chessbase india logo

Carlsen subdues Ding | Legends of Chess Round 6

by Tanmay Srinath - 27/07/2020

With 3 rounds to go, it seems that the fight for first place is more or less a two horse race now. Magnus Carlsen started the day 4 hours ahead of the rest, as the champions' Fantasy Football commitments took priority later in the day, and managed to overpower Ding Liren to take over sole first. Nepomniachtchi needed an Armageddon and some luck to overcome Vishy Anand, who now seems out of qualifying contention. Peter Leko and Anish Giri played a fighting match with 3 decisive results, but the Dutchman scored 2 of those wins and stays in the hunt for a top 4 finish. Vladimir Kramnik should have lost the match against Gelfand in 3 games, but a combination of skill and will meant he equalised and took the Armageddon, taking sole third place in the process. Peter Svidler scraped past Ivanchuk to keep in touch with the top places, as the tournament heads for an exciting finish. Tanmay Srinath brings forth a thought-provoking report.

Carlsen 2.5-1.5 Ding:

Two champions with immense respect for each other. | Photo: Tata Steel Chess

Magnus Carlsen has a lot of respect and admiration for Ding, hiring him as a second a few times and even resigning in 4 moves recently when Ding disconnected from one of their recent encounters. He has also lost some games to the great Chinese player in recent times, most notably last year at the Sinquefield Cup, so this win is very important for Magnus.


Let's dive straight into the decisive game (2) of the match:



There was a far more interesting moment on move 14, but we shall come to it after showing this decisive moment. Here 18...Be7! maintains a very unstable equlibrium, but instead after 18...Nc5? 19.Qxd4 Black is just lost by force.

The 4th Game did feature a curious moment where Carlsen declined to play principled chess, but understandably so:



28.gxh3! wins on the spot, as after Rxh3 White has 29.Qe6+! with mate in 9. However, Carlsen attempted to maintain control in the game with 28.Kf1, nevertheless maintaining a large advantage and managing to win the match by forcing a draw.

Now that we are done with the critical moments of the match, let us come to a very interesting opening decision by Ding:



Instead of 14...c5!? as played in the game, Ding had the fascinating choice of going for 14...0-0-0!, objectively a stronger move that leads to immense complications where Black's chances are not worse. 

Seeing this as an opportunity to go deep, I analysed some lines, and the results I produced dizzy my mind even now! It has definitely improved my knowledge of this Anti Moscow Gambit, and I produce the fruits of my labour here:


White has many moves to make in this position, but only 4 of them are worth considering:


15.Nd6?! seems the least critical - Bxd6! 16.cxd6 f5! and Black seems to have a small advantage according to me. I didn't go deeper because I didn't feel the need to, so I can't say for sure if White equalises, but it does seem like he(White) is the one who has to prove equality.

15.Re1!? is interesting but clearly unprincipled - what is the rook doing on e1? After 15...Nf4! 16.Qd2 Nxe2+ 17.Qxe2 c5 it is clear Black is doing extremely well.

15.h3!? fares somewhat better than the previous two moves, but still after Nf4! 16.Qd2 Rg8! (Black doesn't even take the bishop on e2) 17. Rfd1 c5! Black has a good position.

Based on positional factors, I came to the conclusion that the critical move after 14...0-0-0 is 15.b3!:

White has to open up the queenside to target the enemy king. This is perhaps what dissuaded Ding from playing this line. However, Black has some strong concrete factors that help him neutralise White's ideas here. First of all, his queenside majority means that White will have to sacrifice material to break open the pawn shelter. Secondly, most of Black's pieces are present on the queenside, which means he won't lose on the spot even if the position opens up there. 

Since I want to keep the analysis objective, I did analyse some options for black in this position, and understood that he has only two moves not to give a large advantage to White. They are 15...b4!? and 15...Nxc3!. Based on the punctuation one can understand that one move keeps equal chances and the other gives a small advantage to White. Let us take the worse option first:

Position after 15...b4.

After 15...b4!? White has the following strong riposte - 16.a5! Nxc3! 17.Nxc3 Qa7 18.Na4 c3 18.Bh5!:

Black has no adequate way of countering White's initiative.

The only two moves that keeps a tenable position are 19...Rh7! and 19...Kb8!?. After Rh7 White has a route to an easy small plus, while after 19...Kb8!? he has to be inventive - 20.Bxh7! h5! 21.Bxe6! Nc5!(Otherwise Bxd7 is killing) and here the stunning queen sacrifice 22.dxc5!!:

White is doing very well in the complicated middlegame arising after Black takes the queen.

Thus the critical attempt for Black to prove his position is fine lies in the strong 15...Nxc3! 16.Nxc3:

Black can take the pawn if he wants here, but it feels too risky, as after 16...cxb3 17.Rd1! White gets very scary play on the queenside.

Instead, Black has to play the amazing piece retreat 16...Nb8!!:

Now that's a cool move!

This is a move that can't be played unless you are seriously booked up. Now there follows a forced sequence - 17.axb5 cxb5! 18.bxc4 Rxd4! 19.Qc1 and now we have a small split:

Position after 19.Qc1

Black has three non-losing chances, out of which two keep equality and one concedes a large advantage to White. Let us investigate the more dangerous (for Black) 19...Qc6!? 20.f3! b4! 21.Bf2! Bc5 22.Nb5!!:

White creates crazy complications with this move. The machines solve this to a draw, but it is objectively very dangerous for Black. Here the best move is 22...Rd7!, and the game peters out to a drawn ending after best play, but I don't like this variation as Black has many ways to go wrong. This is subjectively a very good try for White.

Instead of this risky variation, Black can instead go for the double edged but safer 19...b4! 20.Na4 Qd8 21.c5:

The position is extremely murky and double edged.

One can stop here if good compensation for the pawn is what he or she wants as White, but this being an objective investigation I decided to go till a point where I could estimate reasonably what the chances are for both sides.


Fat Fritz in this position showed a preference for the move 21...Bc6, but I am not satisfied with this move as White has a strong pawn sacrifice after 22.Nb6+ Kb7 23.Nc4!:

White gives up the c5 pawn, but drags the Black king to c6. 

Things can't be practically playable if White has a time for such quiet moves into a line:

White has a strong initiative after 27.Kh1!!

The second move I considered was 21...Be7, but here as well the rerouting of the knight to c4 seems to cause concrete problems - this is one of the critical positions for the evaluation of the line:

White seems to hold a dangerous initiative on the queenside.

I should probably explain my reasons for giving a plus equals for the remaining two moves with two diagrams:

21...Nc6 would lead to this position if both sides play accurately. It is easy to see that White has the better pieces here, and both of Black's minor pieces are restricted very nicely. The point is that after Bxe5?? Qc4! begins a decisive assault.

21...h5!?, fighting for the initiative. We can reach this position after reasonable play from both sides. I find Black's position more dangerous due to his exposed king.

That leaves us with the move I consider strongest, 21...Rd2!:

Counter-attacking is one of the best ways to defend one's position.

Before the readers get a headache due to all the complications, I will stop with the diagrams and attach my analysis here. My conclusion is that the move 14...0-0-0! may well be playable, and Black's strongest option. Yes Black has to defend sometimes, but White too has to play precisely to keep the initiative flowing. Overall a mesmerising option!

Giri 2.5-1.5 Leko:

One can say that Anish's playing style resembles Leko's quite a bit! | Photo:

The only other match to be decided without an Armageddon. There were three White wins in this match, but fortunately for Anish he won with White in both his games, so he now ties with Peter Svidler on 11 points with 3 rounds to go.


Giri started the decisive game streak with a superb win in Game 2:



In such endings, it often happens that you have only one move to stay in the game, and anything else severely hampers your chances. Here 41...Nh5! was the only way for Peter to maintain the balance. Instead after 41...Nd7?! 42.b4! Giri played flawlessly to convert a tangible advantage.

Leko struck back amazingly in the next game, playing such perfect chess that one was reminded of his peak years. Anish stood no chance:



After one of the best positional games I have seen in recent times, Leko finished in style with 44.Bb5! cxb5 45.c6.

There was to be another twist however, as Anish punished Leko's pawn grabbing with ruthless precision:



White has all the pieces in the game, but Black doesn't. This indicates that a combination should not be far off. Indeed, after the aesthetically pleasing 17.Nxe5!! Black is lost by force. Anish made no mistakes in bringing a valuable point home.

Nepo 2*-2 Anand (*-Won the Armageddon):

Two of the world's best speed players going at it! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

An Anand-Nepo clash is always looked forward to, as I personally feel that Nepo's playing style and speed is reminiscent of the peak Vishy(90s to early 2010s). Despite suffering a crushing 17 move defeat in the Nations Cup recently, Nepo remained unflustered in this match, and recovered from a shocking loss as White to take the Armageddon in some style! Let's have a look some decisive moments:



A Bishop's Opening transposed to a good King's Gambit Declined(!), and here White certainly has a pull, but Vishy should slowly be able to neutralise it after 13...Qf6!. Instead after 13...Ne5?! 14.Nd5! White had a tangible advantage, which Nepo made no mistake in converting.

An under-pressure Anand had to win in Game 4 to tie the scores and take the match to Armageddon, and win he did!



14.b4? was a mistake by Nepo, and Anand was clinical - 14...Bxb4+! commences a sequence that ends with a winning advantage for Black.

Nepo's strategy of playing a long game in the Armageddon paid off, as with a minute less Vishy was left with too many problems to solve:



34...Qf5! keeps the game dynamically balanced, but after 34...Qe7 Nepo was able to take over the initiative and win a fantastic game to take the match 3-2.

Kramnik 2*-2 Gelfand (*-Won the Armageddon):

The super trainers produce brilliant fighting games! | Photo: Microsence Training Camp

Boris Gelfand has been playing fantastic chess in this tournament, but at critical junctures his technique has let him down. Here are some critical moments from this match:


Game 1 went beautifully for Boris, as he managed to finish with a flourish:



27.Bxg7! gives White a winning advantage, ending with a win for Gelfand on move 41.

Game 3, the equaliser for the Kramnik, could have easily been 2.5-0.5 for Boris had he placed his king on the right square:



46. Ka6! simply finishes the game, while 46.Kb6? was the first of the two blunders that transformed a sureshot 1-0 to a sudden 0-1, handing Kramnik a lifeline.

The Armageddon was surprisingly smooth for Big Vlad, who had the White pieces and played his favourite English/Reti and managed to pose enough problems to induce the following error:



27...Nf3! was imperative, in order to take the b4 pawn on the next move and retain equal chances. Instead, after 27...b6? 28.bxc5 bxc5? 29.Bxd4 White soon entered a winning pawn endgame.

Svidler 2*-2 Ivanchuk (*-Won the Armageddon):

After two losses in the last 2 matches Svidler steadies the ship with victory. | Photo: Grenke Chess Classic

In a match of two of the biggest talents in the chess world Svidler triumphed after a huge scare, as Chucky was the better player for most parts of the match but as with other legends lacked the killer finish.


Game 1 was a crude blunder from Svidler, as he missed that his knight is dominated by the 2 bishops and captured:



White has a definite advantage in this endgame, but 35...Nxg3?? hands Chucky the point on the platter, as after 36.Qxc1! Ne2+ 37.Kg2 Nxc1 38.Bc4! the knight is trapped.

Game 2 saw Svidler on the brink of defeat, but he miraculously escaped and even won after Ivanchuk underestimated the side-effects of a certain inclusion:


Here after the immediate 33...Rf5! 34.Nxd6 Rxf3! Black remains up material with a winning advantage. Instead, after the inclusion of gxf2 Kxf2, as was in the game, Rf5? no longer works as after Nxd6 Black has to give up an exchange with Rxf3+. Svidler was back in the game, and used the momentum to clinch a crucial win.

The Armageddon saw Svidler win on time in a better position, but had he been more accurate he would have won faster:



Here the simple 51.Qxe6! fxe6 52.c4! ushers the pawns home. Instead, after 51.a8=Q? Black was back in the game, but the clock situation meant that Ivanchuk lost on time.

Standings after Round 6

Replay games: