The chess world is still buzzing about Ding Liren’s win of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. He had to overcome World Champion Magnus Carlsen who has looked unbeatable all year long. This is a landmark win for many reasons.
Firstly, it shows his competitive toughness; secondly, Ding remains a good chance to make the Candidates tournament to qualify for the World Championship; lastly, it may be evidence that the chess world may be witnessing the emergence of the next batch of contenders.
In the recent years, we have heard so much about rise of Asian players from Viswanathan Anand to most recent sensations like Iran’s Alireza Firouzja. Ding Liren mostly flew under the radar and was merely one of several Chinese players who were 2700ish. Wei Yi was the player most commonly thought be the singular talent to challenge for the world title in the near future.
Rise of the Chinese Dragons
We have been witnessing the rise of China as a chess power for the past 20 years. The Chinese women had always been a force since the 80s and boast six Olympiad gold medals and six World Champions (Xie Jun, Zhu Chen, Xu Yuhua, Hou Yifan, Tan Zhongyi and the reigning champion, Ju Wenjun). Xie Jun is now the President of the Chinese Chess Association!
For the men, the emergence of Bu Xiangzhi was perhaps a sign that China would begin to produce world-class talent. Bu once held the world record for the youngest Grandmaster at 13 years, 10 months and 13 days. The 2003 editorial “Why China Will Soon Dominate Chess,” was gaining some credibility, but it had been a long time since Liu Wenzhe shocked the hall at the Buenos Aires Olympiad in 1978. It was on the largest stage that he uncorked a sparkling queen sacrifice over world class Jan Hein Donner. The world began to take notice.
On these pages, several articles were penned about the “Rise of Asian Tigers“ and the emergence of young talent such as Wang Hao, Wang Yue, Li Chao, and Yu Yangyi. Ding Liren perhaps hit the chess radar when, as an untitled 2400-Elo player, he won the Chinese Championship.
Ding Liren, then 16 and 2400, enroute to his first Chinese title in 2009!
Photo by Sina Chess News.
He was part of a succession of 2700-level Chinese players who began to grace the chess media for the first time. Xu Yuhua was one of the first Chinese players to grace the cover of a New in Chess in 2006. Wang Yue appeared a couple of years later.
In 2014, Chinese “men’s” team won its first Olympiad gold medal and a silver in 2018 in Batumi. Ding Liren has slowly emerged as the leader after others like Bu Xiangzhi, Ni Hua, Wang Yue, Yu Yangyi all took turns appearing as the face of the emerging chess power. Ding appeared as the cover story of New in Chess in 2015 and gave a poignant interview. He spoke of yet another rising star in China.
“Maybe I’m just a little stream or a little hill in front of him and it’s just a matter of time for Wei Yi to pass me.”
~Ding Liren in 2015 interview with New in Chess
Very dignified comments in deferring to the super talent. However, it doesn’t appear that Wei Yi will be overtaking Ding any time soon given the latter’s fine form in the past few years. In fact, Wei Yi’s development has stabilized in the past four years, but he is only 20.
Ding Liren at the 2011 World Team Championship.
Photo by Fan Lulu
Fast forward to 2018, it is clear that the humble and soft-spoken Ding has made a separation having eclipsed the 2800-mark for the first time. His recent win at the Sinquefield Cup and the defeat of Carlsen in blitz tiebreak has the chess world buzzing. Is he the next challenger? If so, he has proven that going to tiebreak would not be the obstacle that it was for Fabiano Caruana. He has mild demeanor, is hard to beat and is absolutely fearless. The closing moments in the tiebreak tells all.
Final moments of blitz game 2 pic.twitter.com/8uT9I3xj0r
— Grand Chess Tour (@GrandChessTour) August 29, 2019
What’s Next for Ding?
Now at 26 years old, Ding is entering his prime and appears to be heading to London for the Grand Chess Tour final. However, there are still many suitable candidates anxious for a shot against Carlsen. One of the drawbacks to such a circuit is the fatigue of seeing the same players compete year after year. These players are now so well prepared against each other that we see only a handful of decisive games in a tournament.
We recall the reaction when Carlsen-Caruana match had 12 consecutive draws and had to resort to quick-chess to determine the champion. One thing for sure, Ding will have no problem going into tiebreaks if this should occur. This may prove to be an important psychological point going into a championship match. It should be an exciting final and the candidates match will prove to be an important stage for Ding Liren.
Official Site: https://grandchesstour.org/2019-grand-chess-tour/2019-sinquefield-cup
PGN Games: (classical, tiebreaks)
Hartmann, John, “Ding Liren wins 2019 Sinquefield Cup,” 30 August 2019, Chess Life Online.