When a jubilant China captured gold for the first time at last year’s Tromsø Olympiad in Norway and their women came second in the parallel Women’s Olympiad, it was the strongest indication yet that the gravity of the chess world was beginning to move their way. And this seismic shift was further reinforced with a convincing victory last month at the 10th World Team Championships in Tsaghadzor, Armenia.
And during an interview last week in the Global Times - the daily Chinese tabloid under the auspices of the People's Daily newspaper, focusing on international issues - Chinese coach Ye Jiangchuan believes that his proteges are capable of capturing more titles. ‘Last year when we won the Olympiad Cup, many attributed it to a bit of luck, but we won the team championship this year, which demonstrated it’s not simply because of luck. Now the Chinese male players can be ranked among the best in the sport,’ Ye said.
Unlike their male counterparts, China’s women players have long made their mark on the world stage, winning both major team titles several times and also boasted four individual world champions, namely Xie Jun, Zhu Chen, Xu Yuhua and Hou Yifan. But now Beijing want to emulate that success in the men’s game. According to Ye, the development of chess in China can be divided into three phases: first winning women’s titles, secondly claiming men’s titles and finally the men’s individual champion.
Currently eight Chinese male players are in the world top 50, with Ding Liren being the highest at No.11. But the one to watch is 15-year-old rising star Wei Yi, who dominated the Chinese Championship in Xinghua that finished earlier today, as he top-scored on 7.5/11 to capture his first national title a half point ahead of top seed Ding Liren - and his margin of victory could well have been far greater, had he not lost in the final round!
Wei Yi (who will be 16 on Tuesday) was the best individual scorer in the world teams with 7/9, jumping to No.34 in the ratings; and now up to world No. 30 on the back of winning his first national title. He is the youngest 2700 in chess history, with many comparing his trajectory with that of Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen - and indeed, many believe he could well be the future title challenger Carlsen fears.
Not now, but in years to come, either in 2018 or 2020. But with his rapid rise up the rankings, he can’t be ruled out as a possible dark horse for the 128-player World Cup in Baku this September, whose two finalists will qualify into next year’s Candidates Tournament.
Wei Yi - Ding Liren
Chinese Championship, (4)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 The Berlin Defence in the Ruy Lopez has long had a reputation for being rock solid and drawish; and especially the endgame that became known as "The Berlin Wall". The Berlin was popular during the late 19th century and early 20th century - but it fell out of fashion for the best part of a century, only for Vladimir Kramnik to adopt it as his surprise weapon to bamboozle Garry Kasparov during their World Championship Match in London 2000. 9.h3 Bd7 10.Rd1 Be7 11.g4 Nh4 12.Nxh4 Bxh4 13.Nd2 Kc8 14.Nf3 Be7 15.Rd3 h6 16.Nd4 b6 17.Rf3 Be8 18.Nf5 Bf8 19.b3 Bd7 20.Bb2 Be6 This is a typical Berlin endgame position. White has the space advantage, better rooks and the ability to push his pawns up the board. However, if Black can consolidate his position by activating his bishop-pair and exchange rooks safely, then he can take advantage of what could well be over-extended pawns that become difficult to defend. 21.Nd4 Bd5 22.Re3 Bc5 23.c4 Be6 24.f4 g6 25.Rf1 Kb7 26.Kg2 Rad8 27.Rd3 h5? (See Diagram) It fits in to start chipping away at the pawns with move such as this, however, he's overlooked a deadly tactic that Wei Yi quickly springs 28.Nxe6! Rxd3 29.Nxc5+ bxc5 Black is left with triple isolated c-pawns - but the deadly hit now comes with a discovered attack on the rook on h8. 30.e6 Rhd8 If 30...Rf8 31.Bg7 and Black may as well resign here. 31.exf7 Rd2+ The alternative was no better: 31...Rf8 32.f5! gxf5 (32...Rd2+ 33.Rf2 Rxf2+ 34.Kxf2 Rxf7 35.f6 and the king will march up the board with Kf3-f4-g5 to win.) 33.g5! Rxf7 34.g6 Rf8 35.g7 Rg8 36.Be5! Rd7 37.Rxf5 leaving Black with no option other than to take the pawn on g7, and with his shattered pawns White will have an easily won rook and pawn ending. 32.Rf2 Rxf2+ 33.Kxf2 Rf8 34.f5! Rxf7 35.Kg3 gxf5 36.g5 1-0 The running g-pawn, supported by the bishop and king, will soon win.