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Ding Liren checkmates to become China’s 1st world chess champion

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Ding Liren checkmates to become China’s 1st world chess champion


Ding Liren has etched his name in the annals of Chinese history as he emerged victorious in a grueling rapid-play tie-break against Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi on Sunday, clinching China’s first-ever World Chess Championship title in Kazakhstan.

Ding, 30, takes over as winner of the World Chess Championship from Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who chose not to defend his title after a 10-year reign.

He and Nepomniachtchi had finished on seven points each after the 14 first-stage games played in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Each had won three, with the other eight ending in draws.

For the tie-break stage of the match, also in Astana, the contenders had only 25 minutes to make their moves, plus an additional 10 seconds for each move played.

Ding clinched victory after winning the fourth of Sunday’s quick-fire games following three draws.

Both players reacted emotionally, with Nepomniachtchi getting up from the table quickly after shaking hands to concede defeat and shaking hands again before leaving the hall.

Ding sat before the board, his face resting on one hand as he tried to compose himself.

“I’m quite relieved,” said Ding in comments posted after the match by FIDE, the International Chess Federation.

“The moment Ian resigned from the game was very emotional. I couldn’t control my feelings. I know myself; I will cry and burst into tears. It was a tough tournament for me.”

He had held his nerve to come back from behind three times during the 14-match classical play series: each time Nepomniachtchi won a game to take the lead, Ding eventually leveled the score with a win of his own.

Breaking the deadlock

No Chinese player had ever previously won a competition where men and women could compete.

But China has dominated women’s tournaments since the 1990s, and Ding’s triumph signaled the country’s rise as a major player on the global chess scene.

Ju Wenjun is the reigning world champion in women’s chess and will face compatriot Lei Tingjie in July to defend her title.

China also won the Chess Olympiad, the game’s most important international competition, in 2014 and 2018, with Ding playing a significant role in his nation’s success.

The 14th and final game Saturday in the classical format had demonstrated once again that, at this level, chess is as much a question of nerves as a battle of minds, as both players made uncharacteristic mistakes.

Although Nepomniachtchi pushed hard to convert a slight advantage into a win, he finally had to settle for a draw in the longest game of the tournament: 90 moves played over more than six and a half hours.

Sunday’s action followed a similar trend, with the games likely to be most remembered for their dramatic circumstances rather than the quality of play.

Nepomniachtchi appeared to acknowledge this in his comments after the match.

“I guess I had a chance and many promising positions,” he said in comments posted by FIDE.

“Probably, I should have tried to finish everything in the classical portion because it was a matter of one or two precise moves.”

Rise to stardom

Born in Wenzhou, which has become known as China’s “chess city,” Ding burst onto the scene in 2009 when he became the country’s youngest chess champion at the national level.

He then became the highest-ranked Chinese player in the world rankings, reaching a high of second place in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic held back Ding’s progress. He initially failed to obtain a visa for competitions leading to qualification for the Candidates Tournament, which players must win to challenge the world champion.

The disqualification of Russia’s Sergey Karjakin from all tournaments organized by the International Chess Federation, which took a pro-Ukraine position following Moscow’s invasion, freed up a space at the 2022 Candidates Tournament, which Ding took as the highest-ranked non-qualifier.

He finished second at the tournament, but Carlsen’s decision to step aside from the World Chess Championship allowed him to compete against Nepomniachtchi in Astana.

At Sunday’s closing news conference, Ding wanted to dedicate the victory to his friends, mother, and grandfather.

“I started to learn chess at four years old … I spent 26 years playing, analyzing, trying to improve my chess ability with many different ways, with different changing methods, with many new ways of training,” he said.

“I think I did everything. Sometimes I thought I was addicted to chess because sometimes, I was unhappy without tournaments. Sometimes I struggled to find other hobbies to make me happy. This match reflects the deepness of my soul.”

The 2 million euro ($2.2 million) prize money will be split 55-45 between the two players.

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