World Championship Game 4: Ding strikes back, levels the score

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/13/2023 – The score is now tied at the World Championship match in Astana, as Ding Liren defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi with white in Thursday’s game 4. Ding had a favourable pawn structure in the centre when Nepo blundered on move 28, allowing the Chinese to play a powerful exchange sacrifice. | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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Impulsive Nepo blunders

Find expert commentary — video and game annotations — by well-known coach and author IM Robert Ris at the end of the article.

It was a strange game. Ding Liren had the white pieces and decided not to play as adventurously as in game 2; Ian Nepomniachtchi made a couple of confounding moves in the opening and early middlegame; Ding found himself with three connected, far-advanced central pawns; Nepo made an “outrageous, crazy” blunder (Anish Giri); and Ding scored his first win of the match, levelling the score with ten games still to go.

Many of the motivations that prompted the contenders (especially Nepo) to play as they did on Thursday are likely to be disclosed after the match is over, and they might have to do with deep strategies conceived in the prolonged period of preparation.

But nerves played a big role as well. After displaying confident, top-level chess in the first three games, Nepo is again showing signs of weakness while dealing with inferior positions. His opening strategy did not go well, but he was by no means lost before his blunder on move 28. Given his collapse at the 2021 World Championship match in Dubai, it is no surprise that the subject came up during the post-game press conference. Nepo explained:

It is a long match, and we are just at the beginning. I wouldn’t compare it to Dubai, it is a different story.

As for Ding, it has been a complete turnaround — both emotionally and chess-wise — compared to the first two games. His collaboration with the ever-creative Richard Rapport seems to be working out, as the two elite GMs were seen smiling right after the scoresheets had been signed in games 3 and 4. The on-site reporter for, Mike Klein, had this to say about Ding in an interview with Keti Tsatsalashvili:

After round 3, we are seeing a Ding that didn’t exist before this tournament. He is the lively, jovial one. He’s taken the place of Magnus, who always tried to give the funny answers. [...] Of course, the pairing with Richard Rapport is an added element, that maybe has something to do with [Ding’s] new personality.

The Chinese himself later noted that “it was a little bit hard to believe” when he realized that he was about to achieve his first-ever victory at a World Championship match. Star commentator Vishy Anand, who has plenty of experience in similar contests, later concluded

A win before the rest day, that’s the best feeling ever. I remember many matches when I won a game, and then you get to stop and take a day off, and for me that’s bliss. Equally the opposite, I’ve lost before a rest day, and that’s not much fun.

Games 5 and 6 (out of 14) will be played on Saturday and Sunday as part of what is turning out to be an increasingly enthralling confrontation between two extraordinary players. Or as Dutch GM Erwin l’Ami put it:

Ding Liren, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Game 4 is over, and the score is tied 2-2 | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Good knight, bad knight

Out of a Four Knights Variation in the English Opening, the contenders followed ten moves of a line played by Richard Rapport back in 2013. It was Ding who deviated first, as he went for a less daring move than his second’s.


Instead of 11.h4, Ding opted for the sound 11.0-0, and a strategic battle ensued.

Two moves later, the Chinese moved his light-squared bishop for a second time in the game, from e2 to d3, a decision that was questioned by some of the commentators. However, it was Nepo’s 14th move the one which turned out to be even more baffling.


According to IM Robert Ris (watch his full commentary below), the only idea that might justify the strange-looking 14...Na5 is to later play ...b7-b7 and ...c7-c5, solidifying the centre. But it seems unlikely that Black will have enough time to advance those pawns. As the game progressed, the misplaced knight struggled to get back into the game while Ding continued to make progress in the centre.

Four consecutive central pawns by White laid out the nature of the position for the remainder of the game — 15.c5 dxc5 16.e5 Qh6 17.d5 Rad8 18.c4


A fighting player, Nepo is used to playing against such strong central structures, as he has employed the Grünfeld Defence successfully throughout his career. Reaching this position did seem unnecessary, but Nepo is known for thriving under such tactical complications.

This was not his day, though. On move 23, he decided to look for some relief via ...f7-f6, allowing Ding to create a dangerous-looking pawn chain with a passer spearheading the group on e6. The Chinese continued to improve his pieces patiently, until his opponent’s decisive mistake came on move 28.


28...Nd4 loses to the great-looking 29.Rxd4 cxd4 30.Nb3, and the white knight is stronger than a rook under the circumstances. The all-powerful minor piece wreaked havoc on Black’s position, as the closed structure and White’s space advantage favoured its manoeuvring abilities.

By move 34, Black was completely lost.


The rest was easy for Ding, who was certainly enjoying himself as the game came to a close. After all, he got to play a textbook exchange sacrifice in a high-stake encounter — all while facing a formidable opponent!

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris - Video and annotated game



FIDE World Chess Championship 2023

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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.