Ian Nepomniachtchi leads 5.5:4.5 with just four games of the 2023 FIDE World Championship match to go after Ding Liren was unable to convert an extra pawn into a win in Game 10. Ding in fact did well to reach that superior endgame, since he confessed that Ian’s 9th move had come as a “total surprise”. In the end the players played on until bare kings on move 45.
Replay Game 10 of the World Chess Championship with live commentary from Fabiano Caruana, Tania Sachdev and Robert Hess.
Replay Game 10 with computer analysis
Game 10 of the World Championship match was the first time that both teams had had a rest day to fully assess any damage or opportunities arising from Ding Liren’s training games surfacing online. Ian said it hadn’t changed their strategy much.
Ding Liren had the white pieces and decided to return to the English Opening that gave him a win in Game 4, but already 4.e4 instead of 4.e3 was a new path. Playing different, interesting lines has very much been the theme of the match.
Both players moved fast until 9…Bc5 appeared on the board, when Ding froze for 11 minutes.
That was the latest stunning admission by Ding Liren, who may have failed to get the memo about silence and disinformation in post-game press conferences.
It was understandable that the move was a surprise. 9…Ba5! is the main line, with the big new idea of 10.Bf4 0-0 11.0-0-0! first played by Magnus Carlsen against Fabiano Caruana in the 2019 Grand Swiss. Fabiano, during the live commentary, noted that he’d felt panic in that game, though he managed to survive.
Ding was aware of that line, and the fact that a month later Ian Nepomniachtchi had also played it successfully in the Tata Steel India blitz. He commented:
I know a game he played against Aronian some years ago, and he won with very powerful play, but Bc5 came as a total surprise to me. I had to figure out the idea during the game.
That’s a remarkable statement, since World Championship preparation is notoriously thorough, with teams often investigating almost all legal moves in a position to avoid such surprises.
Here a superficial search is enough to know you have to look at the move. After 9.bxc3 on chess24 you see 47 games with 9…Ba5, but a far from insignificant 23 with 9…Bc5. Most of the games are Titled Tuesday blitz games that you might be tempted to discount, but one of them at least should have had Chinese alarm bells ringing — Nepomniachtchi 1-0 Jose Gabriel Cardoso Cardoso (sic).
Ian recalled that game:
I played myself, I can’t remember the player, but some international master… and I got lost with White after three moves or something. So I thought it’s quite a nice line, and I think it was already known for quite some time, this idea of Bc5. Objectively it looks a little bit scary, but probably if you go for some forcing lines you take some extra risk, but as far as I know, there is not so much White can do here.
A knowledge of that game would have greatly eased Ding’s task, but to his credit, he managed to reinvent the wheel at the board. Black’s bishop not going to a5 means that the pressure on the c3-pawn has gone, so 10.Qg3! could now be played, targeting g7. Ding saw no reason not to go for it, and did, only to be surprised by the computer’s first choice, 10…Kf8!
His move 10…Kf8 again surprised me. I was expecting g6, so I have to think again, to see what will be his answer after 11.Be2 d6 12.Bf4.
Ding spent another 15 minutes and figured out that Black would go for 12…Qe7 13.Rd1 h5. This exact position had occurred in the game where Nepomniachtchi got into trouble, with Ian opting for 14.h4!? Ding went for the stronger 14.0-0.
He’d discovered what Ian had been shown in practice three years earlier.
If I go h4, then he can play Bg4 at some point later… so at that point I decided to castle and let him play h4.
Ian had been lost after 14.h4!? dxe5! 15.Bxe5 Bg4! 16.Bxg4?! hxg4 17.Kd2? in that earlier game, while after 14…h4 15.Qd3 White was very much alive. Here Nepomniachtchi decided to take drastic action with 15…g5, forcing a capture on d6 that had already been in the air for a couple of moves.
After 16.exd6 cxd6 Ding Liren had the option of keeping queens on the board by dropping his bishop back with 17.Be3!?, but it’s far from a clear advantage for White. Instead Ding was tempted by an option he saw after 17.Bxd6 Qxd6 18.Qxd6+ Bxd6 19.Rxd6 Be6.
20.f4! was the move that had encouraged Ding to go for this line, and it does look promising, with Caruana pointing out that a 30% chance of winning was big in a game between players at this level.
The problem, however, continued to be the gulf in preparation. Ian thought he recalled f4 being in his home analysis, and was in any case prepared for this whole class of endgames where he’s a pawn down but has excellent drawing chances due to White’s poor pawn structure.
There were moments where you could suggest alternatives for White, but nothing clear, with Ding’s greatest hope essentially in a blunder from his opponent.
For instance, 29…Ke7? would allow 30.Rd5!, and suddenly Black is in real trouble.
Ian was playing fast and very well, however, and swiftly avoided that one trick with 29…Kg7. Ding went after the a7-pawn, but Nepomniachtchi traded it for the c4-pawn, and, after more exchanges, he found a neat way to remove all tension from the position.
34…Bb3! removed the bishops from the board with 35.Bxb3 Rxc3+ 36.Kh4 Rxb3, and the remaining moves were almost a blur, with another small trick after 39.Kxh3.
39…f5! 40.gxf5 Rf4 41.Rb5 Kf6 and an exchange of rooks ensured an early dinner. Ding was a pawn up, but it was a pawn that could never queen, and instead of playing on to stalemate he jettisoned the pawn to end the game.
The recaps could begin.
So after the wild start to the match “it’s become quite normal”, said Ding Liren, with three draws in a row. That’s a trend that favours Ian Nepomniachtchi, but as long as he doesn’t win another game the match will go down to the wire. Asked about his long-term career goals, Ian understandably replied, “ask me in a week or something!”
What no player wants at such a time is distractions, which made it surprising that Nepomniachtchi’s website, nepoteam.com, chose to take up arms against the President of the Russian Chess Federation, Andrey Filatov. The anonymous author pointed to a lack of support and understandably took offence at Filatov telling the main Russian press agency TASS that at times during the match Ian had played like “an ape with a grenade”.
Some context is needed, since Filatov was using an existing Russian idiom while also referring to what had been the funniest answer of the opening press conference. If Kasparov was a tiger and Karpov a python, what kind of animal was Nepomniachtchi?
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!
The website felt Filatov was preparing for either outcome of the match.
Praise for Ian in one interview, and mocking criticism in another, looks like informational trickery. If the match ends with victory or defeat, in either case you can declare: “I told you so!”
The article, however, also draws attention to a controversial topic, as it refers to the “incredible support of the company Nornickel”. Nornickel itself is not sanctioned, but its president and largest shareholder, Vladimir Potanin, is under US, UK, Canadian and most recently Ukrainian sanctions. The latest news story on the site, linking to an interview Potanin gave to Sergey Shipov about the match, uses a photo of Nepomniachtchi playing chess against Potanin back in late 2021.
It’s clear that Nepomniachtchi, who reasserted in Astana of the war in Ukraine, “that war is horrific, a tragic catastrophe”, is in a difficult position, with a win for him certain to be used for propaganda purposes. For now, however, there are more immediate concerns. When Leontxo Garcia raised Filatov’s comments in the press conference, Ian replied simply, “I don’t really want to elaborate on this”.
Game 11 on Monday will be one of Ding Liren’s last two chances to play for the win he needs with the white pieces, so that it’s all but guaranteed he’s going to push. On the other hand, he has to be wary of overpushing, since a loss would put Nepomniachtchi on the brink of becoming the 17th World Chess Champion.
Don’t miss all the action from 15:00 local time (5am ET, 11:00 CEST, 2:30pm IST)!