Limping toward London and a streak to be soon broken?


Magnus Carlsen hangs on to No 1 ranking while Ding Liren nears record

The world champion was unconvincing at the European Club Cup but Ding extended his unbeaten run to 94 games

ByLeonard Barden

Fri 19 Oct 2018 10.03 EDT

Magnus Carlsen’s world No 1 ranking barely survived at the European Club Cup, which ended on Thursday, while in contrast Ding Liren’s unbeaten run continued as China’s world No 4 neared historic records.

Carlsen had hoped to produce a controlled and relaxed final warm-up before his world title defence next month but his actual performance was error-prone and lacked conviction. The Norwegian cautiously halved against the world No 3, Shak Mamedyarov, then tried for a full point against the low-rated Alexander Donchenko but miscalculated and had to settle for perpetual check.

His game against Ding was heading for a quiet handshake until Carlsen suddenly blundered an endgame pawn. Thereafter it became a comedy of mutual errors until the champion escaped with a repetition of moves.

It added up to unimpressive form, which contrasted with Fabiano Caruana’s commanding play on top board for the US at the Batumi Olympiad, and is reflected in changes in the betting market for their €1m, 12-game world title series which starts in London on 9 November.

Carlsen has slipped from a strong 1-3 favourite to around 1-2, with Caruana shortening to around 7-4. The challenger remains the outsider due to Carlsen’s three previous title wins and his perceived advantage if the match is tied 6-6 and decided by a speed play-off.

Meanwhile Ding continues his inexorable unbeaten sequence which now totals 94 games, just one shy of the legendary Mikhail Tal’s mark achieved in 1973-74. It looks strange for the risk-on attacking genius to hold such a record but Tal’s style matured in his later years.

There are other claimants. On the criteria of years without defeat, José Raúl Capablanca’s 63 games unbeaten from 1916 to 1924 stands alone. The period coincided with a world war, but also included his world title victory over Emanuel Lasker and his dominating performance at London 1922. More recently Bogdan Lalic, the Croatian GM resident in Surrey, and Sergei Tiviakov, the 2008 European champion, both claim runs of 110 games. Tiviakov wrote that after passing the 100-game mark “it became difficult for me to sleep, since I started to believe in my invincibility”.

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