Ding Plays Early Surprise, But Nepo Takes Early Lead After Two Games

Editor's Note: You can download the bulletin version of this article, with annotations by GM Elshan Moradiabadi, here.



The opening act of the 2023 FIDE World Championship was good for two things. First, it provided us an opportunity to learn a thing or two about endgames from GM Awonder Liang. Second, it raised a host of psychological questions, many of which certainly appeared to be answered in the second game.


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And they're off! (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


Would GM Ian Nepomniachtchi smell blood in the water, or would he get caught up in the frustration of a missed opportunity? Would GM Ding Liren bounce back after being jolted awake by the pressure of the match, or would the emotional hangover prove harder to shake?


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Experienced chess fans can tell this is the sign things are going well for Nepo (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Put briefly, it sure seems like Nepo was more encouraged than dejected by his chances, and Ding hardly appears in top form. Nepo won with the black pieces in a brutal 29 moves, responding on the fly to an experimental opening and out-strategizing his opponent nevertheless.


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Nepo allowed himself a moment of vulnerability when faced with Ding's Rapportian surprise (courtesy FIDE)


The post-game press conference was also telling. Nepomniachtchi was a bit nonchalant in explaining his play, suggesting that the attack more or less played itself. Ding was again very forthcoming, admitting that in the 30-plus minutes he spent on his 12th move, he did not even consider Nepo’s quick (not to mention correct) reply of voluntarily doubling his f-pawns.

Headed into the first rest day, it sure appears as if the trajectory of the match is set. But with 12 more games to be played, there is plenty of time for Ding, in particular, to raise more questions.

Today's annotations come from GM Elshan Moradiabadi. Moradiabadi is the second Iranian player to reach a 2600 FIDE rating. He moved to the United States to attend Texas Tech University in 2012, and has represented the United States since 2017. Moradiabadi is also a distinguished coach, having coached the U.S. national team in the 2019 World Team Championships and the Pan Am team that same year. He currently resides in Durham, NC.


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