Rank and File | Nepomniachtchi and Ding will play to succeed Carlsen as World Chess Champion

On July 20, Magnus Carlsen announced that he would not defend his title in the next World Championship match. Although many chess fans were shocked, Carlsen had previously said that he was unlikely to play in the next match, which is planned for 2023. In an April interview with Norway’s leading newspaper, he stated that “I’ve wanted to quit while I’ m at the top, and it’s the most likely thing to happen.”

Carlsen’s decision means that Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren, the top two finishers in the recent FIDE Candidates Tournament, will play for the World Championship. Nepomniachtchi, who is often referred to as Nepo, won the Candidates Tournament and has a positive lifetime record against Ding, but Ding currently has the higher world chess (FIDE) rating. Their contrasting styles should make the match quite interesting.

Nepo usually plays 1e4 as white and likes dynamic positions with attacking chances, but sometimes overestimates his chances. Ding usually opens with 1d4 or 1c4 and looks for positional advantages that minimize his opponent’s chances for counterplay. He occasionally falters when his opponent is able to create a wide-open game with attacking chances.

In the recent Candidates Tournament, the two players opened play with a game that suited Nepo’s playing style better than Ding’s, and Nepo emerged with a victory.

FIDE Candidates Tournament, Round 1

White: Thing

Black: Nepomniachtchi

1c4 e5 2g3 c6 3Nf3 e4 4Nd4 e5 5cxd5 Qxd5 6Nc2 Nf6 7Nc3 Qe5 8Bg2 Na6 90-0 Be7 10Ne3 0-0 11a3 Re8 12b4 Ng4!? Nepo offers to sacrifice his e-pawn, and it’s not clear that black has enough compensation after 13Bxe4, Nc7 14Nxg4 Bxg4. However, black likely prepared this sacrifice ahead of the game, and Ding responds cautiously, declining the offer.

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