Ding Liren seemed to get off to the perfect start on Monday when he beat Magnus Carlsen in the first game of the day, but it turned out he’d just woken the Kraken. Magnus went on to win six and draw one of the remaining seven games, claiming the match and the $60,000 prize with one game and one whole day to spare. The dream of crossing 3000 on the blitz rating list seems impossible now that the match winner is known, but despite a 50:18 scoreline Ding Liren is still staring down the barrel of another 12 games against the World Champion.
We’re down to just one match remaining in the Champions Showdown in St. Louis, but it’s the one we most wanted to see – Magnus Carlsen taking on Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren. On Sunday it was 10-minute chess, and you can replay all the games with computer analysis using the selector below:
You can also replay the live commentary with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley, including interviews with the players at the end:
After the way Magnus had conducted himself on the first two days of the match you had to fear for Ding Liren, who was already trailing by 17 points. Would he even manage to score a win against the man who comfortably tops the classical, rapid and blitz rating lists?
Those doubts were vanquished in one brilliant performance with the black pieces. Ding Liren was playing fast in a sharp Sicilian and went for the bold 21…f5!, not fearing the self-pinning of the g5-rook:
22.f4 would simply be met by 22…Bxf4!, while after 22.exf5 Ding went for 22…Qc6, when Magnus decided to stop the mating threat with the temporary piece sac 23.Nd5+. After 23…Qxd5 24.Be4 Qc4! the World Champion had to sacrifice a pawn with 25.b3 to unpin the e4-bishop.
It was the kind of game you would expect Carlsen to play as Black, with White making no real clear-cut mistakes until his position was all but lost. Ding Liren didn’t put a foot wrong as he converted his advantage, though he should perhaps work on a more confident handshake!
After 48.Kxf1 d3 it would just be a question of which pawn White allows to queen.
That stunning start to the day raised the prospect that we might get a real match, and Magnus admitted afterwards that the next game began shakily:
I was definitely angered and a bit tilted by the first game. In the second game I didn’t play so well. I was considerably worse I think before he blundered this Nxc5, but after that I managed to calm down and play better.
25.Bf1? was the start of a painful afternoon for Ding Liren:
25…Nxc5! 26.dxc5 Bxc5+ 27.Kh1 d4! was the clever point, but things went from bad to much worse for the Chinese no. 1 after 28.Rxb8+ Qxb8 29.Qc4 Rxc3 30.Rxc3 dxc3:
Strictly the only move here was 31.Qxc3, when White has very decent chances of survival. Instead, with plenty of time left on his clock, Ding Liren played 31.Qxc5??, when he probably expected only 31…Qb2, and after 32.Bd3 White can hold the b-pawn. Instead Magnus quickly played 31…Qb1!, hitting the f1-bishop as well as preparing to push the pawn. If it was Ding’s lucky day he might have been able to force a perpetual check against the black king, but there was a simple way to stop that, and of course Magnus found it.
After that initially shaky game it was absolutely one-way traffic for the rest of the day, with Magnus explaining his approach:
Obviously the first game wasn’t a very good performance. After that it was a lot better, but basically I decided to play like it’s blitz and not rapid after that. I just wanted to play quickly and not try and do too much - just keep the game going and try to outlast him in most games.
The problem for Liren was that when Magnus decides to play fast and rely on his intuition he doesn’t just shuffle the pieces around but tends to spot strategic or tactical errors in an instant. In a closed Sicilian in Game 3 all it took was the move 18…Bb7 (18…Bd7!, retaining the option of 19…Be8 to defend) to allow Magnus to move in for the kill with a two-step queen manoeuvre:
19.Qg4! Kh8 20.Qh5! and the best option Ding had was the sad 20…Qe8 21.Bxh6! f5 and after exchanging queens White was simply up a pawn.
For a moment in what followed Black may have had a chance to stay in the game, but it was tricky, and as Magnus commented:
I think in some of the games he’s not looking as much for his chances as he should and he’s probably getting a bit dejected when he misses stuff, even though that might not necessarily be the end of the road. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there, and let’s see if he can try and turn it around tomorrow.
Game 4 illustrated another dilemma facing the Chinese no. 1. He was asked by Maurice Ashley afterwards if the time control without an increment had been an issue:
Yes, but it’s not the main factor, I think. I tried to play quickly in some games, but it went very bad, then in some games I tried to think for more time, but in the end maybe the position is slightly worse but holdable, but I have less time so the position was lost.
Here with White Ding Liren had done well to bail out of a tricky position, but although it should be an easy draw Magnus was far ahead on the clock and showed he wasn’t embarrassed to flag his opponent. It’s also hard to deny the World Champion the right to play on in such positions, since he’s made a career of outplaying his rivals in such quiet waters. By move 69 Ding Liren cracked and would probably have lost anyway even if he was suddenly gifted some more time.
The exhibition continued, with Magnus sacrificing a pawn in Game 5 and then pouncing after the mistake 24…Qb6?
25.Be8! Re7 26.Qh5 and suddenly dark clouds were gathering over the abandoned black king. Ding Liren put up a fight with 26…Bf5!, but Magnus was in the zone, and after 27.Qxf5 Rbxe8 28.Qg6 Kh8 he blitzed out the powerful 29.g3! Again, there were some slight chances to put up resistance, but Ding Liren’s worst fears were coming true:
I thought I was worse in this match but I didn’t expect this performance by myself. I didn’t play well. I could play much better, but before the tournament I was already very nervous about playing because there will be 30 games. I haven’t played so many games and especially against the World Champion.
Game 6 gave Liren some brief respite as Magnus forced a draw by repetition, but then the next game had the added spice that the World Champion knew a win would see him take the match with a game and a day to spare. Sure enough, he was soon well on top, but then he gave Ding a glimmer of hope with 25.Qc2? (25.Bb1! would have won the piece):
25…Qf6! saved the knight, since of course 26.Rxe4 now runs into 26…Qxa1 (on a4 the queen would defend the rook). Black was suddenly doing ok and looked as though he should be able to hold, but alas, it was just a choice of how to die. Magnus simply switched (or remained) in flagging mode, and with an extra minute on the clock Ding didn’t have a chance. His time ran out on move 85.
Magnus had therefore improved on Hikaru Nakamura’s crushing of Veselin Topalov to end the match even before the last day. Would he ease off in the final game of the day? Of course not!
Ding Liren should simply have regained the pawn with 23.Nxg4, since after 23.Rh1? the retreat 23…Nf6! both protected the pawn and blocked Rh5. Magnus wasn’t just interested in passive defence, though, since after 24.Rh4 he unleashed the exchange sacrifice 24…Rxe5! and his knights went on to torture White until victory in 65 moves.
It had been a simply awesome performance from the World Champion, who has been in a class of his own and seen that reflected in the statistics:
The disappointment as far as rating goes is that it seems the games after the match was decided won’t now be valid for FIDE ratings. Magnus commented:
Not that it’s the most important thing in the world, but I would have liked to get my blitz rating to 3000 but as I understand that probably won’t be possible because the games aren’t rated. I don’t know who came up with that rule in the first place, but it’s a pity. Otherwise, if the games are not rated, that will probably affect my approach a bit. Maybe I’ll try to mix it up more…
I haven’t been really mixing it up that much today or any of the days. I’m just trying to play solidly, to play in my style, but maybe if the games aren’t rated tomorrow and the match is decided anyway… we’ll see!
With the score at 50:18 there are still 12 5-minute games to go, which must be looking like a wall just now for Ding Liren. He was briefly the world no. 1 on the blitz rating list, but he explained that was somewhat deceptive:
My blitz level is not as good as the rating shows… I just played two great tournaments. My rating increased about 200 Elo, but I haven’t played blitz tournaments since then, for about one year, I think. I know my rating is much higher than my level, but today of course I’m not in my best shape.
It seems Ding Liren needs a confidence boost before the final day’s play, and he could probably do worse than reliving his recent stunning victory over Bai Jinshi in the Chinese League:
Of course Ding was modest when it came to that performance as well, noting:
Maybe the position just favoured Black and it just works. I didn’t look at the other options instead of 15…dxc3 to sacrifice the queen. I just calculated this variation and saw that I have big compensation. I didn’t calculate very carefully when I sacrificed my queen. I just saw I can get back the pieces and then I have compensation in many ways, but I didn’t find the best way when I took the knight.
The fact that he didn’t have it all worked out in advance only enhances the appeal of the game, with Ding adding he felt “very happy” when he saw there was no way for his opponent to avoid mate.
Perhaps Ding Liren just needs to trust his intuition in the remaining blitz games against Magnus, but if the World Champion plays at the same level there’s not much useful advice you can give his opponents!
The last day’s play starts two hours earlier at 11am local time, 18:00 CET and you can watch all the action with commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley here on chess24: Carlsen vs. Ding Liren.
You can also follows the games in our free mobile apps: