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Nepo – Ding 2023, opening day LIVE blog

Good morning everyone and welcome to the live blog from day 1 of the Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Ding Liren, aka Nepo – Ding final match of the World Chess Championship 2023! We will cover all day long the events from Madrid, where the battles start today at 15:00 CET. The news will appear here on this live blog, time stamped at reverse chronological order. Scroll down to the first news of the day, while on top you will find the latest curiosities from Astana.

Parallel today: Caruana – Nakamura from the Chessable Masters 2023 / Fagernes Chess 2023 / 20+ live events here

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16:30 CET

After traditional dances and music, the drawing of lots took place. For the first game at Ian Nepomniachtchi got White. “White is not bad, Black is also good,” was his commentary.

15:30 CET

The only thing FIDE could do is to upload some brief videos, after the failed live broadcast of the opening ceremony.

14:00 CET

Here is how you can follow game 1 of Nepo – Ding , starting April 9 at 15:00 local time (GMT+6). Nepo – Ding game 1 live / Nepo – Ding game 1 video coverage with Vishy Anand

Here is a preview by GM Daniel King on the Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Ding Liren match.

13:30 CET

1,5 hours are left to the start of the opening ceremony, which you can follow live at this link. Here is a teaser from the organizers of the match.

12:45 CET

Andras Toth, author of Common Opening traps and blunders, says for Chessdom that Ding Liren is the dark horse, but sees Nepo as the one having advantage. “I think Nepo is the clear favorite, due to his far greater match experience. Ding is a bit of a dark horse, who is certainly not to be underestimated, but I don’t see Nepo not winning this.”

FIDE analyzes previous encounters between the two players. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren know each other well. In 2009, the Russia vs China chess summit saw the first encounter between the two. Nepomniachtchi won all four games in their match, which consisted of two rapid games and two blitz games. Over the next three years, Nepomniachtchi began to dominate in faster time controls at these summits, winning six games and drawing one in rapid and blitz.

Nepomniachtchi’s first classical win against Ding Liren happened in 2016 at the Hainan Danzhou GM event. Ding Liren’s payback was in 2019 at the Cote d’Ivoire rapid event, followed by his first classical win at the Croatia Grand Chess Tour tournament later that same year.

In 2019, the players competed in a speed event, and Nepomniachtchi dominated and won 19-12. Nepomniachtchi also secured an important win against Ding at the 2020 Candidates Tournament, ultimately winning the event, while Ding Liren managed to equalize the score by winning the return game in the last round.

At the last Candidates Tournament in Madrid, held in 2022, Nepomniachtchi won the very first round with Black, setting the course of the event. The second game was drawn as Nepomniachtchi executed a drawing line with the white pieces. On the other hand, Ding has shown that he is persistent and that, even if things go terribly wrong, he can make a huge comeback.

While Nepomniachtchi has a clear advantage at faster time controls, the classical score stands at 3-2 in his favour, with two of those wins being secured during the crucial Candidates Tournament.

12:30 CET

12:15 CET

Nikita Vitiugov and Richard Rapport are in Astana. Mike Klein, reporting for says, “I’ve already seen Rapport at breakfast and Vitiugov in the elevator. You can draw your own conclusions, and if you do, they’ll probably be the right ones. #NepoDing”

11:45 CET

Multiple news outlets try to find a click bait title on the basis that the top rated player Magnus Carlsen decided not to defend his title. The Nepo – Ding match is a World Championship by all definitions and if the media wants a scandal they can look here or here. One more proof that this is a World Championship is the numbers generated here on Chessdom. The articles on the tournament have received over 50 000 visits in the past two days, which is higher than the interest generated by Candidates or Olympiad, it is a little lower than Carlsen’s matches, but still higher than any other chess event.

11:15 CET

S.L Narayanan shares with Chessdom his expectations for the match, “Currently I am playing in La Roda Open which has double rounds almost all days including the last day, but I expect a close match! I still think Nepo me has an edge since he already experienced this world championship environment and also he is much more practical compared to Ding and hence could create some pressure. On the other hand Ding is super precise player and will be tough to get anything objective.”

10:55 CET

Just a few hours remain to the opening ceremony, as we keep bringing you the latest news from Astana. Follow live the opening ceremony today at this link

10:30 CET

Chairs were tried, walls were stared at, and photo session taken. Initial reports show Ding Liren is happy with the food in Astana, while he says “I am fully prepared and not nervous at all”. Now Ding Liren comments on Magnus Carlsen, “My favorite chess player is Carlsen. I think Carlsen is the strongest chess player in this era.” See more on Chessdom facebook

10:12 CET

The biggest online chess playing server, which recently broke the record of most games played in a single month, has published an extensive preview on the World Chess Championship. At Chessdom we are huge fans of Lichess and we believe this is the best thing that has happened to global chess in the past years. Here is an excerpt of their preview, we encourage you to read the full article here

As is recent tradition – what’s a good chess tournament without a few major controversies? Against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its second year, questions have been asked about the sport’s governing body, FIDE, continuing to maintain commercial ties with Russian organisations and figures supportive of the Putin regime.FIDE has come under fire for seemingly selling broadcast rights to Match TV per the Russian Chess Federation. Match TV is a Russian TV channel owned by Gazprom-Media, which is under sanctions including in the US and Canada. While it is not clear whether Match TV will receive the live video feed, FIDE has not distanced itself or released any public statement regarding what the Russian Chess Federation has announced. Consequently, FIDE appears to be doing business with entities sanctioned in the West, while other international sports organisations such as the English Premier League, Formula 1, and WWE have terminated their deals with Match TV.

Western media – namely Norwegian national TV channel, NRK – will not be broadcasting this World Championship for the first time in a decade, despite having paid for the broadcast rights. While their motivation is due to Carlsen dropping out, those using the video feed in the West will need to be wary to ensure laws on not indirectly or inadvertently advertising sanctioned companies are followed – such as logos on players’ clothing. Nepomniachtchi has historically been sponsored by Russian companies close to the Russian state, several of which are now sanctioned.

FIDE’s president, Arkady Dvorkovich, who was formerly a deputy prime minister of Russia (2012–2018), has continued to maintain strong links with the Russian government, by continuing to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Russian Chess Federation. Dvorkovich sits alongside two senior and central figures of the Russian government – Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov (who has both made and defended threats of apocalyptic nuclear war if Russia loses the war in Ukraine) – as well as other individuals and representatives of businesses, sanctioned by dozens of countries. In total, 13 of the 17 members of the Board of Trustees are sanctioned. 

Earlier this month, a Russian Chess Federation senior official shared with Russian state media that Dvorkovich’s control of FIDE was probably the main reason why chess has not followed the example of sports such as gymnastics in a total ban of Russian and Belarusian players from playing in events under any flag. Other sports such as athletics, swimming, cycling, skiing and ice-skating have taken similar approaches to gymnastics. FIDE’s CEO, Emil Sutovsky, recently highlighted that their position since the invasion has been similar to that adopted by tennis authorities, where Russian and Belarusian teams are banned from competition but individual athletes can still play under a neutral flag. Even so, tennis does not show the Russian or Belarusian flags on their online rating lists, but  FIDE does – see Nepomniachtchi’s FIDE profile or the FIDE rating list, for example. Essentially FIDE’s policy enables Russian and Belarusian players to continue competing internationally with practically no changes from before.

Given the long history of state support for chess in Russia, few doubt that the Kremlin would welcome a Nepomniachtchi victory, and may even seek to use it for propaganda purposes. FIDE has not given any public statement regarding measures they have made to limit this, or on how to handle a player potentially receiving funding from internationally sanctioned entities. That said, it is worth highlighting that Nepomniachtchi’s personal views are vastly different to those of the Russian state, as he was one of the 44 Russian chess players who signed an open letter to Vladimir Putin in March 2022 expressing firm opposition to the war and solidarity with the Ukrainian people. These same propagandistic concerns can of course also be said for how the PRC may view a victory for Ding, should he prevail. From this perspective, neither options are good for the marketability and health of chess, as it approaches a zenith of popularity in the West, with both having political implications.

FIDE was approached for comment, but after several hours, has not given any.

Some will say that such political considerations have no place within sport. But how can that be true for chess when the sport has regularly been co-opted for political ends, from Fischer versus Spassky right through to Russia’s official diplomatic efforts in 2018’s FIDE presidential elections?

But the politics is not the players’ fault; and controversies aside, a new World Champion in classical chess is a major event. Both Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi richly deserve their chance at glory; and we look forward along with all chess lovers to what the next few weeks has in store for us.

10:00 CET

Multiple stories from the past surface in social media prior to the match. Susan Polgar shares a nice experience from over 10 years ago

9:50 CET

Russia is not the only country setting up fan zones. One such will be in the Max Euwe chess center in Amsterdam

9:45 CET

The match is as popular as ever in Russia. With a realistic chance for the title to return to Russia, something that has not happened since Kramnik held it in his hands, the local fans are gearing up for the match. A fan zone has been created in the Botvinnik club in Moscow. Attendance is free and a parallel children tournament has been organized. Another fan zone is being created in Izmailovo, parallel to the Russian youth and junior chess championships that are expected to collect more than 1500 players. See all news on Ian Nepomniachtchi here

9:30 CET

Four hours and thirty minutes remain to the start of the opening ceremony of the World Chess Championship 2023. We continue following the events live from Astana, as news keeps coming.

9:30 CET

GM Anand, GM Irina Krush and GM Dubov will be the official commentators of the Ding – Nepo 2023 match. GM Dubov published his first preview a few days ago. Now he goes in more details in a second video about the World Chess Championship 2023. In a recent interview for Fiona Steil-Antoni during the Armageddon Series, Dubov said, “Magnus would beat both Nepo and Ding rather easily. Ding’s A game is probably better than Ian’s but if they’re both not at their best I would say Ian has much better chances. His low is not that low!” In the video here he goes deeper into this.

9:15 CET

Ding Liren gave multiple interviews during his first days in Astana. “Topalov vs. Kramnik in 2006 was the first match I paid attention to. At that time, I never thought that one day I would stand on this stage.” More statements from Ding Liren in Dr. Dudayeff’s report

9:00 CET

The Nepo – Ding match will be held at the St. Regis Astana hotel, a relatively new hotel with short history. The St. Regis brags to be designed by British architects WATG and features an award-winning design by Wimberly Interiors that combines modern with neo-classical elements. That sounds like a great start, but many top chess events have suffered from organizational blunders, related to logistics, food, playing hall conditions and more. That is why we are closely following the actual playing conditions in the St. Regis.

The first words from both camps are that they are generally satisfied with the conditions and the playing hall. Multiple questions were raised in the past days, but all seems in order in the currently empty playing hall. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren avoid meeting in person, but both of them had a tour around the playing hall. Chairs were tried, walls were stared at, and photo session taken.

Food has been an issue for Ding in the 2022 Candidates where he even started cooking his own rice. At St. Regis everything seems in order and initial reports show Ding Liren is happy with the food in Astana. Here is a photo of Ding Liren during one of the multiple photo sessions he had before the match in the hotel.

Ding Liren in Astana, photo by Dr. Dudayeff for Chessdom

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