Ding reappears, plays rapid tournament in China

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/11/2024 – Ding Liren played his last classical rated game on May 15, when he beat Bogdan-Daniel Deac with black in the last round of the Superbet Classic in Bucharest. Just two weeks earlier, he had defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi in a thrilling match to become the 17th undisputed world chess champion. Following his long hiatus, the Chinese ace will compete again at the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee. A week before the start of the traditional event, he played a rapid tournament in China. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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Getting ready for the Tata Steel Masters

While Magnus Carlsen, the classical world champion between 2013 and 2023, has been active in the elite chess circuit (particularly in rapid and blitz events), the current champion did not participate in any official event in the second semester of 2023. Ding Liren grabbed the world crown in April and did not play a single rated game until last weekend, when he participated in a rapid event which took place in Chengdu, China.

The event was a knockout tournament, including a number of strong Chinese grandmasters. Dubbed the ‘China Chess King Competition’, the event was won by 29-year-old Yu Yangyi, who defeated Wang Hao in the final match — Wang had defeated Ding in the semifinals. In the match for third place, Ding lost to his good friend Wei Yi.

As for his absence from official competitions, Ding explained to chess.com’s Petter Doggers that he had been struggling with mental health issues after beating Ian Nepomniachtchi in the match for the World Championship:

It was psychological, not physical. Now I can say I am much better than maybe two or three months ago. [...] I felt pressure from everywhere. But that’s just one side. It’s more complicated, but I don’t want to say too much.

During the match in Astana, the 31-year-old had shown his most sensitive side, often giving profound answers in the post-game press conferences (which have proven to be rather monotonous in other events). After winning the title, Ding confessed:

Sometimes I struggle to find other hobbies to make me happy. But I was trying to learn from the best [chess players]. The match reflects the deepest of my soul.

The world champion will probably need some time to readjust to playing classical chess, but the 13-round Tata Steel Masters might give him enough time to find his groove and demonstrate his real strength. The ‘Wimbledon of chess’ kicks off on Saturday — besides Nepomniachtchi, Ding’s rival in the Astana match, the likes of Alireza Firouzja and Anish Giri will be fighting to claim the coveted title.

Expert video analysis by IM Robert Ris

All available games - China Chess King Competition


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.