International Chess Federation
Monday, 24 Apr 2023 12:30
Nepomniachtchi remains one point ahead of Ding after Game 11 draw

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren split a point following a relatively quiet game. With only three games left to determine the ultimate winner, the pressure is mounting

The eleventh game in the match for the title of World Chess Champion ended in a draw after 39 moves and just after an hour and 40 minutes of play.

In the  Anti-Marshall line of the Ruy Lopez, Ian Nepomniachtchi, playing as White, deviated from the c3-line he played before in the match and went for 8.a3, the move he tested against Ding at the 2020 Candidates and Carlsen in the 2021 title match. As the game developed, White managed to gain slightly more initiative and a more comfortable position on the board.

After the somewhat premature move 15…c4 by Ding, opening some weaknesses, White had a chance to maintain tension and put more pressure on Black. Nepomniachtchi instead opted to simplify the position. After a series of exchanges on the board, the two entered a drawn rook endgame.

Again, as in round nine, a position transpired on the board where White had an extra pawn in the endgame but it was a draw. Unlike in round nine where the debate in a drawn position lasted for two hours, here the two played much quicker and agreed to split a point.

The score is now 6:5 for Nepomniachtchi.

With just three more games left, the pressure is increasing for both players: Nepomniachtchi needs to maintain course and keep his guard up while Ding is under increasing pressure to secure a win.

The players will rest on Tuesday, with game 12 taking place on Wednesday, 26th April at 3 PM Astana time.

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

After standard moves in the Anti-Marshall in Ruy Lopez Ian deviated from game 5 (in which he played c3 and h3) with more popular 8.a3. This variation was also noticed in the leaked prep games which have been linked to Ding’s preparation. If that preparation is Ding’s, this means that this line was also part of his prep as White.

This line was also played between the two in the 2020 Candidates in Yekaterinburg which Nepomniachtchi won.

After 8…Na5 9.Ba2 c5 10.Nc3 Be6 11.Bg5 0-0 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nd5 g6 14.Qd2 Bg7 the position is even, but White has slightly more flexibility due to the more active knight in the centre compared to Black’s f6-bishop who has limited range as he is facing his own pawn. White also has more options for a pawn push on the queenside, but Black is overall very solid as he has no weaknesses.

At this point Ian introduced a logical novelty 15.Ng5, going for the e6-bishop and opening the f-file for a pawn push. “It probably reflects my bias, but I really like White's position. It seems to me to be easy to play,” former World Champion Vishy Anand commented on Twitter.

15…c4 this bold and somewhat risky move with the idea of blocking the a2-g8 diagonal was played after 12 and a half minutes of thinking by Ding.  15…Nc6 or Ra7 were considered to be better options for Black. Daniil Dubov was not impressed by Ding’s move suggesting that positionally it doesn’t work.

16.Nxe6 fxe6 17.Ne3 Bh6 pinning the knight, that is pressuring the c4-pawn. 18.Rad1 Rb8! After Ding made this arguably the strongest move the opponents reached the critical position of the entire game.

19.dxc4 an imprecision by White who defused the tension too early. Ian could have played 19.Qe2, away from the black bishop’s pin and to maintain pressure on c4.

As played, it quickly turned out that Black had sufficient counterplay. After 19…Nxc4 20.Bxc4 bxc4 21.Qxd6 Qxd6 22.Rxd6 Bxe3 23.fxe3 Rxf1 24.Kxf1 Rxb2 25.Rxe6 Rxc2 26.Rxa6 Ra2 27.Rc6 Rxa3 28.Rxc4 Rxe3 a hurricane of exchanges swept most pieces off the board and the two have reached an even rook endgame.

White is a pawn up but it’s a dead draw. After 39 moves a draw was agreed upon a threefold repetition.

“Ian didn’t push very hard to win in this line but I had to be careful” in light of the similarities of the game with the one in the 2020 Candidates which “is in bad memory for me”, said Ding Liren in the post-game interview. “I guess my play was much better than last time,” he said.

“I will try my best in the last three games. Tomorrow is a rest day so I will have more time to prepare some extra ideas,” said Ding when asked about his plan for the last three remaining games in the match.

Nepomniachtchi noted that Ding played well and he questioned his decision to take the pawn on c4.

“I’m not quite sure I was right to take on c4. I thought that I will get this three vs two endgame, but that never happens… I should have played it slowly, Qe2 instead of taking on c4”.

“I can’t say that I am fully satisfied with the result of the game, but a draw is a draw,” he added. Nepomniachtchi.

Nepomniachtchi was also asked if he feels that he has secured victory in the match and that it’s all over. “You've got to be kidding,” he responded, ”of course, it's not over yet."

Ding Liren was asked about what changes are necessary to the world championship format: "Now I think the tournament could be even longer,” he responded to Ian Nepomniachtchi laughed.

Text: Milan Dinic

Photo: Steve Bonhage and David Llada

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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 consists 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.