FIDE World Cup 2017: Why didn't So sacrifice an exchange?

by Sagar Shah
9/20/2017 – Wesley So showed some excellent technique in the queenless middlegame to completely outplay his Chinese opponent Ding Liren. On the 40th move Ding made a mistake which gave Wesley an opportunity to sacrifice the exchange and torture his opponent for the rest of the game. Wesley had seen the move, yet did not play it. We try to find the reason why the American GM missed this opportunity. Aronian could not show anything concrete against MVL's Grunfeld and the players quickly agreed to a draw. Game analysis, pictures and exciting videos from Tbilisi. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The Art of the Positional Exchange Sacrifice The Art of the Positional Exchange Sacrifice

The positional exchange sacrifice is one of the most powerful and fascinating strategic weapons in chess. On this DVD Sergey Tiviakov explains why the positional exchange sacrifice is such a strong weapon and how to use it.


Two draws at the Semi-finals

World Cup

The Hualing hotel is unusually empty. Only four players are left at the event. The number of journalists and media is also not very high. Six days ago, a playing hall that had 16 players, is now now down to just two tables. Although the number of people has diminished, the intensity and importance of every move has increased manifold. At the end of two days of classical chess and one day of tiebreaks (if required) we will have two players qualified for the Candidates 2018. Who will the be? According to the polls we had in our previous article, there is little distance between MVL and Aronian. But in the case of Wesley So and Ding Liren, our readers definitely think that the former is a big favourite.

The guard outside the playing hall doesn't recognize Wesley So!

So vs Ding

Wesley So and Ding Liren, one of these guys will play in the Candidates for the first time in their life in 2018! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

If people thought So was a favourite, they were right, at least from the way the first game progressed. It was a Guioco Piano where things were around equal after the first 15 moves. Wesley then found an interesting idea:


Black should have let the queen be. But instead Ding exchanged the queens and allowed White some clear plans to improve his position.


White's next plan was to get the rook from e1 to a1 and then shift his f3 knight from e1 to c2 and prepare the b4 break. Not feeling good about these moves, Ding went for ...a4. Now Ra1 can always be met with ...Nb3, but the a4 pawn surely becomes weak.


This was a very strong move, but also a very interesting decision. Usually when you make such important decisions you would like to have time on your clock. But So didn't make any waiting moves to reach the 40th move mark. He just played the best move in the position and was confident about his chances.


The error couldn't have come at a worse time for Ding. 40 moves had just been completed and So had 30 minutes on his clock. Of course, Wesley had seen the best move in the position, but did not execute it. He played Kc3 and Liren found all the accurate moves needed to ensure a draw. The question is, could White have sacrificed an exchange on b3 and played for a win? I ask this question in the video below:

Million dollar question: Was Wesley So winning or not?

Update: The million dollar question has been solved! The win has been found for White. But not with the move 43.Kc3, but 43.Rg8! Check the analysis below our interview with Ding.


When I went for dinner I let my engine run, and when I came back I was confident about the evaluation of most of the variations as you can see from the depth of the engine.


It is pretty easy to look at active moves like Rg7 for White here, or Nxf6. But what is not simple to see is 41.Kc3! The idea: don't let Black establish both his rooks on the seventh rank. However, during the game prophylactic moves often go unnoticed. Later when I told this move to Ding, he was unaware about it and was very surprised that it existed. But within a fraction of a second he realized its strength. Wesley in his interview with press officer Anastasiya Karlovich said that he had seen the move Kc3, but thought it was not so easy to win. Perhaps objectively 41.Kc3 might not be 100% winning, but it gives White a risk free position and a chance to play for only two results. An opportunity that was surely missed by So.

Ding Liren speaks to us after the game

I have tried to analyze the critical moments of the game in quite some depth and I now share my analysis with you:

Update, September 20th: ChessBase readers  especially Mark S helped in finding the truth of the position and 43.Rg8! instead of 43.Kc3 - a prophylactic move which I thought was very strong. Here's the updated analysis. 


A relieved Ding Liren after the game | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Ding Liren knows that he was very close to defeat. But now he has the white pieces and in the last two matches (against Wang Hao and Richard Rapport) he has been absolutely ruthless when he has had the first move. Wesley will have to tread carefully against his preparation.

Aronian vs MVL

Levon ties his shoe laces and gets ready for the marathon! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I somehow have the feeling that MVL has good chances in the World Cup format against Levon Aronian. Two things work in MVL's favour: strong nerves and more energy. If there is one thing that Aronian has a clear edge over his opponent, it would be superior opening preparation. Levon usually has new ideas up his sleeve. But in the first game his opening preparation was pretty dismal. We will come to it.

Initial moments of game one from the semi-finals

Look at Aronian's clock! They have played 23 moves and he has seven minutes more than what they started off with!

Looking at the clock one might think that Aronian had prepared everything from the white side of the Grunfeld. As it turned out, there was hardly anything to worry for Black. In fact at some point it felt as if White simply had no chances. The two queenside pawns were just too strong and it wouldn't be inappropriate to call this highly unsuccessful home preparation by Aronian.

MVL had no difficulties in holding the balance and drew without any issues. After the game he said, "I had looked at this line earlier this morning. I just didn't understand what Levon was trying to achieve. I had this game against Nisipeanu where both of us played the same line, but with the inclusion of the move ...h6. So I am well versed with the theoretical updates in this line." 

MVL and Levon are good friends | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Levon has the unique style of making his move with one hand and writing with the other! How do you like his green coloured shirt! Photo: Amruta Mokal


Tactic Toolbox Grünfeld

The most effective, timeproven way to develop tactical abilities, imagination, and the ability to calculate variations, is practice. The 69 exercises on this DVD are taken from grandmaster games and show tactical ideas that are typical for the Grünfeld.

MVL's coach at the event Etienne Bacrot said that Maxime could have made his opponent's life tougher with some accurate play, but the evaluation (0.00) would not have changed much | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave speaks about his game with Levon Aronian: "I just didn't understand what was going on!"

Expectations and Statistics

(click to enlarge)

38 games: 10 wins for MVL, 7 wins for Aronian and 21 draws (including one today)

In the past whenver Maxime has opened his game with 1.e4, Levon has replied with 1...e5. The players have played eight games in the Ruy Lopez. In their last encounter MVL went for 3...Bc4. This led to a win for the French grandmaster in the London Chess Classic. The chances of us seeing Giuoco Piano tomorrow is pretty high. I have a feeling that Aronian wil be able to hold it with the black pieces tomorrow against MVL. If the match does go into the tiebreaks the younger of the two — Maxime Vachier Lagrave will surely have an edge. 


(Click or tap to enlarge)

17 games: 2 wins for Wesley So, 2 wins for Ding Liren with 13 draws (including round one here)

It's very interesting to note that the first game that So and Ding played with each other was way back in 2004 at the World under-12 Championships in Heraklion. Ding won that encounter. The next time they sat opposite each other was in the first round of FIDE World Cup 2011 in Khanty Mansiysk. Both of them had a rating of around 2650. So managed to clinch that match as he won the first game of the rapid tiebreaks. In 2015 Wesley scored another win over Liren at the Bilbao Masters. In 2016 the pair played four game match in Shanghai. Ding was able to win that match 2½-1½. 

The Chinese player likes to open his games with 1.d4 and there are high chances that we might see Catalan in action tomorrow. Who do you think will win?


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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