20 Jul

The Dutchman & The Chinaman

Chinese chess has come a long way since 1978, when Jan Hein Donner famously dismissed the notion that a Western grandmaster could lose to a Chinaman. This opinion proved unfortunate for the Dutchman as, a few days later at the Buenos Aires Olympiad, he was beaten in 20 moves by Liu Wenzhe with a stunning queen sacrifice that was immediately dubbed “The Chinese Immortal”, as it shot around the world by being published in many newspaper columns and magazines.  


At the very least Donner (whose New in Chess book of his often self-mocking newspaper columns, The King, is compulsive reading) can now take posthumous comfort in the fact that he was only the first of many grandmasters to have suffered the same fate - the latest being the Dutch No.1, Anish Giri, who horrifically blundered to an unexpected loss to Chinese teenage hope Wei Yi, in what proved to be the only decisive game of round 6 at the 9th Bilbao Masters Final.

Liu Wenzhe went on to become China’s highly-influential national coach, and in 2002 he predicted that his country would dominate the chess world within 20 years. And China is succeeding by adopting the same policy used by the USSR in the 1930s, with a massive investment in talented youth. They dominate the women’s game led by World Champion Hou Yifan - and now they are making inroads in the men’s game. In 2014, they stunned the chess world by winning gold at the Tromsø Olympiad and are  among the favourites to retain their title this coming September in Baku. 


The Chinese No.1, Ding Liren, is in the world top 10 (and also at the top of the Blitz rating list, just ahead of Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, making him the first Chinese male player to head any rating list).

Beijing though is looking for a future title challenger, and they’ve invested heavily in Wei Yi, who was the fourth youngest grandmaster in history. Now 17, he’s already a two-time Chinese champion, but has slipped down the ratings of late; and at a bad time, as he was making the transition to the tough elite circuit. But it is nice to see him beginning to climb back into the 2700 territory again, where I’m sure we’ll see more of him in elite tournaments.

Photo © | 9th Bilbao Masters Final

1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 11/18; 2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 8; 3. Wei Yi (China) 7; 4-6. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Wesley So (USA) 5. (In Bilbao, the three-point soccer rule applies for a win, with 1 point for a draw)

GM Wei Yi - GM Anish Giri
9th Bilbao Masters Final, (6)
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 Endgame is a well-trodden path in elite circles. Interestingly, Wei Yi is not looking to complicate matters against his experienced opponent, but instead simply opts for a position where all the pieces come off the board quickly, looking for no more than to share the point. This leaves Giri in a conundrum of either having to accept this or look to play something that involves a bit more risk to challenge his opponent's game-plan. 9.h3 h5 10.Nc3 Be7 More usual here is 10...Ke8 with a prophylactic move off the open d-file and following up with ...Be7, as happened in Anand-Giri London Chess Classic 2015, that ended in the inevitable Berlin draw. Instead, looking to capitalise on his higher rating and more experience, Giri tries to finesse his younger opponent with a sideline to that main variation. 11.Bf4 Be6 12.Rad1+ Kc8 13.Ng5 Bxg5 14.Bxg5 b6 15.g4 hxg4 16.hxg4 Nh4 17.Bxh4 Rxh4 18.f3 Kb7 19.Kg2 With the queens off early and three sets of minor pieces exchanged, Wei Yi's intentions are now clear: he's seeking the mass exchange of rooks now down the h-file and a draw. For his part, Giri has accepted long ago that he wasn't going to do anything different with his 10...Be7 that involved any risk and accepts he's heading for a drawn position. 19...Rah8 20.Rh1 Rxh1 21.Rxh1 Rxh1 22.Kxh1 c5 23.Kg2 There's nothing really in this - and if anything, White (with the better pawn structure) has to be just a little better. However, here's where the tournament rules play a big part in the eventual end result, as both players can't mutually agree to a draw with each other until after move 40, so they are forced to play on.…much to Giri’s regret. 23...Kc6 24.a4 a6 25.Kg3 b5 26.axb5+ axb5 27.f4 It's clear that White's kingside pawns have the potential to be more mobile than Black's queenside pawns, which are slightly handicapped due with the c-pawns being doubled. 27...b4 28.Ne4 Ba2 29.Nd2! The knight retreat prevents Giri from playing ...Bb1, attacking c2 and having his bishop on a better diagonal. However, the retreat also sets up the possibility of a trap that Giri falls into hook, line and sinker. 29...Kd5 30.c3 Crucially, the Nd2 and c3-pawn cover all the critical entry-squares (c4, d4 and e4) for Giri's king. 30...bxc3 31.bxc3 g5? Initially I thought this looked right, as it was splitting those kingside pawns, but in fact, it is bad, as pointed out by alert reader Kevin Murphy.  32.Kf3? Kevin's very persuasive argument is that this is also bad from Wei Yi, "as he missed 32.c4+ instead of 32.Kf3. Now 32…Kd4 is a disaster as 33.e6! wins after 33…fxe6 34.fxg5 or 33…gxf4+ 34.Kh4!. And of course 32…Ke6 33.Kf3 merely transposes into the game ." 32... Ke6?? A huge blunder at just the wrong moment. In perhaps trying to finesse the position, Giri has overlooked the obvious. Instead, he should have immediately played 32...c4! where White still is a little better, but it is just about impossible to win with so few pawns left on the board now. For example 33.Ne4 (Instead, if 33.Ke3 c6 34.Ne4 gxf4+ 35.Kxf4 Bb1 leads to much the same position.) 33...gxf4 34.Kxf4 Bb1 35.Nf6+ Ke6 36.Ne8 c6 37.Nc7+ Kd7 38.Na6 Ke6 39.Nc5+ Kd5 and with the bishop on b1, White's kingside pawns split and his king tied to defending e5, White can't do anything more than aimlessly moving his knight around. 33.c4! (See Diagram) Remarkably easy to overlook for both sides - but Wei Yi was more or less instantly alert to it. Now it suddenly dawns on Giri that his attempts at finessing his younger opponent badly backfires, as he's now embarrassed to discover that he's only succeeded in cutting his own bishop out of the game as it gets dominated by the Nd2. 33...gxf4 34.Kxf4 In essence, with the knight on d2 cutting Giri's bishop out of the game, we are in the realms of a king and pawn ending where Wei Yi's king is far superior to his opponent's, allowing him to create a game-winning passed pawn. 34...f6 The alternative leads to much the same thing as happens in the game: 34...Ke7 35.Kf5 Kf8 36.e6! Forcing the inevitable of a passed g-pawn AND with White's king having the opposition to force home the pawn, ably assisted by a timely intervention of the knight: 36...fxe6+ 37.Kxe6 Kg7 38.Kf5 Kf7 39.g5 Kg7 40.g6 Kg8 41.Kg5 c6 42.Kh6 Kh8 (If 42...Kf8 43.Kh7! followed by g7-g8 etc.) 43.Ne4! Bb1 (Capturing on c4, in an attempt to cover the queening square, only allows for a forced mate after 43...Bxc4 44.Nf6 Be6 45.g7#) 44.g7+ Kg8 45.Nf6+ Kf7 46.g8Q+ easily winning. 35.exf6 Kxf6 36.g5+ Kg6 We're heading to the same winning scenario pointed out in the above note. 37.Kg4 Kh7 38.g6+ Kg7 39.Kg5 c6 40.Kh5 Kg8 41.Kh6 1-0

2 Comments July 20, 2016

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  • Young

    FYI…”Chinaman” is considered an ethnic slur in the US.

    • John Henderson

      You have to take into account the context when Donner originally made the remark in the 1970s.