World Chess Championship: Niepómniashi borders on catastrophe, but Ding doesn’t tune in and draws the penultimate game of the World Cup | Chess News

The decisive virtue to succeed Magnus Carlsen this weekend as world chess champion will not be talent or preparation, but control of nerves. Both Ian Niepómniashi and Liren Ding have them on the surface, as was seen this Thursday in the penultimate round. The Russian brushed defeat; however, the Chinese was inaccurate, got worse and had to hold on to the tie. But he will have the initiative for the white pieces on Saturday, with 6.5-6.5 on the scoreboard. In the event of a draw, there will be a quick tiebreaker on Sunday.

Niepómniashi wore a funeral face when he crossed paths, on his way to the stage but as if he were going to the gallows, with the Spanish ambassador, Jorge Urbiola, on a sunny afternoon in the capital of Kazakhstan. Would he have been able to get any sleep after his dramatic misfortune on Wednesday, when he missed two winners that would have put him within half a point of the title?

Then he acknowledged, during the press conference, that he had faced a difficult dilemma in the hours before the penultimate round: half a century ago the most eminent Soviet coaches recommended that after such a painful defeat, a short and balsamic draw should be sought at next day. But, on the other hand, this was his last game with White in the duel (if there is no tie-break), and there was no question of throwing the initiative away either.

So he chose to fight. The atmosphere in the Holy of Holies, the circular stage where only the referees and (for the first seven minutes) the special guests and photographers can be, was electrifying, even overwhelming. The ambassador, a chess fan, defined it this way: “It’s as if you could touch tremendous tension in a sepulchral silence”, and he was very happy to see that, once again, Niepómniashi proposed the Spanish Opening, which owes its name to the clergyman Ruy López de Segura, regular at the court of Felipe II, considered the best player in the world in the 16th century.

But the Slav did not take long to show that his courage was far greater than his serenity. He made again the mistake of the day before, which has hampered his immense talent since, twenty years ago, he astonished as one of the most promising teenagers in Russian chess: not identifying the critical positions, which require thinking more than usual. Like another eminent Russian sportsman, tennis player Danil Medvedev, Niepomniashi tends to de-stress by making hasty decisions instead of calming down and thinking about what is best.

That frivolity caused by nerves could have turned into a catastrophe because Ding’s advantage was so great after the twenty-third throw of the Russian. But lo and behold, the emotional stability of the Asian was not enough to defuse bombs either: the move that would have consolidated a slightly less than decisive superiority was very fine (Qe8 instead of Qe7) and required time to calculate all the subtleties. Ding also opted to throw balls out quickly; his advantage not only evaporated but he switched sides.

But this time it wasn’t so big. And since Niepómniashi was not there to display the precision of a goldsmith either, the seventh tie of the duel was not long in being signed, after three hours of very stressful fighting for both. Now it will be Ding who will have to defoliate a daisy until Saturday: try to surprise his rival with a laboratory preparation and risk for victory, or swim and put away the clothes with the quick tiebreaker on Sunday as a second chance.

Whatever the outcome, this first World Cup without Carlsen since 2013 will be remembered as one of the most exciting since, half a century ago, the Soviet coaches gave that advice so full of prudence. The ambassador left impressed: “I have seen a wonderful world inside, unimaginable from the outside in all its intensity.”

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