World Chess Championship: Liren Ding: “I remembered Camus: ‘If you can’t win, you have to resist” | Chess News

He likes to see and hear the rain. But he has just become world champion in a very tough sport, which has a lot to do with mental boxing. Liren Ding, 30, has been playing chess intensively since she was four. However, he graduated in Law because his father forced him to study it; and he reads a lot, especially philosophy. The successor to the throne of Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, after amazingly beating Russian Ian Niepómniashi in an electrifying quick tiebreaker, spoke to EL PAÍS for 20 minutes in Astana (Kazakhstan). What follows also collects phrases from previous interviews with Chinese media.

Ding has not slept “not a minute” all night between the celebration, the excitement and the need to attend to 15 Chinese media outlets: “I only had time to take a shower.” Humble to the max, and having difficulty expressing himself well in English, he feels strange in an environment full of cameras, cables and various technical gadgets. But he strives to serve everyone as well as possible: “I have assumed that the press is important.” Shortly before speaking to this newspaper, he broke down in tears during the recording of his official interview with the International Chess Federation (FIDE), when he was explaining the advice a friend gave him after losing the second game of the World Cup.

The president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Arkady Dvorkovich, presents the world champion trophy to Liren Ding in Astana (Kazakhstan), this Monday.
The president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Arkady Dvorkovich, presents the world champion trophy to Liren Ding in Astana (Kazakhstan), this Monday. RADMIR FAHRUTDINOV (EFE)

It was at that moment that he remembered the title of a book by the American poet Louise Glück: Until the world reflects the deepest needs of my soul. And he adapted that idea to his sporting and emotional situation, greatly influenced at that time by the breakup with his girlfriend. “Some of my readings have made me a better player,” he says, and gives as an example what happened on Saturday, when he suffered unspeakably for six and a half hours on the edge of the abyss to start a draw in the last slow game of the World Cup: “I I remembered how Albert Camus elaborates the concept of resistance. The idea is that if you see that you cannot win, do everything in your power to resist. And that memory injected me with the determination I needed.”

He finds a great connection between philosophy and chess “because both are abstract”. But chess is also a highly competitive sport, with enormous demands for pragmatism and efficiency, which forces him to park a part of his being: “I am very emotional and rational at the same time. And also an art enthusiast. In my normal life I like to see and listen to the rain, and also play basketball. But when I arrive at a tournament I have to forget those feelings to be more strict and professional”.

But there are very opposite ways of dealing with that professionalism. The Russian Gari Kasparov, number one from 1985 until he retired (2005), he was not satisfied with winning the game, he wanted to annihilate his adversary. By contrast, the Indian (and Hindu by religion) Viswanathan Anand, five-time world champion, never showed an iota of murderous instinct. He has his own approach: “I consider myself an academic, a scholar who really likes to study, and I think I have found new ways to approach chess. Now, when I reached 2,500 points on the international list [entre los 700 mejores del mundo]and I decided to raise my level, I realized that I had to accept the challenge of also being very competitive”.

Liren Ding, during the final against the Russian Ian Aleksándrovich, on April 29 in Astana (Kazakhstan).
Liren Ding, during the final against the Russian Ian Aleksándrovich, on April 29 in Astana (Kazakhstan). Stanislav Philippov (AP)

Ding was born in Wenzhou to a marriage between a nurse, who has accompanied him in Astana during the three weeks of the World Cup, and an electrical engineer who insisted a lot on him not to stop studying, although his successes in chess were already resounding from a very young age. But the father went further, and Liren had to study the entire law degree, for five years, despite the fact that as soon as she started it she discovered that she did not like it at all: “These are things that I prefer not to talk about much.”

Instead, he enthusiastically answers the question of how he is going to motivate himself to continue being world champion: “I have to build a strong team, with great teachers and powerful computers. In short, I must be more professional”. But just a day before, he had said that being world champion wasn’t that important to him, that what was really essential was to play better and better. How was he then motivated to win such an extremely tough duel? “The main key has been my analyst, Richard Rapport [rumano, 12º del mundo]. He has contributed all the creativity that I lack in the openings [formas de iniciar una partida]”. If he manages to build such a solid team, he is not afraid of anyone: “I am ready for all challenges, including playing against Carlsen if he wants to recover the title or defend it against the young stars.”

Liren Ding, during the press conference after being crowned world chess champion in Astana (Kazakhstan).
Liren Ding, during the press conference after being crowned world chess champion in Astana (Kazakhstan).Stanislav Philippov (AP)

Ding behaved in kamikaze mode at two points in the duel, with opposite results. He lost the seventh game in a very advantageous position when, with very little time on the clock, he went into a maximum risk attack instead of making waiting plays until he passed the control of the 40: “That has an easy explanation. I just wasn’t aware of how pressed for time I was.” But he won the last of the rapid tiebreaker in very similar circumstances: “It was clear to me that Niepo was the favourite, both in the rapid and lightning modalities [cinco minutos cada uno para toda la partida]. And if that game had been drawn, like the three previous rapids, we would have gone to the lightning. So I played to win.”

In the interview with FIDE, Ding turned to a Woody Allen movie when asked if he feels the happiest moment of his life: “He says that the phrase in English I love you It doesn’t always express that you love someone very much, that there should be a higher expression than that. In my case, happy is not enough, you have to look for a stronger word. It’s a huge liberation.” So great that he, he confesses, he came to think about leaving chess: “Before the World Cup I told a friend that I would retire if he lost it. And also that, since I know myself well, he would cry a lot if he won. I have won, I have cried a lot, I am not going to retire and life is now going in another direction”.

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