Ding Topples Nepomniachtchi In Chaotic Game 12, Evens Score With 2 Games Left
Ding came back from a lost position to equalize the scores at 6-6. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Ding Topples Nepomniachtchi In Chaotic Game 12, Evens Score With 2 Games Left

| 198 | Chess Event Coverage

From the jaws of defeat, GM Ding Liren clutched a win over GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in the 12th game of the 2023 FIDE World Championship to bring the match right back into contention with two games to go.

In his second-to-last game with the white pieces and in desperate need of a full point, Ding created a tactical slugfest, but Nepomniachtchi turned the tables. Moments away from all but securing the title, Nepomniachtchi imploded and allowed Ding to claw his way back to 6-6.

The 13th and penultimate game will start on Thursday, April 27, 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 press conference following game 11, Ding proclaimed that "anything could happen" when quizzed about his chances of coming back in the match. When the players took their seats before the 12th game and tension set in, it immediately became clear that chess fans around the world would be treated to a show...

Nepomniachtchi ready for action. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Ding returned to his trademark 1.d4 for the crucial game, and when he followed up with 2.Nf3, it looked as though the Chinese challenger would default to his trusty Catalan Opening, a system he used religiously in his 100-game unbeaten streak between 2017-2018. On move three, though, the first surprise appeared when Ding entered the Colle System, resulting in a grimace from Nepomniachtchi. About the opening, he would later state: "No, I wasn't surprised."

The opening, which was popularized in the early 1900s by Edgard Colle, has rarely been used in top-flight chess but was a personal favorite of former world champion GM Vladimir Kramnik.

Moments before the Colle System appeared on the board. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While the opening choice is often criticized for being a passive version of setups similar to the London System and Stonewall Attack structures, the majority of viewers agreed that the curious opening choice would give Ding winning chances.

On move six, Nepomniachtchi played the interesting 6...Bd7!?, a move he claimed was part of his preparation. Although the move was highlighted as an inaccuracy, it proved difficult to punish. It did, however, help Ding achieve his key strategic aim: gaining a dynamic, imbalanced position. Hess would later claim that "the direction of the game is good for Ding Liren and he needs to get some chances here."

"I was quite happy to see 6...Bd7? come over the board," Ding said after the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Chances began to arise for both players when Ding made the strategic decision to double Black's pawns on f6, thereby opening the g-file and declaring his intention to play for a win. For Nepomniachtchi, this marked the second time in the match and the third critical game in his world championship history where the move gxf6 had been "willingly doubled."

With experience in tow, Nepomniachtchi swiveled his pieces to the kingside and prompted the first error of the game from his opponent, 19.Bc2?. The move would spark a downward spiral that soon left Ding with a seemingly impossible onslaught to defend against. For the next seven moves, Nepomniachtchi played perfectly, even finding the brilliant 25...b5!! that shut down all of Ding's counterplay in one fell swoop. 

Around this time, Caruana discussed the near "impossibility" of coming back from a two-point deficit if Ding was to fall in round 12, citing the famous 1972 match between GMs Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky as the last championship he could recall such a comeback occurring.

Like a cornered cat with nine lives, Ding desperately clung to the position, challenging Nepomniachtchi's calculation abilities at every turn.

As the saying goes, old habits die hard and Nepomniachtchi soon found himself moving far too quickly in the crucial moments. Following a series of wild moves from both players that saw the evaluation bar flick back and forwards like a pendulum, the bar settled and showed a slight advantage for Ding.

Ding may not have played perfectly, but he did what he needed to do in game 12. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While many were quick to assume that Nepomniachtchi had the position under lock and key earlier in the game, what cannot be accounted for is the immense pressure on the player's shoulders, which was undoubtedly the catalyst for many of the game's errors. One of the most experienced in these matters, former world champion GM Viswanathan Anand, weighed in on Twitter.

Having butchered a winning position and now struggling to hold, the pressure ended up getting to Nepomniachtchi, and on move 34, he played the blunderous 34...f5??, which, as Hess identified, is "winning on the spot" for White. The world number-two would later state that he had in fact calculated the best move, 34...f3, but "did not play accurately" and chose the losing move instead.

Ding sat up straight in his chair after the move and whipped his hand out to play the best move, 35.Rxe6, immediately. As the realization dawned on Nepomniachtchi that he was about to lose his lead, he placed his head on the playing table and covered himself with his hands.

A picture that tells a thousand words. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In complete disbelief, Nepomniachtchi would spend the next 17 minutes trying to come up with a move to complicate matters once more. Three moves later, he resigned. Ding barely showed a trace of emotion throughout the entire encounter and didn't let out a smile until he left the playing hall.

GM Rafael Leitao's game annotations from a chaotic game 12 have been added below.

This was a strange game and I don't want to over-criticize its technical level, something that will certainly be talked about a lot. As Caruana said during the broadcast, at some point it stopped being chess: it was all a matter of nerves.

In the post-match press conference, both players kept their composure and showed their willingness to keep fighting until the end. 

Despite noting that the quality of chess has perhaps not been as high-level as some of GM Magnus Carlsen's championship matches, Caruana praised the players for their creativity, stating: "I cannot think of a world championship match this adventurous since 2006, Topalov and Kramnik." This has certainly made for a viewer spectacle.

Creative or not, the match situation is simple. There are two games remaining, one of each color, with a rest day in between.

Nepomniachtchi must recover overnight from the psychological trauma that the game 12 loss has inflicted, while Ding will also need to remain calm now that the momentum has shifted in his favor.

The psychological battle alone has been thrilling. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

When the players arrive at the board tomorrow the question at large will remain the same as it has all match: who can take their opponent, as GM Mikhail Tal said, "into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one"? 

Tune in on Thursday to find out!

Eyes on the prize. The world championship title will be decided in the next few days. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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

Match Score

Fed Name Rtg 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Score
Ding Liren 2788 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 . . 6
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2795 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 . . 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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