26 March 2018

How Ding Has Earned Kasparov’s Gratitude

Vladimir Barsky reports from Berlin about round eleven of the Candidates Tournament 

“I must thank Ding Liren and Grischuk for helping me put my terrible game with Navara in St. Louis behind me. After seeing this swing from +15 to zero I feel exonerated!” – tweeted Garry Kasparov following the Chinese grandmaster’s squandering his overwhelming advantage into the fifth hour of the game.  Last year the 13th world champion decided to compete with the youth, and the consequences were very painful for him.  Obviously, other people’s failures make Garry Kimovich's wounds heal faster.

As for Ding Liren, he was a sorry sight to behold after the end of this grueling seven-hour marathon.  He was the first one to arrive at the press conference and, anticipating Grischuk's arrival, just sat there in a motionless state for a few minutes, his face cupped with his hand and his body bent low over the table.  The Chinese grandmaster was literally an inch away from the first tournament victory, which would have landed him third, but he failed to tame his emotions.

Ding Liren before the press conference

– This is already the second time it happens to me in this tournament: I get into a line carefully analyzed at home, but end up forgetting the prep.  The first time was against Aronian.  I make two or three independent moves and find myself in a hopeless position, admitted Grischuk.  Indeed, following a powerful breakthrough by White in the center, Black's position was reminiscent of ruins, while the clock time was melting rapidly.  Five moves later White could have won forcibly, and Grischuk saw this decisive maneuver, spectacular and simple at the same time, while it never came to Ding’s attention.  The Chinese grandmaster played differently, having overlooked the opponent's witty resource: the black knight, subsisting on the board edge, hopped into the struggle all of a sudden. The situation became complex; Ding Liren also got into time trouble and gradually squandered the edge.  The Chinese grandmaster is now on 11 draws in 11 games and has further closed in on Anish Giri's absolute record of 14 draws from the 2016 Candidates tournament.  Grischuk, for one, is not a believer in this, because "There is only one Giri in the world!" 

Ding Liren – Grischuk

1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. e3 e6 5. d4 d5 6. a3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 a6 8. 0-0 b5 9. Ba2 Bb7 10. Qe2 Qc7 11. Bd2 Be7 12. Rac1 c4 13. e4 Rd8 14. Be3 Ng4 15. e5 Na5

According to Grischuk, he remembered analyzing this position; Black's setup is held together by 16.  Bb1 f5, and there is no taking 17. exf6 because of 17... Bxf3, with a checkmate on h2.  Ding Liren played 16.  Bf4, and Grischuk failed to recall what he needed to do in this position. Black’s followup was extremely underwhelming.

16... Qb6 17. Rcd1 h5 18. h3 Nh6 19. Bb1 Nb3 20. Be3 Qc7 21. Rfe1 Kf8

Alexander was, of course, aware of the extreme dangerousness of the central breakthrough for Black, but, not seeing any forced checkmates, decided to resign to the will of fate.  The only alternative is 21... Bd5 22.Nxd5 Rxd5, so that to sacrifice the exchange "in the Petrosian style” after 23.Be4.  However, Grischuk was very skeptical about White’s chances there, and Ding Liren simply burst into laughter upon seeing this line.

22. d5! exd5 23. e6 fxe6 24. Ng5 Qd7 25. Bg6!

This excellent move, boxing in the black king, was supposed to finish the fight. It didn’t, though.

25… Bf6 26. Bb6 Rc8

Ding Liren admitted that this move startled and confused him.

27. Nxe6+ Kg8 28. Nxd5

It was not yet late to move 28. Nd8!

28... Bxd5

29. Nf4?

29. Nd8! was a way to go, as we have already mentioned above.

29... Nc1!

Grischuk's capability of coming up with swindles like that in severe time troubles goes a long way with you!

30. Qxh5

30. Rxc1 Bf7 was at least a way to avoid the immediate checkmate.

30... Nd3 31. Nxd5 Nf7 32. Qe2

This is yet another step in the wrong direction. After 32. Nxf6+ gxf6 33. Bxf7+ Qxf7 34. Qg4+ Kh7 35. Re3 Black’s position is grim-looking.

32... Nfe5 33. Be4 Rh4!

Both Black’s pieces, previously dormant on the h-file, have jumped into the battle.

34. f4 Rxf4 35. Nxf4 Nxf4 36. Bh7+ Kh8 37. Qe4 Qc6 38. Bd4

38… Nxh3+

According to Grischuk this move was too luring, and he lacked time to look into alternatives. When the time control was over, he realized that 38... Ned3! was a way to bail out. Here are some basic lines: 39. Bxf6 (39. Qxc6? Bxd4+; 39. Be3 Nxe1 40. Bxf4 Nd3 41. Qxc6 Rxc6 42. Bxd3 cxd3 43. Rxd3 Bxb2 with equality) 39... Qxf6 40. Rf1 Qb6+ 41. Kh2 Qb8! 42. Rxd3 Ne2+! (weaker is 42...Nxd3+ 43. Kh1) 43. g3 cxd3 44. Qxd3 Nxg3 45. Qxg3 Qxg3+ 46. Kxg3 Kxh7, with a drawn rook ending on the board.

39. Kh2 Ng5 40. Qxc6 Rxc6 41. Bc2 Ngf7 42. Bxe5?

This is a strange decision, taking into account the fact that there was no lack of time for thinking the position over. After 42. Bc3 White should gradually bring the material superiority home.

42... Nxe5 43. Rd5 Re6 44. Kh3 Kg8 45. b3 Kf7 46. bxc4 Nxc4

This is when Kasparov must have felt significantly relieved.

The game ended in a draw, although Ding Liren continued setting traps up until the last 96th move. 

This day, as well as on many other days in Berlin, the first to finish was the game featuring Wesley So, who made a draw as White with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.  Not that the American grandmaster has entirely given up on the tournament and simply goes through the motions – a high-level pro cannot afford this, it is just that he does not go all-in.  At one of the press conferences Wesley admitted that after two defeats at the start he set the goal of getting back to the 50% score.  He managed to win a game, and it now remains for him to catch yet another bait to achieve that goal. For Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, being on a clear second with only half a point behind Caruana, it was not yet time to burn bridges too.

In response to a solid Catalan beginning, Mamedyarov chose a line that has been successfully championed by Sergey Karjakin.  This said, he ran into no big problems equalizing.  On move 19 Black sacrificed a pawn, which nearly forcibly resulted in a drawn opposite-colored bishop ending.  A peace treaty was signed immediately after the time control.

Vladimir Kramnik, Anastasiya Karlovich and Fabiano Caruana

The most creative participant of the tournament, Vladimir Kramnik, delivered surprisingly quiet game that day.  As he was playing the black pieces, the nature of fight was largely dependent on the opponent, and Fabiano Caruana was not at all after more "fun" - he will obviously never forget his battle with Vladimir from the first half of the event.  Nevertheless, the return encounter’s opening was intriguing: in a well-known theoretical setup Black offered a pawn sacrifice as soon as move five(!) that had never been tested at the highest level. "Well, in was partly a bluff, Kramnik smiled cunningly at the press conference.  – Why not bluff to a certain degree?

Having given it quite a thought, Caruana decided against clinging to a sacrificed pawn as too dangerous an idea that gives Black some serious counterplay, which Kramnik had thoroughly analyzed at home.  Fabiano returned the pawn and an equal endgame emerged on the board.  Kramnik, as usual, sought out the slightest chance of victory, but Caruana acted very reliably.  At one point, White could complicate the game, and the complications looked very tempting for him, but the leader preferred a simple and reliable approach instead.  The last pieces disappeared from the board shortly after, and a draw was agreed in the pawn ending on move 41. 

Sergey Karjakin

The only victory was scored that day by Sergey Karjakin as Black over Levon Aronian, who has had an underwhelming tournament so far..  Here is what Sergey has to say about his game:

– Levon is a huge danger when he is in shape, so I tried to just develop pieces, get a normal position and take it from there if given a chance.  This is how it happened after all.  The position was absolutely equal, but at some point his bad form started to tell as he made some casual that allowed me to take the initiative over.  Winning the game as Black is especially nice, because the opponent is very strong, and each victory is worth its weight in gold.

I have employed the same line in the Catalan opening for the third time in this tournament; however, it was a transposition via a different order of moves.  The concept with c6 and b5, which we have prepared for the tournament, has worked out yet another time for me.  In principle, Levon was well prepared, but at some point, I think, I called.

Aronian – Karjakin

16. Qe3

I think a principled move was 16.Ne4, and after 16…с5 17.Nf6+ I need to choose between 17…Kh8 and 17…Bxf6 18.exf6 e5; Black might be slightly inferior there. Meanwhile, the trade of light-squared bishops equalized the position, in my opinion.

16…c5 17. Bxb7 Qxb7 18. Ne4 c4 19. h4 h6 20. Rd4 Nf8

I considered playing 20…Nb6, but was apprehensive of potential Bxh6 threats after 21.Nd6 Bxd6 22.exd6. This is why I decided to make a more solid move. After 25…е5 I was anticipating 26.Qg4, and a draw is not that far off.

21. b3

This is a correct decision that gives rise to an absolutely level position.

21…Rxd4 22. Qxd4 Rd8 23. Nd6 Bxd6 24. exd6 f6 25. Be3 e5 26. Qb2 Qc6 27. bxc4 bxc4 28. Qb4

This is imprecise, better was 28.Qc2. This is a key moment of the entire game.

I could have played 28…Rxd6 with a draw in several moves, but felt that Black could claim more; therefore, my 28…Rc8 seems to be a good idea. It feels like Black is lightly better already: the knight blocks the passed pawn and the king can approach it freely.

29. f3 h5 30. Kf2 Kf7 31. Rd1 Nd7 32. Qb1 g6 33. g4 Rh8 34. g5 f5 35. Qc2 Rc8 36. Qc3 Ke6 37. Kg2 Qa4 38. Qd2 Qb5 39. a4 Qc6 40. Qc2 Rb8 41. Bd2 Rb3

42. Bc3

I have no idea why White gave up his a-pawn as he could have defended it with either 42.а5 or 42.Ra1. This move gives me a substantial advantage. There was a moment when I thought I was absolutely winning, but then I realized that I was too optimistic as the white queen’s penetrating the home rank takes precise technical conversion. However, I do not think I let my advantage go at any moment of the game.

42…Qxa4 43. Ra1 Qc6 44. Ra5 Rb5 45. Qa4 Nb6 46. Qa1 Rxa5 47. Qxa5 Qb5 48. d7 Kxd7 49. Qa3 Nd5 50. Bxe5 Qc6 51. Qf8 Qe6 52. Qb8 c3 53. Qb7+ Ke8 54. Qb8+ Kf7 55. Qb7+ Ne7 56. Bxc3 Qxe2+ 57. Kh3

57…Qb5 58. Qc7 Qc6 59. Qe5 Qxf3+ 60. Kh2 Qf2+ 61. Kh1 Qxh4+ 62. Kg1 Qxg5+ 63. Kh2 Qh4+ 64. Kg1 Qe4 65. Qg7+ Ke6 66. Bf6 Nd5 67. Bb2 f4 68. Kh2 Kf5 69. Qf8+ Kg5 70. Qd8+ Kg4 71. Qc8+ Kh4 72. Bg7 Qe2+ 73. Kh1 Qf3+ 74. Kh2 Qg3+ White resigns. Levon used all practical chances, but the position was too bad already.  Nobody likes giving up, I also play as far as it goes, there's nothing wrong about that.

– Does the c6 and b5 plan gains popularity?  Mamedyarov is known to play like this...

– Yes, but not because we have worked on it together.  He must have jumped to this conclusion himself because Black seems to have everything under control here, judging by the recent games.  In fact, the opening is very complex and calls for further practical testing.

– In the next round you have the most important game as White against Caruana.  What is your mindset going into this game?

– It's clear that Caruana is in good shape:  he is now the sole leader, and, moreover, he could have scored even more.  This key game will clarify how realistic my chances of winning the tournament are.  I think that I must deliver a battle, and be it as it may.  On the one hand, I'm on the rise after having won several games in a row; on the other, of course, I'm very tired.  Today’s game was a very lengthy one.  Therefore, it is very important to have a good rest to regain strength.

The tournament standings after round 11:

1. F. Caruana - 7 out of 11; 2. S. Mamedyarov - 6.5; 3-4. A. Grischuk, S. Karjakin - 6; 5. Ding Liren - 5.5; 6. V. Kramnik - 5; 7. W. So - 4.5; 8. L. Aronian - 3.5.

Round 12 is scheduled on Saturday, March 24, and features the following pairings: Karjakin - Caruana, Mamedyarov - Ding Liren, Grischuk - Aronian, Kramnik - So.

Pictures by Anastasiya Karlovich and Vladimir Barsky