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Nepomniachtchi Wins Game 2 With Black After Navigating Ding's Novelty
Ian Nepomniachtchi deep in thought on his way to a crushing victory. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi Wins Game 2 With Black After Navigating Ding's Novelty

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| 94 | Chess Event Coverage

Chess fans didn't have to wait long for a decisive result in the 2023 FIDE World Championship, as GM Ian Nepomniachtchi convincingly took down GM Ding Liren in game two. Despite a successful-looking novelty by Ding on move 4, things quickly turned south for the first-time challenger and it took Nepomniachtchi merely 29 moves to take home the full point.

Game three begins on Wednesday, April 12, at 15:00 Astana time (2 a.m. PT/11:00 CEST) after a rest day.

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

The game entered into uncharted territory as early as move four when Ding opted for 4.h3 instead of going into a Catalan Opening, as may have been expected. The move prompted an immediate "No, he mouse slipped, the g-pawn is the other one!" from commentator Giri and a deep think from Nepomniachtchi. The move has never been played in top-level classical chess, although the position had been reached before in Meshkovs-Shuvalova 2022 during a Titled Tuesday event.

Asked at the press conference about this move, Ding confirmed that it was influenced by his second, GM Richard Rapport. Nepomniachtchi said that while he did not expect this move—in fact, he began recording 4.g3 on his scoresheet before realizing the h-pawn had been moved—he thought that it was still a "normal move" that didn't pose many complications.

From the time spent by both players over the next few moves, it was clear that Ding was comfortably in his preparation, while Nepomniachtchi was certainly out of his. As mentioned on the broadcast, the difficulty this posed for Nepomniachtchi was that he was no longer "choosing off of a menu," but rather choosing moves blindly against the 3600-rated engine that was behind Ding's at-home preparation.

Nepomniachtchi holding up his hands to his face while deep in thought
Searching for an approach against his opponent's novelty. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

All seemed to be going well for the first-time challenger, until Black's 11...Na5. After this move, Ding took over 20 minutes to return to the board, prompting concern from viewers and commentators, since even Nepomniachtchi returned to the board before his opponent did. 

While Giri initially speculated that Ding was still in his preparation and was merely taking time to decide which move to choose, that theory was refuted as the first-time challenger's time dropped below his opponent's, and he eventually played 12.Nxf6 after a total thinking time of almost 34 minutes.

The position after black's 11th move
A crucial moment. White has the options 12.Nxf6 and 12.Nxc5, and Ding opted for the former, overlooking Black's response.

After the game, Ding identified the capture on f6 as a critical moment, after which his position began to fall apart. Commentators were surprised that the Chinese player opted not to take on c5, which he'd done in a blitz game that he won against GM Levon Aronian in the first game of their quarterfinal match of the 2021 Speed Chess Championship (which was an identical position except for the pawn on h3).

After recapturing on f6 with his pawn—a move which Ding said he had overlooked—Nepomniachtchi achieved a compact pawn structure and an open g-file. It was a pawn structure reminiscent of the infamous game six of his 2021 World Championship Match against GM Magnus Carlsen. Fortunately in this game, Black's king wasn't on g8, and it was only a few moves later that the evaluation bar started to creep toward Black's favor and the position began to favor Nepomniachtchi's playing style more than Ding's.  

It was at this point that Giri started questioning whether the pawn on h3 was useful, or if it might be missing from White's defensive resources as pressure mounted along the g-file and a8-h1 diagonal. Nepomniachtchi shared these sentiments at the press conference after the game, although he couldn't say that h3 was conclusively bad.

A few moves later, the position kept increasing in complexity and Ding's time dropped further and further below his opponent's. While material remained equal, Black's attacking plan was much clearer, so much so that by move 16 there were already predictions that Ding would be crushed.

With just 45 minutes remaining on his clock for the next 23 moves, Ding opted for the inaccurate 17.Bd3, going for a defensive setup where the bishop would drop back to f1 to defend. Unfortunately for him, Nepomniachtchi had 18...f5 lined up with a puzzle-rush double rook sacrifice as a possibility, should White capture on f5.  Furthermore, the threat on e4 prevented Ding's Bf1 maneuver.  

Ding dodged the tactic and had to play the meek 19.Bc2 retreat, after which Nepomniachtchi found the best responses at lightning speed, and the Chinese player started to run out of moves and time. The returning challenger sacrificed an exchange to pick up White's central pawns and it was only a matter of time before the final handshake.

The final straw was Nepomniachtchi's 29...e5 advance, with an attack on White's rook. Since the rook had just a single escape square—which blocked the queen's protection of the c1 promotion square—Ding resigned before his 30th move, with a mere 43 seconds left on his clock.

Ding with his head down during the game
A tough day for Ding. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

GM Rafael Leitao analyzes the full game below.

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

A decisive result as early as game two is rare in a world championship match, and Nepomniachtchi joins esteemed company. The last time this occurred was GM Magnus Carlsen's win against GM Viswanathan Anand in their 2014 rematch, while the most recent win with the black pieces in game two dates all the way back to the 2006 "Toiletgate" match between GM Vladimir Kramnik and GM Veselin Topalov.

The loss is no doubt an unwelcome blow to Ding, who already expressed after game one that he was battling with nerves, anxiety, and emotions during the match. It seems especially cruel to have lost after successfully surprising his opponent with an opening novelty, but with seconds as creative as Rapport, it is likely not the only novelty his team has prepared.

Ding smiling during press conference
Still able to muster up a smile during the press conference. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

A topic of much discussion on Twitter during the game, and also asked about at the press conference, was that of the players spending so little time in their chairs during the game. Indeed, for much of the match the chairs sat on display empty, and the broadcasts did not appear to have access to the rest area cameras as they had during game one.

When asked about this, Ding appeared to like the familiar and calming nature of the break room, which he said reminds him of when he played online during the pandemic. He said it feels different from over-the-board chess, and he comes to the board only during time trouble.

Nepomniachtchi agreed with the feeling of playing online and said he didn't think there should be restrictions on how long players spend in the rooms if they feel it's more comfortable. On a lighthearted note, he added that he spent a lot of time there in his previous world championship match, but that was because in his words: "I couldn't part ways with my snacks."

Nepomniachtchi smiling during the press conference as WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili and Ding look on
The day's winner bringing some humor to the press conference. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Heading into the rest day, Nepomniachtchi says that he finds it difficult to imagine an absolutely chess-free day and that he will likely follow his standard routine: trying to catch up on sleep, relax, and prepare for game three. Ding plans to use the day to recover from a "tough loss," and will then get back into his routine, which involves analyzing and playing games with his seconds. 

Nepomniachtchi's win brings his live rating to 2799.8, and he will no doubt be highly motivated to convert his positive momentum into gaining the world championship title while becoming the 15th player in history to cross the 2800-rating mark in published ratings. However, Ding is known for his strong and solid play, and it is possible that the day's break is all he needs to re-orientate himself and get in the right mindset to launch a comeback in game three. In any case, we are in for an exciting match ahead!

Match score

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

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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