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Ian Nepomniachtchi: Meet the football-loving, video game-mad Russian chess star

Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi will advance to the final of the FIDE Grand Prix in Moscow, after triumphing in a roller coaster tie-break against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. RT spoke with the GM about two big passions: chess and Dota 2.

The 28-year-old Russian grandmaster battled for four games with his formidable Polish opponent in a tie-break match to decide who will face Alexander Grischuk in the last round of the high-stakes chess tournament.

While Wojtaszek had chances in the first three games, Nepomniachtchi managed to secure a trio of fortuitous draws. After back-to-back nail-biters, Nepomniachtchi dealt a decisive blow with white in the fourth game, conjuring up a devastating queen-side pawn storm which Wojtaszek could not stop without sacrificing material. The Polish grandmaster threw in the towel on move 28.

Commentators GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko and GM Daniil Yuffa were clearly impressed by Nepomniachtchi’s decisive advantage in the final game, noting minutes before Wojtaszek’s resignation that “there was no chance whatsoever” for the Pole and that “anything should win” for white.

Nepomniachtchi said during post-game analysis that he was looking forward to battling compatriot Alexander Grischuk in the championship round, and anticipated a lively press conference with the three-time World Blitz Champion.

“Just to stay near to him is already an honor to me,” Nepomniachtchi said of Grischuk. The two Russians will face off on Monday.

Speaking to RT after the match, Nepomniachtchi opened up about his other great passion outside of chess: the popular online multiplayer game Dota 2. His enthusiasm for the computer game is clearly expressed by his terse but no-nonsense Twitter bio, which reads: “Chess grandmaster, Hearthstone & DOTA fan.”


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A daunting Dota player in his own right, Nepomniachtchi said that he wasn’t surprised by the recent AI victory over Dota 2’s reigning world champion team. While the game’s immense complexity poses issues for artificial intelligence, the Russian chess master said that bots would soon reign supreme.

“Sooner or later AI will beat humans in every aspect [of the game],” Nepomniachtchi predicted.

As for chess, he sees efforts to popularize the ancient strategy game as a positive development but said more needs to be done to make it more accessible.

“It’s extremely hard to follow a chess game [if you’re] a random guy who wants to see some action. [Instead] he sees some five-hour game.”

Speaking from personal experience, Nepomniachtchi noted that he sometimes streams his chess sessions online. He said he hoped to do more of it after the Grand Prix ends, even though he only has a modest following when compared to the major Twitch streamers.

“I have some audience, a few thousand viewers, but it’s not like Ninja,” he said, referring to the uber-popular video game streamer.

A glance at Nepomniachtchi’s Twitter also reveals his passions beyond chess extend to the world of football – in particular Moscow club Spartak Moscow and Spanish giants Barcelona. 

That extends to rallying cries for both clubs, but in particular the Moscow team, who have endured a disappointing season by the lofty standards of their fanbase – Nepomniachtchi included.

READ MORE: ‘My motivation has dropped:’ chess legend Vladimir Kramnik announces retirement at 43

But for now, at least, Nepomniachtchi’s attentions are firmly focused on the world of chess, and the opportunity that awaits him against Grischuk on Monday at the Moscow Grand Prix.

Beyond that, even bigger things beckon, given that the tournament is the inaugural event of the 2019-2020 World Chess Championship cycle.

Two winners of the Grand Prix Series will be invited to the World Chess Candidates Tournament, with the Candidates winner challenging big-name Norwegian incumbent Magnus Carlsen for the title of world chess champion.