The 34th European Club Cup, a major event for many of Europe’s top professional clubs, is now well underway in the paradise Greek resort of Halkidiki. There are 61 teams competing for the main prize in the open event (and, as the recent Olympiad, there’s also a women’s event with 12 teams), with many of the top clubs having lucrative sponsorship deals that allow them to hire in the services of many elite mercenaries.
While the top three seeds are Alkaloid (Macedonia), AVE Novy Bor (Czech Rep) and Odlar Yurdu (Azerbaijan), all eyes are on the lesser-fancied fifth seeds Valerenga Sjakklub from Norway, especially as they have retained the services of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and this will be his final warm-up before heading to London next month to defend his title against American challenger Fabiano Caruana.
And for Carlsen, playing in the ECC comes with the added risk of virtually every game seeing his coveted World No.1 spot being on the line, as he could head into the London match with Caruana gifted an added psychological boost by replacing him at the top of the world rankings. After easily winning in round two, Carlsen gained two rating points – but now, after ceding draws to GMs Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Alexander Donchenko respectively, the gap at the top between the two title combatants is now down to just 4.3 points on the unofficial live ratings.
Meanwhile, as the tournament approaches its midpoint, favourites Alkaloid and Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova (Italy) have the joint-lead on a perfect four wins, one-point ahead of the chasing pack of Odlar Yurdu, AVE Novy Bar, Beer Sheva Chess Club and Carlsen’s Valerenga Sjakklub, as the competition now heads towards the big title-deciding clash of the leaders – and with it, in round five, Carlsen is now set to face the last player to beat him, Shakh Mamedyarov, the world No.3.
And Alkaloid’s talismanic top board, Ding Liren, today consigned the eight-time Russian champion Peter Svidler to a somewhat stunning third successive loss, as he further strengthens his reputation to be the new “Iron Man” of chess. It’s becoming a “Ding thing” now in the chess world, as the Chinese world No.4 is proving impossible to beat these days, having last lost a classical chess game to Anish Giri, more than 432 days ago!
Ding’s unbeaten streak stands at 91 games – or perhaps it could be 90, as there seems to be an ongoing steward’s enquiry from those that like to keep tabs on such records. It all has to do apparently with the possible wrong sequence of games played during a Chinese League fixture weekend that immediately followed Ding’s 4-game friendly match with Giri, held in Wenzhou, back in August 2017, that’s being investigated.
The great Mikhail Tal is often referenced as the record holder with a run of 95 games unbeaten (Oct. 1973 – Oct. 1974) – and with Ding closing in fast now on that number, it is best to be accurate, hence the ongoing check with the Chinese League fixtures. But even if Ding does surpass Tal’s 95 games, there’s the further hurdle of a little-acknowledged unbeaten run by Sergey Tiviakov, the Russian-born current three-time Dutch champion.
Tiviakov claims a streak of 110 games unbeaten in classical chess that lasted eleven months, through 2004-2005. During this period, he was playing many top tournaments with opponents that included Aronian, Radjabov, Ivanchuk and Carlsen, to name but a few. The confusion surrounding his claim comes because he lost two FIDE World Cup rapid playoff games to Ivanchuk – but crucially, he didn’t lose in their classical mini-matches, and so the streak continued into his next few tournaments.
Photo: Can Ding Liren beat Tal’s long-standing record of 95 games….or possibly even Tiviakov’s record of 110 games? | © Niki Riga / official site
GM Ding Liren – GM Peter Svidler
European Club Cup, (4)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3!? As the NIC book title says, this is ‘The Ultimate Anti-Grünfeld‘ – and 3.f3!? is by no means new, though it is newly popular. It was first played in praxis by Flohr and Nimzowitsch back in 1929 but then subsequently championed by World Champion Alexander Alekhine. But in the last decade or so, it has been at its zenith by becoming arguably the best move to play against the Grünfeld, forcing many of those die-hards to play instead into a King’s Indian Sämisch. 3…Nc6 And herein lies the truth from the ultimate Grünfeld guru himself, Peter Svidler, who does indeed transposes into a KID Sämisch rather than enter 3…d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 that has scored very well for White, as Black gets none of the usual Grünfeld counter-play. 4.d5 Ne5 5.e4 d6 6.Nc3 c6 7.f4 And from the Sämisch, we now enter into the realms of the KID Four Pawns Attack! – but one where White has a somewhat free reign, as Black does not have the usual counter-play motifs. 7…Ned7 8.Nh3 This is another added bonus of Ding’s Four Pawns Attack set-up now, as the knight will go to f2 to support e4 and thus not hinder the development of the bishops – and from f2, the knight also prevents ideas of a …Ng4 or …Bg4. 8…Nc5 9.Nf2 Bg7 10.Be2 0-0 11.Be3 Ding has clearly won the battle of the opening. He has a big space advantage with his phalanx of centre pawns and harmonious development of his pieces. All Svidler can look forward to, is prolonged awkwardness and agony at the board. 11…cxd5 12.cxd5 Qa5 13.0-0 Bd7 Attempting a …b5 break would normally be a good idea for Black in the KID – but before Svidler can even get his pants on to organise this, Ding is ready to push forward with his strike. 14.e5! Ne8 15.Qd4 If Svidler doesn’t organise some counter-play from somewhere, anywhere, then it is more than likely he’ll be crushed by the tsunami of White forces pushing forward. 15…Na4 16.Nxa4 Qxa4 17.Rac1 Qa5 Despite it all looking a bit awkward for Svidler, with his forces getting into a tangle, he should really have relieved the pressure with the trade of queens now with 17…Qxd4 18.Bxd4. White is still clearly better, but Black has good chances to find a way to regroup and try to find a salvageable ending. 18.Ne4 Bb5 19.Bxb5 Qxb5 20.b3 dxe5 21.fxe5 Nd6 22.Bf4 Those central White pawns on d5 and e5 just dominate Black, who can’t find squares for his pieces, specifically his …Bg7. 22…Rac8 23.Nc3 Qa5 24.Qd3 Nf5 25.g4 Qb6+ It’s marginally better, but there’s respite after the tricky 25…Nh4 as White has a clear advantage after the forcing sequence of 26.Bg5 Bxe5 27.Bxh4 Rxc3 28.Rxc3 Qxc3 29.Qxc3 Bxc3 30.Bxe7 Re8 31.d6! and the d-pawn will ultimately prove decisive. 26.Kh1 Qd4 27.Qe4! [see diagram] Forcing the trade of queens under more favourable circumstances. 27…Qxe4+ 28.Nxe4 Nd4 Welcome to ‘Akwardsville’, Mr Svidler! White’s central pawns and minor pieces are preventing Svidler from ever getting his pieces into the game, as Ding now ruthlessly tightens his death grip. 29.Rcd1 Ne2 30.Bg5 Either way, Ding is going to emerge with a very strong passed d-pawn pushing up the board. 30…f6?! This compounds Svidler’s problems – but then again, his only real alternative led to an ugly, awkward survival attempt with 30…Rce8 31.Rf2! h6 32.Bh4 g5 33.Rxe2 gxh4 34.Nc5 Kh7 35.Nxb7 f5!? 36.exf6 Bxf6 37.Nc5 Rg8 38.Nd7 etc. 31.exf6 exf6 32.Nxf6+ Quicker is 32.Bxf6! Bxf6 33.Nxf6+ Kg7 34.g5 h6 35.gxh6+ Kxh6 36.d6 and the d-pawn runs home. 32…Bxf6 33.Bxf6 Nc3 34.Rd4 Rcd8 35.Bxd8 Rxf1+ 36.Kg2 Rf7 37.d6 It’s bad enough being a pawn down and having to deal with the d-pawn, but Svidler is further handicapped by the fact that his knight has no scope whatsoever. 37…Rd7 38.Bg5 Nxa2 Svidler opts to hang now for a sheep than a lamb, as there is no hope of surviving this. If 38…Nb5 39.Rd5! a6 (If 39…Nxd6 40.Bf4 wins the knight) 40.Bf4 Kf7 41.a4 Nc3 42.Rd3 Ne4 43.Kf3 Nf6 44.g5! Ne8 45.a5 Ke6 46.Ke3 and, as taking the d6-pawn leads to a lost king and pawn ending, White will squeeze out the win with the sequence Rd4 followed by Kd3-c4-c5 etc. 39.Bd2! The knight on a2 is now bereft of squares, as Ding moves in for the kill. 39…b5 40.b4 Kf7 41.Rd3 1-0 Svidler resigns, as the only way to stop Ra3 winning the trapped knight is to play 41…a5, after which 42 bxa5 and pushing the a-pawn wins.