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Nepomniachtchi Holds Ding To Draw, Closes In On World Championship Title
Nepomniachtchi moved to 5.5, two points shy of the 7.5 required to claim the title. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi Holds Ding To Draw, Closes In On World Championship Title

JackRodgers
| 90 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi moved one step closer to the world championship title on Sunday after equalizing with Black and drawing in 45 moves in the 10th game of the 2023 FIDE World Championship.

GM Ding Liren reverted to the English Opening and valiantly tried to imbalance matters, but his opponent was up to the task and exchanged into a drawn rook endgame. Nepomniachtchi, now leading 5.5-4.5, is just two points away from claiming the world championship title.

The 11th round of the world championships will continue on Monday, April 24, at 15:00 Astana time (2 a.m. PT/11:00 CEST).

How to watch the 2023 FIDE World Championship
You can watch the 2023 FIDE World Championship live on Chess.com/TV and on our Twitch and YouTube channels.

The live broadcast was hosted by GMs Fabiano Caruana, Robert Hess, and IM Tania Sachdev.

Coming into the 10th game, the intrigue centered around the importance of Ding's rest day and specifically, whether he could concoct preparation that could challenge the resolute defense of Nepomniachtchi.

The negative impact of a training games leak was put to bed by Nepomniachtchi, who claimed that his own preparation strategy did not change much after his team "took a look" at the games. He further reinforced this, stating: "I'm still doing what I'm supposed to do. This information didn't change it much." 

Nepomniachtchi mentioned that he didn't believe the preparation leak lived up to the "hype." Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

Another factor in the championship has been GM Richard Rapport's influence on Ding, but in game 10, the Chinese number-one stayed true to his usual style, playing in a classical fashion.

Sachdev correctly predicted that Ding would play 1.c4 in a return to the opening move that he employed and won with in round four, and the position quickly turned into the English Opening: Four Knights, Nimzowitsch Variation.

Nevertheless, Nepomniachtchi seemed adequately prepared to deal with Ding's English Opening and even managed to surprise the world number-three with 9.Bc5, instead of the more common 9.Be7. The move had been played just four times in master-level chess games and notably, the highest-rated player who had previously played the move was none other than our own GM Rafael Leitao, who provides his own insights on the game later in the article.

As per usual, Nepomniachtchi spent much of his time in his personal player's room, leaving Ding at the board alone to navigate the rare opening line. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

The move somewhat paralyzed Ding, who later admitted that it came as a "complete surprise" to him, also evidenced by the fact that the challenger spent 11 minutes deciphering the move. 

Unfortunately for Ding, after 10.Kf8!, a most unusual move in the eyes of many chess viewers, the resulting position was one that Nepomniachtchi was indeed familiar with. In fact, the world number-two had played the exact same position from the white side in a 2020 Titled Tuesday clash with the now-GM Jose Gabriel Cardoso, something that was potentially missed by Ding and his team.

Ding's masterful calculating ability still allowed him to progress through the middlegame with a minuscule advantage; however, Nepomniachtchi was able to force the queens off the board, aided by some enterprising kingside pawn play. In the process of trading queens, Nepomniachtchi did give away a pawn but gained adequate compensation in the form of rapid development and structural weaknesses on White's queenside.

The resulting endgame, which featured a pair of rooks and a bishop alongside several pawns each, was identified by both players as close to equal. Although Ding would later state: "I believe I had some chances in the endgame," the quick rate of play by both players indicated their confidence that they were heading toward a draw.

Immense concentration from Ding who tried his best to complicate matters. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

"The defensive resources for Black are vast" was the take from former world championship challenger Caruana, who firmly believed that the players would reach a peaceful conclusion from early on in the piece. Demonstrating that Black had compensation for the pawn, Caruana asked viewers to "look at all the pawns on light squares" and note that they were easy to target for Black's bishop and rooks.

It was no surprise that pieces began to fly off the board as the combatants neared the 40-move mark. By move 37, with only a rook and three pawns left each, Ding was able to cash in his initiative and win one of Nepomniachtchi's pawns, but the resulting endgame was a straightforward rook and two pawns versus rook and one pawn ending.

For just the second time in a world chess championship, the players dueled all the way until their kings were the only pieces remaining on the board.

What made the game so incredible is the accuracy rating of the two players, which clocked in at 98.6 percent and 98.7 percent for Ding and Nepomniachtchi respectively, according to Chess.com's Game Review tool. Neither really put a foot wrong.

For an extensive look into the round 10 clash, Leitao's annotations are below.

After shaking hands on move 45, Ding left the board and stormed out of the room. Despite showing no obvious signs of anger, he was undoubtedly unhappy with the result. With just two White games left in the match, the pressure on the Chinese GM increases with each passing round.

Still in the match. Though many have counted him out, a single win for Ding would square things up. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

Now with Ding due to play with the black pieces in round 11, many feel that the odds are against him. GM Hikaru Nakamura weighed in during his YouTube recap and proclaimed that he felt Ding is "running out of steam" in the opening phase of the game.

To Ding's credit, the surprise element has been a refreshing and entertaining feature of the world championship match and should another surprise pay off on Monday, he will find himself at 5.5-5.5 alongside Nepomniachtchi.

For now, rest and preparation are the two most important things for Ding if he is to mount a resurgence. As for Nepomniachtchi, he will feel bullish about his chances to secure two more match points and achieve his dream of becoming the chess world champion should things go well in round 11.

Nepomniachtchi's redemption arc after a tough 2021 campaign is nearing completion. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

You can watch video recaps of the FIDE World Championship in our playlist below (click here). 

Match Score

Fed Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 Score
Ding Liren 2788 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 1 0 ½ ½ ½ . . . . 4.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2795 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 0 1 ½ ½ ½ . . . . 5.5

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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