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General Jan 19, 2023 | 2:32 PMby Colin McGourty

Astana chosen as Nepo-Ding World Championship venue

The 2023 World Chess Championship match between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren will take place in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, from April 7 till May 1. After Magnus Carlsen’s abdication, the match to decide the next, 17th World Chess Champion, will once again be played over 14 games, with a €2 million prize fund.

Ding Liren vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi will take place in Astana | photos: Lennart Ootes/Alexey Tarakanov, Wikipedia

The World Chess Federation (FIDE) today finally announced the location of the World Championship match that is set to start in just 78 days’ time.

Where will be the Nepo-Ding match be held?

No precise venue has been announced, but the match will take place in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan.

Astana is far less well-known than the venues of the previous matches in New York (2016), London (2018) and Dubai (2021), but not unfamiliar for chess fans. The 2012 World Rapid and Blitz Championships took place in Astana, as well as the 2019 World Team Championship, and most recently last September the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix (best known for a scandal over sexist remarks by an official commentator).

The recent World Rapid and Blitz Championships also took place in Kazakhstan, though in the country’s biggest city, Almaty. Some confusion ensued!

Kazakhstan is a neutral country for Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi to take on China’s Ding Liren, and it also has a land border with both countries. That’s been noteworthy in recent times as Kazakhstan has served as a safe haven for Russians fleeing the possibility of conscription to fight in Ukraine. Tensions have arisen, with Kazakhstan in recent days tightening its immigration laws to stop Russians staying indefinitely if they briefly cross the border every 90 days.

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, a former Russian Deputy Prime Minister, accentuated the positives:

It is the first time in history that a Chinese Grandmaster reaches the final and fights for the World Championship title. We anticipate an enormous interest from China in this event, and that’s an opportunity we must capitalise on to promote chess in Asia. As much as we would have loved to hold a world event in the American continent, the time difference would have seriously impacted the audience in this particular case. Kazakhstan is a thriving country with a flourishing economy and a privileged geographical situation, which made it perfect for hosting this match.

Chinese fans would have had to get up in the very early hours of the morning if the match had been held in the Americas.

Why was the Nepo-Ding venue announced so late?

As we reported in our previous article, it’s very unusual for a World Championship match venue to be announced so late, with the most delayed announcement in recent years coming in 2014, when Sochi, Russia was announced with 149 days to spare.

FIDE explained the delay as being due to a tempting bid from Mexico that ultimately never materialised, but there were also clearly factors complicating the process:

1) The absence of Magnus Carlsen: Since the reigning world champion and still clearly the world’s best player decided not to defend his title the match inevitably has less appeal

2) Russia couldn’t host the event: the continuing war in Ukraine meant FIDE would have faced a massive backlash if it imposed a Russian venue

3) China wasn’t an ideal venue either: China, with its huge resources and history of hosting Women’s World Championship matches, was the obvious backup plan, but would have many drawbacks. It wouldn’t be a neutral venue, the timezone is even more inconvenient for the Americas and Europe, and restrictions on internet/travel might have dampened hype surrounding the event.

A Russian taking on a Chinese player in China wouldn't have been unprecedented, but the Goryachkina-Ju Wenjun Women's World Championship match was split between Shanghai and Vladivostok | photo: Eteri Kublashvili

4) The presence of a Russian participant: Ian Nepomniachtchi being one of the two players likely ruled out many US or European venues, where authorities could face a PR backlash or issues with sanctions.

In the circumstances, FIDE looked further afield, trying to find a venue in Central or Latin America. FIDE’s Communications Manager David Llada told chess24 last week:

A very exciting possibility is another proposal received from the American continent: a FIDE delegation is travelling there this week to inspect the proposed venue. Upon their return, we would be in a position to make a final decision.

That seems to have been a venue in Argentina, but whether or not a concrete bid was ultimately made, the decision was taken to host the match in Kazakhstan.

How did Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren qualify?

World no. 3 Ian Nepomniachtchi played the 2021 World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen in Dubai, losing 7.5:3.5. As the runner-up he was automatically qualified for the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament in Madrid, where he dominated the field to finish first by 1.5 points and qualify for another match.

Ian Nepomniachtchi resigns and Magnus Carlsen had won his 5th, and perhaps last, World Championship match | photo: Niki Riga, FIDE

World no. 2 Ding Liren’s path to the match was altogether stranger. When he was unable to travel and play in the FIDE Grand Prix system his last hope of qualifying for the Candidates and therefore the match looked to have gone.

That all changed, however, when already qualified Sergey Karjakin was banned from chess for six months for his support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That left Ding with a chance to qualify by rating, but he had a big problem — to be eligible he had to play a huge number of classical games in one month. It was a case of challenge accepted!

There had to be another twist, however, since with a late run Ding Liren still only finished 2nd in the FIDE Candidates after beating Hikaru Nakamura in the final round.

That wouldn't have mattered if Magnus Carlsen chose to play, but instead he made the bombshell announcement that he wouldn’t defend his title, so Ding Liren gets a chance to be the first Chinese player ever to play for the overall World Chess Championship crown. If he didn’t believe in destiny before 2022, Ding might by now!

What’s the format of the Nepo-Ding match?

The format has remained unchanged from the 2021 match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi. There will be 14 classical games, with the winner the first to reach 7.5 points. If the match is tied 7:7, there’s a rapid playoff.

When will the Nepo-Ding games start?

If the games start at 15:00 in Kazakhstan, that will be 02:00 in San Francisco, 05:00 in New York, 10:00 in London, 11:00 in Berlin, 14:30 in Delhi and 17:00 in Beijing, but it’s possible that as in Dubai, when the starting time was 16:30, the games will start later than usual to improve the starting times around the world.

The match is set to take place from April 7th to May 1st. 

What’s at stake in the Nepo-Ding match?

Above all, the title of the 17th World Chess Champion, following on from the 16th Champion Magnus Carlsen.

Either Ding Liren or Ian Nepomniachtchi will become just the 17th undisputed World Chess Champion | photo: Lennart Ootes

But in financial terms, the match is being played for €2 million (about $2.16 million), with the prize split 60:40 between the winner and loser. If the match goes to tiebreaks it will be split 55:45.

Who’s sponsoring the Nepo-Ding match?

The main sponsor of the match will be the same as for the recent World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Almaty. FIDE describes it as “NASDAQ-listed firm Freedom Holding Corp, a US-based corporation with Kazakh roots that provides financial services”.

That’s sure to prove controversial once again. The company's founder, 35-year-old Moscow-born billionaire Timur Turlov, gave up his Russian citizenship and became a Kazakhstan citizen in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, recently also becoming the Head of the Kazakhstan Chess Federation. Turlov sold his Russian business, but still finds himself on the Ukrainian government’s sanctions list.

Where can I watch the Nepo-Ding match?

We’ll have live coverage the match, including video of the players, right here on chess24, with more details to follow!


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