It was a final on which the whole world of chess watched on video stream on Thursday: the jump-off at the Saint Louis Chess Club between world champion Magnus Carlsen and the Chinese Ding Liren, which is to decide on the victory in the Sinquefield Cup.
For two weeks, twelve super-strong grandmasters had played against each other. In the end, Carlsen and Ding are in first place with 6.5 points from eleven games. In the tiebreak the tempo is tightened: Only two fast games with 25 minutes each time - they end in a draw. Therefore two flash games of five minutes each.
In the first blitz game, Carlsen gets under pressure with Black in a Queen's Gambit, and uses up minute by minute in the opening, his game does not flow. Lost in thought, he grabs a beaten farmer standing next to the board and turns it in his hollow hand as time passes.
In the final, his king is marginalized, besieged by white troops; every move has to sit now, otherwise it's over. Ding does not give up, he goes after him, he lavishes, he still finds a threat; both have only seconds left on the clock. Then Carlsen stops suddenly, hesitates two seconds and passes the time.
A tactical skirmish
The two seconds are relentlessly repeated in the livestream, even in slow motion.
Now things are ahead. Carlsen, now with White, must win the second blitz game to equalize. Spanish opening. Carlsen pulls fast, ripping open his kingside to break an attack off the fence. But the attack does not really get going while Ding quietly reinforces his position on the queenside. Suddenly there is a tactical skirmish. Ding gives a tower for a knight and two pawns, then the queen for two towers. Confusing position. Carlsen can win a piece, no, not. Then he wants to hit out for the decisive blow, dull with the queen in the next move - and overlooks that Ding can still throw him a jumper in the way. Carlsen could beat that, but would then be dull even with tower and runner. All black figures magically work together.
Again, the seconds are lost. Does the world champion think? Or is it just the infinite moment of overcoming defeat? Then he hands over the board - task.
Winner thing. After the game, the timid man is asked when he saw the Matt countermote. Two moves before, he says. But there was no time to check it out. His hand just made the move.
It's been Ding Liren's biggest hit so far. If the 26-year-old is able to maintain or improve his form, he would be a favorite at the spring 2020 Candidates Tournament, where the next challenger to the World Champion will be determined. As a world ranking list knight, Ding is already entitled to participate.