Ding Liren: "After Winning the World Championship, I Need to Get Back in Form"

25.05.2024 18:51 | Interviews

Ding Liren, the first Chinese male chess world champion, has been going through a challenging period since his victory. In the few tournaments he has participated in since then, his results have been disappointing.

Ahead of the upcoming Norway Chess tournament, he spoke to The Indian Express about his current performance, the challenges of holding the world champion title, and his upcoming battle with Indian teenager D Gukesh.

Ding Liren has had a rough start to his career as world champion. Since his victory in April last year, he has only participated in a few tournaments, and his results have been unsatisfactory. At the Tata Steel Chess tournament in January, he won only two out of thirteen games and lost three. At the Magnus Carlsen-backed Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T Challenge in February, he lost ten out of thirteen games and won none.



These two poor performances were a wake-up call for Ding. Heading into the upcoming Norway Chess tournament, which starts this weekend, he has set a modest goal – not to finish last in the six-player field.

Before Norway Chess, Ding Liren spoke to The Indian Express about how he has changed since becoming world champion, how challenging it is to hold the title, and his upcoming battle with Indian teenager D Gukesh. He also responded to Magnus Carlsen's comment that winning the world championship "broke" him.

How has Ding Liren changed as a person since becoming world champion? What differences do you notice in yourself?

"Maybe I became weaker in chess," Ding Liren says with a smile. "Not as strong as before, maybe two years ago. This year, my performances have not been good either. I spent more time resting than playing chess in recent months."

What do you mean by weaker?

"Every time I play a tournament, I lose ratings," Ding laughs. "Whether it's classical or rapid tournaments. I played a tournament in China and finished last among six players. So it's not been easy."

How heavy is the world champion's crown?

"It's not so heavy anymore," Ding says. "It's not as heavy now as when I won the World Championship title. It's become lighter now. After becoming world champion, I was relaxing. I didn't play in many events and had a break of a few months. So I am relaxed at this point."

What do you think about Magnus Carlsen's comment that winning the world championship 'permanently broke you'?

"He tried to state the truth. He said what he feels. After the world championship, it was a very difficult time for me. At first, I was exhausted from the rigors of competing in the World Championship. Then, I was ill. But now I can say that I have recovered from the illness. But still, my strength is not back to my best version."

During these tough times, what did you do to feel better?

"Chess is the only thing I could do professionally. I continued to play chess. I didn't give up playing chess even if I didn't play a whole lot in tournaments."



In the couple of tournaments you played after becoming world champion – Tata Steel Chess in January 2024 and Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T Challenge in February 2024 – the results didn't go your way. Heading into Norway Chess, at what level do you think you're at in terms of your chess at the moment?

"It was interesting. At Wijk aan Zee, I aimed to finish first. It didn't go so well. I finished near the bottom of the standings. At Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T Challenge, I finished last. That was a big shock to me. Norway Chess will be a totally new challenge for me. There will be many strong players competing. My aim is not to finish in last place."

Do you feel like being a world champion puts a target on your back?

"Yes, maybe that's the case. Everybody analyzes my games and they know me very well ever since I became the world champion. So I have become their target."

How do you see the upcoming World Chess Championship battle with India's Gukesh? Last time, you were a challenger. Now you're a champion.

"Fortunately, I have a very good score against Gukesh. I beat him twice in Wijk Aan Zee (Tata Steel Masters) with black pieces. But in November, he will be a new player and not the same Gukesh from Wijk Aan Zee. It will be a new challenge for me."

Did you ever think that Gukesh would be the person sitting across the board for the World Chess Championship? What is your opinion of him?

"I see Gukesh as a very calm player. Normally, he plays like this (crosses his arms across his chest) with determined gestures. He’s a very mature player at 17 years of age."



There is a chance the match will be held in India…

"I don't think there's an advantage to playing the World Chess Championship at home. I prefer to play away from home. Be it in India or any other country, rather than China. If you play in your home country, there will be so many people who will come to meet you and give you a lot of pressure. It's hard to deal with it."

How will your preparation for the World Chess Championship be different this time, now that you have experienced it before?

"Maybe I'll start preparing earlier than last time. For the World Chess Championship last year, I started preparing at the last moment. But this time, we'll have more time. We'll start earlier."

Do you think you will be back to your best version by the World Championship in November?

"I hope so. There are still many tournaments ahead. I need to show at least my second-best version," Ding concludes with a smile.

  • The interview is based on the following texts and articles:

https://en.chessbase.com/post/ding-liren-indian-express-2024

https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/chess/world-chess-championship-ding-liren-exclusive-interview-gukesh-9345651/

  • The entire article was translated by CHATGPT4. The goal was not a literal translation but to use information from these articles to create a new article based on them, rather than a direct translation.


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