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Shrewd judges consider China’s world No3 Ding Liren as the favourite to win the eight-man candidates in March 2020 and so qualify for a world title match with Magnus Carlsen later next year.

Ding underlined his credentials at last weekend’s Grand Tour finals at London Olympia, where he won the $150,000 first prize convincingly.

A Ding v Carlsen final was expected, but the Norwegian lost his semi-final to France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a speed tie-break, only his second tie-break defeat in a dozen years.

The game which made a great impression was Ding’s victory in game two of the final, after letting a win slip the previous day. It was a mixture of powerful and deep strategy, highlighted by a tour of the board by the white queen’s rook, and ended with the fine sacrificial attack shown in this week’s puzzle. Ding’s dominant style is akin to Mikhail Botvinnik, the Soviet patriarch who held the world crown off and on for 15 years.

Carlsen in 2019 has played more events than any other world champion in a single year. His unbeaten streak at classical time limits, now 107 games and four short of a record, only just survived in his semi-final against Levon Aronian.

2345

Ding Liren v Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Grand Tour final, London Olympia 2019. White (to move) won by a splendid attacking sacrifice which quickly led to checkmate or decisive material gain. Can you find it?

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