Battle of Minds: First Game in World Chess Championship between Nepomniachtchi and Ding Ends in Draw

ASTANA – The first game of the 2023 World Chess Championship on April 9 between two chess titans, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren, ended in a draw in what was a highly anticipated face-off in the championship hosted in Kazakh capital Astana until May 1. 

Nepomniachtchi and Ding. Photo credit: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

The championship organized by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) will determine the 17th world champion. Last year, Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian chess grandmaster, who has been the world chess champion since 2013, relinquished his title, saying he lacked the motivation to prepare for the tournament, a month-long painstaking process. 

The game between Nepomniachtchi and Ding on Sunday lasted nearly five hours with 49 moves. Kazakh Minister of Culture and Sports Askhat Oralov and FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich made the ceremonial first move in the game. 

Kazakh Minister of Culture and Sports Askhat Oralov makes the first ceremonial move along with FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich. Photo credit: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

In an opening press conference on April 8, Ding and Nepomniachtchi shared their thoughts about the tournament. 

Commenting on how his strategy changed since the championship in Dubai in 2021, Nepomniachtchi said “it is too early to reveal.”

“I hope my skills have improved somewhat. As for my preparation, I’d prefer not to expose anything. Some of the members of my team have been with me for a long time, but I have some new members, so I hope my preparation has improved,” said Nepomniachtchi.

This championship can write history for Ding, the world’s No. 3 and the highest-ranked Chinese chess player. 

“Sometimes I think about becoming the first Chinese world champion as well as the 17th world champion and writing my name in history,” said Ding. “If I can do that, it will be a huge glory.” 

Ding during a press conference on April 8. Photo credit: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

He added that his rise became a reason for many Chinese to follow chess. Hailing from the city of Wenzhou in southeastern Zhejiang province with a rich chess history, Ding became a national chess champion at 16. 

When asked how he copes with losing, Ding said it is “extremely tough.”

“Sometimes I don’t like to give autographs or take photos with fans. I just want to leave the playing hall as soon as possible so nobody can see me. I like to be left alone and take time to recover,” he said. 

Answering the same question, Nepomniachtchi said it is “part of the job.”

“I’ve been playing chess since I was four or five. You can’t play chess if you can’t handle your losses. But the key is to try and minimize them,” he said. 

Nepomniachtchi during a press conference on April 8. Photo credit: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

The two players were also asked to share who their chess role models are. Nepomniachtchi named Alexander Alekhine, a Russian-French chess player and the fourth World Chess Champion. 

“When I was five or six, I was very fond of Alekhine, the first-ever Russian world champion. I tend to think that you can basically learn from any chess player, including world champions but not necessarily only from them,” he said. 

Ding has four role models. “Kasparov, when I was very young. I enjoyed his games and books. The second one is Francisco Vallejo Pons [referring to a Spanish chess grandmaster]. Third, Veselin Topalov. I really enjoyed the match against Anand. This was when I was a teenager. And the last one is Magnus Carlsen, as he is the best among our generation and I learned a lot from him,” said Ding. 

Why Kazakhstan?

FIDE President Dvorkovich noted that this championship is a milestone event for the chess world and FIDE. Dvorkovich said it was initially supposed to be held in Argentina, but everything changed after FIDE received a “very serious bid” from Kazakhstan, a nation where chess has seen a tremendous boom in the past years, particularly among women.  

Arkady Dvorkovich. Photo credit: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

“We are very grateful to them for hosting us. Also, it is more convenient for spectators both in China and Russia to watch the match in a country which is in between, just because of the time zones. Finally, for Kazakhstan itself, this event will create a great impetus for chess,” said Dvorkovich.

Timur Turlov, head of the Kazakhstan Chess Federation and CEO of Freedom Holding, a general partner of the championship, also believes the tournament will give a significant impetus to the development of chess in the country. 

Timur Turlov. Photo credit: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

“We have a very strong culture of playing chess [in Kazakhstan]. We have a very strong women’s team, we have a lot of kids [playing chess], and this kind of sport is growing extremely fast in popularity. Kazakhstan can benefit a lot from this unique event. We want to use this opportunity to attract more attention to our country as a sports nation and to inspire more children to go to chess sections and see the social and professional opportunities in this sport,” said Turlov.

The championship in Astana consists of 14 games, followed by a rapid/blitz tiebreak in case of a tie. The second game began on April 10 at 3 p.m. Astana time at the St. Regis Hotel. 

The prize fund is two million euros ($2.2 million), which will be split 60:40 between the winner and the runner-up.

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