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 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: Ding

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.

White to move

13Bb2 Qh5 14h4 Bf6 15Qc2 Nxe3 16dxe3 Bf5 17Na4 Bxb2 18Nxb2?! Recapturing with the queen, followed by Nc5, would have made it more difficult for black to initiate a kingside attack.

18…Nc7 19Nc4 Re6 20Rdf1 Nd5 21Rd4 h6?! This move prepares g5, but black can play g5 immediately, with excellent attacking chances after 21…g5! 22hxg5 Qxg5. Black can consider doubling his rook and queen on the h-file or advancing h5-h4 to further expose white’s king.

22Qd2?! White has better chances of defending with 23Rad1, followed by sacrificing a rook for black’s strong knight on d5.

22…Rae8 23Kh2!? If black plays 23…g5, white can respond with 24Rh1 hxg4 25Kg1, keeping black from blowing the kingside open. However, the complications appear to favor black after 25…h3!, followed by Bg4.

Black to move

23…Bg4 This continuation also gives black excellent chances.

24Na5?! Rf6 25Kg1 g5 26Nxb7? 26b5 gxh4 27bxc6 hxg3 28fxg3 looks scary for white but gives him the best chance to resist black’s attack.

26…gxh4 27Nc5 Ding may have been counting on this threat to capture on e4, but Nepo’s next move refutes that idea.

Black to move

27…h3! The capture 28Bxe4 loses to 28…h2+ 29Kh1 Rxf2 when white can’t stop all of black’s threats – e.g., Rxe4, Rxe2 and Bxe2. The game continuation, capturing with the rook, also fails.

28Rxe4 hxg2! 29Rxe8+ Kg7 Black threatens Qh1 mate, and 30Kxg2 allows 30…Rxf2+! 31Kxf2 Qh2+ 32Kf1 Bh3+ 33Ke1 Qg1 mate.

White to move

30f4 Qh1+ 31Kf2 Qxa1 32Kxg2 Bh3+! and white resigns. 

Final position

Black will force checkmate after 33Kxh3 34Qh1+ 34Kg4 h5+ 35Qg5 Qh3.

To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2289183

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...