The Ding-Nepomniachtchi Opening Press Conference

The Ding-Nepomniachtchi Opening Press Conference


Ian Nepomniachtchi will have the white pieces against Ding Liren when the 2023 World Chess Championship match starts in Astana, Kazakhstan on Sunday. Before the 14-game battle to decide the 17th World Chess Champion, the players faced the gauntlet of the first press conference. We’ve transcribed all their answers below.

The World Chess Championship opening ceremony took place on Friday evening, and though it wasn’t streamed live, we did get to see the moment a robot picked — at least at the second attempt — the colour pieces that Ian Nepomniachtchi would have in Game 1: White.

As far as formalities go, the other one was the opening press conference, that took place on Saturday morning. The players were joined by Russian FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich and Russian-born and now Kazakh billionaire Timur Turlov, whose Freedom Finance company is the main sponsor of the match. It’s also sanctioned by Ukraine, but if the war in Ukraine was the elephant in the room, it was never addressed at the press conference.

For chess fans, the match is all about the players, and below we’ve transcribed their responses.

On the importance of World Championship experience

Nepo: Thank you for the question. I guess it’s important, but it’s not everything, so I wouldn’t overestimate it.

On his main change of strategy compared to Dubai 2021

Nepo: I guess it’s too early to reveal!

On potentially becoming the first Chinese World Chess Champion

Ding: I thought about this, that I may become the first World Champion from China, also the 17th World Champion in world chess history… to write my name on history. If I can do that, it will be a huge glory.

On whether the match will start chess fever in China

Ding: I guess many of the Chinese are starting to follow this Championship because that’s one of the reasons that the tournament was held here and not Buenos Aires, so I think it will happen.

On attention e.g. from the Chinese government before the match

Ding: The Chinese Chess Federation know my characteristics and they prefer to try their best to make a team that I like, to make me feel happy.

On coping with the intellectual and physical demands of the event

Nepo: Obviously it takes a while. I can well remember the previous experience, and this will also be very, very consuming. To have a chance to win, you’ve got to give everything. You try to accumulate as much energy as possible and then also use it wisely.

Ding: I got a lot of help from my seconds, also my friends. Although they are far away, I would like to say thank you to them.

On which aspects of his play and team have changed

Nepo: I hope I started to play a little better, but there are no guarantees. As for a strong team, I wouldn’t want to reveal anything now, but some remained from the team that’s been working for a few years, and there are new people. In general, as in life, everything changes.

On whether learning Magnus would not play the match was a surprise

Ding: Yeah, I was surprised. Magnus not playing this championship surprised me… a little bit!

On sightseeing plans for Astana

Nepo: For the moment I can have some sightseeing from my room. It’s the 7th floor… you can look and see some distant objects. But jokes aside, I’m trying to walk around near the river, in the park, and so on, but I have been here before, four years ago, so it’s not my first time.

Ding: I’ve been outside with my second the last days, and also today I went for a small walk. I saw snow on the road, although it’s already April. Because there are many rest days, I will go out to see the city a little bit more, for sure.

On whether his team is 30 people (according to Aronian) or none (Wang Hao)

Ding: Not so many!

On how they chose their chairs for the match

Nepo: To be honest, one day I just felt myself too lazy to go to some furniture mall to check some options. I knew there is a nice one, so I just decided, let’s pick this one.

Ding: I tried many chairs until the last, which was the most suitable one… because I feel comfortable sitting in that chair.

On how they manage to relax after a loss

Nepo: Quite poorly! Frankly speaking, it’s always unpleasant, but it’s part of the job, and I guess I’m playing chess since I was four or five, so I’ve lost a couple of games since then. More or less it’s part of the job. It’s not a favourite one, but without it you can’t play chess, if you can’t handle your losses. Try to minimise the damage!

Ding: It’s extremely tough after losing. Sometimes I’m unwilling to sign a picture or take a photo with fans. I just would like to leave the playing hall as soon as possible and that no-one will see me. And to leave me alone and take some time to recover.

On what kind of animal they are as chess players (e.g. Kasparov = tiger, Karpov = python)

Nepo: I think that more or less all players try to be very universal, very versatile, but what can I say about myself? On a bad day, I surely play like an ape!

Ding: I like to play precisely, as an artificial intelligence, also with some innovation in the opening.

On fans following in Russia and sending support

Nepo: I think overall it’s the most pleasant part and benefit of chess that events like this, sooner or late, have an impact in the number of children who start to play chess, and of course all the videos and support is very pleasant and very nice.

On whether Nepomniachtchi will sleep better this time than in Dubai

Nepo: We’ll soon find out, no doubt. I hope it will be better now.

On their chess role models, especially historical figures

Nepo: Somehow I think when I was 5-6 years old, I was very fond of Alexander Alekhine, the first-ever Russian World Champion, but the older I became I tend to think that you can basically learn from any chess player, obviously including the World Champions, but not only from them. So I’m just trying to learn.

Ding: I can say I have four chess players in total. The first one I can say is Kasparov. When I was very young the book of the “Two K” matches was very popular in China also. I learned a lot from the champions. The second one was Paco Vallejo. When I was playing the French Defence I liked his novelties. Then it was Topalov. I really enjoyed the match against Anand. This was the time I was a teenager, when I started to grow up, to play better, so his play inspired me a lot. The last one I think is Magnus Carlsen, because he’s the best among our generation and I learned a lot from him.

On whether they’re ready, or would prefer another month to prepare

Nepo: I think I had enough of a wait, so basically the easy part comes — playing chess, that’s what we do since childhood.

Ding: I’m ready after this morning’s little work.

With the press conference out of the way we can get down to the real chess business on Sunday, when at 15:00 local time (5am ET, 11:00 CEST, 2:30 IST) the first game will begin. Watch all the action live here on chess24


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