This is what watchers worldwide saw during the first game of the World Championship Match in Astana. Well, at least most of the time in the first part of the game. The players have at their disposal a rest lounge with a couch, armchair, drinks, and snacks. But, most importantly, they have a monitor in the room, with the current position. In the first part of the game, they spent a lot of time in the "thinking room." Especially Ding, who sat in the armchair motionless, staring at the monitor for minutes and minutes.
It felt a bit surreal to see the players get to the board, sit on their anatomic chairs, move the piece, and get back to their "private" rooms.
Is online chess taking over, as Yermolinsky said in his article? Do the players feel it easier to look at a position on a monitor than on a real chessboard?
Or is it a psychological battle?
In the press conference after game 1, Ding explained that he didn't feel focused enough: "I feel a bit depressed... during the first parts of the game, I didn't think about chess so much. My mind was very strange, with many memories and feelings; I felt a little bit there was something wrong with my mind... maybe the pressure of the match."
Some of the usual commentators didn't like how the players were absent from the stage:
The game started with a Ruy Lopez exchange variation.
After only 12 moves, the players found themselves in open waters
In this position, after 13.Ne3 Rd8, Nepomniachtchi had a good opportunity to get some advantage, with 14.h3 followed by 15.Nd5!
Ian went for the much calmer and less risky 14.Nf5, equalizing the game.
After that, the game proceeded with some skirmish, and Nepo got the upper hand.
At move 29, Bc7 would have given Ian a sizeable advantage. Maybe not decisive, but for sure worrying for Ding:
After some thinking, Ian went for 29.Bd6, which equalized the game again.
At that point in the game, ding had to face some problems with his clock. But the Chinese managed to play precisely and maintain equality until the time control.
The game ended in a draw at move 49 after five hours of a battle that looked much more psychological than theoretical.
You can download the game here.
Game 2 starts tomorrow, Monday, April the 10th, at 5 AM EDT - 9:00 UTC.