World Championship Game 8: More drama, Ding misses big chance

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/20/2023 – Drama continues to unfold at the World Championship match in Astana. Following four decisive games, Ding Liren played enterprisingly with the white pieces and gained a decisive advantage. Amid a tactical middlegame, Ian Nepomniachtchi was resourceful in defence, as he also garnered a big lead on the clock. Nepo managed to escape with a draw and continues to have a 1-point lead on the scoreboard. | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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A match for the ages

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

It almost seems scripted. After the contenders for the World Championship title played four decisive games in a row, yet another dramatic encounter followed. Ding Liren, who is trailing Ian Nepomniachtchi by one point, entered a sharp line with the white pieces. Over-ambitious play by Nepo left Ding in a winning position, which he could not convert. A draw was signed on move 45.

There was no lack of sharp lines in the double-edged confrontation. Notably, Ding failed to find an extraordinary variation to escape a perpetual check that would have given him the full point. Vishy Anand, who was recently described by Vladimir Kramnik as “the most talented player in the last fifty years”, noted that finding that line would have been inhuman.

Anand also summed up the game (and the match) brilliantly:

Indeed, Nepo’s ability to perform under pressure has been perhaps the most important factor so far in the match. Let us not forget that in game 7 he was also up against the ropes and managed not only to escape but even to score a win after Ding collapsed in time trouble. The Russian’s aplomb has allowed him to go into the final six games of the match with a 1-point lead on the scoreboard.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

A rumoured leak, Ding’s evasiveness

Amid the exciting action on the chessboard, more drama unfolded on social media. A thread on Reddit, published a few minutes after the game started, conjectured that Ding and Richard Rapport had created LiChess accounts to test their opening preparation. The author based his assumption on the fact that the accounts had been created on the same day (February 13), they had only played against each other, and many of the surprising lines seen in the Astana match had been explored in their direct encounters.

Hikaru Nakamura, ranked fifth in the world only a few points below Ding, gave his verdict during his online stream of the game:

There’s no doubt, this has to be Ding Liren and Richard Rapport’s game. There’s zero chance that these aren’t their accounts. [...] That’s just very sloppy.

This find, even if it turns out to be just a baffling coincidence, will play a role in the match. Nepo’s team will surely look into the rest of the games played under those usernames and will prepare against other potential surprises.

In addition, this rumoured leak also shone some light on the psychological side of the contest. Ding was asked about the incident in the post-game press conference, and he replied: “I don’t know which games you refer [to]”. As noted by Jonathan Tisdall, Ding’s attitude differs from what we saw after the first games, when he was incredibly candid during the interviews. From Tisdall’s point of view, as a journalist, this turn of events strangely feels like a relief: 

Surely, Rapport must have warned Ding about the ‘leak’, as they were seen leaving the playing area together after the game. Remarkably, they were seen smiling while taking the elevator despite Ding’s inability to make the most of his chances in the remarkable encounter.

Ding Liren

Ding Liren | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Kramnik: “It was the first time I heard about it”

In yet another off-the-board development, Vladimir Kramnik jokingly denied being part of Nepo’s team. A few days ago, a Russian reporter had mentioned in passing that the former world champion was heading his compatriot’s staff. In an interview conducted by’s Mike Klein and broadcasted during the game, Kramnik had this to say about the rumour:

It’s already official information. Yesterday somebody sent me this article from the Financial Times that I’m like the chief of the team of Ian, and I suppose, if it’s published by the Financial Times, it is true. I mean, it was the first time I heard about it, but who am I to argue, so I guess it’s true.

This was Kramnik’s assessment of the match:

It’s very interesting in its own way. It’s very emotional, dramatic maybe. Players showing some very good moments, some low moments of play. But all in all, maybe that’s the most important for the majority of the people.

World Chess Championship 2023

A number of side events are taking place in Astana — here Leontxo Garcia gives a conference in a beautiful setting | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Rook lifts, inhuman variations

(Don’t miss Robert Ris’ excellent video recap at the end of the article!)

What started as a Nimzo-Indian developed into a Sämisch structure (as per Daniil Dubov and Anand). Ding played 9.Ra2, a known move that can easily lead to double-edged struggles. Fabiano Caruana confessed: “Can’t express how happy I am to see this variation played today”


Once Nepo agreed to enter a critical continuation, precise play was required by both contenders to keep the balance in the position. 

In the sharp middlegame, soon after Ding had found another effective rook lift with 21.Rh3, Nepo was the first one to lose the thread, as his decision to give up his light-squared bishop for a knight was not correct under the circumstances.


22...Bxe4 23.Qxe4 Nf5 24.Rd2 followed, and White was in the driver’s seat, with his rooks playing a big role after having found active squares despite the king being uncastled.

Imprecise moves were played by both contenders in the ensuing struggle, and seven moves later, Ding found himself dealing with a tough decision while already in time trouble (a similar situation to the previous encounter).


Nepo had just played 31...Qh4, leaving his rook en prise on d8. Ding, who wanted to avoid repeating the time-trouble collapse from the last game, replied by 32.Kd1 after spending about two and a half minutes.

As it turns out, White could have grabbed the rook and escape the threatened perpetual check. But to do so, he would have needed to find what Anand described as an ‘inhuman’ continuation — i.e. 32.Qxd8 Qe4+ 33.Re2 Qb1+ 34.Kd2 Qb2+ 35.Kd3 Qb1+ 36.Rc2 Qd1+ 37.Ke4


White gives up the rook, as after 37...Qxc2+ 38.Bd3 Nd6+ 39.Ke5 he is winning.


After 39...Qxd3 40.Qf6+ White will get a second queen and win the game. Certainly a difficult line to find under pressure! 

None of this happened, as Ding placed his king on d1 instead of grabbing the rook. The Chinese star still had the advantage, though, until he erred again five moves later — his decision to play 37.Bf3 instead of 37.Bc6 befuddled the commentators. 

Once the dust had settled, Ding was lucky to have enough resources to escape with a draw, as Nepo’s confident play once again served him well. 

It was a draw, but what a draw! As Pentala Harikrishna put it:

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.