In the age of chess prodigies, the reigning world champion looks back on a development that began as a late bloomer. Ding Liren learned chess at the age of 9 and became a grandmaster at 17, both comparatively late. But that didn’t stop him from marching to the top.
Among observers, Ding Liren was long misunderstood after he broke into the circle of international elite grandmasters. Chess fans dubbed him the “Chinese Wall” when he went unbeaten in over 100 games from August 2017 to November 2018, at the time the record for the longest unbeaten streak (which Magnus Carlsen was to beat a little later).
The Chinese player actually loves double-edged games and tactical complications in which he can rely on his calculation power. “Old” Ding Liren games from the early 2010s often resemble an ongoing tactical firework display. But the closer he got to the top of the world, the more he was forced to play more solidly in order to avoid exposing any vulnerability to world-class opponents.
Ding changed his style. And then had to find a new balance in order to bring in his old, real strengths away from the “Chinese wall”. The 2023 World Championship fight against Ian Nepomniachtchi, which resembled a brawl for long periods, showed just how well this was achieved. There was no sign of walls. The opponents took it in turns to get a bloody nose. Ding Liren became world champion after winning the wildest world championship match in modern chess.
“I don’t like being famous,” he had already said before the match. Ding Liren does not yet feel comfortable as Magnus Carlsen’s successor. “I still have to find my new role,” he said after winning the title – and went into hiding for months, partly due to exhaustion. Ding Liren is considered to be rather private and withdrawn.
He likes to shy away from the limelight, but not from sporting challenges, especially not when it comes to his prized chess960. A chess960 match between Ding Liren and Magnus Carlsen almost took place last year. There was an organizer, Ding said in an interview that he would like to take part, but the plans fell through.
Now the two will meet. The first match between the G.O.A.T and the reigning world champion will be played at the WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge.
FIDE title: Grandmaster
World Champion: Ding Liren won the 2023 World Championship match against Ian Nepomniachtchi. Since then, he is the World Chess Champion.
World Number 1: In July 2016, Ding was the highest-rated blitz player in the world with a blitz Elo rating of 2875, and in July 2023, he was the highest-rated rapid player with a rapid Elo of 2830.
Tournament Winner: Among Ding’s successes at elite tournaments and series are winning the Grand Chess Tour 2019 and the Sinquefield Cup 2019, where he became the first player since 2007 to defeat Magnus Carlsen in a playoff.
Chinese Wall: From August 2017 to November 2018, Ding remained undefeated in 100 consecutive classical chess games. The series, later surpassed by Magnus Carlsen, was the longest in the history of top-level chess.
Olympic Champion: In 2014 and 2018, Ding Liren led the Chinese team to gold at the Chess Olympiad.
Team World Champion: In 2015, Ding Liren led the Chinese to the gold medal at the Team World Championship.
Youngest Grandmaster: At the age of 15 years and 10 months, Ding Liren became a Grandmaster in 2008, the youngest Chinese ever.
National Champion: The three-time Chinese champion Ding won his first national championship in 2009 at the age of 16, the youngest Chinese champion ever.