China’s emergence as a formidable chess powerhouse is a singular story. State sponsorship and enhanced social status are huge advantages, but Chinese players deserve great admiration. Western chess was virtually unknown in China until the 1970s and was banned by Chairman Mao during the first eight years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), in favour of more traditional games Xiangqi and Go.
But when the Bamboo Curtain came down in 1974, China began its long march to chess success - but it didn’t come without some outside help. In 1974 in Kuala Lumpur, Asian dignitaries - led by Dato Tan Chin Nam, a Malaysian-Chinese business tycoon - launched the ‘Big Dragon Project’, the original aim being to see China dominate the chess world by 2010.
China have a stranglehold on the women’s game, with Hou Yifan replacing Judit Polgar as the world’s top-rated female player. But success for China is measured with their progress in the men’s game - and it is now beginning to come to fruition. Last year, China won its first gold medal at the 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway, becoming the first Asian country to take the men’s team title by breaking Western countries’ dominance of the biennial competition.
And last week, China showed that they are the force for the future, as they captured a unique team double by winning the 10th World Team Championship title in Tsaghkadzor, Armenia. China took gold ahead of Ukraine with hosts Armenia taking bronze. Top seeds Russia edged out the USA for fourth place.
China is succeeding by adopting the same policy used by the USSR in the 1930s, a massive investment in talented youth. Wei Yi, 15, is seen by Beijing as being their best hope as a future title challenger to Magnus Carlsen. And their fast-rising wunderkind didn’t disappoint in the World Teams, by also winning an individual gold for his undefeated 7/9 on board 4 - a result that takes his rating to 2714(!), rising to 34th in the world rankings, and making him the youngest player ever in the game to breach 2700.
Another star performer for China was their top board, Ding Liren, 22, who has now risen to 11th in the rankings, putting him on the cusp of becoming the first Chinese player to enter the Top-10.
Ding Liren (China) - Sam Shankland (USA)
10th World Team Championship, (1)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.c4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 This is one of the important alternatives for White. The usual development with Bg5 has the drawbacks of the dark bishop getting exchanged with Ne4 at some point. Hence white decides to keep the Bishop along the h2-b8 diagonal to maintain the pressure on the Queenside. And although being a relatively new, young opening, some of its key ideas stretch back to Hastings 1895. 5...0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.c5 A common theme in this Bf4 system - White wants to use his advanced queenside pawns to rapidly push up the board; Black aims to counter by breaking down the pawn chain. 7...Nh5 8.b4 Timing is crucial, and White pushes ahead on with the pawn-storm idea - he's not worried about the bishop being exchanged and leaving doubled pawns on the f-file, as the f4-pawn keeps a firm grip of any e5 break. This theme is sometimes called the 'Rubinstein Bind', named after the great Akiba Rubinstein, who was the first to develop the ideas behind it. 8...Nxf4 9.exf4 c6 10.Bd3 b6 11.0-0 a5 12.a3 Ba6 13.Bxa6 Rxa6 14.Qe2 Ra8 All standard stuff - Black has to be careful though in certain lines, such as 14...Qa8 15.b5 cxb5 16.Qxb5 15.Ne5 Nxe5 16.fxe5 b5 17.Rab1 axb4 18.axb4 Qd7 19.Ra1 Ra7 20.Ra2 Rfa8 21.Rfa1 Qb7 22.Qb2 Ra6 23.g3 There's really not much in the position, and soon we'll see a massed swapping of rooks down the a-file. White hopes, though, to take advantage of the reduced scope of Black's bishop in the resulting endgame. 23...f5 24.exf6 To play for the win, White has to exchange the pawns, as otherwise there will be two opposing pawn-chains with little or no hope for a breakthrough. 24...Bxf6 25.Rxa6 Rxa6 26.Ne2 Qa8 27.Rxa6 Qxa6 28.Kg2 Qa8 29.Ng1! The knight goes to f3 to forever stop e5 breaks. 29...Qa4 30.Nf3 g5? This is far too committal. It leaves a lot of gaps and weaknesses in the Black camp that Ding Liren now hones in on. 31.Qe2 Kf7 32.Qd3! Kg7 33.Qe3 Kf7 Quickly losing was 33...Qxb4? 34.Qxe6 Bxd4 35.Qe7+ Kg6 (35...Kg8 36.Nxg5 soon mates.) 36.h4! gxh4 37.Nxh4+ mating. 34.Nxg5+ Bxg5 35.Qxg5 Qxb4 36.Qh5+ Kg7 37.Qe5+ Kf7 38.Qc7+ Kf6 39.Qe5+ Kf7 40.g4! Threatening g5 followed by Qf6+ winning. 40...Qb1 41.Qc7+ Kf6 42.Qd8+ Kf7 43.Qd7+ Kf6 44.h4! Keeping up the pressure by threatening g5+ winning. 44...Qe4+ 45.Kg3 h6 46.Qe8 Kg7? (See Diagram) Black begins to crack under the relentless pressure. White had no more than a draw with the accurate 46...Qd3+ 47.f3 Qe3! 48.Qf8+ Kg6 49.h5+ Kh7 and White can't make any progress, as Black has a perpetual check in hand. 47.Qe7+ Kg8 48.h5 b4?? Again, 48...Qd3+! 49.Kh4 Qe4 was holding - but now it is too late. 49.Qd8+ Kg7 50.Qc7+ Kf6 51.Qb8 Qd3+ 52.Kh4 Kg7 Now, if 52...Qe4 there's the little matter of 53.Qf8# 53.Qb7+ Kf6 54.Qb8 Kg7 55.Qxb4 Qe4 56.Kg3 Qd3+ 57.f3 Qe3 58.Qb1 Kf6 No better is 58...Qxd4 59.Qg6+ Kf8 60.Qxh6+ Ke7 61.Qf4! and the advanced h-pawn easily wins for White. 59.Qg6+ Ke7 60.Qg7+ Ke8 61.Qg8+ Ke7 62.Qg7+ Ke8 63.Qe5 Qg1+ 64.Kh3 Qh1+ 65.Kg3 Qg1+ 66.Kf4 Qh2+ 67.Ke3 Qg1+ 68.Kd2 Qf2+ 69.Kc3 Qxf3+ 70.Kb4 Unbelievably, the king simply marches away from the checks. 70...Qxg4 71.Ka5 With the idea of Kb6 winning the c-pawn, and with it the game. 71...Qf5 72.Qc7 Qxh5 73.Qxc6+ Ke7 74.Qd6+ Kf6 75.c6 1-0