May 3, 2023
BEIJING – China’s Ding Liren had to overcome his own anxiety as well as his Russian opponent to become the country’s first men’s world chess champion in a tense final on Sunday.
Ding, 30, defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia 2.5-1.5 in a tiebreaker at the 2023 International Chess Federation World Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The classical portion of the match ended in a 7-7 tie on Saturday. Ding fell behind on three occasions, but managed to equal his opponent each time. After a final round that lasted six hours and 33 minutes, the two met on Sunday in a playoff.
“I’m anxious and I think too much. My friends said the anxiety is normal ahead of big matches,” Ding said after winning the title, comparing the occasion to the 2022 World Cup Final in Qatar.
Ding revealed that his friends had helped him deal with the pressure.
“I think I’ve done everything that I can in chess and I have put all that I have into the games. Now, I won’t be happy if there are no matches. And it’s hard for me to find another hobby.”
Ding’s triumph means China holds both the men’s and women’s world titles, with current women’s champion Ju Wenjun set to defend her title against compatriot Lei Tingjie in July.
Ding’s title is a dream come true not only for him, but generations of Chinese chess players past and present.
His world title victory trended widely on Chinese social media. The hashtag “Ding Liren becomes chess world champion” had been viewed over 22 million times on Sina Weibo as of Monday, with most expressing their excitement about the win and congratulating Ding.
Among his greatest supporters is Xie Jun, a Chinese chess giant who won the nation’s first women’s world title in 1991.
“The meaning of this men’s title is equal to the title that I won 32 years ago. After three decades of effort, it’s like Chinese chess has built an oasis in the middle of a desert,” Xie told Xinhua News Agency.
“It means Chinese men’s chess has also reached the world’s top level. We have been waiting for this moment for too long.
“With a role model like Ding, I believe more youngsters will participate in chess. And the game will earn more attention and support from different sectors in society and the government.”