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Russian chess star edges ahead in world title tussle 

Ian Nepomniachtchi leads a seesaw battle at the halfway point of the World Chess Championship 2023 

The match between Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi and China’s Ding Liren for the title of world chess champion reached the halfway point on Tuesday with the Russian pulling ahead by securing Game 7 to lead 4-3 in what has become a rough-and-tumble shootout featuring a practically unheard of five decisive games out of the first seven. 

Nepomniachtchi broke the ice in Game 2 with a win with the black pieces. After a draw in Game 3, the two players traded victories over the next four games.    

The Russian, who is making his second straight appearance in the title match, snatched an improbable win in Game 7 on Tuesday when Ding seemingly succumbed to nerves and crumbled in severe time pressure despite having a very favorable position. At one point, he had just 43 seconds left in order to make six moves to reach time control.     

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Checkmate: Russian and Chinese stars prepare for tense stand-off in Kazakhstan

Rather than opting for a safe continuation that would have allowed him to potentially rattle off several more moves quickly and thus reach the 40-move mark, at which point another hour is added to each player’s clock, Ding lashed out unnecessarily with an easily parried attack. Now finding himself in a lost position and with mere seconds on his clock, the Chinese grandmaster resigned on move 37.    

Games ending with a win by either side are usually few and far between in world championship matches, where the players tend to be fairly equally matched, immaculately prepared, and often reluctant to take risks. There haven’t been five decisive outcomes in the first seven games in a title match since the legendary 1972 battle between the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky and American challenger Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik.    

While the absence of Magnus Carlsen, the five-time defending world champion, was widely seen as diminishing the stature of the match, the battle between the world’s second- and third-ranked players has become an exciting and unpredictable slugfest replete with rarely used opening choices, aggressive play, and a litany of mistakes that have cast in sharp relief the enormous pressure of competing on chess’s largest stage.     

Wednesday is a day off for the players. The action will resume on Thursday with Ding having the white pieces in Game 8. The 14-game match is being held at the St. Regis Hotel in Astana, Kazakhstan.

April 18, 2023 at 09:12PM

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