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Ding Liren: All you need to know about the 2023 Challenger

GM Ding Liren can be the first Chinese chess player to become the World Chess Champion. With the World Championship Match between Liren and Nepomniachtchi being held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on April 7th, we’re trying to break down the Challenger’s profile and road to the Title.

Photo: Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour


Ding Liren is the highest rated Chinese player and World No.3 in classical chess behind Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi. His peak rating was 2816 in November 2018 and his peak ranking was World No.2. He is a three-time Chinese National Champion and the first Chinese player ever to be in a Candidates Tournament and pass the 2800 ranking. In 2016 he also was the highest rated Blitz player in the world with 2875.

In 2019 DIng won the Grand Chess Tour beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the finals and winning the 2019 Sinquefield Cup, as the first player since 2007 to beat Magnus Carlsen in a playoff. In 2022, Ding qualified for the Candidates by rating and came second. As the runner-up of the Candidates, Ding qualified to play in the 2023 World Chess Championship against Ian Nepomniachtchi, following Carlsen’s withdrawal from the Title.

What does Liren mean?

Ding’s father – a doctor by education – named him Liren, referring to a popular Confucian saying: “If you want to be healthy, make others healthy. If you want to grow, make others grow”. Liren means “to make (others) healthy”.

First chess steps

Ding Liren was born in Wenzhou, a city in the southeastern Zhejiang province of China, where the former Women’s World Chess Champion Zhu Chen is from. With Zhu Chen, Ding didn’t only share the same town but also the same first coach, Chen Lixing, at the Wenzhou Chess Association when he started chess at the age of four.

Ding’s mother brought him to chess, and continues to be a big supporter of what he does until this day. “My mother helps me with visas, she is very experienced because she used to do it for me. Now I want to be more independent, do a lot myself, but sometimes I have to focus more on chess.” Ding said in his recent interview to Ulrich Stock for

Chinese National Championships

Ding’s chess skills were quickly growing and he managed to finish second at the 2003 U10 and 2004 U12 World Youth Championships. It wasn’t until 2009 though at the Chinese Chess Championship where Ding went undefeated, scoring 8.5/11 points with a 2811 performance, beating Wang Hao (2696) and Ni Hua (2724), that the chess world started noticing his huge potential.

This tournament had a great impact on Ding’s chess career. He became the youngest (16 years old) to ever win the Chinese National Championship and got his last GM norm to become a grandmaster in October 2009, right before his 17th birthday. In 2011 and 2012 Ding also won both of the Chinese National Championships, again undefeated, to have three national titles at the age of 19.

Chess Olympiads

Ding has represented China at all four Chess Olympiads from 2012 to 2018, winning team gold medals in 2014 and 2018 and individual bronze and gold medals in 2014 and 2018 respectively. He also won team gold and individual silver at the World Team Championships in 2015.

In 2018 Ding returned to team competition at the 2018 Chess Olympiad. China won gold, and Ding won individual gold for his performance on board one with a performance rating of 2873, the second-highest showing for any player in the event.

The Candidates

Ding was the first Chinese player ever to be in a Candidates Tournament when in 2017 he was the FIDE World Cup runner-up behind Levon Aronian, and qualified for the tournament. He was the only undefeated players with one win and 13 draws to finish fourth in the 2018 FIDE Candidates Tournament.

In 2019 Ding again qualified for the Candidates Tournament after coming second in the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk behind Teimour Radjabov. Despite being one of the favorites to win the 2020 Candidates Tournament, Ding had a rough start after losing his first two games. On March 26, 2020, the Candidates Tournament was postponed due to Russia’s travel restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic. After seven rounds, Ding was tied for seventh-eighth place with 2.5/7. After the tournament resumed on April 19, 2021, Ding performed much better than in the first half, and ended up fifth with a 7/14 score.

In 2022 Ding Liren, due to covid restrictions, failed to obtain a visa in time to be able to travel to Germany for the Grand Prix and was replaced by GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek. The Grand Prix was his last chance to qualify for the Candidates, so there was no way that he could make it.

The Candidates spot of the highest-rated player though was Karjakin’s who after his pro-Russian tweets was banned from participating as a player in any FIDE rated chess competition for 6 months by the FIDE Ethics and Disciplinary Commission. So one spot was empty for Liren to conquer!

The Chinese GM needed to play 30 games between 1 June 2021 and 30 April 2022 to get his ticket for the Candidates, so Liren started a successful marathon of rated games, completing 28 games with an impressive score of 20.5 points (13 victories, 15 draws, and no loss), surpassing Alireza Firouzja in the rating list and becoming number two again.

In the Candidates Tournament Ding Liren was one of the favorites to win but came second after Ian Nepomniachtchi. Right after the end of the tournament though the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen decided not to defend his World Chess Championship Title in 2023 against Nepo, which automatically made the Candidates runner-up Ding Liren the 2023 Challenger.

2023 Tata Steel Chess Tournament

“I had one win and two draws in the first three rounds and was in very good shape. Then I lost the game against the Indian player Praggnanandhaa and after that it was terrible. That also had something to do with the fact that I suddenly realized that the World Championship Match was approaching. Because suddenly it was said that it could take place in Argentina or in Astana.” Ding confessed in a recent interview.

Indeed the Chinese GM started strong at the 2023 Tata Steel Tournament with a win over the 16-year-old Indian prodigy D. Gukesh. You have to prepare mentally, you have to imagine what will happen if you are in the centre of people and there will be only one game, and every eye will watch you.” Ding said at his post-game interview. That was his first classical game since beating Hikaru Nakamura on July 4th last year at the Candidates Tournament, which gave him the ticket to the WCCM.

In Round 3, in a game that looked like a World Chess Championship game, Ding drew against Magnus Carlsen. At that moment Ding and Magnus were the only players above 2800 with Magnus confessing after their game: “Ding is a very strong player and I have never beaten him as White so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

In Round 4 Ding Liren was defeated by Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, and that was the start of a painful tournament. After more draws against Arjun Erigaisi, Levon Aronian, Vincent Keymer, and Wesley So, Ding lost to Anish Giri in Round 9, and Richard Rapport in Round 12.

Ding finished the tournament 11th with a 5.5/13 score to lose 23.4 rating points and slide down to World No.3 on the rating list.

“If I play like this [like in Tata Steel], I will hardly be able to beat him [Nepo]. There is still a lot to do.” Ding admitted after the tournament.

Ding’s seconds

“I am alone here [Wijk aan zee], I was also alone at the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. But I had a lot of support from China, my seconds and my family online. [...] In China too, I am alone a lot. I don’t mind. But of course the World Championship Match is a different matter. I might have to bring someone with me. [...] The only thing I can say is that I won’t come alone [in Astana].” Ding explained about his team.

“All my seconds are Chinese. At least until now. [...] I have no experience with foreign coaches. They may be more professional, but at least I have a very good relationship with my seconds. We’re friends and we don’t just talk about chess.” Ding added.

Other interesting facts about Ding Liren

Ding has studied law at the Peking University Law School. He stopped but he admits that the university has broadened his horizons.

He enjoys going to museums without knowing much about them.

When he is at tournaments alone he cooks rice or some porridge.

According to Chessbase, Ding’s strongest win was against Magnus Carlsen and weakest loss was against Tuan Minh Le; Ding had a 2808 rating while Tuan Minh Le 2542.

According to chessarena, Ding burned 1751 calories playing the Tata Steel Tournament.

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