Magnus Carlsen today ended months of speculation, when he announced that he will definitely not defend his World Championship title.
The news means that the chess world will see a new World Champion next year. Ian Nepomniachtchi will not be playing Carlsen for the title, but instead World #2 Ding Liren, who finished second in the Candidates.
chess24 spoke to Ding minutes after he received the news through a flood of messages from friends while he was in the toilet.
The 29-year-old hasn't returned to China after the Candidates due to catching COVID, but has fully recovered. Currently in Barcelona, he was having a hard time stopping grinning while chess24 was speaking to him.
"It's hard to believe! I need to calm down a little bit," Ding says with a huge smile.
"These days I was a little bit nervous. I thought the news might come today," he says.
Ding secured the potential golden ticket by winning a crucial game against Hikaru Nakamura in the final round of the Candidates.
Ding Liren's win on demand against Hikaru Nakamura may have a huge impact on chess history! | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE
"It's a backdoor chance. I got very lucky to have the chance to play a World Championship match. It's my best chance for sure. It's a once in a lifetime chance."
Ding and other Chinese players are still suffering due to the country's strict anti-COVID policy, which led to China not sending teams to the Chess Olympiad in Chennai. The 29-year-old says he doesn't have a single tournament planned for 2022, but received invitations for 2023. Whether he gets to play in any, depends on the COVID situation.
Asked how he intends to prepare for the match, scheduled to take place in April 2023, he says:
"It's more than half a year to prepare. I need to make a plan and widen my opening repertoire. Since I have so much time to prepare, I will work a lot on chess and outside of chess. Now I have some motivation to work."
While travelling without seconds to Madrid, he did have remote help. He expects to receive support from the Chinese community.
FIDE is yet to announce a host for the World Championship match, but Ding says he expects interest from China, which previously organised half of the 2020 Women's World Championship match between Ju Wenjun and Alexandra Goryachkina.
Ding Liren had a stunning end to the Candidates Tournament
He expresses that he understands Carlsen's decision not to defend the title.
"I think the decision is based on reasons outside of chess, it's about his motivation. It's very hard to find opening ideas in the World Championship when opponents are so well-prepared. He might prefer to play some more tournaments that do not require as much preparation so he can have as much fun and try to reach 2900."
Does Ding think Magnus will manage?
"It's very hard to reach 2900 even if he had some 2900 performances — it's very hard to beat players who are a little bit weaker."