Confident Ding Wins Game 4, Levels Match Score
Ding and his second, Rapport, celebrating their victory. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Confident Ding Wins Game 4, Levels Match Score

| 193 | Chess Event Coverage

The 2023 FIDE World Championship continues to deliver exciting chess as a confident GM Ding Liren won game four on Thursday to level the score against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. Ding exerted pressure from the opening, and just as the position appeared to be heading toward equality, Nepomniachtchi quickly played a blunder, 28...Nd4??, allowing a pretty exchange sacrifice. After that, Ding's solid technique brought home the full point. 

Game five begins on Saturday, April 15, 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, Daniel Naroditsky, and David Howell.

FM Mike Klein made the ceremonial first move on behalf of Chessable, with the on-brand 1.b3. Unsurprisingly, Ding took this move back and instead opted for the English Opening, despite losing against Nepomniachtchi with this first move in the 2022 FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament. The position immediately deviated from their Candidates game, and a Reversed Rossolimo setup was reached in a line that Nepomniachtchi said he had not specifically expected.

Mike Klein making the ceremonial move 1.b3 as Ding, Nepomniachtchi and Tsatsalashvili look on smiling
Smiles all around as 1.b3 is played. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Over the next few moves, Nepomniachtchi's body language suggested he was trying to remember his lines, perhaps thinking all the way back to his 2021 world championship preparation versus GM Magnus Carlsen. His quick 9...Nf4 prompted commentator Giri to speculate that he had mixed up his preparation as a result of similar-looking lines, and this speculation was confirmed as accurate by Nepomniachtchi in the press conference.

Given that Ding's second, GM Richard Rapport, played an identical first 10 moves in 2013 (Rapport-Zaragatski, 2013), it was assumed that Ding was still in his preparation well into the game, opting for the more accurate 11.0-0 over Rapport's 11.h4?!. However, after the game, Ding said that he had only been in his preparation up until 9...Nf4.

With a hefty time advantage, Ding was able to have a major think before 13.Bd3 and still remain up on the clock, which in itself is a dramatic change from the previous games. As is so often the case, the big think preceded a "miss," according to the game analysis feature, and Nepomniachtchi played the accurate response of 13...Bg4.

But then it was time for Nepomniachtchi to misstep with 14...Na5, ignoring the adage that "knights on the rim are dim." Although not the most accurate move, it was still a "human move," making way for the c5-break, and neither player found the best response of 15.Qa4. Ding instead opted to play his own pawn to c5, sacrificing it on the way to establishing a strong pawn center.

As Ding solidified his center, Nepomniachtchi showed mature play by opting for the calm 18...b6 in an uncomfortable position where the commentators suggested that the Nepomniachtchi of old would have opted for the more aggressive, but inferior, 18...b5. After this move, Ding took over 15 minutes to decide on 19.h3, in a position where there were a lot of decent-looking options for White.

With such a complex position and multiple pawn breaks to calculate on each move, the pressure mounted for both players. Nepomniachtchi started to burn through his time on his 20th move, which was understandable in a position where even the commentators struggled to find playable moves for Black.

Nepomniachtchi took nearly 18 minutes after 20.Be4, perhaps calculating if any of the pawn breaks worked, before opting for 20...Re7.

Despite the evaluation bar giving White just a slight edge, the commentators remarked that Ding had the best position he'd achieved in the entire match. Sensing this, Ding began to spend more and more time finding the correct path forward, and his clock dipped below his opponent's for the first time in the game.

Nepomniachtchi's 23...f6—a move he dubbed as "unnecessary" post-game—allowed Ding to push 24.e6, with the drawback that this allowed Black's knight to maneuver itself back into the game via the d6-square. Just as commentators started to discuss that White's pressure was starting to dissipate and that a draw might be where the game was headed, Nepomniachtchi played the inaccurate 25...Nf5.

Nepomniachtchi in the foreground at the board with Ding in the background
A tough day for the returning challenger. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

25...Nf5 allowed Ding to focus on Black's f4-pawn, and just as everyone was expecting Nepomniachtchi to defend his pawn with 28...g5—after which Black is still very much in the game—he blundered with 28...Nd4??. While game two had Nepomniachtchi with a winning exchange sacrifice, this time it was Ding's turn for glory, and after one minute and 15 seconds, he captured the knight on d4.

Speaking about the sacrifice, Ding said he originally planned to meet 28...Nd4 with 29.Qd3, but then he saw the killer blow: "The important point is after ...c5 I have d6. This is very, very important for me since ...c5 doesn't work and he not only [loses] the pawn but also my knight is also very, very strongly placed on d4."

Nepomniachtchi had completely missed the sacrifice, as he confirmed after the game.

At this point, the position was completely lost for Black, but Nepomniachtchi played on a further 18 moves, testing Ding's technique. Fortunately, having reached the time control, Ding had enough time to convert the game without difficulty, and he earned his opponent's handshake in a position where there was material equality on the board—a good reminder that material isn't everything!

Napomniachtchi and Ding shaking hands at the end of the game
The final handshake. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Rafael Leitao analyzes the full game below.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

A magnificent victory for Ding, who showed the best version of his chess. The match is tied, and at this moment, it's impossible to make a prediction about who will be the next world champion.

You can watch the analysis by GM Hikaru Nakamura or GMs Fabiano Caruana and Cristian Chirila below. 

Before the previous rest day, it was Ding who needed the break to recover from a tough loss. Now it will be Nepomniachtchi who welcomes the break, saying that he'll be discussing with his team how to deal with a loss, but that "this time is different, Dubai is a different story"—in reference to his 2021 match against Carlsen. He will no doubt be continuing with his rest-day routine of sleep, exercise, relaxation, and more preparation.

Nepomniachtchi walking into the playing venue
Can Nepomniachtchi recover from the loss and avoid a repeat of 2021? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Whatever Team Ding did on the first rest day has clearly worked, as his play and nerves have improved visibly in games three and four. In his own words, he is now "fully focused" on the match, and he feels more comfortable both at the board and at the press conference.

He has also moved back into the St. Regis hotel, and has visible support from his team. And while he has been open about his emotions during press conferences, he was understandably not as forthcoming with information about his preparation and his team during the press conference, sidestepping a question of if China's first grandmaster was one of his seconds, and declining to confirm if viewers can expect a 1.e4 after his 1.c4 and 1.d4 in his first two white games.

Rapport congratulating Ding
Rapport congratulating Ding on the victory. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Members of the Chinese Chess Federation sitting during the press conference
Members of the Chinese delegation. From left to right: Tian Hongwei, Cindy Li, and GM Jiangchuan Ye. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The match is still in its early stages, and if the first four rounds are anything to go by, there is a lot of exciting and unpredictable chess ahead. Both players will return after the rest day highly motivated to take the lead in the match, with hopes of becoming the first new world champion since 2013 who's not named Magnus Carlsen.

It also remains to be seen if the number 13 will play any more of a role in this match. Ding's win today was on April 13th, which happens to be the birthday of GM Garry Kasparov, the 13th World Champion. Meanwhile Nepomniachtchi's game two win was in his 13th world championship game. Will we see a champion crowned in game 13 of this match? Time will tell.

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 1 2
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2795 ½ 1 ½ 0 2

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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