Time Not On Ding's Side as Nepomniachtchi Takes 4-3 Lead Into WCC Halftime

Game 7
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Nepomniachtchi and Ding discuss the time scramble immediately after the fact (courtesy Stev Bonhage)


Please download today's print-friendly bulletin to read along with GM Yoo's annotations, featuring many rich variations that could have been. As always, all annotations are also available on our Lichess study, embedded below.



How long can these two guys keep up this level of high drama? The fourth consecutive decisive result in the 2023 World Championship might have been the most thrilling one yet, as GM Ian Nepomniachtchi takes a 4-3 lead over GM Ding Liren into the rest day marking the halfway point of the match.

After struggling in both Ruy Lopez games, Ding decided to open with 1. … e6 in game seven, entering the French Defense. This misunderstood opening is sometimes considered dull (although Ding’s sixth round win with the London System suggested that is not such a bad thing), but there are many opportunities for White to lure Black into maddening complications. Interestingly enough, Nepomniachtchi is something of an expert in the French himself, having played it in several games in the 2020 Candidates.


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courtesy Stev Bonhage


Nepo denied his opponent an opportunity to enter the dangerous Winawer Variation with 3. Nc3 Bb4, instead choosing a simpler line with 3. Nd2 known as the Tarrasch Variation. After the game, Nepomniachtchi said he was happy with the very small advantage in a relatively easy-to-play position that he got from this variation, which was his goal.

The strategy paid off, as even though White never created a successful attack, his nagging initiative made for a relatively intuitive middlegame strategy that in turn forced Ding to burn lots of time on his clock. Ding correctly determined that sacrificing an Exchange was the best course of action, and he even had an arguably better position as the game approached move 30.


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Three seconds and no increment! (courtesy Stev Bonhage)


Unfortunately, with no increment before the first time control on move 40, Ding was in severe pressure and unable to navigate the position. Spending four of his remaining five minutes on move 32, he made one fatal miscalculation and resigned shortly thereafter.

This fascinating game was a microcosm of the match, and a perfect encapsulation of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Nepomniachtchi has excelled pressing his initiative in attacking positions, while Ding has landed several blows by out-calculating his opponent. Until the final moments, this was the first game where both players were simultaneously in their element, and it was genuinely unclear who would come out on top.


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A stunned Ding in the press conference after the loss (courtesy David Llada)


But pressing an initiative only works inasmuch as there is actually an advantage to press, and Nepomniachtchi perhaps overestimated his position in making several key decisions too quickly. On the other hand, calculation takes time, which Ding was running out of. In the end, the clock proved decisive this time, but the players will likely keep trading blows if they keep playing to their strengths like this.

Today's annotations come from GM Christopher Woojin Yoo. Yoo is the sixth-highest rated player under the age of 18 in the world, as of FIDE’s April 2023 rating list. The 16-year-old Yoo was once the youngest American to earn the International Master title, and has just won the Mechanics' Institute Chess Library’s prestigious Falconer Award for the top Northern California junior. Some of Yoo’s many accomplishments include winning the 2022 U.S. Junior Championships and the 2022 U.S. Masters.



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