Unbeaten streak

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Last year the “New in Chess Magazine” (issue no. 2 of volume 2017) carried an infographic page entitled “Streaks of Invincibility” which listed down the records for most classical, or slow, games played in competition without a loss.

Mikhail Tal. 95 games from October 1973-October 1974

Mikhail Tal. 86 games from July 1972-April 1973

Vladimir Kramnik. 82 games from January 1999-July 2000

Wang Yue. 82 games from March 2008-December 2008

Jose Raul Capablanca. 63 games from 1916-1924

Wesley So. 67 games from July 2016 to April 2017. Note: The infographic gave his record as 56 games, but the streak was still live at the time of the magazine’s publication and Wesley extended this to 67 before he lost to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on April 21, 2017 in the Vugar Gashimov Memorial.

Magnus Carlsen. 42 games from November 2015 to April 2016


GM Milan Drasko is in the “New in Chess” list and has a claim to an unbeaten streak because he went 84 games from October 2006-September 2007. I have taken his name out of the list though as the Montenegrin GM is a 2500+ player whose opponents whose opponents were largely in the 2300-2400 range.

GM Sergey Tiviakov and GM Bogdan Lalic both claim to have gone 110 games without defeat. Lalic divides his time between Croatia and England and obtained his highest rating of 2600 in 1997. Tiviakov is a former candidate and obviously a strong player – during his unbeaten period in 2004-2005 he reached a rating of 2700. The quality of his opposition though is definitely not on par with the ones in the list above, as they include games played against 2100 players.

Maybe we should have a separate list for unbeaten streaks of players below the elite level, for I cannot in conscience compare Tiviakov’s streak with someone like Wesley So, whose unbeaten period has less games but comprises of the most powerful tournaments in the world, for example the Sinquefield Cup, London Classic, Tata Steel, the Isle of Man tournament (perhaps the strongest open of the year) and the Baku Chess Olympiad.

Anyway, for what it’s worth Mikhail Tal’s record has recently been broken by Ding Liren, who went 100 games without loss. This is an impressive performance. He lost to Anish Giri in the 2nd game of their 2017 match and after that his next loss was to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the 2nd Du Te Cup last month (November). In between he competed in the following without loss:

2017 Tbilisi FIDE World Cup – this included mini-match victories over GMs Martin Kravtsiv, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, Wang Hao, Richard Rapport, Wesley So. He lost in the finals to Levon Aronian but they fought to four draws in standard chess before the Armenian demi-god broke through in the rapid games. Ding Liren is an awesome tactician but the chess he showed in Tbilisi was calm, controlled positional chess with a drop of tactical poison. The following technical exercise was very impressive.

Ding, Liren (2777) — Wang, Hao (2702) [E05]
FIDE World Cup 2017 Tbilisi (4.2), 13.09.2017

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.0–0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.Nc3 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 c6 14.e3 a5 15.b4 axb4 16.Qxb4 Ra7 17.a5 Na6 18.Qb6 Qa8 19.Ne4 Bd8 20.Qb2 Nb8 21.Nd6 Bxa5 22.Nxb7! Qxb7 23.Qxb7 Rxb7 24.Rxa5

Black has a weak c-pawn and temporarily awkward-placed pieces. Ding manages to convert these apparently small inconveniences into a win.

24…Rc8 25.Rc1 Rbc7 26.Ra8 Kf8 27.h4 Ke7 28.h5 Kd6 29.e4! Ke7 30.e5

The game looked like it was headed for a draw until this move.

30…Rd8 31.Kg2 Rb7 32.Rc4 f6 33.Be4 fxe5 34.dxe5 Rb2 35.Bg6 Nd7 36.Ra7 Re2

[36…Rf8 37.Bc2! Kd8 (otherwise Rd1 and Ba4) 38.f4 Rb6 39.Rd4 Rf7 40.Bg6 Re7 41.Be4 Black’s position is under tremendous pressure and will give in sooner or later]


Ding Liren said after the game that this is the move which won the game for him.

37…Rxe4 38.Bxe4 Rc8 39.f4 Kd8 40.Kf3 c5 41.Ke3 Rc7 42.Ra8+ Rc8 43.Ra6 Ke7 44.Ra7 c4 45.Kd2 c3+ 46.Kc2

The white king catches the passed pawn on time, after which the win is clear.

46…Kd8 47.Bd3 Rc5 48.Ra8+ Ke7 49.Ra7 Kd8 50.Ra3 Nb6 51.Rxc3 Rxc3+ 52.Kxc3 Nd5+ 53.Kd4 Ke7 54.Be4 Nb4 55.Kc5 Na2 56.Kc4 Nc1 57.Bd3 1–0

A few days after the World Cup Ding took part in the European Club Cup and then went home for a rest, but of course he could not refuse the request of his home team to play in a league match where he produced the following “Game of the Year.”

Bai, Jinshi (2553) — Ding, Liren (2774) [E21]
TCh-CHN 2017 China CHN (18.4), 04.11.2017

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 0–0 5.Bg5 c5 6.e3 cxd4 7.Qxd4!?

A rare move. Usual is 7.exd4 where Black can play 7…d5, 7…h6, or even go into obscure complications with 7…Qa5.

7…Nc6 8.Qd3 h6 9.Bh4 d5 10.Rd1 g5 11.Bg3 Ne4 12.Nd2 Nc5 13.Qc2 d4! 14.Nf3 e5 15.Nxe5 <D>

Position after 15.Nxe5

15…dxc3!? 16.Rxd8 cxb2+ 17.Ke2?

Correct is 17.Rd2

17…Rxd8 18.Qxb2 Na4 19.Qc2 Nc3+ 20.Kf3 Rd4!!

With the idea of 21…g4+ 22.Nxg4 Bxg4 mate.

21.h3 h5 22.Bh2 g4+ 23.Kg3 Rd2! 24.Qb3 Ne4+ 25.Kh4

[25.Kf4 Rxf2+ 26.Nf3 (26.Kxe4 Bf5+ 27.Kd5 Rd8+ and mate) 26…gxf3 27.gxf3 Nd2 attacking b3 and f3]

25…Be7+ 26.Kxh5 Kg7 27.Bf4 Bf5 28.Bh6+ Kh7 29.Qxb7 Rxf2

Intending Ng3 checkmate.

30.Bg5 Rh8! 31.Nxf7 Bg6+ 32.Kxg4 Ne5+ 0–1

The finish will be 32…Ne5+ 33.Nxe5 Bf5+ 34.Kh5 Kg7+ 35.Bh6+ Rxh6#

In November 2017 Ding played in the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix (one win over Inarkiev eight draws), 2nd IMSA Basque Tournament (victories over Le Quang Liem, Wang Hao and twice over Korobov), then the powerful FIDE Candidates’ Tournament (the one that Caruana won to book a match with Carlsen) where he had one win over Mamedyarov and drew his other 13 games. Then he had the star-studded Vugar Gashimov Memorial, the Norway Chess tournament where he broke his hip and had to withdraw after 3 rounds.

After a two-month rest he played a match vs. Veselin Topalov (two wins two draws) and then the 43rd chess Olympiad in Batumi.

Ding, Liren (2804) — Duda, Jan-Krzysztof (2739) [D24]
43rd Olympiad 2018 Batumi GEO (10.1), 04.10.2018

The Poles were the surprise team of Batumi. They went berserk and defeated top seed USA, 2nd seed Russia, and powerhouses Ukraine and France. China stopped them in round 10 with a big 3–1 victory and Ding Liren even got the brilliancy prize as well for defeating the Polish Champion Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Here is the game.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 b5 6.e5 Nd5 7.Nxb5 Nb6 8.Be2 Nc6 9.0–0 Be7 10.Qd2! 0–0 11.Qf4 Rb8 12.Nc3 f5 13.Qg3 Kh8 14.Rd1 Nb4 15.b3 cxb3 16.axb3 a6 17.Bc4 Nc2 18.Ra2 Nb4 19.Ra1 Nc2 20.Ra2 Nb4 21.Re2 a5 22.d5! exd5 23.e6 Bd6 24.Qh3 Qf6!

The bishop on c4 cannot be taken: 24…dxc4? 25.Ng5 h6 26.Nf7+ Rxf7 27.exf7 followed by Re8+ because 27…Bd7 is met by 28.Bxh6!


This appears to be an only move:

25.Bg5 Qg6 (not 25…Qxc3? 26.Rc1 the queen has nowhere to go) 26.Bb5 Bxe6 Black has parried all threats and White’s forces are uncoordinated. For example, 27.Bd2 c6 28.Ba4 Bd7 White’s bishop on a4 is completely shut out of action;

25.Ng5 h6 26.Nf7+ Rxf7 27.exf7 Qxf7 White has no attack.

25…dxc4 26.Nxd6 cxd6 27.e7 Re8 28.Ng5 Qg6

[28…h6 29.Qh5! Bd7 30.Rxd6! Qxd6 31.Nf7+]

29.Rxd6! f4! 30.Qh4 Qb1

Now everything is hanging.

31.Re1 Bf5 32.Rd8! Bg6

[32…Rbxd8 33.exd8Q Rxd8 34.Nf7+ Kg8 35.Qxd8+ Kxf7 36.Re7+ Kg6 37.Qd6+ Kh5 38.Qxf4 h6 (otherwise Qg5 mate) 39.Rxg7 mate is coming up]

33.Rxb8 Rxb8 34.Qxf4 Rg8 35.Nf7+ Bxf7 36.Qxf7 Nd7 37.e8Q Nf6 38.Bg5! 1–0

Threatening both the black queen and mate.

After that the European Club Cup and finally the 2nd Du Te Cup where the streak was broken when he lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the 7th round.

Did I mention the reason why I am not so excited about these “unbeaten streaks”? I think they are counter-productive. Even Vladimir Kramnik’s chess quality suffered during his unbeaten streak – in his wish not to lose a game he had to avoid taking risks and this stifled his creativity.

To prove this immediately after losing to the Frenchman with three names Ding Liren came through with a victory over Yu Yangyi, definitely someone who is not easy to beat. Liren got a slight endgame advantage and just keep grinding away until his opponent slipped up and lost.

I am not so sure keeping track of unbeaten streaks is good for the player. Former world champion Veselin Topalov kept playing in his usual risky style and he did not mind losing because he reckons that the additional wins he gets from playing like that will more than compensate. That, I believe, is a more noble attitude.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.