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Nepomniachtchi Miraculously Holds After Beatdown By Ding
Ding almost avenged his tough round-seven loss but could only manage a draw. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi Miraculously Holds After Beatdown By Ding

JackRodgers
| 82 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ding Liren almost bounced back in sensational fashion following a gutwrenching round-seven loss, falling just short after a herculean effort from GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, resulting in a draw in the eighth round of the 2023 FIDE World Championship.

In yet another opening debut for the event, the challengers jousted through an imbalanced Nimzo-Indian Defense middlegame before Ding capitalized on a pressure-cooker blunder by Nepomniachtchi, but the latter would later escape with a draw in Houdini-esque fashion.

Game nine of the world championships will take place Friday, April 21, at 15:00 Astana time (2 a.m. PT/11:00 CEST) where Nepomniachtchi will play with the white pieces.

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The live broadcast was hosted by GMs Anish Giri, Robert Hess, and IM Tania Sachdev.

After eight rounds in Astana, the words of Marcel Duchamp, "I’ve come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists," has never been more true. The players' high-risk approach was again lauded by the chess community.

One of the two artists in residence. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Sachdev's prologue for the game included the message that "both players are ready for a fight," and after two moves each, it was clear that the players hadn't run out of surprises yet. The Nimzo-Indian Defense: Sämisch Variation was Ding's weapon of choice, a line typically characterized by doubled-c-pawns and a big center for White.

After the game, the world number-two called this line with 9.Ra2 "topical."

Nepomniachtchi's diversion from known master games occurred with 9...b6, dodging a line played by GMs John M Burke and Illiya Nyzhnyk at the 2022 Spice Cup, a game which ended in a messy white victory. Both players still appeared to be well within their preparation though, and Ding riposted three moves later with a bishop sacrifice, 12.h4!, that aimed to open the h-file with a deadly attack in tow.

Nepomniachtchi strikes his customary pose as the game spirals out of control. Photo: Aleksandar Dimitrijevic/Chess.com.

An army of the world's top players, including GMs Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian, quickly emerged on the Twittersphere claiming to have studied the line before, the former writing: "Can't express how happy I am to see this variation played today."

Nepomniachtchi also appeared to be familiar with the line and despite Giri claiming he was "out of book" after a long think, the Dutch commentator later clarified that he believed there was a move order mix-up that was later rectified. Nepomniachtchi would later address this in the press conference, stating: "Both moves are in the files."

Like in most of the world championship games so far, the position descended into chaos around the move-15 mark and, unsurprisingly, when a potential repetition opportunity presented itself to Ding, he instead decided to further complicate the position with 16.d5.

Both players strive for victory. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

The decision paid off and Hess would later say that the setup had "the contours of a masterpiece" as Ding quickly raced his passed d- and g-pawns up the board in a sign of growing confidence, putting all the pressure on Nepomniachtchi to find solutions.

Ding played 22.g5! in seconds. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In an attempt to wrestle free of White's vice-like grip, the two-time world championship challenger made a snap call to play 22.Bxe4??, a mistake that gave added power to White's d-pawn, a moment that Giri dubbed as "critical." Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Nepomniachtchi showed visible discomfort as the realization dawned on him that his decision had left him in a losing position. Sachdev stated: "You could see a complete shift in him," and matters only got worse as they played on.

Despite Ding's overwhelming advantage, Giri predicted that something was about to go awry, deducing: "His pace is a little bit off again. I'm getting bad vibes." The comment seemed to foreshadow what soon transpired, and in a completely winning position, Ding found himself staring down a Nepomniachtchi Hail Mary, 31.Qh4??, that was self-described as both "brilliant" and a "bluff."

The idea was a perfect example of famous chess trainer NM Bruce Pandolfini's simple mantra, "If winning, clarify; if losing, complicate," and Ding fell for the ruse, courtesy of serious time pressure that only allowed him to "briefly check the line," as he would later state in the press conference. After Nepomniachtchi sacrificed his knight for equality with 37...Nxf2!, a nightmarish sense of deja vu began to creep into the game as the Chinese GM's time ticked below the 10-minute mark with three critical moves to make before the time control.

By the time Ding made his 40th move, his advantage had withered away and he made the time control with just four seconds left. A queen trade quickly ensued and the players agreed to a draw on move 45 in a straightforward rook and pawn endgame.

Don't be fooled by his napping! Nepomniachtchi played high-energy chess in round eight. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

GM Rafael Leitao analyzes the rollercoaster round-eight game below.

This is a game with many possible adjectives: grandiose, interesting, bloody, surprising, inaccurate, you name it. The two players continue to seek victory and take risks, without fear of defeat. Each game of this memorable match is a drama of its own and can be studied for hours on end.

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

One of the breaking news stories of the day was the supposed leak on Reddit of two anonymous lichess accounts that are rumored to belong to Ding and his preparation team. An exact correlation between several of the accounts' rapid games and opening moves played in game two and eight of the championship were found by user "LudwigDeLarge." An ongoing Reddit thread continues to provide the latest updates on these findings

When quizzed about this in the press conference by Chess.com's FM Mike Klein, Ding responded: "I don't know which game you refer [to]." An impromptu meeting with the player's team was called momentarily before the conference; when Klein asked for the topic of their discussion, Ding stated that they only discussed the game and not the supposed leak.

GM Hikaru Nakamura was the first top chess player to comment live on the findings and he exclaimed: "There's no chance that these aren't their accounts, zero chance."

The supposed leak shares several things in common with a leak of Caruana's preparation in his 2018 match with GM Magnus Carlsen, though at the time Caruana felt that it "didn't give an enormous amount of information" away.

Whether or not the rumors are true, one thing is for sure: the 2023 FIDE World Championship has continued to provide some of the most dramatic chess in a long time, both on and off the board. Facing a one-point deficit and playing with the black pieces tomorrow, Ding's preparation for game nine is absolutely critical. And if his team has to scramble to combat potential leaks, then the task is all the tougher. 

Will Ding be able to shrug off the pressure of the match and mount a resurgence, mirroring his candidate's comeback, or will Nepomniachtchi tighten the screws and push for an insurmountable lead?

62.5% of games so far ended in decisive results. Make sure to tune into round nine so you don't miss chess history unfolding before your eyes.

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 . . . . . . 3.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2795 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 0 1 ½ . . . . . . 4.5

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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