It is dramatic and it could have been tragic. Liren Ding shone again in the most difficult and clearly surpassed Ian Niepómniachi with a tremendous attack in the eighth game of the World Cup in Astana (Kazakhstan) after losing the seventh on Tuesday. But then he missed two relatively easy winners for him (as well as another very difficult one) and had to scratch out a very disappointing draw. The Russian leads by 4.5-3.5 and this Friday will have the advantage of the white pieces in the ninth of the 14 scheduled.
“It is very hard to see that I have failed in at least two winning positions. But I have to hold on to the fact that I still have six games to come back”, the Chinese managed to say, with a broken voice, at the press conference. Niepómniashi dodged the word “luck”, but he came to admit, with verbal detours, that he had had a lot.
The Russian also beat around the bush when EL PAÍS asked him about his very risky choice in the opening (first moves) when he had much more solid alternatives. Ding introduced a new idea in his ninth move, and Niepomniashi agreed to go into the more complex and dangerous line, allowing a terrifying direct attack against his king. “It is true that this position is very acute, but I think that if you know it well, as is my case, it is not so dangerous either.”
But what happened indicates that the reality is different: Niepómniashi knew that his rival was very touched psychologically after his third defeat, on Tuesday, after achieving an advantageous position. And he decided to risk everything for everything in a combat without shields because if he came out victorious the duel would practically be seen for sentencing.
The bet went badly, very badly. But, as reporters in the newsroom were already preparing headlines highlighting the Chinese’s amazing ability to bounce back from the third blow, the unthinkable happened. Ding missed two moves (26 Rd3 and 37 Bc6) that are within the reach of any professional player. He even had another chance between the two (32 Qxd8), but it is true that this one required a precision in the calculation more typical of silicon chess players than flesh and blood.
Some elite stars consulted by this newspaper on Wednesday, such as the Russian Vladimir Kramnik, former world champion, and the American Levón Aronian, almost always among the top ten, disagree with what Ding said before the duel: that he understands chess with deeper than Niepomniashi. But the truth is that this eighth game once again indicates that the Asian is right: he is a better strategist, and the Slav is a very dangerous tactician. There are soccer teams that set up the matches wonderfully and handle the ball with virtuosity, but they are not lethal when shooting or finishing. And they lose or draw by playing better than the opponent. That happens with Ding, while Niepomniashi keeps his fangs sharp.
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