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Ding Liren becomes China’s first world chess champion

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In Astana, Kazakhstan, Ding Liren triumphed over Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi on Sunday, becoming world chess champion. He succeeds Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, who has held the title since 2013.

Grandmaster Ding Liren became the first Chinese world chess champion on Sunday (April 30th) in Astana, beating Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, confirming the country’s leading place in the chess world.

At 30, the player took over after the starts, and at the end of a fight that will mark more by its stunning drama than by the precision of the two players.

No matter the quality: if six Chinese women have been world chess champions since 1990, including the current Ju Wenjun, it is the first time that the country has won the supreme title – because it is open to both men and women – chess.

China has been one of the most feared nations in chess for several years: it notably won the Olympiads in 2014 and 2018, the most important competition between nations in the discipline, Ding Liren taking a dominating part in both editions.

The grandmaster broke all the ceilings in his country and was long seen as the one who could bring down the world champion since 2013, Magnus Carlsen.

“I am relieved (…), I know myself, I will cry and burst into tears”, reacted the champion in a press release from the International Chess Federation (Fide).

Born in the “City of Chess”

Ding Liren was born in Wenzhou in 1992, a city which two years later obtained the title of “Chinese chess city”.

Second in the World Under-10 Championship in 2003, he really revealed himself by becoming China’s youngest chess champion in 2009.

Ding Liren is then the highest ranked Chinese player in history and the first to participate in the Candidates tournament, the winner of which becomes the challenger of the reigning world champion, in 2018 then 2020. From 2018, he becomes the fifth player in the world rankings, even climbing to second place in 2021.

Sudden stop due to the pandemic

But the Covid-19 pandemic, which is lasting in China, has come to a sudden halt in its trajectory. In 2022, he does not obtain a visa to participate in the qualifying competitions for the Candidates tournament and does not participate in almost any competition on the official circuit between June 2021 and April 2022.

The disqualification of the Russian Sergei Karjakin from any competition organized by the International Chess Federation because of his position in favor of the war in Ukraine, however, frees up a place for the highest ranked unqualified player: Ding Liren. Unlike tennis, the points acquired in chess do not disappear after a year, but change only after games.

His participation in the Candidates tournament in April 2022 is therefore accompanied by mystery. After a defeat in the first match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Ding Liren made up for it and snatched second place in the tournament on the last day.

The position miraculously becomes qualifying for the world championship when Magnus Carlsen, five-time reigning winner, decides to give up his crown, tired of the format of the competition. The Norwegian congratulated his successor, the federation statement said.

Facing “Nepo”, in Astana, Ding Liren runs after the score: trailed three times, he comes back to match by winning the 12e round, at the end of a game where his opponent has, on several occasions, a decisive advantage but does not find the right moves to conclude. “These are two players who attack very well and who defend, for their level, relatively badly”, explains Kevin Bordi, host of the Blizstream channel and main figure on the Internet of French-speaking chess.

The date of the next world championship is not known. The Candidates tournament, which will designate its challenger, will take place in April 2024.

With AFP

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