China’s Ding Liren defies odds to be crowned world chess champion

Ding won the rapid chess playoff by 2.5 points to 1.5, capitalising on Ian Nepomniachtchi’s mistakes.

China's Ding Liren speaks after his victory in the FIDE World Chess Championship
Ding's triumph means China holds both the men's and women's world titles [Stanislav Filippov/AP Photo]

China’s Ding Liren has been crowned as the 17th world chess champion after a tense match against Russian-born Ian Nepomniachtchi in Astana, Kazakhstan, in the last chapter of an odds-defying sequence of events.

The-31-year-old won the rapid chess playoff on Sunday by 2.5 points to 1.5, capitalising on Nepomniachtchi’s mistakes in time trouble in the last of the shorter-format games, following the pair’s 7-7 tie in a psychological battle across 14 longer “classical” games.

“One Ding to rule em all,” fellow grandmaster Anish Giri wrote on Twitter in honour of the new champion.

Ding’s triumph means China holds both the men’s and women’s world titles, with current women’s champion Ju Wenjun set to defend her title against compatriot Lei Tingjie in July.

“The moment Ian resigned, the game was a very emotional moment, I cannot control my feelings,” the new world champion said in a news conference.

Ding had levelled the score in the regular portion of the match with a dramatic win in game 12, despite several critical moments – including a purported leak of his own preparation.

Ding Liren of China competes against Ian Nepomniachtchi of International Chess Federation
Liren, left, competes against Ian Nepomniachtchi in Astana, Kazakhstan [Vladislav Vodnev/Reuters]

Last minute invite

The Chinese grandmaster takes the crown from five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who defeated Nepomniachtchi in 2021 but announced last July he would not defend the title this year.

Carlsen said he was not motivated to play shortly after Nepomniachtchi won the Candidates Tournament, the prestigious qualifier to the match.

Ding, runner-up in the Candidates thanks to an incredible second half of the event, was next in line.

He had been invited to the tournament at the last minute to replace Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, whom the international chess federation (FIDE) banned for his vocal support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ding ranks third in the FIDE rating list behind Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi.

The new champion will attend from May 4 the first tournament of the Grand Chess Tour in Bucharest, Romania, after being almost inactive since 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

Source: Reuters