17-year-old Chinese super-GM Wei Yi is not only one of the world's strongest and most promising chess players, he's also one of the most exciting. He finished tied for second in the just-completed 7th HD Bank Cup in Vietnam, but when it came to aggressive, attacking chess he was number one. I look at five of his games from the tournament, including his one loss, in this week's World Chess column, hot off the press. Enjoy!
Entries in Wei Yi (19)
But barely. Wesley So entered the last round with a half-point lead over Wei Yi and more against everyone else, and with White against Wei Yi decided to play it safe. Black went for a well-known line of the Queen's Gambit Declined called the Peruvian Variation (I think) that results in Black's having a structure that appears as ugly as sin but which turns out to be very difficult to beat. In the game Wei Yi had no trouble keeping the draw, which meant that he remained half a point behind So, who guaranteed himself of a clear lead heading into the last round.
Unfortunately for So - and for Wei Yi too, for that matter - both Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian won and also came to within half a point of So. Carlsen was in serious trouble against Pavel Eljanov, who played a great game for 28 moves. Eljanov has played a very good tournament so far, but he has failed to convert several better-to-winning positions, and this one he even managed to lose. His 29th move was a serious error, giving away the advantage, and his 37th to 39th moves left him lost. Carlsen played the ensuing rook endgame just about perfectly to stay within striking range of the leader.
As for Aronian, his opponent, Loek van Wely, like Eljanov managed to play very well the first half of the game but not the second. Van Wely's queen moves from 22...Qd8 through 27...Qxe4 left him with a lost position, and Aronian did a fine job of navigating the complications to near perfection.
The remaining games were drawn, several of them quietly, and in any case none of them left the protagonists with a shot at first place. So after the customary link to the day's wins, with my notes, here are the pairings for the final round:
- Andreikin (5) - Aronian (7.5)
- Wei Yi (7.5) - Wojtaszek (5)
- Nepomniachtchi (5) - So (8)
- Carlsen (7.5) - Karjakin (6.5) - !
- Giri (6) - Eljanov (6.5)
- Rapport (4.5) - Adhiban (6.5)
- Van Wely (2.5) - Harikrishna (6)
I don't know what the tiebreak situations will be in case two or more players wind up sharing first, so if some enterprising reader (we all know who that is) wants to inform us, he's welcome to do so. Hopefully for the sake of my patriotic prognostication So will make it simple by winning in the last round.
As for the Challengers Group, the chances of the U.S. national anthem (probably metaphorically) playing took a bit hit as Jeffery Xiong went from clear first to a tie for third after losing to Tari while all his closest rivals - Markus Ragger, Gawain Jones, and Ilia Smirin all won. Ragger and Jones are tied for first, while Smirin and Xiong are tied for third-fourth half a point behind. But the good news for Xiong is that he's the only one of the four with White in the last round, and his opponent has the lowest score of the leaders' four opponents. Here are the critical pairings:
- L'Ami (6.5) - Ragger (8.5)
- Lu Shanglei (7.5) - Jones (8.5)
- Hansen (7) - Smirin (8)
- Xiong (8) - Bok (5)
With two rounds to go, it's looking good for a USA sweep of the gold medals. Wesley So won (convincingly, against Radoslaw Wojtaszek) in round 10 to put himself a full point clear of the field in the Masters group, and while Wei Yi closed the gap to half a point after defeating Sergey Karjakin in round 11 (Karjakin completely misplayed the opening and was losing after his 15th move) So is still looking good to win yet another super-tournament on his current hot streak.
Wei Yi was the only winner in round 11, but several other players came close. Tournament surprise Baskaran Adhiban was pressing with Black against Magnus Carlsen, and had a one-move chance to obtain a winning advantage. Had he played 34...Qg4!, intending ...Re3 or ...Ne3, he probably would have won to join the big tie for third. Anish Giri was completely winning from early on against Penteala Harikrishna, but he not only lost his advantage but even wound up with a losing position near the end. Richard Rapport was better against Loek van Wely early on, but near the end would have been lost had van Wely played 34...Bd7.
The other three draws were smoother for everyone involved. So drew Dmitry Andreikin without a speck of trouble on the Black side of a 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Berlin; Ian Nepomniachtchi and Pavel Eljanov played a relatively long and hard fought game, but one that never got out of hand for either player; finally, Wojtaszek did have a pull against Levon Aronian, but didn't seem to miss any clear chances for a full point.
As for round 10, So's victory over Wojtaszek was already mentioned, and there were two other winners in the round. Karjakin beat Andreikin in an Italian game taking advantage of one inaccuracy at a time, while Levon crushed Rapport in a beautiful attacking game. The most noteworthy game among the draws was Eljanov-Wei Yi, which saw Black have a serious advantage before the time control and Eljanov a similarly large one after it before everything finished peacefully.
The decisive games from the last two rounds are here (with my annotations), and this is what the pairings look like for round 12:
- Aronian (6.5) - van Wely (2.5)
- Harikrishna (5.5) - Rapport (4)
- Adhiban (6) - Giri (5.5)
- Eljanov (6.5) - Carlsen (6.5)
- Karjakin (6) - Nepomniachtchi (4.5)
- So (7.5) - Wei Yi (7)
- Wojtaszek (4.5) - Andreikin (4.5)
Nice pairings on boards 4 and 6!
To the Challengers Group: Entering round 10 Markus Ragger and Ilia Smirin shared the lead with 6.5 points each, half a point ahead of Xiong and Gawain Jones. Ragger and Smirin only managed to draw (against Benjamin Bok and Erwin L'Ami, respectively), and they were caught by Xiong (who like almost everyone else in the tournament so far defeated Sopiko Guramishvili). Jones drew his game (with Lei Tingjie) to remain half a point behind, along with the surging Eric Hansen (who crushed Lu Shanglei in a great game that was the subject of my World Chess column this week).
In round 11 some stratification occurred. Ragger drew again, with Nils Grandelius, and for the first time all tournament was out of first place after one co-leader - Xiong - defeated the third - Smirin. Interestingly, the two players were half a point back also played each other, and Jones defeated Hansen (with Black) to join Ragger in second, half a point behind Xiong.
Here are the leading pairings for round 12:
- Tari (5.5) - Xiong (8)
- Ragger (7.5) - Van Foreest (3.5)
- Jones (7.5) - Dobrov (3.5)
- Smirin (7) - Lei Tingjie (3.5)
Xiong has his work cut out for him this round, but on the flip side he's the only one of the four with seven or more points to have White in the last round, and he also has the easiest opponent by far - at least in terms of the tournament scoretable - in that last game.
The 29th City of Leon Master Chess tournament was a small event - a four-player knockout event in rapid chess - but with Viswanathan Anand and Wei Yi in the field it merits a mention.
In the first best-of-four semi-final Anand seemed well on the way to an easy win over the lower-rated David Anton Guijarro, achieving a clean draw with Black in game 1 and winning a nice (though not perfect) win with White in game 2. Things were going well for Anand in game 3 as well, up until he played 27...Ne4. The move wasn't that bad, but it started him on the path to trouble. The e-pawn was slightly weak, and soon his pieces lost coordination as they worked to achieve compensation for the (soon lost) e-pawn, and then further errors followed. The former world champion bounced back well, though, and as in game 2 he dominated the game, even if his technique wasn't always perfect.
In the second semi, Wei Yi was a significant favorite against Jaime Santo Latasa, and like Anand managed to win with a 2.5-1.5 score. Games 1 and 3 saw Santos play a secondary main line with White against the Karpov Variation of the Nimzo-Indian. In game 1 Wei Yi misplayed it slightly and was worse for a while before outplaying his opponent and coming close to a win. In game 3 Wei Yi got the theory right and it was a wasted white game for the underdog. With White in game 2, Wei Yi obtained an advantage and won, while in the final game he was happy to repeat moves in a position where he could have played for more if he needed to.
Anand won the final by winning game 1 with White and drawing the rest. His win came on the white side of a slow Giuoco, outplaying his opponent almost from start to finish. There was a serious slip on move 32, when Anand should have played 32.e5, with a decisive advantage. Instead, he played 32.Ra8? Qxa8 33.Qxd6 Qxa2 34.Nxe4?!, when his advantage was almost completely gone. Fortunately for him, Wei Yi erred several moves later with 37...Qg5; instead 37...Qf2 or 37...Qb2 would have maintained equal chances.
In game 2 Anand was fine until he wasted a couple of tempi with 21...Be7-f6 followed by the opposite move on the next turn. Had Wei Yi played 23.b4 he'd have been clearly better. After 23.Rc2?! a5! Anand's position was okay, and after a few more anxious moments he managed to hold.
Anand looked shaky in round 3 as well. This time his opponent was better prepared in another Giuoco, and he pressed almost from start to finish. Again though, Wei Yi missed some opportunities, and the ex-champ escaped with a draw.
The shakiness was not present in round 4. Anand was never in trouble, and this time it was Wei Yi who had to work for the draw, despite having the white pieces.
Hopefully this was a good warm-up for Anand, who will play in Belgium next week against all the players from the Paris Rapid & Blitz except for Laurent Fressinet.
Wei Yi has won the Chinese Championship for the second straight year, and after torching the field by winning his first four games with the white pieces (in rounds 1, 3, 5, and 7) he was able to coast in with a series of short draws. Even taking most of the second half of the tournament off, he still won by a convincing 1.5 point margin over his closest competitors. In my World Chess column this week, I take a look at his one win from the second half of the event, along with a couple of other interesting moments featuring other players.
With seven of 11 rounds in the books, the 2016 Chinese Championship (English language coverage here) is looking like a walk in the park for 16-year-old Wei Yi, whose score of 5.5 points puts him a point and a half clear of his closest pursuers, Zhou Weiqi and Xu Jun. He has been following the old Soviet advice to win with White and draw with Black to perfection: four wins in four white games and three draws in the three black games. I've already annotated his wins from rounds 1, 3, and 5 in my World Chess column this week, and may offer an annotated update to the championship in the next column. Meanwhile, you can check out his win in round 7 over here. One final note: with this latest win Wei Yi has returned to the 2700 club, perhaps without having ever officially fallen out of it.
My column for the World Chess site this week examines some highlights of the first five rounds of the ongoing Chinese Championship, starring Wei Yi. At that point he already led by a full point with 4/5, winning all three of his games with White (all of which are commented in the article) and drawing both efforts with Black. I also take a look at three other interesting games from that event, so there's plenty of entertainment to supplement what's going on in Norway and in the U.S. Championships.
Finally, in case the U.S. Championship and Norway Chess aren't enough, the Chinese Championship is also underway. It is the weakest it has been in years, lacking a single 2700 (though former and surely soon to be future 2700 Wei Yi is participating as the top seed) - no Ding Liren, Li Chao, Yu Yangyi, Wang Hao, Wang Yue, or Bu Xiangzhi.
(TWIC coverage here, for those who can't read Chinese and don't want to bother with online translation tools.)
Chinese superstar Wei Yi's rating has taken a bit of a hit the last couple of months, but he still seems very likely to be a big player in the chess world over the next decade or two. He's also one of the most entertaining players around, best known for winning brilliancies in sharp, highly theoretical lines. In my most recent column for the World Chess website I show one of his recent attacking gems, but also show that he can win beautiful positional games as well - see for yourself.
As I've already said once or twice, the entire field (and their fans) can blame what is happening in Wijk aan Zee on Loek van Wely for losing a winning position against Magnus Carlsen in round 5. Carlsen won his fourth game in the last five rounds (only giving up a short draw with black in round 8 to Sergey Karjakin), defeating Michael Adams to increase his lead over the field. Early tournament leader Fabiano Caruana is a point behind, and four other players (Wesley So, Ding Liren, Wei Yi, and Anish Giri) are another half a point back.
For most of the game it looked like another trademark Carlsen victory was in process. First, a low-theory Giuoco Piano to get the ball rolling, then slow but steady progress leading to a winning endgame. Adams did drum up some kingside counterplay, but it was clearly too slow. Moreover, this counterplay hit its apogee early in the second time control, so Carlsen had all the time in the world to work it out.
But somehow, Carlsen faltered. His 49.b4 committed him to a sacrifice of a rook for Adams' kingside passers, played in the belief that his pawns would still win the game. His hope was fulfilled, but it seems that this was more due to Adams' errors rather than to a correct assessment of 49.b4.
As for Caruana, he had some chances with White against Karjakin around the first time control, but he allowed Karjakin to save the game with a very concrete approach starting with 45...bxc5. Black forces the play through the end of the game, and holds by a hair.
All the other games were drawn, with one exception. Wei Yi won an exceptional attacking game against David Navara, featuring a promising-looking line against the Berlin. Interestingly, Caruana and Wei Yi played the same line - including the same novelty - through move 10, when the games diverged. Perhaps Karjakin's reply to Caruana is the cure; that may or may not be. What is clear is that Navara's treatment is a dead end, and the result was a spectacular victory for the young Chinese superstar.
With Carlsen ahead by a point with four rounds to play, the field is going to have to hurry up to catch him. Here are the pairings for round 10, and Carlsen's pairing may offer his foes their best reason for optimism, as Carlsen has never defeated Anish Giri in a classical game:
- Karjakin (4.5) - Adams (2.5)
- Giri (5) - Carlsen (6.5)
- Hou Yifan (4) - Eljanov (4.5)
- So (5) - Tomashevsky (3.5)
- Ding Liren (5) - van Wely (3.5)
- Navara (4) - Mamedyarov (4.5)
- Caruana (5.5) - Wei Yi (5)
In the Challengers' tournament Baskaran Adhiban finally lost a game (to Jorden Van Foreest, with white), so he has fallen into a tie with Eltaj Safarli, who drew with Erwin l'Ami. They both have 6.5/9, half a point of Alexey Dreev, who also drew (with Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu).