Nepomniachtchi retakes the lead with Game 5 win

Nepomniachtchi retakes the lead with Game 5 win


Ian Nepomniachtchi blitzed out his first 22 moves in Game 5 of the World Chess Championship in Astana, and though Ding Liren seemed to have various paths to equalise he lost his way and finally collapsed under relentless pressure. The latest brilliant attacking win in the match sees Nepomniachtchi take a 3:2 lead, with nine games to play.

Replay Anish Giri and Daniel Naroditsky’s live commentary on Game 5 of the 2023 World Chess Championship match in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Replay Nepomniachtchi-Ding Liren Game 5 with computer analysis

That’s now three decisive games in the first five.

Game 5 of the World Championship match coincided with a sudden plunge in temperatures in Astana, accompanied by heavy snow.

That would have some knock-on effects. Spectators struggled to make it to the venue, while the players found themselves facing less comfort than they were used to.

Ding Liren revealed afterwards that he was told he shouldn’t follow his usual practice of leaving the window open in the rest area. Ian Nepomniachtchi, meanwhile, explained that his prowling around the playing area when it was Ding to move hadn’t been some new psychological power play.

Due to some weather issues, it was a little bit too cold in the lounge, so that basically forced me to stay in the venue for all the time.

Ian also joked when asked about why he kept staring at his opponent, referring to the rest day.

I already missed him, a little!

On the chessboard, Ian Nepomniachtchi shelved his experiments with 1.d4 and returned to the tried and tested 1.e4 that he’d played in the first game of the match and for most of his career. This time he didn’t go for an exchange on c6 on move 6, but he did have another surprise in store as on move 10 he went for a move only seen once before in top-level play, in an Armageddon game Alireza Firouzja won against Anish Giri last year in Miami.

Ding began to think, but not too much, until the first new move, 12.Bg5.

Ding said he hadn’t expected this line and here was choosing between the 12…h6 he played and the 12…Qd7 seen in that earlier game, but decided that after the queen move he’d have to push his h-pawn later in any case.

What followed was a sequence of play where Ian kept blitzing out his moves — he barely paused for thought until move 23 — while Ding played confidently at the pace of a man who doesn’t want to rush but also wants to keep time on the clock for more important decisions ahead. Nepomniachtchi also later praised his opponent.

Definitely the position was part of my prep, but I should credit that for most of the game [Ding] played quite sensible moves.

Anish Giri took issue, however, with the Chinese no. 1’s choice on move 19.

Here Ding decided to swap off light-squared bishops with the sequence 19…Bd8!? 20.Nf1 Ne7!? 21.Bxb7 Qxb7, leaving a potentially bad bishop to face off against the powerful white knights.

Ian Nepomniachtchi’s longest think of the game so far came after 23…Qc6, in a position Anish felt had gone “majestically” for the Russian.

Ian noted that he was looking at 24.c4!? here, but worried that after 24…Ba5 25.Re2 Black might put a pawn on h5.

Instead Nepo chose to occupy that square himself with 24.h5, noting, “once I put my pawn on h5 I’m always better in all sorts of endgames.” The watching Nils Grandelius approved.

That somewhat abstract move invited immediate tactical measures, however, with Ding correctly going for that other move Ian had rejected, 24…c4!, when after 25.d4 exd4 26.Nxd4 the position was extremely sharp. 26…Qc5!? came in for some criticism from high-powered silicon, but it very nearly led to complete equality.

The bishop and queen battery towards the undefended f2-square prevents White from putting a knight on f5, for now, but the computer was advocating 27.Qf3, defending f2 and renewing the threats.

Instead the more outwardly aggressive 27.Qg4!? seemed to be inaccurate when Ding changed tacks with 27…Qe5!, and after 28.Nf3 Qe6! 29.Nf5 we got what Ding, not without reason, considered the single most important position of the game.

After the game I think the critical moment was when he played Nf5. I think I should have played 29…Qf6 instead of 29…Nxf5.

After 29…Qf6! White seems to have nothing better than exchanging on e7, when the computer claims equality, though a future e5-break may still ask questions.

Instead in the game 29…Nxf5!? was not necessarily fatal, but after 30.exf5 it turns out Black needed to continue 30…Qd7! instead of the more natural 30.Qf6!?

Ding’s explanation of his play at around this point echoed Nepo’s after his blunder in Game 4.

I thought I was very close to equal, so I was a little bit impatient at that point… It’s about losing focus during the game.

Play continued 31.Qe4! Rb8 32.Re2 Bc5 and then the move that Ding confessed he “totally overlooked”, 33.g4!

Ding noted:

It not only protects the f5-pawn but takes kingside space. I don’t have so many moves. It’s a very good game played by him. I was on the defensive side throughout the game. Maybe I should have played Qf6. After that it’s a very difficult position to defend.

Defending the f5-pawn means that after the b4-break White can take on c4 and Black can’t recapture on f5, but in hindsight Ding should perhaps have sacrificed a pawn by pushing b4 anyway, or at least after 33.g4 Qd8 34.Qd5. Instead 34…Kf8 was met by the trickery of 35.Kf1.

This was just the kind of position that Ding didn’t need with his time rapidly running out, and he attempted to play a “waiting move” with 35…Rc8!?, but as any 3500-rated chess entity will tell you, that was the point of no return in the game. Instead it was time to call Nepo’s bluff with 35…Qc8! 36.f6.

Here, it turns out, 36…gxf6 is playable, with Black having good chances to exchange off queens before his ruined pawn structure can be exploited.

In the game, however, 36.Re4! was a star move (another echo of Ding’s win in Game 4), with 36…Rb8 running into another reason why g4 was so strong, 37.g5!

What Nepomniachtchi assumed his opponent had missed in time trouble is that 37…hxg5 runs into 38.Rg4! and Black’s position is falling apart. The reason is that what Peter Leko would call the “cement” of 38…f6 is met by a beautiful refutation, 39.Nh4!

Black can’t allow the knight to get to g6, but after 39…gxh4 White follows up with 40.h6!, demolishing the black position, an idea that would loom large for the remainder of the game.

Ding saw that in the seven minutes he contemplated his options, but there was no longer any salvation. Eventually he played 38…Ra8 39.Nxg5 Ra1+ 40.Ke2 Qe7+ and got another hour on his clock to survey the ruins of his position.

Nepomniachtchi converted his advantage flawlessly, just as he’d done in Game 2, and Ding had done in Game 3, with 44.f6! a dagger to the heart.

Nevertheless, Ding kept fighting, and with 44…g6! 45.hxg6 fxg6 46.Rxg6 Ra2! he looked briefly to have Nepo worried. In a blitz game it might have worked, since the entirely plausible looking 47.Ng5? would throw away all the advantage.

Ian had almost limitless time, however, and he correctly calculated 47.Kg4! Rxb2 48.Rh6!. Ding spent 15 minutes pondering the position, but in the end he didn’t make a move and instead conceded defeat.

The recaps once more rolled in…

It had been another enthralling game, with Ian’s victory all the more impressive since Ding, both during the game and in the press conference, maintained his composure and had at no stage made a glaring mistake. He commented:

This loss hurt more than the previous one, because I thought I was totally fine. We still have many rounds. I hope I can recover from this tough loss.

Nepomniachtchi had done something he’d never managed before at this level and bounced back after suffering adversity, and he was understandably in high spirits. He was ready to take a friendly swipe at Magnus Carlsen, who had posted “Astana calling” on Instagram from Los Angeles, where the games start at 2am in the morning.

Ian was told that Magnus had previously said he “literally didn’t care” about who won the match, so that this looked like progress. In fact it seems Magnus didn’t use the word “literally”, and so wasn’t quoting Hikaru Nakamura, but it nevertheless made for a great response!

Ian also indulged in some sarcasm when he was asked if he was tempted to play the King’s Gambit, on which he published a Chessable course.

I guess it would be wiser to use some unpublished material rather than published. I’m struggling every day with my team. The team tells me not to play the King’s Gambit, and I say, no, I should!

There was an interesting rumour when it came to Ian’s team, however, with a Russian blog describing 14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik as Nepomniachthchi’s head coach. That caused Anish Giri, who at one point worked on Kramnik’s team, to recall some of the criticism Kramnik had given Alireza Firouzja after working for the youngster at the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

There’s one major difference with this 3rd decisive game of the 2023 World Championship match, which is that Ding Liren now doesn’t have a rest day to gather his thoughts after defeat. He has only a night to recover before he has the white pieces in Game 6.

Will it end up being as significant as Game 6 in the previous match in Dubai, which essentially sealed Nepo’s fate. If this time he can win and open up a 2-point lead, he’ll have well and truly exorcised those demons.

Don’t miss all the action from 15:00 local time (5am ET, 11:00 CEST, 2:30pm IST)!

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