John Henderson
By John Henderson

The “Elo system” – as devised and created by Hall of Famer Arpad Emrick Elo (1903-92), a professor of physics at Marquette University in Milwaukee – was adopted by the USCF in 1960 as the best and most reliable method for rating players. And a decade later, in 1970, it was universally accepted by the game’s governing body, FIDE, to be the benchmark for awarding titles, grading tournaments and rating chess players worldwide.

And thereafter, “numero uno” in chess has been a very select club in the history of the Elo list, with only seven players ever holding the coveted top spot: Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, Vishy Anand, and last but not least the current No.1, Magnus Carlsen – but with the publication of the latest September Elo list by FIDE this week, Carlsen is facing the toughest challenge yet to his top spot, with American World Championship Challenger, Fabiano Caruana, now moving to within 12-points of supplanting the Norwegian.

Yet despite Carlsen, Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov leading the charge with big tournament victories this year, going somewhat unnoticed has been the safe but very steady progress of China’s No.1 Ding Liren, who now has just edged ahead of Carlsen to be the biggest and most consistent rating performer throughout 2018 – and he remains the only unbeaten player this year in the Top 10.

Ding Liren had a minor setback a few months ago when he broke his hip during a bicycle ride and was forced to withdraw from the Altibox Norway Chess tournament. But it looks as if he’s made a complete recovery, and he was back in action again in mid-August by playing a four-game classical match in Wenzhou, China, against former World Champion Veselin Topalov, which was easily won 3-1 by the hometown hero.

In the process of winning the match (with two wins and two draws), Ding not only extended his unbeaten streak to a remarkable 82 games, he now also becomes the first Chinese player to break the Elo 2800-barrier.

FIDE September Top-10:
1. Magnus Carlsen, 2839 (-3); 2. Fabiano Caruana, 2827 (+5); 3. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2820 (-1); 4. Ding Liren, 2804 (+7); 5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 2780 (+1); 6. Levon Aronian, 2780 (+13); 7. Anish Giri, 2780 (=); 8. Vladimir Kramnik, 2779 (=); 9. Wesley So, 2776 (-4); 10. Vishwanathan Anand, 2771 (+3).

Photo: Ding Liren beats Topalov to break the 2800-barrier | © Wenzhu Match Official Site

GM Ding Liren – GM Veselin Topalov
Wenzhou Match, (4)
Catalan Opening
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ The Bogo-Indian approach is a solid and popular option against the Catalan. Here, it is used as a way of ‘wasting’ a move in the opening, so as to get closer to the time control at move 40, and hoping to tempt 5.Nbd2 to disrupt the development of White’s dark-squared bishop. 5.Bd2 Bd6 Again, this isn’t a waste of a move, as White will similarly have to do likewise with his misplaced Bd2. 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Bg5 c6 8.Bg2 h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.0-0 Qd8 11.c5 Bc7 12.e4 b6 13.b4 bxc5 14.bxc5 dxe4 15.Nxe4 Ba6 16.Re1 Bc4 17.Qa4 Bd5 18.Re3! Black looks to have a super-solid position – but with this ingenious rook lift, and some clever manoeuvres, Ding takes full advantage of Topalov’s split queenside pawns. 18…Qc8 19.Nc3 Bd8 20.Rb1 Bf6 21.Bf1! While the 18.Re3 rook lift aims at targeting Black’s weak queenside, another reason for this move was to defend the knight, allowing the relocation of the light-squared bishop. 21…Rd8 22.Nxd5 cxd5 23.Reb3 Ding has Topalov in a bind – and his python-like play for the rest of the game was very Karpovian, as he squeezes the very life out of his opponent. 23…Re8 24.Rb7 Re7 When you are being squeezed, usually the best hope is to seek the trade of pieces – and this is exactly what Topalov attempts to do. 25.Rxe7 Bxe7 26.Ne5 Bf6 27.f4 g6 28.h4 h5 29.Kf2! Another nice little touch from Ding. Topalov’s queenside pieces are pinned in for now, and White’s only weakness that prevents moving in for the kill is his potential weakness on d4 – so Ding just walks his king over to e3 to plug the gap. 29…Kg7 30.Ke3 a6 31.Rb6 Ra7 Fighting for his very survival, Topalov tries his best to stay in the game with a ‘holding pattern’ – but Ding just gradually increases his python-like squeeze. 32.Bd3 Ra8 33.Qc2 Nd7 34.Rc6 Qe8 It’s defending ugly, but it offered better hopes of salvation than 34…Qb7 35.Qb3! Qxb3 36.axb3 Nxe5 37.fxe5 Bd8 38.b4! (Stronger than 38.Rxa6? Rxa6 39.Bxa6 Ba5! and the opposite-colour bishops, and White’s pawns being fixed on dark squares offers very realistic chances of the game now being a draw.) 38…g5 39.hxg5 Rb8 40.Rd6! Bxg5+ 41.Ke2 Rxb4 42.c6 Rb2+ 43.Kf1 Rb3 44.c7 Rc3 45.Rd7! and the c-pawn can only be stopped with a heavy loss of material. 35.Rc7 Nxe5 36.fxe5 Bd8 37.Rb7 Qc6 38.Qb1 Bc7 39.Bxg6! [see diagram] After patiently squeezing Topalov throughout the whole game, Ding picks his moment to strike – and with elan! 39…Rg8 Defence is futile now, as witness 39…fxg6 40.Qb6! Qxb6 41.cxb6 where not only does White win back his piece, but Black is forced now into playing 41…Kh6 just to avoid the pawn promoting after Rxc7+, b7 and Rc8+ – and therefore, completely lost. 40.Bxf7! 1-0 It’s déjà vu all over again, only this time, with the time control made, Topalov resigns here rather than grimly having to play out 40…Kxf7 41.Qb6 Qxb6 42.cxb6 Rxg3+ 43.Kf2 Rg8 44.Rxc7+ Kg6 45.b7 Rb8 46.Ke3 and hopelessly lost.

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