Tata Steel India Tournament, he beat Carlsen twice and came third after Nakamura and the world champion in the blitz event. PROF NAGESH HAVANUR takes a closer look at some of his games. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Enhancing the latest ChessBase Magazine

My friend Max and I were "leafing" through the latest issue of ChessBase Magazine.

"A couple of Ding Liren games that I wanted to see aren't here," he remarked.

"Maybe they would find their way in the next issue," I replied, wondering about my friend’s sudden interest in Ding Liren.

"How many of his games are here in this issue?"

"There are 29 games, one with Yu Yangyi from the World Cup annotated by Anish Giri. Would that satisfy you?"

"Yes and no. You are going to review this magazine. Give me more of Ding Liren, will you?"

"I can’t write on games of one player in this issue. It is not fair to other players." I mildly protested.

Finally, we reached a compromise. I would oblige my friend and Ding Liren fans with more of his games here, but would return to games by other players and the rest of the magazine later.

The current issue of ChessBase Magazine includes games from three important events, the Sinquefield Cup, the FIDE World Cup and the Russian Championship Superfinal. Ding Liren figures in two of them. First comes the Sinquefield Cup on our list. Remember: the world champion himself was playing.

Ding Liren stops Magnus

For starters, Magnus did not do badly in the main event. His second, Peter Heine Nielsen, has annotated his victories over Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in this issue. The world champion’s problem was that he got bogged down by draws. The score (+2 -0 =9) speaks for itself. By then Ding Liren had caught up with him, forcing a tie-break match. The first two games ended in draws and the third, a long battle, broke Carlsen’s back. He lost on time. So it was imperative for him to win the last game. It was not to be…

The first three games of the play-off were recapped by Venkatachalam Saravanan in his final report from Saint Louis. Now for the last game:

 

As with every Grand Chess Tour event, you can also watch the game with commentary by Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley. 

One player who finished right behind Carlsen and Ding Liren was Anand. The former world champion plays steady chess and maintains good form. Importantly, he has a philosophical attitude, taking both victory and defeat in the same stride. That attitude was shaken in this tournament, as he missed winning chances in as many as four games.

One of them was with Ding Liren. This game is included in the magazine. Readers would do well to analyse it on their own before they turn to an interesting commentary by Albert Silver with the help of Fat Fritz. Will this new program set the paradigm for game annotations? I wonder.

Anyway, now we come to Ding Liren’s performance in the FIDE World Cup. 

The gladiator contest

This was a gladiator contest with as many as 128 players from 47 countries participating. Only Carlsen, Anand and Caruana were not playing. The participants included Aronian, Ding Liren, Gelfand, Grischuk, Karjakin, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, Radjabov, Vachier-Lagrave and Yu Yangyi, among others. It was a terrifying spectacle and a nightmare for participants. As player after player went down in duels, spectators wondered, "How the mighty have fallen!"

This tournament has been called a monster contest and a brutal competition. Those who survived the ordeal regarded it as a near-death experience. Ding Liren eliminated Movesian and Alekseenko till he met Alexander Grischuk in the fifth round.

The first of their encounters is included in this magazine. At the time it was played, it aroused enormous public interest due to Grischuk's 14th move, one that was not immediately approved by the engines.

I suspect both players were tired after their effort in this game, and when the second game began, both wanted to win without overstepping the line of risk. Here is what happened:

 

Ding Liren

Ding Liren interviewed during the World Cup | Photo: FIDE

Radjabov stops Ding Liren

So the score between the two was 1½:½ and Grischuk was eliminated. Meanwhile Teimour Radjabov had risen, beating Sjugirov and Mamedyarov, among others. In the semi-finals, Ding Liren met Yu Yangyi and Radjabov sat opposite Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. While Radjabov managed to beat the Frenchman just in two games with a win and a draw, it took longer for Ding Liren. After three hard-fought draws he managed to beat his rival in the fourth game. Both the decisive games in this semi-final round were annotated by Anish Giri in this edition of the magazine.

This brings us to the final clash of the World Cup, Teimour Radjabov versus Ding Liren.
All the ten games of this tumultuous struggle are given in this issue. It was the last but one game that broke Ding Liren's spirit. Time and again he missed a draw in the ending.

Now Radjabov led by one point. Nevertheless, Ding Liren went down fighting in the last game:

 

A tense battle! It was the player with the stronger nerves who prevailed in the end. Radjabov deserves the victory on his return to international competition. As for Ding Liren, it was a great disappointment to come second once again in this competition. But then this is not the end of the world for him. For the young there is always a Tomorrow.

Ding Liren, Teimour Radjabov

It was a thrilling final in Khanty-Mansiysk | Photo: FIDE

I trust I have satisfied Ding Liren fans, and the games here should serve as a complement to their study of ChessBase Magazine. I do intend to return to the performance of other players and the rest of the magazine in a subsequent article. Watch this space.

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Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for more than two decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.
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Jayarama Iyer Jayarama Iyer 12/2/2019 04:54
Incredible Chinese.
Will we be saying, "World Champion Ding Liren" soon?
chessgod0 chessgod0 12/1/2019 04:45
The only man with a chance to beat Magnus.
amarpan amarpan 11/30/2019 07:48
Thanks to Nagesh, long overdue to run a report on Ding Liren. There is a decent chance that the next world championship will be between Ding and Carlsen.
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