FIDE World Cup: Ding Liren reaches a second World Cup final in a row

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/29/2019 – Ding Liren arrived in Khanty-Mansiysk as the top seed and is now set to face Teimour Radjabov in the final match of the 2019 FIDE World Cup. Ding beat his compatriot Yu Yangyi on tiebreaks by drawing game one and getting a win with White in the second 25-minute encounter. Both the final and the match for third place will kick off Monday — the deciding match-ups consist of four classical games and tiebreaks, if necessary. | Photo: FIDE

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No Chinese collusion

The FIDE World Cup is taking place in Khanty-Mansiysk. It is a seven-round knock-out event for 128 players, with a total prize fund of US$ 1.6 million and a first prize of US$ 110,000. The matches consist of two classical games with a time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves plus 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move. The finals consist of four classical games. Full schedule.

There was an argument to be made for the suspicion that the Chinese Federation might have ordered Ding Liren to lose his semi-final match against Yu Yangyi in the World Cup. In that case, the federation would have secured places for two of their representatives in the upcoming Candidates Tournament, as Ding will most likely get the spot reserved to the player with the highest average rating in 2019. That suspicion will be filed under the category of debunked conspiracy theories: Ding beat Yu on tiebreaks and reached his second consecutive World Cup final — he was the runner-up in 2017 after losing against Levon Aronian.

Ding came from winning the Sinquefield Cup and — given the absence of Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana — arrived in Siberia as the rating favourite. Ever since the World Cup has taken place every two years with a more or less unchanging format (since 2005), only Boris Gelfand had started the tournament as favourite and gone on to reach the final — it happened ten years ago, and Gelfand won both the final and the subsequent Candidates Tournament. Ding will need to take down Teimour Radjabov in the final in order to repeat the Israeli's feat. 

Parallel to the final match-up, Yu Yangyi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will be fighting for third place. Not only are US$ 10,000 on the line (third place gets US$ 60,000 and fourth place takes home US$ 50,000) but also the opportunity to improve the odds of getting the wildcard spot in the Candidates, as it is necessary to get third place in the World Cup in order to be considered ['MVL' is already eligible due to his rating, but by beating Yu — who is not yet eligible — he would eliminate a potential wildcard contender. -Ed.]

For Vachier-Lagrave, gaining rating points will also be of great help, as Ding's qualification via the World Cup made Anish Giri the leader in the rating race, with 'MVL' now second in line, seven points behind the Dutchman.

Yu Yangyi

Yu Yangyi will face Maxime Vachier-Lagrave starting Monday | Photo: FIDE

Game 1: Yu's first pawn sacrifice

Apparently, Yu Yangyi decided it was best to play actively if he wanted to defeat his higher-rated compatriot. In game one of the play-offs, he opted for a move that was last played by none other than perennial risk-taker Timur Gareyev.


By playing 8.d5, White allows his opponent to immediately gain a pawn with 8...a5 9.c2 xc4. This sequence set the tone of Saturday's action, as imbalanced struggles were seen in both 25-minute games. After having given up the pawn, Yu needed to play actively and immediately continued with 10.0-0-0

The queens and two sets of minor pieces left the board shortly afterwards. The players went into an ending in which Black is a pawn up but also has a clearly inferior structure:


Ding had plenty of weaknesses, and Yu did not take long to restore material equality. When the compatriots passed the 30-move mark, they did not hesitate to split the point in a dynamically balanced position.


Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi

Friends and rivals — Ding Liren facing Yu Yangyi | Photo: FIDE

Game 2: Ding out-calculates his teammate

It was Ding's turn to play with White, and once again he got his pawn structure wrecked early on. It was all theory though, before Yu deviated from previously trodden paths:


Li Shilong had opted for 13...h6 here against Ivan Cheparinov, while Yu decided to once again give up a pawn with 13...d7. Ding later confessed that he was out of book here, but nevertheless captured the loose pawn with 14.xf5. Yu, on the other hand, kept blitzing out his moves, which means he probably knew that he was supposed to give up an exchange in this line — the game continued 14...f6 15.d3 h6 16.h4 xd5 17.h7+ h8:


White can fork king and rook with 18.g6+, but after 18...xh7 19.xf8+ g8 20.g6 f6 Black is the one with the more active pieces and a clear path to increase the pressure on his rival's position.

The next thirteen moves were a demonstration of top-notch cold-blooded calculation by both contenders. At that point, pieces were hanging all over the place and a host of hidden traps needed to be taken into account at every turn — under such taxing circumstances, Yu was the first one to falter:


As Ding described later, after 33...h4 Yu probably only considered 34.♕xh4 ♛xh4 35.♘xh4 ♝e5, missing White's 34.g5, which already gives White a considerable edge. Instead of the text, Black could have opted for the tactical skirmish that would have ensued after 33...♞xg2 or the more human 33...♜xc7.

Surprised by Ding's response, Yu spent over a minute and a half on 34...xc7, which came a move too late and was an even larger mistake than the previous one, as White can now consolidate his material advantage with 35.xb2 xg5 36.xg5


It was a matter of technique from this point on, and Ding only needed seven moves to convince his opponent that it was time to resign. 

Sunday will be a rest day before the four-game match-ups kick off on Monday. Will Ding manage to win it all in his second try? We will find out in less than a week's time.


Post-tiebreaks interview with Ding Liren

Commentary webcast

Commentary by IM Anna Rudolf and GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko

All results


All games from the semi-finals



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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calcomar calcomar 9/30/2019 01:20
@FramiS - True. Thanks for pointing that out! Curiously, if the Candidates were to take place today and Radjabov withdrew, Vachier-Lagrave would get the spot based on ratings anyway (Ding would get the World Cup spot and Giri the rating spot).
Pionki Pionki 9/29/2019 11:29
There's no such thing as "a deserved win". If Ding wins, he wins, if he doesn't, will it mean that the other guy's win was undeserved? Or, to put it another way, if he doesn't win, he would not have been the best.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 9/29/2019 04:04
Anish was certainly very happy to see Ding Liren win a place in the Candidates through the world cup. If not, Ding Liren would certainly have got the place attributable to rating, now almost certainly to be occupied by Anish.

I imagine Anish watching the Yu Yangi-Ding Liren semi-final on a sofa with friends, like people watching sports, shouting: Ding, Ding, Ding!
FramiS FramiS 9/29/2019 12:47
@calcomar ", Radjabov withdrawing from the Candidates — the organizers would likely give that spot (not the wildcard spot) to whoever finishes third in Khanty."

I don't think that you are right because the rules state the followig:
2. 2. If any replacements are needed including due to a withdrawal or a refusal of participation, then the procedure as in Article 2.1.E is applied

2.1 E. 1 place – Highest Average FIDE Rating (Standard Rating Lists, Feb. 2019—Jan. 2020)
One place is reserved for the player with the highest average FIDE rating. For the purpose of deciding the qualifier, the average
ELO rating from the twelve (12) FIDE Standard Rating Lists from February 2019 to January 2020 is used. In the event of a tie, the
average is recalculated to the second decimal place. If the averages are still tied, the player with the greatest total number of rated
games during the period earns the spot. If that player also qualifies via Clauses A, B, C or D or is GM Carlsen, the reserved place is
awarded to the next non-qualifying player (based on the same criteria)

Regulations for the FIDE Candidates Tournament

therefore, I would infer that in case Radjabov withdraws the second player according to the rating list, besides the regular spot, will be awarded a place at the candidates.
drad drad 9/29/2019 11:55
The wildcard spot only exists to entice organizers within a particular country. Because the candidates is in Russia, one would expect that the wildcard will most likely be Nepo, Grischuk or Karjakin.
calcomar calcomar 9/29/2019 11:23
@rokko - You're right. I added a note with your first observation. And there are other possible scenarios not mentioned above:
1) MVL simply qualifying through the Grand Prix.
2) MVL getting the rating spot after Giri wins the Grand Swiss in Isle of Man.
3) As @dsilver70 pointed out, Radjabov withdrawing from the Candidates — the organizers would likely give that spot (not the wildcard spot) to whoever finishes third in Khanty.

There's plenty of unresolved suspense :)
dsilver70 dsilver70 9/29/2019 10:08
What is unclear to me is what will happen if Radjabov withdraws from the Candidates as he hinted he might do? Who will take his spot?
rokko rokko 9/29/2019 09:21
Only Yu needs to win to be eligible as a wildcard - MVL win be eligible as one of the top 10 players. So MVL's only motivation is to eliminate a potential wildcard contender (and Yu might not be the most important anyway, compared to Grischuk, Nepo or Mamedyarov).

As for the rating, there are only three lists left. Thus MVL would have to catch up by 35 points (currently he has +4 and Giri -4). Unless Giri crashes on the Isle of Man this is impossible.
lbtr74aao lbtr74aao 9/29/2019 08:38
he deserve it
Keshava Keshava 9/29/2019 02:25
It will be a great thing if Ding wins the Candidates.