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11 Apr

Asian Spice

For centuries, Europe - with its backstory of elite tournaments and many professional leagues - has more or less dominated the world chess scene.  But just like the global economy and manufacturing these days, the power is gradually shifting evermore eastwards towards Asia.  And with more prosperity, there comes with it greater prospects of Asia dominating the chess scene. 

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Asia gained its first Grandmaster when Eugene Torre of the Philippines won the individual silver medal at the 1974 Olympiad in Nice, France - but the real major breakthrough came with the rise of Viswanathan Anand, as he not only became India’s first grandmaster, but also going on to become the first Asian elite player and subsequently world championship challenger and then champion.

And after the fall of the ‘Bamboo Curtain’, when late starters China made their international debut in the chess arena, at the 1978 Olympiad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they were the next to rise - they went on to dominate the women’s game, and recently their open (men’s) team scored a landmark result by capturing the gold medal (with bronze going to India) at the 2014 Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway.

And as Asian chess rises, so too will we see more major tournaments there that could rival the European chess scene in the next decade. Many see China and India emerging over the next few years as the new superpowers in chess. There’s now a great rivalry between the two at all levels of the game, from youth event upwards - and that rivalry added spice to the Asian Nations Cup that concluded last week in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

In theory China has the potential to field a much superior team to India; but they didn’t have the same squad in Abu Dhabi that won Olympiad gold in 2014. But it did have three 2700-Elo GMs in Wei Yi, Wang Yue, Bu Xiangzhi, and Lu Shanglei, the 2014 World Junior Champion.

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Without top boards Anand and Pentala Harikrishna, India was seen as the underdogs, but their team of Baskaran Adhiban, SP Sethuraman, Vidit Gujrathi, Krishnan Sasikiran and Deep Sengupta broke China’s seven-year long stranglehold on the competition to take the title ahead of their rivals on 17/19. China (15) and Kazhakstan (14) were the respective runner-ups.

Photo © | Asian Nations Cup

The decisive moment came in round five, when India beat China 2.5-1.5 to move into the sole lead; the key result that swung the match being Vidit Gujrathi’s win over 16-year-old rising star Wei Yi. And with victory for India, they are now also assured a berth at the 2017 World Team Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

GM Wei Yi - GM Vidit Gujrathi
Asian Nations Cup, (5)
Giuoco Piano
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.c3 0-0 6.0-0 The name Giuoco Piano - one of the oldest recorded openings in chess, played in the 16th century - means 'quiet game' in Italian; and like its name, it is initially very quiet with a slow build-up, but at least all the pieces remain on the board. 6...d5 In the recent Moscow Candidates Tournament, we witnessed two key games with the Giuoco Piano where ...d6 was played - but with ...d5, Black wants a more open and direct game. 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nbd2 Nb6 9.Bb5 Bd6 Black doesn't mind so much the doubling of his c-pawns, as he gets active compensation in the form of his two bishops. 10.Re1 Bg4 11.h3 Bh5 12.Ne4 f5 13.Ng3 Bxf3 Forced, as 13...Bg6 14.Bxc6 bxc6 15.Nxe5 simply loses a pawn for no compensation. 14.Qxf3 Qd7 A good multi-purpose move, defending both f5 and c6. 15.a4 a6 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.c4 Wei Yo wants to stop his opponent playing ...Nd5 - but in doing so, he leaves his d-pawn backward and also invites trouble down the b-file. 17...Rab8 18.a5?! I'm slightly puzzled by this move, as it forces Black into making the move he needs to play, namely ...Nc8, as the knight has no future on b6 now after c4 was played. 18...Nc8 19.c5 By now I think Wei Yi had totally lost the plot, realised he was bust on the queenside, so lashes out in a forlorn effort to complicate the game. 19...Bxc5 20.Rxe5 Bd4 The Black bishop controls the game by hitting f2 and b2. 21.Re1 The only move, as after 21.Rxf5? Ne7! 22.Rf4 Ng6! Black is winning material, as 23.Rxf8+ (23.Rf5 Nh4!) 23...Rxf8 and in both scenario's f2 will fall with devastating consequences for White. 21...Nd6 22.Ne2 Rfe8! The Black rooks are dominating the e- and b-files, as Vidit ups the pressure on his opponent's bad position. 23.Bf4 Bxb2 24.Rab1 Nb5! Taking full advantage of the fact that Wei Yi can't play Rxb2 as it will lose on the spot to ...Nd4. 25.Ng3 Bc3 It's all over bar the shouting, as Black clinically clears up now. 26.Rxe8+ Rxe8 27.Be3 g6 28.Qd1 Bxa5 29.Ra1 Bb6 30.Bxb6 cxb6 31.Rxa6 f4! (See Diagram) This thrust cut's right in to the heart of White's game, offering no chance of a possible defence. 32.Ne2 No better is 32.Nf1 as 32...Qd4! with a dominating position. 32...f3! 33.Nf4 Nd4 34.Ra1 Also ugly was 34.gxf3 Qf5! and Black will easily clean up here. 34...Rf8 Hard to miss in a dominating position, but White's knight is now lost, as 35.g3 loses to 35...Rxf4! 36.gxf4 Qxh3 mating. 0-1

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