In one of the most stunning, one-sided performances of matchplay chess that immediately brought a parallel for many commentators and fans alike of Bobby Fischer in his pomp, World Champion Magnus Carlsen sent out a message to his would-be challengers that he’s back to his brilliant, forceful best, as the Norwegian systematically annihilated China’s Ding Liren to claim the title of top dog at the ‘Champions Showdown’ in Saint Louis, as he clinched victory in the marquee match with one game and a day to spare!
It was a dominant show of force, but one that didn’t look likely after Carlsen won the final game in the opening Game 30 to take a slender lead over Ding going into the next three days of play. But those three days proved to be brutal for Ding – a candidate to be Carlsen’ title-challenger, the #10 player in the world, and a former blitz #1 – as Carlsen left a very deep, psychological scar on the candidate hopeful.
In the Game 20 session, Carlsen rolled back the years by playing confident and precise chess that no one can match in today’s game. Undefeated and relentless, he won three games to move his score over his Chinese opponent to 30.5-13.5 – but there was worse punishment to come for Ding, as the match turned into a one-man show during the final two days as the competition moved to blitz.
In the Game 10 blitz session, after Ding scored a moral-booster of an opening-game win, Carlsen moved into overdrive by crushing his opponent by ceding only one further draw and notching up six equally impressive wins for an insurmountable 50-18 score, with the match already decided. In the sixth and final day session of the Game 5 blitz, with only honor on the line for Ding, he was again at the receiving end of a punishment beating as Carlsen won a further six games to be the runaway 67-25 winner.
Previously, the gold standard for a blitz performance went to Fischer for his win in the first unofficial world blitz contest in April 1970 at Herceg Novi, in the former Yugoslavia, with his score of 19/22 to win by a margin of 4.5 points ahead of Tal, Petrosian, Korchnoi and Hort – a famous victory that caught the imagination of the media and public alike, and demonstrated that there was a future for speed titles in chess.
And to put Carlsen’s win in context, it was on a par with Fischer’s early 1970s blitz and candidates’ feats of force. Back then, there were no ratings for speed chess, but now there is. And such was the magnitude of Carlsen’s one-sided victory over Ding, only an archaic Fide rule prevented the world champion from becoming the first player to smash a published 3000 rating-barrier.
The Fide rules state that, in match-play, when a match has been won, the rest of the games do not get rated. And had it not been for that Fide rule, Carlsen would have had a phenomenal published blitz rating on 1 December of 3008! Instead, he will have to be content with setting a new record and personal best of 2974 – but he has an ideal platform to go on to break 3000 soon, as he’ll be defending his World Rapid and Blitz Championship titles in Saudi Arabia over Christmas.
Photo | © Lennart Ootes (Official site)
But for now, at the end of a wonderful six-days of non-stop entertainment at the Champions Showdown, each winner – Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura – all took home $60,000, while their opponents – Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk, Leinier Dominguez and Veselin Topalov, respectively – the conciliation of $40,000 each for a grand total of $400,000, courtesy of the generous support of Saint Louis Chess Club founders Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield.
GM Ding Liren – GM Magnus Carlsen
Champions Showdown G10, (2)
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d4 c6 5.0-0 Nf6 6.b3 0-0 7.Bb2 Bf5 8.c4 Nbd7 9.e3 Ne4 10.Nfd2 Ndf6 Black has equality with control of the e4 square – White’s only hope for an advantage is to try locking down the queenside. 11.Nxe4 Bxe4 12.Bh3 Black would have easy equality if the exchanges continue with 12.Bxe4 Nxe4 – so Ding tries to take some advantage of Carlsen’s bishop on e4 with Bh3. 12…Qb6 13.f3 Bxb1 14.Rxb1 e6 Carlsen has a solid position – but if Ding can open the game up, his bishops could prove to be an influential force. 15.Qd3 Rfe8 16.c5 Qc7 17.e4 b6! In such positions, where your opponent threatens to lock-down the game, you have to react quickly by continually and relentlessly undermining the pawn chain – and this is precisely what Carlsen successfully does now. 18.e5 Nd7 19.b4 a5 You simply have to keep up the chip, chip, chipping away to undermine the pawn chain – but can Carlsen keep up the pressure? 20.a3 Reb8 21.Bc3 Bf8! All the action is now concentrated on the queenside – and it looks as if Carlsen’s pieces are going to be locked behind Ding’s pawn chain. But looks can often be deceptive in chess! 22.Rfc1 axb4 23.axb4 bxc5 24.bxc5 Ra3! Black’s has the more active rooks, so White doesn’t have it all his own way. And crucially in a blitz battle, Carlsen has an ace up his sleeve that Ding hasn’t spotted. 25.Bf1? Hook, line and sinker, Ding falls right into Carlsen’s big tactical trick that the world champion has been carefully laying the minefield for. But truth told, we have a balanced position, and White really had to have his wits about him to a possible ‘happening’ on c5, and play more cautiously with 25.Ra1 Rbb3 26.Rxa3 Rxa3 27.f4 Qa7! (This time, the tactical trick Carlsen has in mind backfires: 27…Nxc5? 28.dxc5 Bxc5+ 29.Kg2! (As we’ll see, the best square!) 29…d4 30.Qc4 and White emerges with an extra piece.) 28.Qd1 (White has to remove his queen from the pin from the rook along the third rank, otherwise again there’s a big tactical twist on c5: 28.Bf1? Nxc5! 29.dxc5 d4! with the better game.) 28…Kg7 with a balanced game, where likely the rooks and queens will be exchanged down the a-file, and the game soon leading to a draw, with neither side having any meaningful pawn breaks. 25…Nxc5! [see diagram] Oops! This neat tactical resource leaves Ding poleaxed. Losing two pawns for a piece is the least of his worries, because there’s a sting in the tail with the pin on the bishop and queen leaves Black with a completely won ending due to the power of the passed c-pawn. 26.dxc5 Bxc5+ 27.Kh1 Unfortunately for Ding, there’s a problem this time with his king going to g2: 27.Kg2 d4 28.Rxb8+ Qxb8 29.Qc4 dxc3! 30.Rxc3 (With the king on g2, there’s not time to capture the bishop: 30.Qxc5? Qb2+! 31.Be2 Qxc1 32.Qd6 Ra8 defending against the repetition with Qd8+ and Qf6+, and with the c-pawn close to queening, White may as well resign here.) 30…Qxe5!! 31.Rxa3 Qb2+ 32.Kh3 Qxa3 with a won game. 27…d4 28.Rxb8+ Qxb8 29.Qc4 Rxc3! 30.Rxc3 dxc3 31.Qxc5? Ding’s resolve has well and truly been broken by the magnitude of the beating he’s taken in the match, and he doesn’t even want to ‘fight’ on with his only hope of 31.Qxc3! Qb1 32.Qd3 Qa2 33.f4 Qf2! 34.Qd8+ Bf8 35.Qd3 and, while Black has the extra passed c-pawn, with opposite coloured bishops on the board, it is not so easy here for Black to realize his material and positional advantage due to the omnipresent threat of a perpetual between d8, f6 and h4. 31…Qb1! Ding can’t capture the dangerous c-pawn, as …Qxf1 is mate! 32.Kg2 c2 The c-pawn is now a big game-winner – Ding’s only hope is to try and wangle a repetition on d8, f6 and h4 – but Carlsen soon cuts off this possibility. 33.Qd6 Qd1! Stopping Qd8+, the only hope White has of saving the game now. 34.Bd3 Qd2+ 35.Kh3 Qh6+! 0-1 Ding resigns, with Carlsen’s queen retreat to h6 covering the repetition and allowing for the c-pawn to quickly queen. So now, if 36.Kg2 c1Q 37.Qd8+ Qf8! is an easy, elementary win.