2023 World Chess Championship
Astana, Kazakhstan (April 7th-May 1st)
2023 World Chess Championship: Game 8
Thursday, 20 April 2023
Game 8 of the World Chess Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan ended in a draw, the first in five games. Both players have been trading blows and the match is suddenly becoming a major topic for debate. On one hand, fans do not like endless draws, but it appears they do not like endless decisive results. So there was a mixture today as Ding Liren outplayed Ian Nepomniachtchi, missed a couple of straightforward wins, and almost lost! In the end, the game was drawn and Nepo breathed a sigh of relief. Former champion Viswanathan Anand weighed in.
Mysterious “Rook Lift”
So what happened?
There was an interesting idea that one can view as either brilliant or ill-advised for championship play. Ding faced the Nimzo-Indian and all was normal until the “cannonball” move 9.Ra2!?
Ding Liren’s 9.Ra2!? in game eight. pic.twitter.com/IklMCD35HS— Olimpiu Di Luppi (@olimpiuurcan) April 21, 2023
Ding Liren about the opening: “This idea of Ra2 can be very powerful, but it requires very long preparation for the deep idea behind it. It could have been a very good game today; it’s a pity that it just didn’t happen.” #NepoDing— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) April 20, 2023
?: David Llada pic.twitter.com/SGvZFALGBc
This got a lot of attention in social media. GM Benjamin Bok had to update his Chessable course to include this idea! In addition, there was a question brought up in the press conference by Mike Klein (chess.com) about games being played on lichess.org with this mysterious move. Sagar Shah of ChessBase India provides a summary of the revelation.
This issue about stealing one’s prep also came up in the Carlsen-Niemann controversy when pundits said that someone inside of Carlsen’s team may have leaked information to the American. Fabiano Caruana gave a good take on “stealing” prep. He said that even if someone gets your computer or “prep,” where do they start? The idea that two anonymous players played games with Ra2 is interesting, but Ding stated that he knew nothing about it.
Hikaru Nakamura opined that it had to be Ding and Richard Rapport playing, but what if it were two others? Could it have been Rapport and someone else? Could it have been Aram Hakobyan (who played it against Parham Maghadsoodloo)? Perhaps. The “leak” occurred after the game had started so there was no way the Nepo team could benefit from this new information. Even if the Nepo team looks at all the games there is probably a high certainty that Ding would not have played it again anyway. It’s pure speculation at this point.
What was this Ra2 idea? It is multipurpose move in that it is able to free itself quickly via the second rank and even swing over toward the center. Caruana called this “modern chess analysis” and showed on 9…Qa5, white can play 10.Rd2!? and on 10…Qxc3 11.Bb2! with initiative. The rook on a2 can be used for defense and also to double on a file. The magical rook ended up on d2 after Nepo played 23…Bxe4?
After the 24.Rd2! continuation, Ding had a chance to even the match after 24…Rh8 25.Rxh8 Qxh8 26.Rd3! followed 27.Rh3. Ding played 26.d7 instead. The d-pawn was a bone in the throat for Nepo as the board was being split in half. The most immediate threat now was 27.Qxa8, so after 26…Rd8 27.Qxe5+ Kh7 28.Qh2+! This is subtle because 28.Qc7? fails to 28…Qxc3! sacrificing the rook for counterplay. Nepo decided to sacrifice the rook anyway with 30…Qh4? leaving the rook hanging. However, his poker faced worked because Ding didn’t take the rook. He could’ve.
Ding didn’t get any closer as Nepo played some moves to even give him the advantage. Ding played accurately to avoid being steamrolled by the black kingside pawns. After sacrificing his bishop for two pawns, the game ended in a drawn rook and pawn ending.
Analysis by IM Robert Ris (ChessBase)
Game 8 – Full Broadcast
Video by FIDE
Press Conference – Game 8
Videos by FIDE Chess
GMs Christian Chirila & Fabiano Caruana
Video by C-Squared