Despite some heart-stopping moments during the recent 34th European Club Cup held at the Porto Carras Grand Resort in Chalkidiki, Greece, Magnus Carlsen managed to make it to the end of the team competition by holding on to his coveted world No.1 spot – but only just, as he now heads to London for his World Championship showdown in London next month with Fabiano Caruana, with just 2.5-points separating the two title-combatants in the unofficial live ratings.
In the final round, Carlsen had a somewhat cautious draw with the very-much out-of-form eight-time Russian champion Peter Svidler, as his Valerenga Sjakklubb team from Oslo lost 4-2 to Mednyi Vsadnik (Bronze Horseman) St. Petersburg. Despite Svidler coming off a career-worst four-straight losses in the competition, his Bronze Horseman team – named after the impressive equestrian statue to the founder of St. Petersburg, Peter the Great – dramatically clinched the title, as they edged out the Czech Republic team of AVE Novy Bar on tiebreak, after the two teams finished tied on 12/14 at the top.
Meanwhile, Ding Liren is not only still on an amazing 14-month unbeaten run streak, but he’s now also the player with the best performance rating for the year, edging out Carlsen, Anish Giri and Caruana respectively! Ding’s last round win over GM Zahar Efimenko not only took his performance for the year up to 2847, but it also extended his unbeaten run streak now to an incredible 94 games, just one away from equalling Mikhail Tal’s famous run from the early 1970s.
The Chinese No. 1 and world No.4 will next play (possibly) in the Chinese League and then on to the Shenzhen Masters Super-tournament in China that runs through early November, that will also feature MVL, Giri, Yu Yangyi, Wojtaszek and Vitiugov. And baring a shock defeat, the new ‘Iron Man’ of Chess looks set to either equal or better Tal’s run. But does anyone really know the real Ding number needed to officially claim the record?
Ding’s run has thrown up some interesting questions from pundits, players and fans alike, as to just who holds the record? It all follows on from an article that appeared in New in Chess magazine 2017/#2, which highlighted Tal’s seemingly invincible run of 95 games unbeaten during 1973-74, claiming it to be the official record. But other claimants soon came forward. In follow-up missives to the magazine, Bogdan Lalic, the Croatian GM based in Surrey, England, and Sergey Tiviakov, the three-time current Dutch champion and former world candidate both claimed unbeaten streaks that lasted 110 games. Tiviakov’s is regarded as the one to beat, being achieved at a higher level, with his opponents during the period 2004-2005 included Aronian, Radjabov, Ivanchuk and Carlsen, to name but a few.
Also, GM Ulf Andersson is claimed to have had a run of 100 games without a loss – which even without any rudimentary research I find to be entirely credible, because, at his peak, the Swede was notoriously tough to beat. But I can add a further twist to the saga, as I am also aware of the fact that GM Lev Psakhis, formerly the world No.7 and a two-time USSR co-champion from the early 1980s, went on an unbeaten run streak of 120 games that stretched through late 1996 to mid-1998.
During this time, Psakhis – who, like Andersson, was notoriously tough to beat – played in many of the Swiss Opens on the US and Canadian circuit, and his run finally came to an end at the 1998 New York Open, when he lost to GM Ildar Ibragimov. And typically of Psakhis, who is a very modest person, he keeps quiet about the run.
Photo: He’s ‘the real Ding’ – 94 games unbeaten, and still going strong! | © Niki Riga / official site
GM Ding Liren – GM Zahar Efimenko
34th ECC Open, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 The Anti-Marshall – a wise move from Ding, as Frank J. Marshall’s eponymous attacking gambit with 8.c3 d5 is a well-worked out system for Black that’s difficult for White players – even for those at elite-level, such as Ding – to try to win against. 8…Bb7 9.d3 d6 10.c3 Qd7 11.Nbd2 It’s a well-recognised knight route in the Lopez: Nb1-d2-f1-g3-f5. 11…Nd8 12.Nf1 Ne6 13.Ng3 c5 14.d4 The key to success in the Lopez for White is releasing the power of the bishop-pair on the Black kingside. 14…exd4 15.cxd4 d5! This is the best move for Black, guaranteeing equality, as it challenges White in the centre and also opens lines for his own bishop-pair. 16.e5 Ne4 17.Nf5 c4 18.Bc2 Bb4 19.Re3 Also worthy was the alternative of 19.Nd2 with possible exchange sacrifice ideas with Nxe4!? dxe4 and Rxe4. But with the rook lift, Ding keeps open the possibility of Rh3 as a prelude to an all-out kingside attack. 19…Rad8 20.Ng3 Bc6 21.h4!? The game was finely balanced, but Ding now ups the ante by unbalancing the position, all of which only serves to bamboozle his opponent. 21…bxa4 The critical line was surely 21…Nxg3 22.fxg3 Be7!? doubling down on the g5 square, and asking White what does he really have here? 22.h5 This looks like a sign that Ding is taking a liberty or two with his weaker opponent, trying his best to make the position as confusing as he can. It’s a risky policy, but the ‘fear factor’ policy works. I think, if Ding was playing someone like Magnus or Fabiano etc., he wouldn’t have hesitated with the more conservative 22.Nxe4 dxe4 23.Bxe4 Bxe4 24.Rxe4 Nc5 25.Re2 where, if anything, Black stands better. 22…a5 The correct move that causes White problems is 22…Qb7! 23.h6 g6 where now, after 24.Nh2 Qb6 shows up a major obstacle for White in how to defend d4. The most obvious move is 25.Ne2 but after 25…Be7 Black seems to have everything under control and looks to be on top. 23.Ra2 It may look like a strange move, and it is a strange move – but there’s method in Ding’s madness. Ding is looking to protect b2 so that he can bring his dark-squared bishop into the coming kingside assault. 23…g6 24.Nh2 Kh8 25.Ne2 Ng7 26.Rh3! [see diagram] 26…Be7? [Efimenko cracks under the pressure. He’s lost the thread of the game now and struggles to hold back Ding’s attack. That said, he had to bite the bullet here and play 26…Nxh5! 27.f3 Nc5 28.Ng4! (Taking the knight loses to 28.dxc5? d4! winning.) 28…Ne6 29.Bh6 Rfe8 and take his chances here. It’s a difficult position, but, with careful play, Black should be OK. 27.f3 Nxh5 Black is just totally bust. If 27…Ng5 28.Bxg5 Bxg5 29.f4 Be7 30.hxg6 fxg6 31.Bxg6 the White attack is crashing through. 28.fxe4 dxe4 29.Bxa4 f6 30.exf6 Bxf6 31.Bxc6 Qxc6 32.Bh6 Rf7 33.Ng4 c3 There is no way to defend the indefensible. If 33…Qe6 34.Nxf6 Nxf6 35.Rxa5 Qb6 36.Qa1! and White protects b2 and set to trade pieces off for an easy endgame win with the extra piece – an extra piece always comes in handy! 34.Rxc3 The rest is just an easy mopping up job from Ding. 34…Qe6 35.Nxf6 Nxf6 36.Rxa5 Ng4 37.Bf4 Rdf8 38.Qc1 e3 39.Rc7 Qe4 40.Rxf7 1-0 Efimenko has reached the time control and throws in the towel now, as after 40…Rxf7 41.Qc8+ will also pick up the hanging knight on g4.