Career moves

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

Sergey Karjakin won’t be playing much chess for a while. Last month, the Russian grandmaster’s Twittering jingoism in support of the invasion of Ukraine drew such universal scorn that his international invitations were bound to run dry.

Karjakin challenged Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship in 2016, and had earned a spot in Fide’s forthcoming Candidates tournament, which will begin in Madrid in mid-June 2022. Perhaps he assumed that was one invitation which could not get lost in the post. But then Karjakin’s conduct was brought before the Fide Ethics Commission, which bared its teeth and resolved to ban him from competitive play for six months – long enough to make him forfeit his chance in the biggest tournament of the year.

As appealing as this is, I found it hard to wrap my head around the Commission’s key finding. Karjakin’s public pronouncements were deemed to ‘cause the game of chess, Fide or its federations to appear in an unjustifiable unfavourable light and in this way damage its reputation’. There’s no doubt his tasteless tweets have laid waste to his own reputation, but it seems to me that both the game of chess and Fide are viewed independently and will comfortably shrug it off. (By contrast, when the Ethics Commission investigates cheating incidents, those really do impugn the game as a whole. Cheating poisons the game for everyone.)

An appeal can’t be ruled out, but in Karjakin’s absence, his spot will go to the highest-rated player not otherwise qualified, provided they have played 30 games in the year to 1 May. Normally that would be Ding Liren, whom Carlsen recently esteemed as ‘clearly the best player not already in the Candidates’. The long-time world no. 2 has been unable to participate in any qualifying tournaments from this cycle, apparently due to assorted travel impediments. But there’s the rub – Ding’s dormancy means that his deus ex machina is not yet fully realised. To qualify, he must rack up 26 games before the month is out, without slipping too far down the rating list.

Clearly, the Chinese federation has pulled out all the stops as Ding suddenly has a full schedule. As I write this, he has just rattled through 12 games at a quadrangular tournament in Hangzhou. Even as the clear favourite, his 10.5/12 demolition of grandmaster opposition (including the game below) was remarkable. Next up is a six-game match with Wei Yi, a closely ranked compatriot, and he will round off the month of April with a ten-game qualifier event for the 2022 Asian games. Even if he cannot maintain the blistering form he showed in Hangzhou, Ding looks very likely to be on his way to Madrid in June.

Ding Liren-Bai Jinshi

Hangzhou Grandmaster Tournament, March 2022

1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 dxc5 d4 7 Na4 Bxc5 8 Nxc5 Qa5+ 9 Bd2 Qxc5 10 b4 Qf5 11 Rc1 Nf6
12 Rc5 Qd7 13 b5 Nd8 14 Bb4 Ne6 15 Rc4 Nd5 16 Nxd4 Nxb4 17 Rxb4 O-O 18 e3 Qe7 19 Qd2 Rd8 20 Be2 Nxd4 21 Rxd4 Be6 22 O-O Rxd4 23 Qxd4 b6 24 Rd1
24 a4 Rd8 grants Black counterplay, so Ding sacrifices the pawn to maintain the pressure.Bxa2 25 Bf3 Rc8 26 Bb7 Rc5 27 Qd8+ Qf8 28 h3 Bb3 29 Rd4 g6 30 Qf6 Rf5 31 Qh4 Qc5 The decisive error: 31…Kg7 was a better way to dodge the threat of Rd4-d8. 32 Be4 Re5 (see diagram) 33 Bxg6! A wonderful shot. fxg6 33…hxg6 34 Rd8+ Kg7 35 Qh8# 34 Rd7 The queen and rook create too many threats. Bf7 35 Qf6 Qc1+ There was nothing better. 35…Rf5 36 Rd8+ or 35…Qd8 36 Qxe5. 36 Kh2 Black resigns

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