22 May

Chinese Whispers

Napoleon is famously said to have declared, “When China wakes, it will shake the world.” As a nation, China only entered into the international chess arena in the late 1970s, and then went on to dominate the women’s game. But the yardstick in chess is always measured by progress in the men’s (or “open”) game, and recently there they've woke as a nation to win team gold at the 2014 Chess Olympiad - and now there are whispers we could be on the cusp of seeing the first Chinese player to play in the Candidates’ tournament.

After 22...Bc7!

Ding Liren, with a timely last round win over a self-imploding Boris Gelfand, not only edged out Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to become the outright winner of the FIDE Moscow Grand Prix, but more crucially the Chinese No.1 banked the vital extra bonus points as sole winner in what’s now shaping up to be a tight four-horse GP race.

As the sole winner, Ding Liren took the maximum 170 GP-points on offer to suddenly move into contention for one of the two qualifying spots for the Candidates’, as coupled with his 70 points in Sharjah in early March, he’s now in clear second place in the overall standings behind Mamedyarov. And in the process, he’s also now back in the top-10 on the unofficial live rating list.

After Moscow, the top six places in the GP leaderboard stand: 1. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 280-points; 2. Ding Liren, 240; 3. Alexander Grischuk, 211.4; 4. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 211.4; 5. Hikaru Nakamura, 141.4; 6. Hou Yifan, 78.4 - and mathematically now, the chances are that two Candidates’ qualifiers will emerge from the top four grouping.

Ding Liren wins Moscow GP |© worldchess.com

Final Moscow GP standings
1. Ding Liren (China) 6/9; 2. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 5½; 3-9. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Peter Svidler (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Hou Yifan (China) 5; 10-12. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Boris Gelfand (Israel), Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia) 4½; 13-14. Francisco Vallejo Pons (Spain), Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 4; 15-17. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Michael Adams (England), Salem A.R. Saleh (UAE) 3½; 18. Ernesto Inarkiev (Russia) 2½.

GM Boris Gelfand - GM Ding Liren
FIDE Moscow Grand Prix, (9)
Closed Catalan
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 Chess is all about nuances. This retreat with a loss of tempo may surprise many novices, but by enticing White's bishop to d2, the bishop is now placed a little awkward there, and White will also have to lose a tempo soon, having to do something about this. 6.Nf3 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.a4 Another plan is 8.Qc2 Ne4 9.Bf4 c6 10.Nc3 g5 11.Bc1 f5 12.b3 b6 was seen in Nakamura-So from the 2017 US Championship that ended in a draw (30). 8...a5 9.Qc2 c6 10.Na3 Ne4 11.Bf4N Previously seen here has been 11.Be3 - most likely to avoid ...g5, that comes next, similar to the kingside expansion plan adopted by Wesley So against Hikaru Nakamura in the above note. 11...g5 12.Be3 If anything, Gelfand's novelty has backfired on him, as the bishop is forced to retreat to where it should have gone in the first place, and Black has gained what could well be a vital tempo. 12...f5 13.Rad1 Bf6 14.Nb1 Qe7 15.Nc3 b6 Also worthy of consideration was 15...Nd6!? and White will have to do something with his c-pawn - either playing 16.c5 or 16.cxd5 - either of which is a committal move that will help decide how Black continues. 16.Ne5 Nxe5 17.dxe5 Bxe5 18.Bxb6 Not so easy to judge was 18.Nxe4 fxe4 19.c5 bxc5 20.Bxc5 as Black has the simple plan of 20...Bd6!? 21.Bxd6 Qxd6 22.Bxe4 Ra7! where he will have the central control with his pawns and the better prospects for his rooks, such as ...Rb7 attacking down the b-file, or perhaps even ...Raf7 and attacking down the f-file. 18...Qb4 Possibly even sharper was 18...Ra6!? the idea being 19.Bd4 Bxd4 20.Rxd4 Rb6! and suddenly White has serious problems defending the b-pawn, as after b3, Black has ...Ba6 followed by ...Rfb8 and ...Qb7 with heavy pressure down the b-file. 19.Nxe4 fxe4 20.cxd5? It's a double-edged position, and Gelfand inexplicably cracks by pressing the self-destruct button. He had to play 20.Be3! where, admittedly, initially it does look a little awkward for White but, with careful play, he should emerge with equal chances after 20...Qxb2 21.Qxb2 Bxb2 22.Bxg5 Ba6 23.Rd2! Bc3 24.Rc2 Bd4 25.cxd5 cxd5 26.Bh3! Rae8 27.Bg4! Bc4 28.Bh6 Rf6 29.Bg5 and Black has nothing better than ...Rf8 and a repetition of moves. 20...Qxb6 A piece is a piece after all. 21.Qxe4 Qxb2 22.dxc6 Bc7! A nice safety-first approach from Ding Liren, who stops dead in its tracks any possible tricks involving the pawn pushing to c7. The Chinese No.1 probably couldn't believe his good fortune here because, although White has two pawns for the piece, Black has a solid position where the a4-pawn is very vulnerable - and this probably explains why Gelfand reacts as he does now. 23.Rd7?! When you are up against it with the long-term prospects looking grim, sometimes the best hope is to 'mix' the position up a little, hoping to induce panic in your opponent. And faced with the 'best' continuation being 23.Rb1 Qf6! this is just what Gelfand does by opting to go down in flames. 23...Bxd7 24.cxd7 First impressions can be deceptive. I came back to watching this game live after taking a break for about an hour, and initially I just thought White had a winning position here with that big pawn on d7...and then I counted the pieces only to discover that Ding Liren was a whole rook ahead here! 24...Qf6 25.Bh3 Rab8 26.Qxe6+ Gelfand has no other option than to take the queens off, as after 26.Bxe6+ Kg7 Black will be following up with ...Rb4 and ...Bb6 and an easy win, as White's remaining rook is going to be tied down to defending f2. 26...Qxe6 With the queens now off the board, the rest of the game is now just a formality. 27.Bxe6+ Kg7 28.Rc1 Kf6 29.Bg4 Bd8 30.Rc6+ Kg7 31.Bh5 Rb2 32.Rc8 Rd2 33.Be8 Bb6! 34.Rb8 Rf6 35.e3 g4 0-1 The pawn on d7 is going nowhere, and Black will follow up with ...Rdxf2 quickly mating. 

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