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29 Apr, 2023 16:17

World chess title match headed for dramatic tiebreak

With a draw on Saturday, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren are all tied up after 14 classical games 
World chess title match headed for dramatic tiebreak

China’s Ding Liren held on in a dicey position to salvage a draw against Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi on Saturday, in a marathon Game 14 of the match for the world chess championship. What is being called the most exciting title match in decades will now be decided in a tiebreak showdown on Sunday.  

With the score tied at 6.5 points apiece going into the 14th and final game, a decisive result would have seen a new world champion crowned for the first time since 2013. Ding had the white pieces, a small but significant advantage in elite chess, meaning he had every opportunity to seek winning chances. 

However, the Chinese grandmaster faltered, failing to pose problems for Nepomniachtchi early on and subsequently making several inaccuracies that gave his opponent an opening. With Ding finding himself in an inferior position and time running short, the Russian looked poised to register a stunning final-game triumph with the black pieces.   

However, Nepomniachtchi himself went awry on move 36 and surrendered his advantage. A subsequent exchange of pieces left just a pair of rooks and pawns on the board to accompany the kings, with the players having made time control. Although Nepomniachtchi had an extra pawn, such an advantage is often insufficient to win, and Ding eventually secured the draw in a game that saw 90 moves and lasted over six and a half hours. 

With the two grandmasters knotted at seven points apiece, the action will switch to a series of four ‘rapid’ games on Sunday. The players will be allotted 25 minutes apiece, with ten seconds added for each move. If the tie is still not broken, a mini-series of two ‘blitz’ games will ensue, at a time control of five minutes with three seconds added per move. If a winner still does not emerge, subsequent blitz games will be in ‘sudden-death’ format, with a drawing of lots to determine colors. 

The last time a tiebreak was needed to crown a world champion was in 2018, when Norway’s Magnus Carlsen defeated American challenger Fabiano Caruana in the ‘rapid’ tiebreak. However, unlike this year’s match, which featured an almost unprecedented six decisive games, the 2018 rendition saw all of the classical games end in draws. 

This year’s match has been hailed by chess commentators as perhaps the most exciting in a generation. Former world champion Viswanathan Anand has called the encounter “a match for the ages.” The players have exchanged blow after blow, demonstrating aggressive and outstanding play at times – but also committing an uncharacteristic number of mistakes. 

In Game 12, Nepomniachtchi, already leading the match by one point, achieved a strong advantage and seemed on the verge of securing a practically insurmountable two-point lead with just two games remaining. However, the Russian inexplicably began playing fast in a double-edged position and first surrendered his advantage before promptly blundering into a lost position.  

The match is being held at the St. Regis Hotel in Astana, Kazakhstan.

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