Nepomniachtchi Beats Ding In Speed Chess Quarterfinal

Nepomniachtchi Beats Ding In Speed Chess Quarterfinal

| 25 | Chess Event Coverage

Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Ding Liren in the second Speed Chess Championship quarterfinal match, played Monday here on The Russian player won both the five- and three-minute segments with a big margin.

The next match is Tuesday, November 19 at 9 a.m. Pacific (noon Eastern, 18:00 CET): Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Wesley So. Watch it at

It was a match between the world number-three (Ding) and number-six (Nepo) in classical chess, and also one between the world number-two (Ding) and -three (Nepo) in blitz chess. In the fastest part of the FIDE ratings, Hikaru Nakamura is at the top. (Nakamura will face Jan-Krzysztof Duda next month on the Speed Chess Championship schedule.)

Earlier in the year the situation was different, and based on that the Russian entered the Speed Chess Championship as the fourth seed, and the Chinese player as the fifth seed. The SmarterChess statistical model named Nepomniachtchi as the favorite in this match.

Nepomniachtchi Ding Liren predictions SmarterChess
The SmarterChess predictions were accurate this time.

Nepomniachtchi started with two wins right away, and he would never let go of his match lead until the very end. As White, he was particularly successful in the Ruy Lopez, using the 9.d4 line. (He might have been inspired by Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu's recent pawn sacrifice against Nikita Vitiugov!)

Nepomniachtchi scored four wins and three draws with this line, although it must be said that Ding had a good position in the first game:

Ding had prepared the 3.f3 line against his opponent's Gruenfeld, but wasn't successful there either. Here's game two, which couldn't have been great for the Chinese player's confidence in this line:

Ian Nepomniachtchi 2019 Speed Chess Championship
After a draw and another win for Nepo, Ding could finally earned a win on the scoreboard. A temporary switch to the Caro-Kann had actually backfired, but then came two big blunders in a row from his opponent:

Afterward Nepomniachtchi said he was "very pissed" here: "Then I managed to focus again. At least I didn't blunder anything like this anymore until some stage of the one-minute," Nepo said. 

 Ding also needed to look for alternatives with White, and so he started trying the English. In the only other decisive game in the five-minute portion, he played an unfortunate knight maneuver in the opening and got outplayed:

5+1 games | Score

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 Nepomniachtchi @lachesisQ 3001 2964 1 1 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 7.5/12
2 Ding Liren @Chefshouse 2875 2912 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.5/12

The three-minute segment was an even bigger win for the Russian GM, who set a commanding lead of 14.5-6.5 before going into the bullet. Ding didn't win a single game in this phase, and so the match was basically over after the first two parts.

It was not always the opening where things went wrong for the Chinese player:

Especially tragic for Ding was the following game, where his opponent played an interesting, but eventually incorrect piece sacrifice—but somehow managed to "keep him busy." Black was completely winning shortly before losing on time:

3+1 games | Score

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Score
1 Nepomniachtchi @lachesisQ 2996 3104 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 7.0/9
2 Ding Liren @Chefshouse 2887 2779 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ 2.0/9

The bullet was the only part where the players were evenly matched, and in fact Ding managed to win this segment by a one-game margin. Having secured victory, Nepo started doing stuff like 1.e4 e5 2.d4 (which he won) and the King's Gambit, which went less well. Fun fact: for seven moves they were following a game from 1883!

1+1 games | Score

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 Ding Liren @Chefshouse 2886 3018 1 0 1 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 5.5/10
2 Nepomniachtchi @lachesisQ 2984 2852 0 1 0 1 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 0 4.5/10

"I actually think I never got anything brilliant with White, but I didn't think I got into trouble [...] so that was already a good sign for me," said Nepomniachtchi.

The Russian GM wasn't playing from home and had some peculiar curtains in the background from ancient times. Asked by Rensch if it helped him to "play from such an ugly environment," Nepo played along, saying he never wanted to look behind him. "I was only looking at the board, no distractions!"

Although it was just a blitz match, Nepomniachtchi said he gained something from this match: "Of course it was useful for me to try some ideas and to gain some experience against one of the best players in the world."

Ding admitted that he had issues in the openings: "I had some trouble in the Spanish and I didn't prepare this specific line."

He also said he didn't know the theory in the Najdorf very well and thought his white play was "very bad, especially in the five-minute games."

Ding Liren 2019 Speed Chess Championship
It must be noted that Ding was handicapped by the fact that the match started at 1 a.m. local time. He said that at that time it was difficult for him to play: "It was very hard to focus and to calculate."

It's tough to schedule such matches when one player is in Asia, another in Russia and the commentators in the Pacific time zone, and taking into account that these top players have very busy schedules. will always try to create the best compromise for everyone involved.

Ding earned $581 based on win percentage. Nepomniachtchi won $1,500 for the victory plus $919 on percentage, totaling $2,419.

Nepomniachtchi will now play against the winner of Nakamura-Duda. When hearing that, his first reaction was: "No chances for me!" Then he added: "It depends on the mood, it depends on the day…I think on a good day anyone can beat anyone."

2019 Speed Chess bracket quarterfinals
The next two quarterfinals are scheduled as follows:

  • Tuesday, November 19 at 9 a.m. Pacific (noon Eastern, 18:00 CET): Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Wesley So
  • Wednesday, December 4 at 9 a.m. Pacific (noon Eastern, 18:00 CET): Hikaru Nakamura vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Replay the commentary with GM Robert Hess & IM Danny Rensch.

All match games for replay and download:

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