I cannot but admire the man.
After the meltdown in the rapid and blitz he pulled himself together in the classical and basically closed down shop. Conservative, ultra-careful and safe he made 9 draws in a row. Curiously enough, the last draw followed a less well-known game by Fischer:
There was a curious story about this Fischer game I read somewhere (at this point of writing I cannot recall the details – where I read it, which analysis he wanted to refute). Fischer was trying to catch Matulovic in an improvement over existing theory at the time, but Matulovic improved on the bad analysis and caught Fischer instead!
In Round 10 more classical heritage appeared in Carlsen’s game, but this time to a better effect.
This position arose after move 19 in the Giuoco Piano, with Carlsen playing Nc4 previously and inviting …Bc4, bxc4. The position immediately draws comparison to the famous Liublinsky-Botvinnik game:
Botvinnik famously won by planting his rook on d4 and undoubling his c-pawns after White took the exchange.
Carlsen didn’t need to sacrifice an exchange, he planted a knight on d5 and this sufficed.
Then in Round 11 the Frenchman with two surnames continued the tradition (Grenke, Zagreb and now here) of losing in the last round to the World Champion, this time by committing a hara-kiri blunder in a double-edged position.
For me, this comeback was incredible. With these two wins Carlsen emerged shared 1st with Ding Liren, something which seemed not very likely, to say the least, from the way he was playing. He must be the only person alive to be able to pull this type of turnaround, to get beaten down (in the rapid and blitz), to stabilise, to take his chances and finish first!
The other big story was of course his loss in the tie-break. A first loss in a tie-break since 2007, after winning 10 of them in a row. But even this loss somehow falls into the picture of Carlsen not being at his best overall, yet finishing first. Losing the tie-break only meant that there was a guy who was better than him on that given day.
That guy is Ding Liren, one of the 3 players who manage to keep their rating steadily over 2800 for over a year. This stability is key. This is Ding Liren’s first super-tournament victory, one that undoubtedly sets a new level of expectation for him, and here I mean the Candidates Tournament next year. Together with Caruana, who, admittedly, doesn’t have a spectacular year (yet keeps his rating comfortably over 2800!), these two are the frontrunners for a match with Carlsen next year. But before that, they’ll fight it out in the Candidates, where I see them as the main contenders irrespective of who else plays there.
The move of the tournament was the final move of the tournament. In both blitz games Ding showed that he saw more than Carlsen and did it faster than his opponent.
Ding went for this position voluntarily. It appears that White’s winning, but the Chinese had the next move prepared: 40…Ne7! Carlsen could only smile and resign.