International Chess Federation
Thursday, 13 Apr 2023 15:15
FIDE World Championship: Ding Liren strikes back with a victory

The Chinese Grandmaster scored his first victory in the World Chess Championship match against Ian Nepomniachtchi on Thursday evening to level out the score at 2:2

Ding Liren scored his first victory in the match for the title of World Chess Champion after Ian Nepomniachtchi lost his way as Black in the middlegame following a serious blunder.

In the Two Knights system of the English opening Ding – playing as White – managed to create a position which was more suitable for him. White was in control of the centre and was dictating the pace, but the position was even. Black needed to sustain White’s advances and, with precise play, should have held his own.

However, in positional maneuvering Ding showed more sophistication and focus. In the critical moment of the middlegame Nepomniachtchi made a move after just two minutes of thinking and blundered, leading directly into a lost position.

Nepomniachtchi tried to resist but there was no escape and he resigned on move 47, after three hours and 50 minutes of play. An important comeback for Ding who started the match badly and a big challenge for Nepomniachtchi who has now lost the edge.

The score is now 2:2 with two draws and two victories for each player.

The next, fifth game of the match, will take place on Saturday, 15th April 2023 at 3 PM Astana time.

Here follows a closer look of game four of the match.

The first move of the game was made by Mark Klein of Chessable.

It was the second game in which Ding played as White. Like in the previous encounter, Ding was much more present at the board during the game and seemed more focused. Ian was his old self - calm and confident.

Ding opted for 1.c4, making a switch from his standard opening movechoice.

After Nepomniachtchi responded with 1…Nf6 the opponents quickly found themselves in a popular line of Two Knights system of the English opening and up to move eleven followed the game Rapport vs Zaragatski played in 2013. This is relevant as Rapport is Ding’s second.

Ding chose to divert here with 11.0-0. In the above-mentioned game, White played 11.h4.

After 11…Qf6 12.Rfe1 Re8 the position was roughly even. A couple of moves down the road, the opponents reached the first important point in the game.

Black has just played 14…Na5, trying to prepare the c7-c5 strike on the centre. However, this move gave some opportunities to White. Ding also wants to push c5 himself to foil Black’s plan.

Upon some thought Ding indeed played 15.c5, although he had another worthy continuation, namely, 15.Qa4. “Positionally speaking, this [15.c5] is a must,” said Anish Giri in the live commentary of the game.

After 15…dxc5 16.e5 opening the diagonal for the d3-bishop, 16…Qh6 17.d5 White got compensation for the sacrificed pawn in form of control over the centre and Black’s knight being sidelined on a5.

In subsequent play, both made logical moves and reached a balanced position. White has a passed pawn, but it’s not clear how to push forward.

26…Nf5 Played instantly by Ian. He had an interesting alternative of 26…Bg6 with the idea of trading his bishop for White’s knight if an opportunity presents itself. As played, the bar now moved in favour of White.

Ding decided to trade the bishops with 26.Bxh5, although chess engines suggest 26.Bg4 as an alternative.

After 26…Qh5 27.Re4 Qh6 28.Qf3 the opponents reached the critical position of the entire game. 

28…Nd4?? A huge blunder by Ian, played in just under two minutes! The right move here was 28…g5, protecting the f4 pawn with a roughly equal position. Now, Black gave away his strongest piece which was key to his defence.

Naturally, Ding almost immediately sacrificed an exchange with 29.Rxd4! cxd4 30.Nb3 g5 31.Nxd4 and White is in total control, as his knight is worth much more than a rook in this closed position.

Add to that his passers in the centre and the knight’s coming to f5, and there’s no realistic hope for Black. 

White tried to take control over the f5 square with 31…Qg6 but after precise 32.g4 fxg3 33.fxg3 h5 34.Nf5, the knight arrived at the destination point. Black’s position collapsed as White simply broke through in the centre.  

37.d6! cxd6 38.Nxd6 Qg8 39.Nxe8 Qxe8 40.Qe6 reaching the first time control. The rest was just an agony and on move 47th Ian finally resigned.

“I am very happy to win this game. It was hard but I managed to keep things under control, so I’m happy,” Ding said after the game. He added that “after 29.Rxd4 I knew I was winning.”

Ian had more words in his immediate reaction: “I don’t feel great. It was a tense game. I misjudged my position after 15.c5. I thought it was nice for Black. Even if so, it was difficult to play. It was more or less playable until I lost my focus and let 29.Rxd4 happen. Clearly, it was much easier to play as White”.

The two players will have a rest day on Friday.

Text: Milan Dinic

Photo: Stev Bonhage and Anna Shtourman

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About the match

The 2023 FIDE World Chess Championship match between Grandmasters Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi takes place from 7th April to 1st May 2023 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The match will consist of 14 games, followed by a rapid/blitz tiebreak in case of a tie.

The time control for the standard games is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves, and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move 61.

The first player to reach 7,5 points in the 14 games will win the match. If it’s a tie, the two go to tiebreaks.

The prize fund for the match is two million euros, with the reward being split 60:40 between the winner and the runner-up.

The main Partner of the match is Freedom Holding.