World Chess Championship: Game 14 and Tiebreaks

Ding Liren is the 17th Chess World Champion: “this match was the deepest reflection of my soul”

Ding Liren prevailed over Ian Nepomniachtchi after a slightly lucky escape in Game 14, and four thrilling tiebreaks.

GM Harikrishna Pentala – one of the strongest players in the world (FIDE rating 2704, world ranking 34th) and former top 10 player with a 2770 peak rating – provided Lichess with annotations of Game 14 and impressions of each tiebreak - all text in italics is from him.

Game 14

This was the final game in the classical portion. Playing with the white pieces, Ding tried to put pressure on Nepo.

One of the interesting things about this match so far is Black has scored only one victory (Game 2). This gives a lot of confidence to Ding as he has the last opportunity with the White pieces.

As expected, this game was full of ups and downs. Ding had given many chances in this game, but Nepo was keen on controlling everything and missed some simple winning chances. Playing too quickly when the position demands precise calculation has been the main problem for Nepo in this match.

Now we move on to the tie breaks. In the rapid portion, the match should be balanced. However, if it were to proceed to blitz, I rate Nepomniachtchi as the favourite.

Rapid Tiebreak Game 1

By now, it is clear that Ding will jump from one variation to another with the White pieces. It is unclear and hard to predict which rare setup he would go for.

He chose a rather innocent-looking third move and followed the game between his second, Richard Rapport, in Rapport vs Shankland up to around move 7. While Ding achieved some chances, Nepo quickly took the initiative by setting up an incredible queen sacrifice.

Nepo failed to find some key moves which would have given him chances to put pressure. Later a massive trade of material occurred, and players had to repeat the moves, giving both players half a point.

Rapid Tiebreak Game 2

Nepo and Ding both repeated the Ruy Lopez once again. Nepo came up with some interesting ideas in the opening. But once again, due to oversimplifications, the play steered into a draw. Nepo tried in vain for several moves to get something more from a drawish position. Perhaps this tired Nepo out to a certain extent – both players remained on equal points, 1 – 1.

Rapid Tiebreak Game 3

In his last game with the White pieces, Ding decided to try a Catalan without d4. Players followed well-known theory until move 15, but Nepo was ready for this surprise and equalized quickly by sacrificing a pawn.

The players repeated moves as there was nothing much White could do in the opposite-colored bishop ending which had emerged, despite being a pawn up – both players remaining on equal points, 1.5 – 1.5.

Rapid Tiebreak Game 4

With only one game remaining in the rapid portion, one of the biggest dilemmas in a chess player's mind is whether to go all in or play a controlled game.

Nepo deviated from theory on move 12. Sometimes it is puzzling that Nepo gets an excellent position out of the opening and then spoils it immediately. The same thing happened in this game as well.

Ding went for a dynamic play on the kingside as the play progressed by temporarily sacrificing a pawn. It was pretty balanced until move 48, where Nepo blundered. This could be an effect of Ding's 46th move Rg6!?, where Ding decided not to repeat moves despite having just a minute and sixteen seconds on his clock.

After some moves, Ding gave one chance for Nepo to escape defeat. Nepo missed an amazing perpetual checks sequence starting from 59. Bg7. After that chance passed, it was just a matter of technique for Ding. Nepo resigned, with the score being 2.5 – 1.5 in Ding’s favor!

A massive moment for chess and for Ding Liren, as he became the 17th World Champion!

The moment of the final handshake, followed by the momentous nature of Ding's victory sinking in at his players area, before attending the press conference (title image). All photos credit FIDE / Stev Bonhage.