The story is told of a Chinese peasant invited to the emperor’s palace to be rewarded for his loyal service. Would he rather be paid in gold or rice? Seeing the emperor at his chessboard, the peasant chooses rice, requesting one grain for the first square, two for the second, four for the third, and so on. Laughing at the man’s stupidity, the emperor readily agrees...only to discover that by the 64th square the multiplying reward now totals more than all the rice in China!
And like the fabled chessboard/rice story that’s now become a popular math lesson for kids in how doubling makes numbers grow, the growth of chess in China also continues to rise at an exponential rate - and amazingly this has come from a standing start in 1974 with the relaxing of a chess ban, when the Chinese emerged from behind the Bamboo Curtain to take part in their very first international chess competition.
Now China is riding high in the chess world, having recently won the “double” of Olympiad and World Team championships in the men’s game - and last week China beat Russia 29-21 (men 14:11, women 15:10) in their annual challenge team match. Much is also expected in the future for 16-year-old Wei Yi, China’s youngest-ever national champion, whom Beijing sees as being a future rival for Magnus Carlsen.
But the new race is now to see who will becomes China’s first player ever in the World Top-10. Former Chinese No.1, Wang Yue, had a much-welcomed return to form recently by convincingly winning the 6th Hainan GM tournament. But not to be outdone, last weekend Ding Liren, the current No.1, convincingly beat top Israeli GM Boris Gelfand, the 2012 world championship challenger, by a score of 3-1 in a four-game training match in his home city of Wenzhou.
For his efforts, Ding Liren picked up 10 rating points to move to 2759 and No.11 in the world in the unofficial live ratings, and now he’s on the cusp of becoming the first Chinese player to reach the top-10.
Ding Liren - Boris Gelfand
Wenzhou Training Match, (4)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 The Semi-Slav has been one of Gelfand's favourites throughout his career. 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.0-0 dxc4 9.Bxc4 b5 10.Bd3 Bb7 11.a3 h6 12.Rd1 a6 13.b4 a5 14.Rb1 axb4 15.axb4 Nd5 16.Nxd5 exd5 17.Bh7+ You often see this "meaningless" Bh7+ played in top-level games — however it is not meaningless and a handy tip to know, as it does a couple of useful things: First, it helps to gain a move to get closer to the time-control; but secondly, and more importantly, it often comes in handy to shunt a king a bit further from the centre when you are thinking long-term endgame scenarios here. 17...Kh8 18.Bf5 Re8 19.Bd2 Nb6 20.Ne5! This pawn sacrifice opens up all the best lines for White's very active bishop-pair - he has real compensation here for the pawn. 20...Bxe5 21.dxe5 Rxe5 22.Bc3 Re8 23.Ra1 Qe7 24.Bd4 Nc4 25.Qc3 Qg5 If 25...f6? 26.Bc2! will exploit the big white-square weakness in Black's camp. 26.Bc2 Kg8 27.Rxa8 Rxa8 28.Ra1 Rxa1+ 29.Qxa1 Qg4? A slight time-trouble error from Gelfand, no doubt worried about the White queen getting to a7. But best was 29...Nd6 30.Qa7 Qd8! with an equal game. 30.h3 Qe2 31.Bf5! (See Diagram) Now Qa7 is a big threat, as Black has a shortage of squares for his bishop. 31...Nd6 32.Bg4 Qd2 33.Qa7! Now the threat is Bc5 and Black will lose a piece. 33...h5 34.Qb8+ Kh7 35.Bxh5? Both players were likely in time-trouble here, as Ding Liren missed the instant win with 35.Qf8! f6 36.Be6 Ne4 37.Bf5+ Kh6 38.Qh8+ Kg5 39.Bxe4 dxe4 40.Qxg7+ Kf5 41.Qxf6# 35...Ne4 36.Qf4 Qe1+ 37.Kh2 Qxf2 38.Bxf7 Qxf4+ 39.exf4 After missing that sure-fire win, luckily for Ding Liren, just as the time-control kicks in, he has an easily won endgame. See, I told you earlier it comes in handy to think long-term by shunting the king into the corner! 39...Nd6 40.Be6 Bc8 41.Bxc8 Nxc8 42.Bc5! The bishop totally dominates the Black knight - White easily wins now by advancing his kingside pawns. 42...Kg6 43.g4 Kf7 44.f5 Kf6 45.h4 Ke5 46.h5 d4 If 46...Kf4 47.h6! wins. 47.Kg3 1-0 White easily wins now, as after 47...d3 (47...Ke4 48.h6 gxh6 49.f6 d3 50.f7 d2 51.f8Q d1Q 52.Qf5#; 47...Kf6 48.Kf4) 48.Kf3 picks up Black's d-pawn.