Ding Escapes Nepo's Surprise in WCC Opener

Editor's note: We are pleased to present the first of our daily bulletins in pdf for your print-at-home pleasure. You can also read the story and annotations here, or follow along on our interactive study embedded below. For today's installment, we highly recommend following along with the incredibly detailed lines courtesy of GM Awonder Liang. Don't be fooled by the imposing length of some of his variations: his explanations are clear, instructive, and absolutely a must-read.

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To paraphrase Jan Markos paraphrasing George Orwell, “All draws are equal. But some are more equal than others.” Many predicted the first game of the 2023 FIDE World Chess Championship to end peacefully. But far fewer predicted an early opening surprise and one player on the brink of victory before the dust settled. As far as draws go, this was about as unequal as it could get.



The quest to be crowned the 17th undisputed World Chess Champion began in Astana, Kazakhstan on Sunday, April 8, between the second- and third-highest ranked players in the world. With reigning champ GM Magnus Carlsen sitting this one out after a decade of dominance, his last challenger GM Ian Nepomniatchi —a Russian playing under the FIDE flag yet again — fights Chinese GM Ding Liren in a 14-game match over the next three weeks. After one game, the score remains equal, but the game itself painted a much different picture.


Image Caption
courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE


Out of the opening, Ding was surprised as early as the seventh move in a position where even Carlsen admitted he had forgotten his analysis. He decided to avoid the most testing variations, which was an understandable choice considering that the alternatives involved sacrificing a knight.

Perhaps this cautious attitude followed Ding a little too long, however, as he continued to choose unnecessarily passive forms of defense as the game progressed.


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Nepo getting ready to grind (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


At one point, Nepomniachtchi had a serious advantage, although nothing close to a concrete win. He eventually let Ding off the hook, although not without some serious drama as Ding had under 14 minutes for his final 14 moves of the first time control. He was up to the task, however, and the players agreed to a draw shortly thereafter.


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Ding could not hand the scoresheet over fast enough (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Neither player appeared thrilled with the result. Ding was surprised out of the opening and admitted in the press conference that he had trouble focusing and was perhaps feeling the pressure of the match. But Nepomniachtchi missed a chance to convert an advantage out of a surprising opening choice, and he appeared visibly frustrated as the game progressed.

Watching the game in real time, it was difficult to understand how much trouble Ding was in. Was Nepomniachtchi’s opening surprise a real bomb, or were the commentators hyperbolic? Was the position before Nepomniachtchi’s 29th move actually close to winning, or was this just another case of the masses following Stockfish off a ledge?

To answer these questions, let’s turn over to GM Awonder Liang, who has graciously provided some remarkably detailed and instructive analysis. Click on over to the study to see even more detailed notes on key variations!


GM Awonder Liang is a 20-year-old undergraduate at the University of Chicago. Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Liang is the third-youngest American to earn the grandmaster title. He has won two World Youth championships and competed in four U.S. Championships, including a tie for third in the 2022 edition.

See all of our 2023 FIDE World Championship coverage.

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