Carlsen-Ding Biggest Champions Showdown Win
Carlsen beat Ding 67-25 in St. Louis. | Photo: Spectrum Studios.

Carlsen-Ding Biggest Champions Showdown Win

| 20 | Chess Event Coverage

By scoring 8.5-3.5 on the final day, Magnus Carlsen beat Ding Liren 67-25 which was the biggest margin of all four Champions Showdown matches in St. Louis. Carlsen won $60,000 (€50,800) for his win, and Ding got $40,000 (€33,870).

Commentator Yasser Seirawan: "At critical moments Ding misses a key move."
Commentator Maurice Ashley: "I think it's not moves, I think it's ideas."

It doesn't really matter how you describe it, but one thing is clear: Carlsen was by far the better player in this match. His 42-point margin win over Ding, a three-time Chinese champion, was bigger than his biggest fans expected.


The last day in St. Louis saw 12 games of 5-minute chess. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

According to Tarjei Svensen Carlsen would have reached a 3008 blitz rating if the last 13 games had been rated.

Ding himself said he was overrated in blitz, but apart from that the reasons for Carlsen's huge score are probably threefold.

For starters, Ding hadn't played serious blitz in about a year, while Carlsen has been very active in this type of chess if you take into account the Grand Chess Tour events and's Speed Chess Championship.

Speaking of SCC... make sure you tune in this Saturday!


Secondly, the Chinese GM revealed he was suffering from a jetlag. "Today was much better; at least I woke up at seven in the morning. In the previous days I woke up at any time between three to five in the morning." He added: "though it was just a small reason I think," but that might have been modesty.

And that brings us to the third reason: too much respect. Ding got a lot of changes but it seemed that in many situations where he had to make a critical decision, he "believed" his opponent too much.

Ding was more satisfied about his play on the last day, but still impressed about his opponent: "Today of course I improved my play and I got some very promising positions. He played very quickly... He is very good at maneuvering and I was not so good at it during blitz."

The last day, which had 12 5-minute games on the program, started shaky for both players. Carlsen dropped a piece, and Ding's technique wasn't great.

The next game started a remarkable series of games where six wins (with some draws in between) would all be scored by Black. Five of those were wins by Carlsen, who wouldn't win a game with the white pieces until his last attempt, in game 11.

In the second game of the day, Carlsen's exchange sacrifice was nice but also too standard for Ding to allow it. Or, as Seirawan described it, a "bad judgement call."


A bad judgement call to allow Rxd5. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

By winning the very next game Ding levelled the score. The way he outplayed the world champion was impressive, and suggested that the fans might see a closer match on the final day. On the contrary, the game ended up being the only win for the Chinese player.


Ding played better on the last day but would only win one game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

The next game was one of the most interesting ones of the 5-minute section. From a Hedgehog we got to see some Sicilian themes when Ding sacrificed a pawn with 16.g6.

Carlsen decided to sacrifice an exchange, but White was still better and 22.e5 looked crushing to many, including the commentators in the St. Louis studio.

Black looks busted, doesn't he?

Carlsen's 22...Bd8! was a rare case of the tables turning with just one move. Suddenly it was White who was completely lost!

The world champ shrugged and frowned a bit, indicating that he hadn't seen the move in advance. In the post-match interview he admitted so: 

"When I sac'ed the exchange I thought that practically speaking this should be alright with two bishops and everything. And then, for some reason I hadn't considered 22.e5 at all after 21...Bf6 and then I thought: oh, 22...Bd8 just wins, so that was lucky. It's not that illogical since he has exposed both diagonals for these bishops that I have. So definitely the warning lights should be going off big time for him."

nullCarlsen: "Chess is not fair sometimes but that's the way it is." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

The next game was drawn, after Carlsen spoilt a drawn rook ending but Ding lacked a couple of seconds to checkmate his opponent with KR vs K.


Both players smiled when Ding flagged a few moves away from checkmating his opponent. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

After another convincing win for Carlsen game seven was another draw, but with an interesting tactical moment.

Ding was definitely playing better on the last day. He lost game eight, but not before getting a winning position. It was games like this Carlsen was talking about when he said, ending with a big smile: "I am not 100% thrilled with the way things went today. He had so many chances!"


"I am not 100% thrilled with the way things went today." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

For game nine let's put up a puzzle, which can easily be added to our Tactics Trainer. It shows that Carlsen also missed a chance or two in the blitz, which is almost impossible to avoid obviously. Can you find the winning path for White?

Game 10 was a fine example of Carlsen responding well to setbacks. After dropping a pawn as early as move 14 he played well for the rest of the game and ended up winning.

Ding: "It takes me a little bit more time to find a clear plan in such positions. Instead if I can attack in a game with the black pieces I will play quickly and stronger I think. It was still a very closed postion and I had to come up with a plan."

Carlsen: "I really liked that game where he got this 14.Bxh5 and I thought: yeah, OK. So then we play and I am just trying to complicate it as much as possible. In blitz a winning position is not enough. If there is no clear way to win it doesn't really matter that much. I gradually got my counterplay going and he eventually cracked so that was fun."


Early setbacks hardly influenced Carlsen's playing strength. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

As mentioned before, Carlsen finally got his first white win in game 11. That game didn't go so great actually, until he got the chance to play the typical Benoni pawn sacrifice known since Penrose-Tal, 1960.

With a draw in the final game the match, and six days of Champions Showdown, came to an end.

"I wanted to attack and get the initiative (...) I wanted to play very aggresively, I wanted to play the King's Indian and Sicilian with Black," said Ding. "It went very well with Black. I won one game I lost one game. But with the white pieces I lost five games in a row!"

Despite scoring badly, he kept on playing 1.d4, like Garry Kasparov kept on fighting Vladimir Kramnik's Berlin Wall in their match in 2000. Ding: "I still played 1.d4, I didn't want to change. I just couldn't believe it. I just wanted to get a draw with 1.d4. It was unbelievable that I lost five in a row and if we count yesterday maybe even more."

Despite his big loss, the Chinese grandmaster wasn't too blown away. "In the previous days I wanted to at least try my best. So I thought maybe if I can play very well and he is not in form I can still compete with him. But after yesterday I was already lost, so today I came a little bit relaxed and I just wanted to play aggressively today. I think my play improved a lot."


Ding with Maurice Ashley in the St. Louis studio. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

"I like those King's Indian games," said Carlsen. "They weren't correct or anything close, but they were fun and I tried to show that I can play that kind kind chess a bit at least."

Asked about whether it's important to get into some kind of flow, Carlsen replied: "At times there was too much flow! Like I would make some move immediately and then I think: 'What did you just do?' So I think a more balanced approach might have been called for but you can't have everything. At the end of the day I am not too dissatisfied with the day today."


"I am not too dissatisfied with the day today." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.

Unlike the other matches, truly crazy timescrables hardly occurred in the Carlsen-Ding match.

Carlsen: "I always saw the fun side of it because I never really got to seconds, I never really got below ten. Certainly that was part of my strategy, at least knowing at some point I had to speed up. It wasn't probably that much of a challenge as I thought it would be because by the time we got to the five-minute portion I had already won the match and there wasn't that much tension. I would be eager to try it again."

Besides many decades of history, the no increment time controls might have a future too.

You can replay the live broadcast of the last day here.

Previous reports:

More from PeterDoggers
Nepomniachtchi, Svidler Take Over On Levitov Chess Week Day 2

Nepomniachtchi, Svidler Take Over On Levitov Chess Week Day 2

Undefeated Aronian Grabs Early Lead As Levitov Chess Week Returns To Amsterdam

Undefeated Aronian Grabs Early Lead As Levitov Chess Week Returns To Amsterdam