06 Apr

The Brilliancy Boy

One of my first, and favourite books is a little work by Fred Reinfeld called Great Brilliancy Prize Games of the Chess Masters published by Dover. Essentially this is a compilation of fifty masterpiece games from the first half of the 20th Century: Steinitz vs. Lasker, London; Capablanca vs. Janowski, New York; Alekhine vs. Marshall, New York; Botvinnik vs. Tartakower, Nottingham; and many more - and as an impressionable young kid, playing through these games was like eating candy.


And according to my ever-present Oxford Companion to Chess, the first ‘Brilliancy Prize’ was awarded in 1876 to England’s Henry Bird (for his game against James Mason) by the flamboyant owner of New York’s Café International, where a major tournament was being held. Such awards soon became a tradition in chess, and they were often gifts bestowed by private patrons of the game.

But sadly nowadays brilliancy prizes are a thing of the past, and not  feted over as they once were. And if the plaudits of the brilliancy prize was still in play today, then Chinese wunderkind Wei Yi would have more than his fair share to be allocated in the brilliancy anthologies for the modern era.

We’ve witnessed some sensational games from Wei Yi that would have made it into a 21st Century version of Reinfeld’s classic tome on brilliancies. In the summer of 2015, his sensational king-hunt up the board to mate Lázaro Bruzón Batista (see the The Long March) gained him an overnight global fan-base; he then ended the year with an elegant win over Stefan Bromberger at the Qatar Masters Open in late December; and more recently, at the 2016 Tata Masters - his first super-tournament - in January, we witnessed his powerful crush of David Navara.


And still only 16, the teenage ace is at it again with yet another masterpiece to add to his burgeoning brilliancy collection, as he drags his Vietnamese opponent’s king across the board to a fateful mate at the recently-concluded Asian Nations Cup in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Photo © | Fide World Cup

GM Wei Yi - GM Dao Thien Hai
Asian Nations Cup, (3)
Sicilian Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 The Sicilian Najdorf is arguably the most analysed line in chess history - and one that became universally popular during the Bobby Fischer era, as it was a big favourite of the American legend. 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 In these days of computers crunching sharp and tactical variations such as this to the umpteenth decimal place, there's not many brave enough to play the big mainline that was all the rage during the Fischer era. 7...Nbd7 8.Qe2 For a complete Fischer nostalgic trip down memory lane, we would have had 8.Qf3 followed by Bd3 and 0-0-0. Nevertheless this line can be just as tactical and tricky; the idea behind 8.Qe2 being to play g4 and developing instead the bishop on g2. 8...Qc7 9.0-0-0 Be7 10.g4 h6 11.Bh4 g5 Playing in the style of another American legend of the Sicilian Najdorf who followed Fischer, Walter S. Browne, who pioneered a similar ...g5 set-up that was named after him. The strategy behind it is to use e5 for the Black knight and looking also to take control of the dark-squares. But unfortunately here for Black, this is not the Browne variation, and ...g5 simply gets blown away by Wei Yi with a (now) trademark sacrificial assault. 12.fxg5 Nh7 13.Bg3 hxg5 14.Nf5! exf5 The only other option was wimping out with 14...Ne5 - but after 15.Nxe7 Kxe7 16.h4! Black is in dire straits. 15.Nd5 The knight sacrifice on f5 was clearing the way for the other knight to menacingly swing into d5 with a big advantage, as Black's king is caught in the cross hairs of White's deadly attack. 15...Qb8 Black is trying to bolster e5 as a possible way to defend; forlorn as it is. But worse was 15...Qd8 16.exf5 Nhf6 17.Nxf6+ Nxf6 18.Rxd6! and the knight on f6 is now lost. 16.exf5 Ne5 17.Nxe7 Kxe7 18.Rxd6!! (See Diagram) A deadly and ruthless blow - the rook sacrifice leaves the Black king exposed to the elements; and there's a discovered check while also the queen and rook are under a double attack. 18...Qxd6 19.Bxe5 Qd5 20.Bg2 Qxa2 21.Bd6+! What would a Wei Yi multi-sacrificial attack be without him leaving his calling card of  a king hunt ending in mate? 21...Kxd6 22.Rd1+ Kc7 23.Qe5+ Kb6 24.Qd4+ Ka5 There's no escape from the mate; if 24...Kc7 25.Qd6# 25.Qc5+ b5 26.Qc7+ 1-0  Now, if 26...Ka4 27.Rd4+ b4 28.Bc6 mate.

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