ASTANA – Ding Liren became the new world chess champion after he defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi in the final game of the tiebreak on April 30 in Astana, which hosted the FIDE World Chess Championship.
For over three weeks, the world’s two best grandmasters sat against each other in a back-and-forth showdown of games that ended in a 7-7 deadlock, with each player winning three games and drawing the remaining eight.
After 14 games in a classical match, it all came down to the final rapid tiebreaks to decide the winner. The historic deadlock was resolved on Sunday when the Chinese grandmaster held his nerve with a decisive rapid-play victory over Nepomniachtchi of Russia, who played under a neutral flag.
Thirty-year-old Ding became the first Chinese man to hold the world title along with his compatriot Ju Wenjun, who is the current women’s world chess champion.
Ding’s emotions of relief and joy were too powerful to contain as he savored his win. “The moment Ian resigned from the game was a very emotional moment. I couldn’t control my feelings. I know myself, I will cry and burst into tears. It was a tough tournament for me,” he said.
The first three of Sunday’s four games ended in draws, with very few people expecting that Ding would make a decisive move for a win with a minute on the clock, but luck favors the brave, and his decision paid off very soon.
Despite having a time advantage to pressure Ding, Nepomniachtchi made a series of blunders that gifted Ding the game and the title.
Nepomniachtchi could not hide his disappointment after the match. “I guess I had a chance and many promising positions. Probably I should have tried to finish everything in the classical portion because it was a matter of one or two precise moves,” he said.
But even the greats make mistakes. Nepomniachtchi did not hide the fact that he missed several good chances during the last game.
“Today I should have used my advantage in the second game more carefully. There was a great position. And the fourth game was very difficult, black had the initiative. But it happens. We both had little time. I could not imagine that this position could be lost, but as it turned out, it can,” said Nepomniachtchi.
For Ding, this match represented the climax of all his efforts. “I started learning to play chess at four years old and spent 26 years playing and analyzing. I’ve tried to improve my chess ability in many different ways and using different methods. I think I did nearly everything. Sometimes there are tournaments when you are not so happy. Sometimes I struggle to find other hobbies to make me happy. But I was trying to learn from the best. The match reflects the deepest of my soul,” said Ding, who dedicated the victory to his friends, mother, and grandfather.
Ding’s victory ends what some call the Magnus Carlsen era, the reign of the Norwegian grandmaster who held the world title since 2013. Last year Carlsen voluntarily decided to abdicate his title.
Kazakhstan has a long tradition of hosting chess events. Last December, Almaty hosted the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships, which ended with a victory for Carlsen in the open section and for Kazakh grandmaster Bibisara Assaubayeva in the women’s competition.
Last September Astana held the first leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix, and in March 2019, it hosted the FIDE World Team Chess Championship.
Argentina, Mexico, and China were all among the contenders to host the FIDE World Championship 2023. However, Astana’s geographical location and experience hosting World Chess Championships and other chess tournaments resulted in the FIDE Council picking Kazakhstan’s capital.