Pressure Mounts On Ding After 4th Straight Draw
Ding held comfortably but time is running out. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/

Pressure Mounts On Ding After 4th Straight Draw

| 121 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ding Liren was able to hold GM Ian Nepomniachtchi to a draw in game 11, the tamest encounter of the 2023 FIDE World Championship so far. All eyes are now turning to the Chinese GM's second-to-last game with the white pieces on Wednesday.

The Ruy Lopez Defense was the battleground for Monday's 11th game which followed a line in which Nepomniachtchi had defeated Ding in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. However, Ding was adequately prepared, and play quickly fizzled out. With the score now at 6-5 in favor of Nepomniachtchi, all the pressure is on Ding to reduce the deficit in the last three games. 

The 12th game of the world championships will start on Wednesday, April 26, at 15:00 Astana time (2 a.m. PT/11:00 CEST).

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

In the heart of Astana and perpendicular to the Ishim River, the grandiose St. Regis Hotel has proven to be a worthy venue for the showdown that will determine the new world chess champion. The players entered the playing hall on Monday in familiar attire, Ding in his midnight-colored suit and Nepomniachtchi in his patterned grey suit paired with his customary coral shirt. 

Despite his hesitance to admit to superstitions, Nepomniachtchi has worn the same colored shirt for five games in a row now, ever since his spectacular victory in game seven, which was the last decisive result.

While attire may not seem important in chess, it can sometimes be a psychologically helpful element for players. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/

Trailing by a point and unable to find a win since the sixth game, the onus has been on Ding to pierce Nepomniachtchi's defense. While the Chinese grandmaster played almost perfectly in his game-10 attempt with the white pieces, Caruana highlighted: "At the moment, Ding doesn't want perfect games of chess. He wants a mess; he wants blood."

Nepomniachtchi's preparation over the last few games has been worthy of a world champion and his ability to conjure desirable positions has been paramount to his success in the match so far. In game 11, the return of the Ruy Lopez Defense was a sensible choice following Ding's 1...e5, a decision he would justify by stating: "I think it's too early to play something like the Sicilian."

GM Viswanathan Anand let Twitter know that Ding would be comfortable in the Ruy Lopez.

Eight moves into the opening, Nepomniachtchi had forced Ding down an identical line to their 2020 Candidates game, one that Ding admitted he had "bad memories from." Back then, the game took on a vastly different shape, courtesy of the "risky" manner with which White played to extend his lead at the top of the group.

Their round-six clash at the 2020 Candidates went a long way to deciding Nepomniachtchi as one of the challengers for the world championship. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

An alternate move order and a move-10 deviation from the 2020 game in favor of 10...Be6 meant that Ding was ready to face this line. On move 14, the players steered away from any previously played master games and began to use more time on the clock.

15. Ng5 was an interesting choice by Nepomniachtchi, a move that introduced the first major imbalance in the game and showed his intent to play for more than a draw. The commentators also discussed a potential kingside pawn storm if Ding did not take the move seriously.

After a 12-minute think, Ding played the principled 15.c4, following the logic that central breaks are the most effective counters against flank attacks. The world number-three would later note that "White is always slightly better" in this opening and was likely already looking to liquidate to a comfortable endgame if possible.

Ding's wish was quickly granted as Nepomniachtchi opted to begin a sequence of exchanges, with both players finding ways to force proceedings. Though White technically won a pawn during this period, doubled e-pawns reduced the evaluation to equal and the speed of the players' moves was the best forewarning of a draw.

After 24...Rxb2, all the hallmarks of a draw were present.

Entering a rook and three pawns versus rook and three pawns ending, White's initiative would have been worrisome for the average club player as Black needed to give up one pawn; however, Ding adeptly forced a repetition on move 39 with his king and kept Siegbert Tarrasch's "all rook endgames are drawn" mantra alive.

Ding will be wise to dodge rook endgames for the rest of the event. Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/

GM Rafael Leitao has provided his game annotations below.

With few games left in the match and one point behind, many believed Ding would play a more dynamic and risky defense like the Sicilian, but he decided not to burn any bridges just yet.

In the last decade of world championships, the leader's strategy has often included the intent to play dryly and solidly after getting in front, though Nepomniachtchi's strategy was quite different coming into game 11 while playing White.

"It wasn't my goal today to make a forced draw. It just happened that we exchanged all the pieces," were the challenger's words in the post-match press conference, an indicator that he would like to settle things before the 14th game.

In Ding's camp, confidence has not waned and he expressed how the match can turn around at any moment, citing his 2022 Candidates comeback: "There are still three games ahead. In the Candidates, I won in the last game, so anything can happen."

Nerves of steel are required from Ding now. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/

What many don't know about Nepomniachtchi is that he was once a borderline professional "DotA" player (DotA, or Defense of the Ancients, is an online multiplayer battle arena that is played globally) and he was asked about whether or not he still had time to follow the e-sport.

With a wry smile, his first of the press conference, Nepomniachtchi replied: "There is no free time here to play one or two games." Despite the rest day on Tuesday, the leader will obviously need to spend his time preparing for Ding's do-or-die preparation. 

Nepomniachtchi is potentially three games from glory. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/

The 12th game of the FIDE World Championship will likely prove to be one of the most critical thus far. Unlikely to leave things until the 14th round, Ding will look to press with the white pieces on Wednesday and equalize the scores. Should he be successful, the likelihood of a rapid tiebreak will increase dramatically, which of course be a climatic decider for the players.

Be sure to tune in for the most important game of Ding's career on Wednesday.

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 ½ . . . 5
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2795 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ . . . 6

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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