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Chess-China's Ding Liren defies odds to become world champion

By Alessandro Parodi

(Reuters) - China's Ding Liren was crowned on Sunday as the 17th world chess champion in a tense match against Russian-born Ian Nepomniachtchi in Astana, Kazakhstan, in the last chapter of an odds-defying sequence of events.

Thirty-year-old Ding won the rapid chess playoff by 2.5 points to 1.5, capitalizing on Nepomniachtchi's mistakes in time trouble in the last of the shorter-format games, following the pair's 7-7 tie in a psychological battle across 14 longer "classical" games.

"One Ding to rule em all," fellow grandmaster Anish Giri wrote on Twitter in honour of the new champion.

Ding's triumph means China holds both the men's and women's world titles, with current women's champion Ju Wenjun set to defend her title against compatriot Lei Tingjie in July.

"The moment Ian resigned the game was a very emotional moment, I cannot control my feelings," the new world champion said in a press conference.

Ding had leveled the score in the regular portion of the match with a dramatic win in game 12, despite several critical moments - including a purported leak of his own preparation.

The Chinese grandmaster takes the crown from five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who defeated Nepomniachtchi in 2021 but announced in July he would not defend the title again this year.

Carlsen said he was not motivated to play shortly after Nepomniachtchi won the Candidates tournament, the prestigious qualifier to the match.

Ding, runner-up in the Candidates thanks to an incredible second half of the event, was next in line.

He had only been invited to the tournament at the last minute to replace Russia's Sergey Karjakin, whom the international chess federation (FIDE) banned for his vocal support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Ding ranks third in the FIDE rating list behind Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi.

The new champion will attend from May 4 the first tournament of the Grand Chess Tour in Bucharest, Romania, after being almost inactive since 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

(Reporting by Alessandro Parodi in Gdansk, editing by Hugh Lawson)