Chess: China’s Ding Liren could make unlikely late bid for Candidates place

Show caption 3808 Anton Demochenko v Vladimir Fedoseev, Riga 2021. Black to move and win. Leonard Barden on chess Chess: China’s Ding Liren could make unlikely late bid for Candidates place Fide’s ban on Sergey Karjakin provides an opportunity in the current series to decide Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger Leonard Barden Fri 25 Mar 2022 08.00 GMT Share on Facebook

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China’s world No 3 Ding Liren could make an unlikely late bid for a place in the Candidates tournament that will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger. Ding’s chances seemed to have vanished when visa problems prevented him competing in the current Grand Prix series in Berlin which will qualify two winners for the Candidates at Madrid in June, but a possible lifeline has appeared due to Fide’s six-month ban on Sergey Karjakin, who had qualified for Madrid via the 2021 World Cup but will now be barred from competing in the Candidates.

Karjakin won the Candidates in 2016 and went on to tie 6-6 with Carlsen in the world championship match before losing the speed chess tie-break.

Fide regulations state that a replacement will be the highest rated eligible player on the May 2022 rating list who has played 30 rated games in the previous 12 months. Due to pandemic and visa issues, Ding has played only four of the required 30, and those were in a hastily arranged match to qualify him for an abortive Grand Prix start.

Then on Thursday a tweet appeared: “Chinese Chess Association will start a series of qualifying tournaments at end of this month for the 19th Asian Games. All top players are required to play, including Ding Liren [plus seven named others] …” The Games are to be held in Hangzhou, China, in September.

This announcement may be coincidental with Ding’s Madrid problem. The Asian Games has only included chess twice previously, in 2006 and 2010, so China, the current open and women’s Olympiad champions, will expect to succeed on home ground with its strongest team and will also be conscious of the growing threat from India’s teenage stars.

Even if next month’s official Games qualifier has many fewer than the required 26 games, there is the option for Ding to arrange other Fide-rated matches there against conveniently available opponents. It would be a tiring schedule and Ding may lose some Fide points, but he has a useful cushion against any accidents that could risk others overtaking him.

The current live ratings show Ding on 2799 Fide points. He is 11 ahead of Levon Aronian and 23 ahead of Richard Rapport, the current favourites to qualify. He is 24 ahead of Wesley So of the US, who has an outside chance in Berlin.

So the advice to Ding must be: “Go for it!” Whether or not he and Beijing’s sports officials are sufficiently motivated and organised to do so remains to be seen.

As he mulled over whether to try to qualify for Madrid, Ding had a more pressing concern on Thursday: a four-game online rapid semi-final against Magnus Carlsen in the Charity Cup, staged to raise funds for Unicef in Ukraine and part of the Meltwater Champions Tour.

Carlsen won the first Tour event and has been in strong form this week, including a convincing victory over England’s Gawain Jones. The Ding v Carlsen semi-final on Thursday evening was a level battle for the first two games, in which the world champion opened as White with the rare move 1 e3, and for most of the third until the Chinese GM, for whom the playing session was the small hours of the morning, blundered or mouse-slipped when short of time in a drawn queen ending and was immediately lost. In the fourth and final game Ding was a touch better, could not make progress against Carlsen’s resilient defence, went into a drawn B v N ending, and finally blundered his knight.

In the second semi-final, Poland’s 2021 World Cup winner and 2022 Candidate Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeated Vietnam’s No 1 Le Quang Liem, now head chess coach at Webster University in the US. Earlier, in his quarter-final, Duda scored with a clever tactic against the Czech David Navara. Can you find White’s winning move? The solution is below.

Duda v Navara

The two-day Carlsen v Duda final is viewable free and live online, starting 5pm Saturday and 6pm on Sunday.

In Berlin in the final leg of the Fide Grand Prix qualifying two winners for the Candidates, Aronian has the edge in the group of death where he meets Hikaru Nakamura and two Russians. Aronian v Nakamura in round one began with a Queen’s Gambit Accepted: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 dxc4 3 e4!? Normal is 3 Nf3, while 3 e3 sets a trap which catches many online novices: 3…b5? 4 a4 c6? 5 axb5 cxb5? 6 Qf3! winning at least a piece. 3…b5 4 a4 c6 5 axb5 cxb5 6 Nc3 Qb6 7 Nd5 Qb7 8 Bf4 e5 9 Bxe5 Nd7 10 Bf4 Ngf6 11 Nc7+ Kd8 12 Nxa8 Qxe4+ 13 Ne2 Qxa8. This sharp position already appeared in Aronian v Leinier Domínguez from an earlier Grand Prix game. Aronian was sure to have analysed it further, but the line with Black was also in Nakamura’s repertoire a decade ago, so he was ready to take it on again.

The decisive position for this game and perhaps for the whole Candidates qualifier came at Black’s 23rd.

Aronian v Nakamura

The computer gives 23…N5xc3 as level, while Nakamura’s 23…Nf4? allowed White three different replies for a clear advantage. Aronian chose 24 Qa2! which soon exchanges queens with a winning ending. That single blunder probably ruined the five-time US champion’s bravura attempt to switch from streamer with a million-plus subscribers to potential challenger to Carlsen.

3808 1…Ne2+! 2 Qxe2 (if 2 Kh2 Qh7+! 3 Nh4 Qxh4+ and wins) Qf4+ 3 Kh3 g4+ 4 Kh4 gxf3+ wins.

Duda v Navara 1 Nxa5+! wins after Qxa5 2 b4 or bxa5 2 Rb3 trapping the queen.