Ding Liren, China's first world chess champion

Ding Liren, China's first world chess champion


Chinese grandmaster Ding Liren became the first Chinese world chess champion on Sunday in Astana by defeating Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, confirming the country's leading position in the chess world.

At 30, the player has taken the upper hand after the tie-break, and at the end of a fight that will mark more for its stunning drama than for the precision of the two players.

No matter the quality: if six Chinese women have been world chess champions since 1990, including the current Ju Wenjun, it is the first time that the country has won the supreme title – because it is open to both men and women – chess.

China has been one of the most feared nations in chess for several years: in particular, in 2014 and 2018 it won the Olympiads, the most important competition between nations in the discipline, Ding taking part preponderant in both editions.

He broke all the ceilings in his country, and was long seen as the one who could bring down the world champion since 2013, Magnus Carlsen.

< p>Ding was born in Wenzhou in 1992, a city which two years later obtained the title of “Chinese chess city”.

Second in the World Championship for Under-10s in 2003, he really revealed himself becoming China's youngest chess champion in 2009.

Ding was then the highest ranked Chinese player in history, and the first to participate in the Candidates tournament, the winner of which becomes the challenger for the reigning world champion, in 2018 then 2020. From 2018, he becomes the 5th player in the world ranking, even climbing to second place in 2021.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, which lasts in China, put a brutal halt to his trajectory. 

In 2022, he does not obtain a visa to participate in the qualifying competitions in the Candidates tournament and does not participate in almost any competition on the official circuit between June 2021 and April 2022.

The disqualification of the Russian Sergei Karjakin from any competition organized by the international chess federation because of his position in favor of the war in Ukraine frees up a place for the highest ranked player unqualified: Ding Liren. 

Unlike tennis, points earned in chess do not fade after a year, but only change after games.

His participation in the Candidates tournament in April 2022 is therefore shrouded in mystery. After a loss in the first match against Nepomniachtchi, Ding made up for it and snatched second place in the tournament on the last day.

The position miraculously qualified for the World Championship when Magnus Carlsen, five-time reigning winner , decides to give up his crown, tired of the format of the competition.

Faced with Nepo, in Astana, Ding runs after the score: trailed three times, he comes back to match by winning the 12th round, at the end of a game where his opponent has, on several occasions, a decisive advantage, but does not find the right moves to conclude.

“These are two players who attack very well and who defend, to their level, relatively badly,” explains Kevin Bordi, host of the Blizstream channel and main internet figure in French-speaking chess.

The date of the next World Championship is not known. The Candidates tournament, which will designate its challenger, will take place in April 2024.