Ding Liren of China Wins World Chess Championship

Chess is taken into account the last word sport of chilly, logical calculation, however additionally it is a sport of ardour and, on the highest stage, of nerves. That was clear on Sunday when the world championship match in Astana, Kazakhstan, ended with Ding Liren, the brand new champion, sitting at a board by himself in a darkened theater, his head in his hand, crying tears of pleasure.

Ding’s victory got here in a tense and gripping rapid-play finale towards Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, and solely after three weeks of slower-paced video games that had failed to supply a winner. The outcome made Ding the primary man from China, a rising energy in chess, to carry the world championship, concurrently stopping Russia, which has dominated the sport for a century, from reclaiming it.

Ding’s match towards Nepomniachtchi was determined in a collection of 4 tiebreaker video games made vital after the regulation portion of the match, 14 grueling classical video games, led to a tie. Each participant gained three video games within the regulation portion; the opposite eight led to attracts.

The tiebreakers, all performed Sunday, had been sooner video games during which every participant had 25 minutes in the beginning, with 10 seconds added to every transfer. The first three video games had been attracts, however each was extremely tense and hard-fought.

In Game 4, Nepomniachtchi, taking part in white, repeated the opening he had tried within the second sport of the tiebreakers. On transfer 13, he tried a brand new thought, however Ding — capitalizing on his defects — quickly seized the higher hand.

Still, the sport appeared headed for a draw when Nepomniachtchi, with extra time left on his clock, determined to make the sport extra sophisticated to see if he may drive Ding right into a mistake. Instead, it was Nepomniachtchi who cracked, making crucial errors that allowed Ding to take management. Nepomniachtchi resigned on Move 68.

It was the primary and solely time that Ding led within the championship match. He earned $1.1 million for his victory, whereas Nepomniachtchi gained $900,000 because the runner-up.

Ding’s victory despatched waves by means of Chinese social media late within the night, with a hashtag associated to the brand new champion shortly amassing over 10 million views on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform. Chinese customers, full of satisfaction and aid after three anxiety-filled weeks, celebrated the championship at the same time as some admitted to their ignorance of how one can play chess. Nearly all agreed, although, on the load of the second.

“We Chinese have stepped atop chess’ highest stage,” one commenter wrote. “Ding Liren is the satisfaction of China.”

The match had been overshadowed from the beginning by the absence of Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian grandmaster who had held the world title since 2013. Carlsen voluntarily selected to relinquish the crown final July as a result of he had grown weary and bored of making ready for the matches, a course of that takes months.

Carlsen has lengthy been crucial of the size of time of the video games for what is named the classical world championship. Each one can take hours and, significantly lately, when gamers have been capable of put together beforehand with computer systems, they typically finish and not using a decisive outcome. (For instance, Game 14 on Saturday, the day earlier than the tiebreakers, had lasted almost seven hours and led to a draw.)

For followers, and potential sponsors, that may make the most important occasion in chess much less thrilling. The match in Astana didn’t have that downside — almost half of the video games led to victories — however that didn’t change Carlsen’s opinion.

In a podcast on April 28 on NRK, the biggest media firm in Norway, Carlsen stated: “There is so much of speak now this world championship proves that ‘classical chess is doing properly’ and all that. I’ve to confess that I do not purchase that in any respect.”

He defined that Nepomniachtchi and Ding took many possibilities at first phases of the video games of their championship match, however that was atypical. In his matches, Carlsen stated, that didn’t occur as a result of his opponents had been afraid of him and tried to restrict danger. The outcome, he argued, was that the video games weren’t attention-grabbing.

Hikaru Nakamura, a five-time United States champion, advised on a latest livestream that it did not matter who gained the Ding-Nepomniachtchi showdown. “The world champion will not be going to be handled as a world champion,” he stated. “I do not care if Nepomniachtchi wins. I do not care if Ding wins. Both of them will probably be very deserving of successful the match. But that won’t make them the world champion in anyone’s e book.”

Ding’s triumph was vital for each China and Russia. Russians have dominated chess for many of the final century, partly a legacy of the Soviet Union, which promoted supremacy within the sport as proof of its superiority over the West.

China, fairly than embracing the sport for comparable causes, rejected it as a result of it was in style in what it considered because the “decadent” West. For eight years throughout the Cultural Revolution of the Sixties, taking part in the sport was banned.

The notion of chess in China started to vary after Xie Jun gained the ladies’s world championship in 1991, changing into the primary non-Russian, non-Georgian girl to carry the title. That sparked a frenzy of state-sponsored actions designed to domesticate elite gamers, a venture collectively identified by a grandiose title, “Big Dragon Plan.” Chinese colleges created chess golf equipment, and coaching establishments and tournaments proliferated. Last yr, the Chinese authorities unveiled a brand new 10-year plan to develop the nation’s subsequent era of prodigies.

China’s dedication has already yielded outcomes. A succession of girls after Xie gained the ladies’s world championship, permitting China to carry the title for many of the final 32 years. The present titleholder is Ju Wenjun, who grew to become champion in 2018. She will face a compatriot, Lei Tingjie, in a match in July, making certain that the ladies’s title will stay in Chinese fingers.

China has additionally produced some excellent males’s gamers lately, with half a dozen rising into the highest 20 on the earth rankings at one time or one other. But Ding has been far and away the most effective of them.

Born in Wenzhou a yr after Xie’s victory, he was taught to play chess by his father, a chess aficionado, when he was 4. He began to compete in tournaments quickly after and gained his first nationwide title when he was 5. He rose to worldwide prominence in 2009, at 16, when he grew to become China’s home champion. He gained the title once more in 2011 and 2012.

He has been ranked as excessive as No. 2 on the earth, and is the one Chinese participant to ever obtain a ranking, the factors system used to categorise gamers, of greater than 2,800.

Ding’s path to the title was affected by obstacles. The pandemic and China’s isolation had pressured him to cease competing, however with a purpose to play within the candidates’ event final yr — a requirement to pick out a challenger for the championship match — he needed to have performed a minimal quantity of competitions. The Chinese Chess Federation stepped in to arrange three tournaments early final yr to permit him to fulfill the requirement.

At the candidates’ event, which was held final June and July in Madrid, Ding completed second behind Nepomniachtchi. Normally, that may have solely certified Nepomniachtchi to play for the title towards Carlsen. But after Carlsen declined to play, Ding grew to become the opposite challenger.

The loss was a crushing one for Nepomniachtchi. Born the identical yr as Carlsen, and sometimes referred to as Russia’s reply to the Norwegian grandmaster, he had been overshadowed by his rival for years. Nepomniachtchi performed Carlsen for the world title in 2021 in Dubai, however after getting off to an excellent begin by drawing the primary 5 video games, he collapsed and misplaced in a single of probably the most lopsided leads to the historical past of the occasion. This yr’s match, with Carlsen having stepped apart, was a golden alternative for him.

In the information convention afterwards, with members of Ding’s household and Xie, the primary Chinese girl’s champion, wanting on, Ding was requested if the match was one of the crowning moments of his life. He struggled to clarify his emotions. “The match,” he lastly answered, “mirrored the deepest of my soul.”

Chang Che contributed reporting from Seoul.

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