Ding Liren in Hamburg

by Frederic Friedel
2/9/2024 – To the surprise of everyone he won the 2023 World Championship in Astana, but then disappeared from public view. Ding Liren played just a very few games – until the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk ann Zee. There he did not do well at all. We invited him, like so many others, to come to Hamburg to do a refresher course in the use of the ChessBase software, which he did. Frederic Friedel reports. | Photos ©Nils Rohde/ChessBase

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I first met Ding Liren a decade ago in Biel, Switzerland. He was a 21-year-old grandmaster from China, rated 2714, and had a performed well in the tournament: +3 -2 =5 for a total of 11 points, tying for first place with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Moiseenko. Here's a picture of him at the time:

During the World Championship match 2023 in Astana I was in constant touch with Liren – in the form of short encouraging emails. In one, I sent him this picture and asked him to guess where it was taken. The reply came immediately: Biel 2013. I think he must have recognised the shirt.

An aside: unlike most others, I call him "Liren". That is his first name. It is what his friends and relatives call him. Ding, written in just two strokes (丁), translates to ‘male adult’ or ‘population’ in Chinese. It is a surname shared by millions – including Ding Junhui, the most successful Asian snooker player in the history of the sport.

After winning the gruelling 18-game match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Liren disappeared from public view. He played very few games and was rarely seen in public. I started to worry, and a couple of months ago I wrote him an email:

Liren, I want to make the following proposal: on your next visit to Europe you stop over for a few days in Hamburg. We will go to the ChessBase office and you sit down with the programmers of our software. You show them how you work, how you prepare for important tournament games, how you conduct your general chess studies.

There are two possibilities. They may say: wow, he's a power users and does everything right! In that case you'll have wasted a few hours (but made new friends in the process).

The second possibility is much more likely. They will keep telling you how you can do everything faster and better, and in fact show you things you did not know were possible. In that case you will start using you preparation and study time much more efficiently.

I have done the above for a number of players who are now all in the top 20 bracket (e.g. Gukesh, Pragg, Vidit, etc., and before them Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand, etc.). In every case it was the second possibility that turned out to be true.

Please think about it. Hope to see you in Hamburg soon.

Come he did, on his way to the super-tournament in Weissenhaus. And a very pleasant visit it was. We started with a long private dinner during which I could press him to tell me what had happened to him after he won the title. He was quite open and told me everything. Much was quite personal, and naturally I cannot reveal any details here – except perhaps that he has great trouble sleeping and has to take medication for that.

On the second day I took Liren to the ChessBase office and locked him into a room with one of our main programmers, Mathias Feist.

Preparing for a lesson with Mathias. Liren was shocked to learn that ChessBase has 960 chess functionality (in Weissenhaus there will be 960 games). That's me looking on.

Of course it turned out that Liren has plenty to learn, much more than was possible in one session. So he has to come back for more – if he wants to compete with the hungry young chess talents who have gained ultimate expertise in the mining of data using our software.

This was one such expert, one of my favourites, who is spending some weeks in Hamburg:

Leon Mendonca, the 17-year-old chess super-talent, playing a blitz game against Liren

Leon had just won the Challengers Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, outright. He is currently staying in the ChessBase flat, recording material for us. Here's a very informative video on his daily activities as a chess talent:

In any case, good luck Liren, hope you soon find back to the form you showed in the World Championship match in Astana. And come back again soon.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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PhishMaster PhishMaster 2/11/2024 02:16
@Frederic, the reasoning was obvious, but nevertheless, by turning off most commenting, you are also drastically reducing the amount of time players spend on your site. I know that my time-on-site has dropped dramatically to one visit per day whereas I used to visit many times per day.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 2/10/2024 12:38
Ad Bennet, the patronymic system is used in European countries as well, notably in Iceland and informally in Russia.
Frederic Frederic 2/10/2024 10:59
@adbennet – I wrote about names exactly twenty years ago: https://en.chessbase.com/post/what-s-in-a-name-. I really enjoyed reading the Oscar Wilde quotes again, after such a long time.

@PhishMaster – I generally switch on comments in articles that I write. But then I have to monitor them, watching out for the three or four trolls who mechanically post pernicious or in fact maliciously insulting comments. I can do that in my semi-retirement, but the company finds it generally expedient to simply leave comments switched off (the dafault).
lajosarpad lajosarpad 2/10/2024 03:47
It's great you have managed to draw the King from his seclusion. I surely would like to see him more at tournaments.
adbennet adbennet 2/10/2024 12:55
Aha, so it's Mr. Ding.

Seriously though, I knew that already. What I don't know is whether, like Mr. Anand, he is okay with being referred to by the bare family name.

In databases, for European names which are "given family" I write "family, given"; whereas for Asian names which are "family given" I write "family_given". That covers about 90% of the cases. But there are plenty of naming variations in both Europe and Asia, not to mention other continents, which make this a hard issue to get right.
gwrtheyrn gwrtheyrn 2/10/2024 12:30
I've liked Ding's play for a long time, and I was very concerned when Nepo commented that Ding looked ill during their recent Tata game. I hope everything is OK with his health.

Ding has always looked a little physically unrobust to me. Of course, people said that about Karpov, and he managed a fair career despite that.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 2/9/2024 02:51
I wish you would allow commenting on all your posts again.

If things getting out of hand was a big problem, just include a "report post" button, and if you get enough posts reported, maybe turn off posting for that ONE article.

There have been a number of times that I would have loved to say something nice when a player passed, for example.
Zvi Mendlowitz Zvi Mendlowitz 2/9/2024 06:25
Waiting for this article to be posted again in a few months, like Siegfried's "Study of the month" article about Ding!
Frederic Frederic 2/9/2024 01:06
No, Frits, he knew it. Unlike Gukesh: https://en.chessbase.com/Portals/all/thumbs/116/116251%20(2).jpeg
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 2/8/2024 11:37
I wouldn't be surprised if you also had to explain how that chessclock works...