Ding Levels Match In Dramatic Game 12

Image Caption
courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE


As always, you can download today's printable bulletin, or follow along with FM Alice Lee's annotations embedded below.


Around halfway through the 2023 FIDE World Chess Championship, a funny thing started to happen. Both in discussions online, and even in several drafts I edited for these bulletins, chess fans and commentators alike were referring to the sixth game as the halfway mark, even though the match was scheduled to go for 14 rounds rather than 12.

Indeed, every championship match since the unification match in 2006 between GM Vladimir Kramnik and GM Veselin Topalov has been a best-of-12. That is, until the 2021 match between GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, which Carlsen won 7½-3½ in just 11 games. The chess masses could be forgiven, then, for forgetting that the World Championship is now a best-of-14.

Until now. In a complicated, nervy, and downright chaotic twelfth game, Ding evened the score 6-6 against Nepomniachtchi, marking the first time since the 2004 Classical World Chess Championship between Kramnik and GM Peter Leko that more than 12 classical games will be needed to determine a champion.


Image Caption
courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE


In an earlier press conference, Ding suggested the match could benefit from being even longer given how interesting the games were, which drew laughter from his opponent. But, today, both players began showing signs of fatigue and wear in what, unfortunately at times for both, was perhaps the most complex position of any game to occur in the match so far.

Out of the gate, Ding employed a familiar strategy of eschewing more popular openings in order to get an original game, this time in the Colle System beginning with 1. d4 and followed by pushing c2-c3 and placing his knights on the f3- and d2-squares. The strategy worked in the sense of preventing Nepomniachtchi from drying out the game, and in the sense of allowing Ding to take risks and play creatively.

Nepomniachtchi was up to the task, astutely maneuvering his pieces to make the most of Ding’s growing kingside weaknesses. After one inaccuracy on move 19, Nepomniachtchi’s pieces roared to life. By the time American viewers were waking up, Ding was in dire straits, creating complications and holding on by a thread in opening up the position on move 26. A loss would virtually guarantee a match victory for Nepo, who would then need to only draw one of the final two games to clinch the match.

What happened over the course of the ensuing six moves was about as tense of a fifteen minutes as a chess fan (or player) could ask for. The problems started with the fact that the 12 total moves took a total of only fifteen minutes, despite Ding still having 30 minutes and Nepomniachtchi still with 42 minutes to reach move 40. Perhaps memories of Ding’s time trouble were still fresh in both player’s minds, as Nepomniachtchi felt an urge to push Ding on the clock and Ding, in turn, felt like he had less time to calculate.



Or perhaps neither player realized at the time just how critical this position was. With Nepomniachtchi voluntarily sacrificing an Exchange, but neither king particularly safe, every move contained numerous transformations and variations with ridiculous subtlety. Nepomniachtchi let things slip away by pushing his b-pawn, but Ding gave him more chances to attack, which Nepomniachtchi then giving Ding a close-to-winning sequence. Not only did Ding miss this, but he missed a deep combination that would have given Nepomniachtchi a winning endgame after mass simplifications. Again, this all unfolded over 15 minutes.

By move 32, the dust had settled. Ding was up a pawn, and although computers were claiming Nepomniachtchi had compensation, his position was not easy to play. His time advantage began to evaporate, and by move 32 he only had 23 minutes to Ding’s 19. The players continued to slow down, taking stock of the position, as it looked like they would comfortably reach time control.


Image Caption
courtesy David Llada


Then, Nepomniachtchi took three minutes on move 34, finally pushing his f-pawn to a threatening square that commentators had been suggesting for the past dozen turns. Ding paused for a second, captured the e-pawn that was now hanging, and Nepomniachtchi threw his hands in the air. Did he miss the hanging pawn? Did he miss that, without an e-pawn, he could not block Ding’s incoming checks?


Image Caption
courtesy David Llada/FIDE


Whatever the case, it was clear to Nepomniachtchi that his position was now completely hopeless. He sat in his chair, turned away from the board, talking to himself, in utter shock. He spent 17 of his remaining 19 minutes here, occasionally double-checking his position to see if a resource would materialize. Then he made a couple quick moves, extended his hand, and accepted that, less than two hours after being on the brink of gaining a two-game lead, Ding had officially leveled the match with only two games to play.

It is perhaps an unfair stereotype to say that young players are always more tactically alert. Nevertheless, it is good fortune that our youngest commentator of the match is providing annotations on the sharpest game we’ve seen. Without further ado, here is FM Alice Lee.

FM Alice Lee is the fifth-highest rated woman in the country and the second-highest rated 13-year-old (regardless of gender).  Born and residing in Minneapolis, MN, Lee earned the WIM title in 2021 and crossed the rating threshold for FM the next year. She currently has two IM norms (out of a required three) and is just nine points shy of the rating threshold for the IM title. Some of her achievements include earning the Samford fellowship in 2022 and qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship that same year, where she finished tied for fifth out of 14 players. She has also finished second in both the 2022 and 2023 editions of the American Cup, losing only to GM Irina Krush in the finals each year.



See all of our 2023 FIDE World Championship coverage.

See results and full schedule on the official website.

Follow our lichess profile for more studies.

Watch live commentary of each round on Chess.com and from FIDE.

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