By David Yagudayev, Science & Technology Editor
After 25 arduous days and extremely tense games that took place between GM Ian Nepomniatchi and GM Ding Liren for the World Chess Championship 2023 Title, Ding Liren ultimately prevailed during the 4th Tiebreaker match. Despite Nepomniatchi having an early advantage in the classical portion of the championship, Ding remained composed and was able to claw back and force tiebreakers. With Ding’s win, the ten-year “Carlsen” era, in which GM Magnus Carlsen was the undefeated World Chess Champion, has officially come to an end.
What makes this truly special, is the story behind Ding Liren and his rise to achieving this title.
Liren was not meant to play in the World Chess Championship at all! He was not able to qualify for the 2022 Candidates Tournament (the qualification tournament to play the defending world champion for the title). However, after Russian GM Sergey Karjakin was banned by FIDE, a spot opened up and Liren was given the spot. On top of this, Liren was unable to compete in tournaments outside of China due to COVID-19 restrictions, and was not going to reach the required number of rated games to play in the 2022 Candidates Tournament even with an invitation for the remaining spot.
At the Candidates Tournament, Liren finished at an impressive second place position, behind Nepomniatchi, which meant that Carlsen was set to play Nepomniatchi for the second time in the World Chess Championship setting. Then, Carlsen dropped a news-bomb on the chess world that no one expected. Carlsen officially decided to not defend his title, stating in his Magnus Effect podcast, “I am not motivated to play another match; I simply feel that I don’t have a lot to gain.” World Chess Championships require intense and rigorous preparation from both players, which often involves learning and preparing opening repertories for months before playing an emotionally and mentally draining tournament that can last over a month. Carlsen’s decision opened up the door to the second-place player at the 2022 Candidates, Ding Liren, which never originally existed.
When the World Chess Championship event began, Ding Liren was struggling. He lost the initial matches, and forecasters predicted Nepomiachi to finish the job and finally take the title, after losing to Carlsen in the previous World Chess Championship. However, in game 12, something struck that would change the course of the mental battleground for Nepomniatchi and Liren. Liren was struggling in the match and remained critically composed and sharp, outwitting Nepomiachi to take the win. As GM Viswanathan Anand tweeted after the game, “Nepo played at an incredible level and deserved to win. However, Ding is showing courage and taking big risks. It seems that he had to face the prospect of losing the match before luck smiled on him.”
Then the tiebreakers came. The first three tiebreakers were drawn. The last tiebreaker was an extremely mind-intensive game, as you see Nepomiatchi and Liren’s facial expressions as they played, especially at the end. What’s incredible about Liren’s win is that he never had a lead in the matches until the final game of the tiebreaker. This event not only set a new record for the first World Chess Champion from China but also showed the Chess World Liren’s incomprehensible composure, grit, determination, and most importantly resilience. When it looked like it was all over, Liren remained calm and kept playing his best, taking risks, and ultimately came out a champion.