Not a few experts believe that chess is very useful for top managers because it teaches them to make difficult decisions quickly and under pressure. The players suffer not only the objective urge to make many moves in seconds or a few minutes, but also the subjective one of seeing a devil with a scythe coming after them; sometimes, despite his expertise and experience, it blocks their minds. This is what happened to Chinese Liren Ding on Tuesday when he lost, after gaining an advantage, the seventh game against Ian Niepómniashi in the World Cup in Astana (Kazakhstan). The Russian leads by 4-3, but will lead the black pieces from Thursday in four of the seven remaining.
In the World Cup, more time is available than in the elite tournaments: two hours each for the first 40 moves; one more hour to get to 60; if the game is still going on, 15 more minutes until the end, but automatically adding 30 seconds after each move. The latter is done to prevent someone with an overwhelming advantage from losing on time, since he will always have at least 30 seconds for the next cast. Of the official tests with many participants, the main one is the World Cup: 90 minutes for the first 40 movements, and 30 minutes for the rest (with the additional 30-second increment). All of that is classical chess. In addition, there is the fast mode (very much in vogue since the pandemic made online chess fashionable), where the games usually last less than 45 minutes, and lightning (less than ten). There is also the Armageddon either sudden death, to break the tie: for example, four minutes for the player with the black pieces and five for the white one, forced to win. would still need to be added chess-bullet (bullet), with one minute for each player for the whole game, very popular on the internet.
In classical chess, it is more and more frequent that a large number of initial moves (sometimes more than twenty) are made by heart, following home analysis contrasted with very powerful computers, which play better than the world champion. But Ding runs away from that because he is convinced that his understanding of chess is deeper and more universal than Niepómniashi’s, very dangerous when he attacks but not so much in other types of positions, although he has improved in them for two years. Consequently, Ding pursues that his rival has to think with her own head as soon as possible, without playing by heart.
The problem with that strategy is that he also has to spend more time than normal in the first 20 or 25 casts. On Tuesday he only had about ten minutes left after the 27th to reach the 40th. But he had already done the most difficult thing: drying up Niepómniashi’s tremendous attack with several fine plays; he dominated the only open column, in the center, and was therefore in control. The logical results, under normal conditions, were two: his victory or a draw.
But Ding kept rushing, and at 31 he only had two minutes for ten moves. The good news for him was that the position allowed him to make waiting plays, which didn’t spoil anything and bought time. Even non-professional chess players would have tried that, before which Niepómniashi would have to choose between two paths: A) Also waiting moves, which would help the Chinese to pass control of the 40 without problems; B) Complicating as much as possible to cause Ding’s error; but this would have forced him to think and calculate beforehand, and then the Asian could have also calculated with his opponent’s time.
Instead, Ding panicked because he saw the devil with the scythe: the prospect of losing on time a game he had played so well up to that point paralyzed his brain cells. He didn’t think that drawing was a good result with the black pieces and the score even, and opted for the sharpest variation possible, which required him to attack very precisely with no time on the clock. And the one with the scythe caught up with him, because Niepomniashi smelled the blood and got into the most complex continuation because he knew that only a computer could find the best answers so quickly. And Ding is a human being, who was led by ambition and environmental pressure to lose control of himself.
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