Nepomniachtchi Presses Big Advantage In Game 1, Ding Escapes
Ian Nepomniachtchi readying himself for game one. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi Presses Big Advantage In Game 1, Ding Escapes

| 125 | Chess Event Coverage

The first FIDE World Championship without GM Magnus Carlsen in more than 10 years began with a dramatic game on Sunday in Astana, Kazakhstan. While there is no defending world champion, there is a returning challenger, and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi leveraged his experience, preparation, and the confessed anxiety on his opposing challenger GM Ding Liren's part to create serious winning chances and pressure on both the board and the clock.

Nepomniachtchi's excellent 27th move was close to winning as the invasion on the queenside could not be prevented, but the ensuing moves, including his 31st, let much of the advantage slip away. After some more twists and turns, the trade of queens on move 37 sealed a near-certain draw though the handshake didn't finalize matters until move 49.

Game two begins on Monday, April 10, at 15:00 Astana time (2 a.m. PT/11:00 CEST). 

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The live broadcast was hosted by GMs Anish Giri and Daniel Naroditsky.

Prior to move one, there was already news breaking in Astana as's reporter on the ground, FM Mike Klein, confirmed that GM Richard Rapport was serving as Ding's second while GM Nikita Vitiugov was accompanying Nepomniachtchi. Klein also reported that Ding had been uncomfortable in the original hotel and had switched hotels prior to the start of the event.

In the post-game press conference, Ding would admit that even on move one, he was unsure what opening move he was going to play, and he decided at the board to go for 1...e5 and the Ruy Lopez. "I thought of some other moves, but in the end, I decided to play 1...e5."

"I thought of some other moves, but in the end, I decided to play 1...e5."

—Ding Liren

Nepo was the one who brought a nice innovation with the white pieces. First, his capture with 6.Bxc6 in the Ruy Lopez took the game into less traveled waters. 7.Re1 introduced a position that had been played in fewer than 100 master games in's database, and Ding has never faced the line before with the black pieces as his opponents had always played 7.d3.

One of those opponents was Carlsen, whom Ding defeated in the 2019 Tata Steel Chess India tournament. The world champion himself acknowledged on Twitter that 7.Re1 was a novel idea to him. His former second, GM Jan Gustafsson, assured him that he had checked it.

Though Nepo's approach may not have initially seemed so ambitious, he already had a big tactical opportunity early as the idea of 14.h3! would have set up the beautiful 14...Qxd4 and 15.Nd5!!, winning material.

14.h3! Qxd4 15.Nd5!! was an incredible opportunity.

Nepo sensed the opportunity in the position and spent over 20 minutes on the previous move, 13.Nc3!, but ultimately, he did not find this shocking idea. Instead, he went for the also challenging 15.Nf5. Ding should have eliminated this knight, but when he did not, the game entered a maneuvering phase.

Nepo was able to build longer-term pressure by harassing c7 and the queenside pawns. This pressure ultimately induced 25...c6?! from Ding. Grandmaster commentators were quick to howl in displeasure at this move which created significant long-term weaknesses.

Indeed, Nepo was able to attack the softened queenside, and after 27.Qf4! his advantage was near to winning. Commenting on's broadcast, Giri speculated that Ding had missed 27...Qb7 28.Qc7!, a critical move. With a near-winning edge on the board and a big edge on the clock, Nepo seemed well-poised to win the first game.

Then a second advance to the f4-square, 31.f4?! (the commentators preferred the controlling 31.c3) gave Ding new life as he refocused, sensing a fresh opportunity. It felt as though a new game had begun. The chances still lay with Nepo, but it felt as if he was aware that his best opportunities had been missed, and GM Hikaru Nakamura commenting in the chat, observed that Nepo seemed tilted by the knowledge of missed opportunities.

In the final stretch of time trouble prior to move 40, the evaluation swung multiple times between equality and a strong advantage for Nepo. However, the momentum seemed on Ding's side, inspiring commentator Naroditsky to observe: "This is a different Ding." With the trade of queens on move 37, the draw was effectively achieved. Ultimately, the players shook hands on move 49.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

Nepomniachtchi must be frustrated having squandered an excellent position, but confident because he showed the strength of his preparation. Ding, for now, breathes a sigh of relief for having escaped, but his game showed weakness in the opening. It's just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting duel.

You can watch Nakamura's or GMs Fabiano Caruana and Cristian Chirila's analysis videos below. 

In the post-game press conference, Ding was open and honest about his struggles with the pressure and emotions of the match. While fans and pundits understand that pressure plays a big role in a world championship match, the players usually don't speak about that experience during the match. With one game and a draw under his belt, Ding may hope to find better chances to show his strongest chess soon.

The 2023 FIDE World Championship Trophy. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
The 2023 FIDE World Championship Handshake
Game on. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
The 2023 World Chess Championship Venue
The 2023 World Championship venue. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
2023 FIDE World Championship Ding Liren
Consternation. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Match Score

Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 Score
Ding Liren 2788 ½ .. . . . . . . . . . . . . ½
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2795 ½ . . . . . . . . . . . . . ½

The 2023 FIDE World Championship is the most important over-the-board classical event of the year and decides who will be the next world champion. Nepomniachtchi and Ding play a match to decide who takes over Carlsen's throne after the current world champion abdicated his title. The match has a €2 million prize fund and is played over 14 classical games; the first player to gain 7.5 points wins.

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NM Sam Copeland

I'm the VP of Chess and Community for I earned the National Master title in 2012, and in 2014, I returned to my home state of South Carolina to start Strategery: Chess and Games. In late 2014, I began working for and haven't looked back since.

You can find my personal content on Twitch , Twitter , and YouTube where I further indulge my love of chess.

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