Ding Liren passes acid test in World Championship Game 3

Ding Liren passes acid test in World Championship Game 3


Ding Liren looked and sounded like a man transformed as he pressed Ian Nepomniachtchi before making a draw with the black pieces in Game 3 of the World Championship match in Astana. Ian still leads 2:1, but Ding credited his friends with helping him regain his confidence and understand that he’d simply been weighed down by the pressure of the match in the first two games.

Replay the live commentary from Anish Giri, David Howell and Daniel Naroditsky on Game 3 of the FIDE World Championship match in Astana.

Replay Game 3 with computer analysis

After Ding Liren’s admissions of mental problems after Game 1 and the way he collapsed in Game 2, the Chinese star’s many fans were worried. Would the match be over almost before it began? Would he even be able to complete the games in such a state of mind?

It seems the rest day came at just the right moment, however, so that Ding was able to shrug off what he called the “total surprise” of Ian Nepomniachtchi switching from his trusted 1.e4 to 1.d4.

Ding Liren played the Queen’s Gambit Declined and turned out to be following a draw he’d played against Anish Giri in the Prelims of the 2022 Chessable Masters. Both players were on top form back then, with Giri winning the Prelims while Ding Liren went on to win the whole event.

It was mildly puzzling that Ding was playing his moves relatively slowly despite that game, but something was new about his approach — he stayed on the stage, often even when it was his opponent’s move.

He said later:

I’m getting better! You can see I spend more time on the stage than hiding in the rest room.

If anyone was retreating from the limelight this time, it was Nepomniachtchi.

It was only his 17.N1e2 that was finally a new move, instead of Giri’s 17.Qf2 (which Anish pointed out could be hit by the precise 17…b5!, if Ding had studied that previous game).

The watching Giri hadn’t been impressed by Ian following his moves, commenting:

He’s mixing up my game with his prep. He’s just following my game blindly, thinking that’s his prep. This was just my game — it was not very good!

Ian wasn’t giving much away afterwards, but he did suggest he’d used that game to help him navigate.

I checked it today, I guess, but the Queen’s Gambit Declined is a very, very solid opening, so you are not going to achieve much. Alas, it’s the most common case when both sides are playing more or less reasonable moves. It’s hard to disrupt the equality.

Ding stuck to the 17…c5 he’d used in the earlier game and after 20.Qd2 a draw was looking likely.

20…d4!? was a possible move, but Ding noted that there were potential complications there. After 21.exd4 Nxd4 22.Nxd4 Rxd4 23.Qf2!, the desirable developing move 23…Be6? actually loses a piece to 24.Rd1!

Ding pointed out that 24…Rad8 doesn’t help because of 25.Ne2!

Of course there was nothing forced about playing 23…Be6?, but Ding correctly saw that 20…Bd7! was a strong alternative. In fact, it concealed a trap, which Nepo fell into when he played 21.Bxd7?!, which was met by 21…Nxd7!

Nepo called that “quite a move”, with the point that 22.Nxd5? Nb6! loses a piece, while 22.Qxd5 Qxe3+ 23.Kh1 and e.g. 23…Ndc5 is also no fun at all for White.

Ding said afterwards:

It was an interesting battle, but I was not too happy about the result, since after Nxd7, which I guess was missed by Ian, I was at least not worse and I was playing for a win at some point, but I couldn’t find a way to break through.

After 22.Nd4 Nb6! Ding was calling the shots.

Ian noted:

I felt like suddenly I should be accurate, I should be precise not to… Surely I’m not too happy, obviously, but I think it was a close game.

Ding looked to be doing everything right, but to break through he needed some help, which he didn’t get. Instead 27.Nb5! was a strong move by Nepo.

Ding said he considered 27…d4!? here, when after 28.exd4 Black gets an inviting square for the knight on f4, but, in another sign that he was thinking clearly, he dismissed it as too risky. Instead after 27…Nc7 28.Nd4 Ne6 (28…b5! was a potential try) 29.Nb5 the game was drawn by repetition.

Cue the recaps, with Jan Gustafsson this time joining Laurent Fressinet for the important task of representing the Chicken Chess Club.

Cristian Chirila and Fabiano Caruana dedicated 55 minutes to the game.

“A pretty decent result for both of us”, was Ding’s assessment, and in many ways his return to a positive mindset felt much more important than the chess. He commented:

I would like to thank my friends, they cheered me up and they helped me to deal with my emotional problems, and now I feel more comfortable on this stage.

He elaborated:

At some point I thought I might have some problem with my mind, but in the end it’s not as serious as I expected.

Ding had feared he might need to see a doctor, but now put his previous state down to the pressure of the match. He said he didn’t need a translator since, “I feel very comfortable now,” and we even got to see Ding finally doing what all previous chess players have done during matches — keep some things for later. Had the pandemic affected him badly?

COVID passed some time ago and there are not only negative points. Also there are some positive points during COVID. It’s hard to say, since the tournament is still going on, so let’s see what happens next!

If there was one false note in the press conference it was giving Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind as an example of 80s music that he and Richard Rapport listen to… but the unlikely partnership looks to be going strong.

On Thursday Ding Liren has the white pieces and the opening play will again be intriguing. It’s unlikely the Chinese star will return to 4.h3!?, but will he come up with another early surprise? The dream of course would be to hit back and level the scores, when it really would be match on!

Tune into all the action on Thursday at 15:00 local time (5am ET, 11:00 CEST, 2:30pm IST) when David Howell will again join Anish Giri and Daniel Naroditsky.

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