5 October 2019

Twisted Nerves

Maxim Notkin reviews the final round of the FIDE World Cup 

There wasn't much of a fight on the first and fourth days of these matches – Black has little trouble simplifying and equalizing. In contrast, the middle part contained two marvelous games, the winners of which demonstrated all facets of their brilliant skill. In each of these games White was lucky to pinpoint a weakness in the opponent's opening armor. Having won the opening battle, Ding Liren perfectly handled a complex middlegame with the initiative for a sacrificed pawn, while Teimour showed impeccable endgame technique.


Ding Liren - Radjabov

Game 2



14...Qe7. This particular line of the English Opening was popular in the late 70s of the previous century. Apart from the move played by Radjabov, Black also tested 14...d6 15.Bxd8 dxc5 16.Bb6. The main line here is 16...Ne5, but Dubov, facing Giri at the European Cup (Novi Sad 2016), drew with the new idea 16...e5.

15.0–0–0 d6?! Ever since the pioneer game Korchnoi-Timman (Candidates, 1991), 15...Qxc5 is considered the most accurate. The sides usually proceed by 16.Bxc5 d6 17.Bxd6 Nxd6 18.Rxd6 Ke7 or 18...Bd7, where Black intends to castle long.

During the analysis, Ding also showed 17.Ba3 e5 18.Nd5 (18.Ne4 0–0 fails to create problems for Black) 18...Kf7 19.Nb6 Rb8 20.g4 Nfd4, and 21.Bxd6? is no good due to 21...Bxg4.

16.Qa3 0–0 17.g4! Stronger than 17.f4 e5 18.c5 Be6! 19.cxd6, as in Tomashevsky-Khairullin(Serpukhov 2008). Black has a good game after 19...Qd7.

17...Nh6. With this attack on g4 Black gains time to protect on d6.

18.Rg1 Nf7. Leaving the last theoretical milestone behind. In Grant-Egglstone, Edinburg 2009, Black continued 18...f5, and now the computer recommends 19.g5 Nf7 20.f4 with strong kingside initiative.

19.f4 Bd7. On 19...a5 Ding intended to play 20.h4 Nb4 21.Qb3 (21.Bxa5? loses material to 21...Nc6 22.Bd8 Rxa3 23.Bxe7 Rxc3+ 24.bxc3 Nxe7), and if 21...d5, then 22.a3 Qd6 23.Be3. White has a large advantage.



20.h4. One could play in the center as well. After 20.Bg2!? a5 White can force Black to sacrifice a piece: 21.c5!? d5 22.Rge1, but after 22...Nfe5! 23.fxe5 fxe5 Black has decent compensation due to a strong pawn bunch and potential kingside activity.

After 21.Nb5 Black cannot be satisfied with 21...Ra6 22.c5 Nb4 23.Nc7 (23.Nxd6? Rxb6!) 23...Rxb6 24.cxb6 d5. The threat of ...Qc5+ is parried by 25.Qe3!, and after 25...Qd6 26.Kb1 White has a winning position.

However, 21...Nb4 gives Black good drawing chances. The complications that arise are quite peculiar: 22.Nc7 Rac8 23.Qxa5 Na6! 24.Bxb7! (after 24.Nxa6 Rxc4+ 25.Kb1 bxa6 Black gets a better game) 24...Nxc7 25.Bxc8 Rxc8 26.Bxc7 Bc6 27.Bb6 Ra8, taking on а2 with sufficient compensation for an exchange.

Here as well as on the next move, Kb1 deserved attention, protecting the a-pawn and moving the king away from the c-file.

20...a5 21.g5. Answering 21.Nb5 with 21...Nb4 is no longer appealing, as the pawn on c4 is protected. However, after 21...Ra6 22.c5 Nb4 23.Nc7 Rxb6 24.cxb6 d5 25.Qe3 Qd6 White cannot stop е6-е5 (a check from с6 is threatened), and the game remains unclear.

Meanwhile Ding Liren continues to advance on the kingside.

21...Kh8. 21...Rfc8 is premature because of 22.Ne4, looking at the squares f6 and d6.

21...Nb4!? leads to a big fight on the queenside. After 22.Qb3 d5 23.a3 once again 23...Rfc8? is no good – 24.axb4 axb4 25.gxf6, therefore Black must include 23...fxg5!

The knight is poisoned: 24.axb4? axb4 25.Nb5, and now both 25...Ra1+ 26.Kc2 Rxd1 27.Kxd1 gxf4 and 25...Bxb5 26.cxb5 Qd6 secures good compensation, while the poisonous 25...Ra6! forces the bishop off to a less secure spot, after which Black obtains a clear advantage in all variations. 

Therefore, White must capture on g5, too. After 24.hxg5 Rfc8 25.c5 Na6 (staying under attack becomes risky) 26.Bxa6 Rxa6 the game somewhat calms down, while the evaluation remains the same – White has the initiative for a pawn. 

22.Qb3. Ding Liren provokes 22...a4 23.Qa3, stopping ...Nb4.

There is a stronger move – 22.Re1!? After 22...Nb4 23.Bxa5 b6 24.Qxb4 bxa5 25.Qa3 White regains a pawn, keeping his positional advantage as well. And in the case of 23...Nxa2+ 24.Qxa2 d5 (24...b6 25.Nd5) – the Chinese grandmaster was particularly concerned about this line – the computer gives 25.b4!, preventing ...Qc5.

22...Rfc8 23.Kb1


23...e5?! Further study of computer lines suggests that Black must include 23...fxg5 24.hxg5 first.

24.Nd5 Bf5+ 25.Ka1 Qe6 26.gxf6. After 26.Nc7 Rxc7 27.Bxc7 Black can demand an exchange back by 27...Nd4, but 27...Nb4 looks more promising.

26...gxf6 27.a3. The engines advise not wasting time on this move and continue by 27.Bg2 a4 28.Qc3.


27...Rab8. After 27...Nb4 28.Nxb4 (28.Qf3! is clearly stronger, but is also much harder for a human)28...axb4 29.Qxb4 exf4 30.Bd4 Ne5, if White's h4-pawn stood on g5, and Black's f6-pawn stood onна g7 (i.e., if 23...fxg5 24.hxg5 е5 was included), Black would have decent chances. Without that inclusion, White can play  31.Bc3, indirectly protecting the с4-pawn with a deadly blow on f6, and Black's pawn on b7 and d6 require a lot of attention. 

Nevertheless, this is Black's best practical chance. After the move in the game, Ding Liren elegantly rearranges his pieces, leaving Black with a weak king, weak pawns and a sidelined knight against a proud bishop. The rest of the game does not require any commentary, White's play is very enjoyable.

28.Bg2! Rg8 29.Ne3! Nd4 30.Bxd4 exd4 31.Nxf5 Qxf5 32.Bd5 Rxg1 33.Rxg1 Nh6 (33...Qd7 34.c5) 34.Qb6! Qd7 35.Qxd4 Qe7 36.Ka2 Nf5 37.Qc3 b6 (37...Nxh4 38.Qg3 Ng6 39.f5, and the knight cannot leave because of a checkmate on g8) 38.h5 Re8 39.h6 Ne3 40.Re1. Black resigns.


Radjabov - Ding Liren

Game 3



One could call it Ding Liren's trademark variation of the Marshall Attack – other devotees of this opening prefer to place the king's rook on е8. Unlike the first game, Teimour's new idea was not completely harmless and caught the opponent by surprise. 

21.Qxf5. Wesley So tested Ding Liren by 21.axb5 axb5 22.Bxd5 cxd5 23.Qxf5 Bxf5 24.Ra5, Sergey Karjakin tried 23.Ra5 Qxf3 24.Nxf3, but both games were drawn. 

21...Bxf5 22.Ne4 Bf8. At the commentary booth Radjabov informed that Black draws by 22...c5! The evaluation is easy to confirm after 23.Bxd5 cxd4 24.Bb7 Rc7 25.Bxa6 bxa4 26.Rxa4 Bxe4 27.Rxe4 dxc3 28.bxc3 Rxc3, but one needs accuracy and strong imagination to find 23.Nxd6 Rxd6 24.Be5 Rd7 25.axb5 axb5 26.c4 Nb4! 27.cxb5 c4 28.Ba4 Nd3 29.Re3 Nxe5 30.Rxe5 g6 (intending...Rd2) 31.Rd1 Ra7 at the board. If Black deviates from this line at any point, White gets additional chances.

23.Nc5 Nb4!? Ding Liren correctly prefers this reply to the passive 23...Nc7 24.axb5 (24.a5) 24...axb5 25.Ra7.



24...g6. 24...Bg6 also deserves attention.

After 25.axb5 Bxc5 26.Bxc5 Nd3 White has to start sacrificing – 27.h5 Bh7 28.Be7 Nxe5 29.Bxd8 Rxd8 30.bxa6, but the passed pawn does not receive enough help. 26.Rxc5 axb5 27.h5 Bc2 28.Bxf7+ Kxf7 29.cxb4 Rxd4 30.Rxc2 Rxb4 leads to an equal rook ending.

On 25.Ne6 Black has a counter – 25...Nd3! 26.Nxd8 Nxe5 27.Bxe5 Rxd8 28.axb5 axb5 with equality.

Finally, after 25.h5 Bc2 26.cxb4 Bxc5 27.Bxf7+ Kxf7 28.Bxc5 bxa4 29.Re7+ Kg8 it turns out that the pawn on h5 gets attacked by a bishop. After 30.g4 Bd1 31.Ra3 Bb3 on 30.Rae1 Bd1 31.Ra7 Bf3(intending to follow by either the active Rd5-h5 or the safe Ra8) Black is out of danger.

25.axb5 cxb5


26.Ne6! After 26.Nxa6 Nc6 27.Rxb5 Nxd4 28.cxd4 Rxd4 29.Rb7 Rd7 30.Rxd7 Bxd7 the bishop pair is good compensation for a pawn by itself, and even more so with such an undemanding black knight. I am not mentioning the obvious – rejecting the move in the game is a crime against beauty.

26...Bxe6. Compared to the note to the 24th move, the situation has changed, and Black cannot be satisfied by 26...Nd3 27.Nxd8 Nxe5 28.Bxe5 Rxd8 29.Rxa6 or 26...fxe6 27.Rxf5.

27.Rxe6 fxe6 28.Bxe6+ Kh7 29.Bxc8 Rxc8. Teimour recommended 29...Nc2 30.Rc1 Nxd4 31.cxd4 as a drawing line, but he would definitely keep playing for a win after both 31...Rxd4 32.Bxa6 Rb4 33.Bb7 and 31...a5 32.Rc7+ Bg7 33.Ba6.

30.cxb4 Rc4


31.Bf6! The only move that allows to keep fighting. After 31.Be3 Rxb4 32.Rxa6 Rxb2 or 31.Be5 Bg7 32.Bd6 (32.Bxg7 Kxg7 33.Rxa6 Rxb4, and a material advantage can only be kept with a rook on a2) 32...Rc6 White loses an extra pawn. At that point, supporters of the grandmaster from Azerbaijan did not have many reasons for being optimistic.

31...Bg7 32.Be7 Rc6. After 32...Bxb2 33.Rxa6 Bc3 34.Rb6 Bxb4 35.Bf6 Rc5?? the black king is getting mated: 36.Rb8 g5 37.h5. However, converting an extra pawn after 35...Kg8 36.Rxb5 is a challenging technical task.

33.Ra2 Kg8. After 33...Bd4 34.b3 Rc3 (a double attack on b3 and g3) 35.Kg2 Rxb3 36.Rxa6 Rb2 37.Kf3! Rxf2+ 38.Ke4 Black regains a pawn, but White has a very active king and will soon create a passed pawn on the queenside. 

Exchanging the bishops by 33...Be5 34.b3 Bd6 seems sufficient to make a draw, however, one needs to make many only moves to hold a rook ending. For example, 35.Re2 Kg7 36.Re6 Rc1+ 37.Kg2 Bxe7 38.Rxe7+ Kf6 39.Ra7 Ra1 40.Kf3 Ra3 41.Kg4 Rxb3 42.Rxa6+ Kf7 43.h5 Rxb4+, and after both 44.Kh3 gxh5 45.Rxh6 h4!, and 44.f4 gxh5+ 45.Kxh5 Rb3 Black does not let the opponent create connected passed pawns.

34.Bc5 Kf7. Missing another chance of sneaking to a rook ending by 34...Bf8. Still, the strongest reply to 35.Kg2 is 35...Kg7!, which is rather challenging to find at the board no matter how great the inspiration is.

The natural 35...Kf7 loses after 36.Kf3 Bxc5 37.bxc5 Rxc5 38.Rxa6 Rc2 39.h5! (the point!) 39...gxh5 40.Rxh6 Rxb2 41.Rxh5, although the evaluation depends on nuances – with the black king on e6 this would be a draw. 

35.Kg2 Ke6 36.b3 h5. On 36...Bc3 with the idea 37.Kf3 Kd5 38.Ke2 a5! White plays 37.Rc2, and37...Bxb4? runs into 38.Re2+. 

37.Kf3 Kf5 38.Rd2 Be5. 38...a5 does not work – 39.Rd5+ Ke6 40.Rg5.



39...Ke6? The decisive mistake. Retreating to f6 – 39...Kf6 – allows to activate the rook after40.Ke4 Re6. If 41.f4 Bc3+ 42.Kf3 Re1 43.Rd3 Bb2, Black holds the zone, because the bishop ending after 44.Rd6+ Re6 is drawn. The rook ending after 41.Bd4 Bxd4+ 42.Kxd4 leaves some hope of survival.

40.Ke4 Bf6 41.f4 Bc3 42.f5+ Kf7 43.Rd7+ Kg8 44.Bd6! gxf5+ 45.Kxf5 Bg7 46.Kg5. White remains vigilant: 46.Kg6?? Bf8. Black resigns.


Equality of the consolation final was seriously challenged only in one game.


Yu Yangyi - Vachier-Lagrave

Game 3



In a rare variation of the Gruenfeld Defense Yu Yangyi sacrificed a pawn and could get decent compensation after 16...e5 17.Ne6 Bxe6 18.dxe6 e4 19.Bg4 Bd4. Vachier-Lagrave decided to return the material, but it gave White an advantage due to central dominance and Black's insecure king. 

16...exd5? 17.Qxd5+ Kh8 18.Qxc5 Bf5 19.Bb2! Utilizing this simple tactical trick – 19...Bxb1?? 20.Bxg7+ Kxg7 21.Ne6+ – White solidifies his advantage.

19...Bxb2 20.Rxb2 Qf6 21.Re2 Rfc8. Perhaps Black should try playing more actively by 21...Rac8 22.Qxa7 Nb5 23.Qxb7 Rb8 and then ...Nd4.

22.Qa5 Rc4 23.Nd5 Qd4 24.Re7 Rac8



25.Rd1?! Black's intentions to invade the back rank are very transparent, but White does not take any measures against it. Yu Yangyi had a wide choice of playable continuations that would maintain his advantage. For example, 25.Qa3 Nb5 (25...Qc5 26.Qxc5 R4xc5 27.g4) 26.Qe3 Qxe3 27.fxe3, or25.Ne3 Ra4 (25...Rc1 26.Be2) 26.Qd5 Qxd5 27.Bxd5, or 25.h3 Ra4 (25...Rc1 26.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 27.Kh2 Rc8 28.Qa3) 26.Qe1 Rxa2 27.g4! – in the latter case sound strategy is supported by sound tactics.

25...Rc1 26.Ree1 Nc4! Black developed some activity, but his problems are not completely gone.

27.Qb4. After 27.Qa4 Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Qe5 29.Qxa7 Black begins to push the enemy rook – 29...Bc2 30.Rc1 Re8!, and if 31.h3, then 31...Qb2, but after the correct 31.Ne3 he still needs to display accurate play.

27...Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Qb2 29.Qe7 Qg7 30.g4 Bd7 31.Qxg7+. This move loses the last bits of White's advantage. He could keep playing for a win by 31.Re1.

31...Kxg7 32.Ne3. Game drawn. After 32...Ne5 33.Bxb7 Rc7 Black collects the g4-pawn.


In the first game of the tie-break, Vachier-Lagrave, playing White, energetically utilized the opponent's positional mistake made as early as on the 9th move. As a result, Black was unable to develop his queenside pieces comfortably and suffered from defects of his pawn structure throughout the game. In the second 25-minute game Yu Yangyi went all-in, but neglected developing his kingside, and got crushed.


The winner of the World Cup was determined only in blitz. However, in the first 25-minute game Radjabov was on the ropes. Ding Liren played quickly and confidently, and had a huge advantage both on the board and on the clock by the move 30.


Radjabov - Ding Liren

Game 5



31...Rf6 creates a threat of ...Rg6+, 32.Bd3 is met by 32...Bf4, and if 33.Re1, then Black invades by33...Bh2+! 34.Kf1 (34.Qxh2 Nf3+) 34...Qg3. Finally, on 33.Re4 Black should continue his attack by33...Rg6+ 34.Kf1 f5 35.Re1 e5, and he is very close to a victory, bearing in mind the opponent's shortage of time.

However, Ding Liren played  31...Rf5, and White started to follow the rook – 32.Rb5. The computer informs that Black can still go for 32...Rf6, and also provides with a more sophisticated and elegant solution – 32...Bc5! The bishop obviously cannot be taken – 33.dxc5? Rg5+ 34.Bg2 Rd1+, however, it is not that easy to find and appreciate the main idea – 33.Qe4 Rf4 (33...Rg5+? 34.Kh1) 34.Qh7 Rdxd4!

Ding Liren interposes the 5th rank with a pawn, and this turns out to be a mistake.

32...e5? 33.c5! The b8-h2 diagonal is also interposed now, rendering 33...Rg5+ harmless – 34.Rg3,and 33...bxc5 runs into 34.Ba5. Black retreated by 33…Be7, and after 34.Qe4 his advantage evaporated. Soon White even got winning chances, but after all excitement this game ended in a draw, and the next three games followed suit.

The first blitz game was a close and balanced struggle. Teimour sacrificed a pawn in the endgame for spoiling the opponent's pawn structure, and it turned out a highly successful psychological trick. Ding Liren missed the only chance to keep the material, and then was unable to reprogram himself on fighting for a draw. In the B vs. N ending he selected a straightforward plan, sending his king to deal with Black's remote passed pawn, and was unable to bring the monarch back on time.


Ding Liren - Radjabov

Game 9



A possible drawing line: 52.g4 h4 53.Kd6 g5 (53...Nc8+ 54.Kc5) 54.Bd7 Ng6 55.e4 Ne5 56.Bb5, and the knight must guard the e5-square.

52.Kb5 Nf5 53.Kxa5 Nxg3 54.Bb5 g5 55.Kb4 Ke5 56.Kc3 Kf4


57.Kd2? Technically White can still make a draw by avoiding a check, but in practical sense the game is already lost, as the main line requires surgical precision.

After 57.Kd3 Nh1! (after 57...Ne4 58.e3+ the black king cannot advance, while after 57...Nf5 White holds by 58.Be8 h4 59.Bd7) 58.e3+ Kg3 59.Ke4 Black's last try 59...Nf2+ is thwarted by 60.Kf5 Nxh3 61.e4 g4 62.Bd7 Nf4 (62...Nf2? suddenly loses to 63.e5) 63.Kg5 Kf3 64.e5 g3 65.e6, and the e-pawn gets exchanged on the g-pawn.

If 59...Kxh3, then 60.Kf5 g4 61.e4 g3 62.Bf1+ g2 63.Bxg2+ Kxg2 64.Kg5 Ng3 65.Kh4, and Black's last pawn falls. 

57...Ne4+ 58.Ke1 Kg3 59.Bd7


The computer shows a brilliant study-like win by 59...Nf2 60.h4!? gxh4 61.Be8 h3 62.Bxh5 Nd3+!! 63.Kf1 (63.exd3 h2) 63...Ne5 64.Kg1 Nc4! 65.e3 Nd2! 66.Bg6 Nf3+ 67.Kh1 Ne5 68.Be4 Ng4, and the black knight arrives on f2. Radjabov's move does not miss the win as well. 

59...h4 60.e3?! White's best option here is a lost queen ending after 60.Bf5 Nf2 61.e4 Nxh3 62.Bxh3 Kxh3 63.e5 Kg3 64.e6 h3 65.e7 h2 66.e8Q h1Q+.

60...Nf2 61.Kf1 Nxh3 62.e4 Nf4 63.e5 h3 64.Bc6 h2 65.Bb7 g4 66.Bc6 Kh3, and Ding Liren resigned after ten more moves.


In the next game Teimour had White and approached the Silician in a very solid way, however, Ding Liren still got his chance – and missed it.


Radjabov - Ding Liren

Game 10



White transfers his queen from one flank to another... 

20.Qc3 Rf6 21.Qc5 Qf7 22.c3? And now the unexpected 22...Qc7! poses a lethal threat of b7-b6. In order to save the queen, White would have to improve the opponent's pawn structure: 23.exd5 exd5 24.f3, giving Black a better game. After Ding Liren missed this chance, his position started to deteriorate, and in the end the grandmaster from Azerbaijan made his fans happy with a petite combination.


41.Rd7! Qxd7 42.Nf6+ Kg7 43.Nxd7, and in three more moves Teimour Radjabov won this game, the match, and the World Cup!