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General May 23, 2020 | 9:39 AMby chess24 staff

Ding Liren: Quiet Assassin

Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren's rise has been gradual but also inexorable. The first Chinese player ever to play in a Candidates Tournament he's also reached two World Cup finals and went on a 100-game unbeaten streak as he crossed the 2800 rating barrier in 2017-2018. A playoff win over Magnus Carlsen in the Sinquefield Cup on the way to winning the 2019 Grand Chess Tour showed he has all the weapons needed to reach the very top. Liang Ziming profiles a modest hero you underestimate at your peril in the 5th installment of the #HeritageChess campaign, supported by the Lindores Abbey Preservation Society.  

Slim, shy, humble and polite - this is Ding Liren's first impression on everyone. It's really hard to believe he is a world-leading chess grandmaster, currently ranked as the third highest rated player in the world (a 2791 rating in May 2020).

Ding Liren played in the 2019 Lindores Abbey Chess Stars that took place in Fife, Scotland. He finished behind Magnus Carlsen but ahead of Sergey Karjakin and Vishy Anand. Here he discusses his games with GMs Gennadi Sosonko and Daniel King

Ding Liren was born in 1992 in Wenzhou, the only city in China that has been awarded the title of “Chess City”. It is also the hometown of China's first Grandmaster, Ye Rongguang, and the Women's World Champion Zhu Chen.

Ding is quite talented in mind games. His mother once told me this little story: one day, Ding Liren's grandmother was playing her friends at mahjong, a highly popular traditional Chinese game, with two-year-old Ding Liren in her arms. Ding learned the rules only by watching and – shockingly for all those in attendance – he even discovered a winning trick for his grandma in that game.

Ding Liren as a kid after winning the Li Chengzhi Cup | photo: Chessbase

Ding Liren became involved with chess at the age of 4. With coaching from Chen Lixing, Huang Xiwen, Qu Weixin and Wang Cheng (they are all experienced chess coaches in Wenzhou), Ding Liren made rapid progress and won the National Youth Championship several times. A few years later, he was selected for the Zhejiang Provincial Team and was mentored by Wang Jiaquan and Wang Wenhao (they are the head coaches of the Zhejiang Chess Team. GM Ye Rongguang, GM Zhu Chen and GM Xu Yuhua all come from the Zhejiang Team).

In 2009, Ding Liren made a big breakthrough. At the age of 17, he won the Chinese National Championship for the first time, becoming the youngest player ever to win the Chinese national title, surpassing Bu Xiangzhi, Wang Hao, Wang Yue, Li Chao and other top Chinese players. With this big victory, Ding Liren not only achieved the title of Grandmaster, but also made up his mind to become a professional chess player. 

Other breakthroughs occurred in the following years thanks to hard work and serious training. In August 2014, Ding Liren (2742) surpassed Wang Hao and became China's highest rating player. In September 2017, Ding Liren became the first Chinese player ever to qualify for a Candidates Tournament, by reaching the World Cup final. 

Ding Liren has played in two consecutive World Cup finals, but has fallen just short both times, to Levon Aronian (2017) and Teimour Radjabov (2019) | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

A year later, in September 2018, Ding Liren became the first Chinese player to cross the 2800 rating barrier by defeating the former World Champion Veselin Topalov in a match held in his hometown.

A celebration for Ding Liren crossing Mikhail Tal's 95-game unbeaten streak during the 2018 Shenzhen Masters - Ding would go on to reach 100 games unbeaten before losing to MVL in the same event  | photo: Chinese Chess Federation

Last August, Ding Liren won the super tournament in St. Louis, USA, in which, quite remarkably, he beat Magnus Carlsen in tie-breaks, a feat he had never achieved before and which few world-class players can brag about.

With this historic victory, many people in China are pinning their hopes on him soon becoming a World Champion. However, Ding said frankly that he has never dreamt of becoming World Champion. Instead, he prefers to focus more on the process of training itself and hopes to play more genuinely wonderful games.

Liang Ziming

Liang Ziming has been a chess journalist since 2003 and is the News Officer of the Chinese Chess Association. He's now working for chess24 on Chinese content and translation.

How did you get into chess? Share your experiences in the comments or using the hashtag #HeritageChess!

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