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“You also have to prepare mentally for the World Championship match” Ding Liren

The 2023 Challenger Ding Liren talked to Fiona Steil-Antoni for Tata Steel Chess Masters 2023 and mentioned that you have to be not only chess-wise but also mentally prepared for the World Chess Championship match.

Photo: Lennart Ootes – Saint Louis Chess Club

Ding Liren had a fire start at the Tata Steel Masters Tournament 2023! The Chinese GM outplayed the 16-year-old Indian prodigy D. Gukesh giving us clear signs of his hard preparation for the World Chess Championship Match against Ian Nepomniachtchi in April.

It’s impressive to think that Liren hasn’t played a single classical game since beating Hikaru Nakamura on July 4th last year at the Candidates Tournament. This win gave him the ticket to the WCCM and since then he has being working really hard.

Going back in 2022 we can easily say that it wasn’t an easy ride for World’s No.2. Due to covid restrictions, Ding 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 though 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 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!

Liren needed to play 30 games between 1 June 2021 and 30 April 2022 to get his ticket for the Candidates, so he 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.

Despite the bitter comments, Ding remains the favorite to become the next World Champion and this Tata Steel Tournament is likely to be his last classical event before the Match, at least internationally. As one of the most humble personalities in the chess world, Ding said that this is not a warm-up tournament but “just a normal one, not just preparation, not that I play some random openings — no!”.

When he was asked what does it mean to him to be a world type of contender, Liren responded: “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.”

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