- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Confirming his status as one of the hottest players in the world right now, Chinese super-GM Ding Liren has captured the four-player FIDE Grand Chess Tour tournament in London, besting a field that included Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen and French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The highest-rated Chinese player in history, Ding captured the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis in August (beating Carlsen in a playoff) and punched his ticket to the 2020 candidates’ cycle with a second-place finish at the FIDE World Cup in October. The 27-year-old Ding now must be considered a prime contender to challenge for Carlsen’s crown late next year.

Ding’s first win in the finals over “MVL” is a little painful to annotate, as White dismantles a Botvinnik English set-up for Black that I have always liked. Black gets a solid position and even a space advantage out of the opening, but the Chinese star skillfully picks at his opponent’s position on both wings.

By 26. Bf3 Rab8 27. Rae1, Vachier-Lagrave’s b-file pressure is stymied, while his a-pawn is weak and his g7-bishop effectively out of the game. After 36. Rg1 Qd7 37. Qe2 Kh8 38. Ra4 increases White’s positional edge, Black lashes out as his options dwindle, which only opens the game in White’s favor.

Thus: 38…Rxb3?! 39. Rxh4! (much stronger than accepting the exchange, as now the rook joins the kingside assault) Rxc3 40. Rxh3 a4 (the passer looks dangerous, but White’s kingside assault proves much more powerful) 41. e4 Rc2 42. Rh5, when the tricky 42…Rbb2!? 43. exf5 Rxd2 44. Qe3 Nxf5 loses to 45. Rxg7! (and not 45. Rxf5? Nxf5 46. Qg5 Rxf2, when White’s best is only a perpetual with 47. Qh5+ Nh6 48. Qe8+ Ng8) Kxg7 46. Qxh6+ Kg8 47. Qh8+, leading to a quick mate.

Black tries to close down the kingside with 42…f4, but with 43. Qd1!, the queen invites herself to the party on the g-file, with devastating results. It’s over on 47. Be6 a2 48. Rxg7! Kxg7 (Rb1 49. Rg1! Qf8 50. Qg4 a1=Q 51. Rxh6+ Qxh6 52. Qg8 mate) 49. Qg1+ Kf8 50. Rf5+! (careful to the last: 50. Rxh6?? throws the win away after 50…Rb1 51. Rh8+ Ke7 52. Rh7+ Ke8 53. Rh8+ Ke7), and MVL resigned just ahead of 50…Ke8 51. Qg6+ Ke7 52. Qf6+ Ke8 53. Qf8 mate.

Our second game provides a fascinating glimpse two of today’s players back “before they were stars.” At the 2004 World Under-12 Championships in Greece, a 12-year-old Ding squared off against an 11-year-old Wesley So, the Philippine American GM now ranked No. 11 in the world.

The very young So lets his kingside get too loose in this King’s Indian Attack, and the pawn snatch after 10. Nc4! Nxd4?! (0-0 was a saner option here) 11. Bh6! Ne6 12. Bxg7 Nxg7 13. Nd6+ Kf8 14. Qd2 leaves Black unable to castle and with a queenside that will take a long time to unwind.

The deciding battle is short, sharp and a lot of fun: 16. g4! (striking the Black center just as So threatened to consolidate) h6 17. gxf5 gxf5 (see diagram) 18. Bxe4! Rb8 (fxe4 19. Qf4+ Nef5 20. Rhg1! [preventing 20…Qg5, trading queens] Qh4 21. Rg4 Qh5 22. Rxg7! Kxg7 23. Nxf5+ Kh7 24. Rd6, winning) 19. Rhg1 Rh7 20. Qd4! (virtually forcing Black to take the poisoned sacrificial offering) fxe4 21. Qf6+ Kg8 22. Nd5! Nc6 23. Qg6, and the threat of 24. Nf6+ is both deadly and unstoppable. Black resigned.

As one commenter on ChessGames.com remarked, “Ridiculous — imagine seeing two 12-year-olds at the local club playing like this!”

Ding-Vachier-Lagrave, FIDE Grand Chess Tour final, London, December 2019

1. c4 c5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e5 6. O-O Nge7 7. d3 d6 8. a3 a5 9. Rb1 O-O 10. b3 Rb8 11. Bb2 h6 12. Nd2 Be6 13. Nd5 b5 14. e3 Qd7 15. Re1 Bg4 16. Qc2 Rfc8 17. Ne4 Nxd5 18. cxd5 Ne7 19. Nd2 Bh3 20. Bh1 Nf5 21. a4 h5 22. axb5 Rxb5 23. Ra1 h4 24. Bc3 Ra8 25. Ra4 Qd8 26. Bf3 Rab8 27. Rea1 Bh6 28. Re1 Qg5 29. Ne4 Qd8 30. Ra3 Ne7 31. Nd2 Nf5 32. Qd1 Bg7 33. g4 Nh6 34. Kh1 f5 35. gxf5 gxf5 36. Rg1 Qd7 37. Qe2 Kh8 38. Ra4 Rxb3 39. Rxh4 Rxc3 40. Rxh3 a4 41. e4 Rc2 42. Rh5 f4 43. Qd1 Rbb2 44. Nc4 a3 45. Bg4 Qd8 46. Nxb2 Rxb2 47. Be6 a2 48. Rxg7 Kxg7 49. Qg1+ Kf8 50. Rf5+ Black resigns.

Ding-So, World Under-12 Championship, Heraklion, Greece, November 2004

1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 Nc6 3. Bg2 g6 4. c3 e5 5. d4 cxd4 6. cxd4 e4 7. Ne5 f5 8. Nc3 Bg7 9. Bf4 Nge7 10. Nc4 Nxd4 11. Bh6 Ne6 12. Bxg7 Nxg7 13. Nd6+ Kf8 14. Qd2 a6 15. O-O-O b5 16. g4 h6 17. gxf5 gxf5 18. Bxe4 Rb8 19. Rhg1 Rh7 20. Qd4 fxe4 21. Qf6+ Kg8 22. Nd5 Nc6 23. Qg6 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

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