Game 1: Pressure, Wisdom, Negativity and Confusion!
Commenting on the position at the beginning of the middlegame, Grandmaster Anish Giri sounded excited - nothing surprising there!?- that there was so much happening in the very first game. After the surprise choice of the delayed Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed to be applying relentless pressure on his opponent, Grandmaster Ding Liren.
Giri came up with an important observation: if Nepo would fail to win the game, it would be a setback for him; if Ding would fail to defend it, it would be a setback for him too!
The first crucial moment of the game was by move 24, when White’s advantage seemed to be taking dangerous proportions. Have a look at the position:
Commenting on the game, former World Champion Vishy Anand came up with a brilliant piece of wisdom: white had all the chances to win a pawn on the queenside. But after that, he had an important rule to follow in the ensuing endgame: after the inevitable exchanges of rooks, it was important that White had to keep the queens on the board. Vishy didn’t mind either of the minor pieces get exchanged, but he emphasised the need to keep the queens on the board, even when there would be opposite coloured bishops on the board.
The game followed just as Vishy envisaged, and reached a ‘Critical Moment’ by move 28
If Nepo would have had similar wisdom as Vishy, the continuation looked predictable: 29.Bc7 Ne6 30.Ba5 (winning a pawn) Nd4 (…but the knights get exchanged) 31.Nxd4 cxd4 32.Bxa5 and white can try to grind on. But Nepo preferred 30.Bd6 and the game meandered on towards another important moment:
Here, White exchanged queens with 37.Qxd7 and the game entered a minor pieces endgame. Ding doggedly put up a defence to hold a draw.
Ding surprisingly had strangely negative self comments at the press conference, “I feel a bit depressed… during the first parts of the game, I didn’t think about Chess so much. My mind was very strange - many memories, feelings. I felt…there was something wrong with my mind. Maybe the pressure of the match….Actually, I didn’t prepare anything yesterday because I’m struggling with my feelings, my emotions…I was feeling cold because of the emotions.”
Whoa! Brutally stressed out words probably ever spoken at a World Championship press conference!
What does this mean? Is Ding feeling suddenly so lonely at the top? Or is it an elaborate multilayered smokescreen to get his opponent lethargic?
Well, it’s a fight to the finish, and it all got so electric really quick!
(Picture courtesy: Steve Bonhage / FIDE)