International Chess Federation
Sunday, 16 Apr 2023 15:11
The pendulum swings: Ding Liren equalises again

The sixth game of the World Chess Championship match ended with a convincing victory of Ding Liren over Ian Nepomniachtchi, to even the score to 3:3. With four decisive games in the first six rounds, both players are displaying a fierce determination to win.

Playing as White, Ding Liren opted for the London system, which offers a solid position to White. Both sides got out even from the opening, but the position was more promising for White as he effectively blockedBlack's queenside by advancing his pawn to a5. This game felt like a repeat of yesterday's game where Ian Nepomniachtchi similarly defeated Ding, gradually outplaying him thanks to the better coordination of White's pieces.

While there was material equality on the board and a seemingly 'normal' position, the power and the chances were all on the side of White.

Ding's advantage was threatened by his time trouble, and he came close to losing it all. Fortunately for him, Nepomniachtchi's impulsive moves played right into Ding's hands as Black's position deteriorated.

Nepomniachtchi started to spend notably more time away from the board, which some commentators noted to be a sign of unhappiness with his position. By the time the to reached move 40 and the first time control, White was completely winning.

The game ended after 44 moves and four hours of play.

The World Chess Championship match between Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi has already produced four decisive results in just the first six games, something which was last seen in the Korchnoi-Karpov match of 1981 and the legendary 1972 match between Spassky and Fischer. Both players are setting the stage for an unpredictable and exciting fight not seen for a long time in a chess match.

Monday will be the rest day for the two, as game seven is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, 18th of April, at 3 PM local time in Astana.

Here follows a closer look at game six of the match.

As in rounds three and four, Ding started game six on the backfoot, a point down in the match. The first move of the day was made by Woman Grandmaster Dana Reizniece-Ozola, Deputy Chair of the FIDE Management Board.

Ding was playing as White. He opened with 1.d4 and after 1…Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bf4 went for the London system, considered to be a very solid line. The two followed the theoretical path up to move twelve when Ding opted for 12.Ne5 (the first line of Stockfish) instead of 12.a4 played in the game Kamsky – Markus last year.

12.Ne5 Ne7 13.a4 Ding carried out Kamsky's plan of advancing his a-pawn, which seems to be very effective in this position.

14.Bf1 Nd7 Offering an exchange. In the hindside 14…a5, followed by Qd8 and re-routing the f6-knight to d6 looks like a better option.

The point is that after 15.Nxd7 Qd7 16.a5 White put clamps on Black's queenside, securing a long-lasting strategic advantage on this wing. After a series of logical moves, the players reached the first important position:

Ding has just offered the queen exchange, but Ian decided to keep the most powerful pieces on the board with 20…Qe7.

However with 21.h4! White timely opened a second front on the kingside and grabbed the initiative after 21…Re8?! 22.Nc5! This move works fine as after 22…Nxa5 23.Ra5 b6? White has 24.h5 Bxh5 (if bxa5 then hxg6 and White is dominating) 25.Nxe6 threatening checkmate 25…fxe6 26.Rxd5 exd5 27.Rxe7 Rxe7 28.Qh4 attacking the e7-rook and the h5-bishop simultaneously.

Ian broke in the centre with 22…e5, but it looks like the cure was worse than the disease, as after 23.Rb3 Nxa5 24.Rxe5 Qf6 White emerged clearly better. Ding sunk into deep thinking here, pondering his choices.

25.Ra3 Nc4 26.Bxc4 dxc4 27.h5 Played in just under three minutes.

27...Bc2 Played quickly by Ian but after this move White consolidated his advantage. Much more stubborn was 27…Rxe5 28.dxe5 Qd8! As played, after 28.Nxb7 Qb6 29.Nd6 Rxe5 30.Qxe5 Qxb2 31.Ra5 White optimally arranged his pieces. 

Black's c3-pawn is taboo since 31…Qxc3 fails to 32.Ne8!

Despite being his move, Ian was in his resting room. As Anish Giri observed, "Ian usually thinks in the resting area when he is uncomfortable with his position or with something he missed", referring to the match against Carlsen and games three and four in this match.

After some nine minutes, Ian returned to the board. He looked at it for about a minute and played 31…Kh7 which was met with the instant 32.Rc5? Here the bar dropped from White winning to the position being even.

The computers were suggesting 32.Qe1 is the best move here, to defend the c3 pawn and proceed to pick up a pawn on c4 of f7 with the knight.

Ian should have taken on c3, leading to an even position. Instead, he played 32…Qc1+ and again handed over the initiative to White as after the check, Black's queen is pinned to c1 and can't really get back into the game quickly.

After White plucked Black's c4 pawn, Ian's only hope was his a-passer but Ding's attack on the kingside coupled with advancing the d-pawn turned out to be the decisive factor. 

Facing an imminent checkmate Ian threw in the towel.

Commenting on the game and the results so far, Anish Giri noted the willingness of both players to go directly for sharp play and victories, instead of draws. "An amazing match. I've not seen something like this in a long time," said Giri in his assessment of the match so far.

Nepomniachtchi was frank and critical about his play in today’s game: "I played one of my worst games ever. Every move was bad… Bd3 instead of Bc2 was better, but even that was unfortunate."

He also confirmed that he expected the London system to be played in one of the games, and it happened. 

"Bad day," concluded Nepomniachtchi. "My whole game consists of inaccuracies."

For his part, Ding said that he was "in very good shape during the game" and "not so much influenced by yesterday's loss". He agreed he could have played better in the middlegame, but overall, he was satisfied with what he showed on the board.

Asked about why there are so many decisive games in the match, Nepo refused to answer while Ding was blunt: “I guess we are not as professional as Magnus [Calrsen]”.

Text: Milan Dinic

Photo: Stev Bonhage, David Llada 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.