1 May 2023

Ding Liren: My Friends Told Me I Was the Chosen One

A new World Chess Champion gave an exclusive interview to Eteri Kublashvili


- Liren, congratulations on your victory. Now that you have become the World Champion, what do you feel?

- This a very hard question. The first feeling is a relief, I feel relieved. This pressure and tension have gone, like a wind. Immediately after the game, I cried in a rest room. 

- It was such an emotional moment, I think many people cried. 

- Before departure, I knew that if I would win, I would cry, and I did. There came a moment during the match when I wasn’t that eager to win. I said to myself that it was OK to lose. But I understood that later, I would have been very, very sad if I had lost. So, it means that I wanted this victory in the depth of my heart.  

- What was the first thing you did to celebrate the victory?

- Actually, I didn’t have time to celebrate, since there were a press conference and some interviews after the tie-break. But we took a short walk with Richard on the riverside. 

- Do you realize how lucky you are, looking back at your way to the match? I mean from the point of your entering the Candidates till winning the title?

- My friends told me I was the chosen one (laughs).

- Do you agree with your friends?

- Looking back, I do. Many people think I am lucky, but I am not so sure. I don’t know whether this is the life that I want. 

- You said that you had never dreamt of becoming the World Champion, so what is your dream in chess? 

- To plan like an engine, an artificial intellect (laughs). At some point, I thought that if I could play like an engine, I would have won any kind of position, no matter the title and rating. Sometimes my friends told me that I could play about 3000 ELO and my ceiling was pretty high at one stage, my the ‘floor’ is pretty low as well. 

- How did you manage to pull yourself together after Game 2 and other missed chances and hard losses? 

- My friends helped me a lot. I told them what I was thinking about sitting in a rest room and they tried to find the reason and solutions. Also, before the tournament, I went to a phycologist. I think he helped me as well.

- What was happening to you, when you were sitting in a hoody in a rest room during the first two games?

- During the first game, I could not think about chess at all. It was like playing against myself: I saw white pieces here and black pieces there, but I was playing with the black pieces. So, it was like playing against myself.  During the second game, I couldn’t think about the moves and to calculate lines further.   

- After the two first games, it seemed that you had a very hard time, but you came as a new person to the third game. So, did your friends help you that much? 

- Yes, I recovered pretty much going into the third game. We are very good at finding the reasons. Also, I came back to the main hotel. It was necessary since I wanted to play for a win. I felt if had stayed in a new hotel, it would have raised bad memories and a bad motivation would have pushed me and prevented me from fighting. 

- Could you please name the members of your team, if it is not a secret? Who did support you? 

- Richard, who is here. Other names are not so well-known, and not all of them are chess players, there are also computer specialists.

- May I ask you about the Lichess.org leak? How did it influence you?

-  Just after the leak, I didn’t feel much. But later I thought that I didn’t have any idea left. So, we had to come up with new ones. By the way, I would also like to mention one second, a grandmaster. Two games, which I won as White, were his ideas in the opening.

- What is the role of your mother?

- I needed her in those critical moments from a psychological point of view. If I have doubts, I talk to her and she helps a lot, dealing with my emotions. 

-  Did you read the things that were said about the match?

- Yes, I did, a little bit. Anish made very funny comments. 

-  During the press conference, you said that you would like to visit Italy because you can watch Juventus there. Who is your hero in sports in general?

- I like Federico Chiesa, and his goal celebrations, as well. And our birthdays are very close, we are both Scorpios. Alexander Grischuk once said that those born at the end of October possess immense power (laughs).   

- As far as we know, you are a big fan of literature. Is there a book you can recommend to us? 

- Stories by J. D. Salinger, for example. 

- What are three favourite games of yours?

- At the Olympiad against Duda. Against Bai Jinshi at the Chinese League. And maybe the last game of rapid here, the most important one.  

- What are your next plans?

- I plan to continue playing. My next event will be a stage of the Grand Chess Tour in Romania.  

- Thank you very much, Liren!  

- Thank you.


Photos by Eteri Kublashvili