China is a unique phenomenon in world chess. The team only began to compete internationally as a nation in the mid-1970s but within 30 years was a serious contender at men's level and No.1 in women's chess. Yet the national game remains Chinese chess and the global version has little public support nor appeal.
The secret has been well-directed government backing to identify young talent and provide intensive coaching loosely modeled on the training methods that took the Soviet Union to chess hegemony through the second half of the 20th century. It has long dominated now the women’s game, and they have eight Chinese grandmasters among the FIDE top 100 players in the world.
The Chinese men won their first Olympiad gold in Tromso, Norway, in 2014, and last month in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, China also stormed to their second successive world team championship victory with a squad whose average age is just 24. So in theory, with a youth on their side, they could well be the dominant force in major team events.
But what Beijing really craves is to see China’s first combatant in the candidates’ tournament, and from there going on to successfully challenge world champion Magnus Carlsen for his title. And that could well be the youngest player in their now multi-gold winning squad, 18-year-old Wei Yi.
Before moving into the top 10, Carlsen suffered a mid-teens setback. And similarly, this has happened to Wei Yi, who is now putting together a series of steady performances as he ominously begins to rise up the rankings. What’s need is a major breakthrough, and one could be on the cards for China’s three-time reigning national champion, as the hometown hero currently leads the very strong 8th Danzhou Super GM tournament.
Wei had more than just a little good fortune with his round 3 win over Ruslan Ponomariov, but it took him into the sole lead, and now undefeated on 3/4 - and his performance thus far has made him the talk of the town, as he’s moved further up the rankings in the unofficial live ratings to world No.18 and 2746.6, his highest-ever rating.
1. Wei Yi (China) 3/4; 2-4. Le Quang Liem (Vietnam), Ding Liren (China), Yu Yangyi (China) 2½; 5-7. Wang Hao (China), Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine), Arkadij Naiditsch (Azerbaijan) 2; 8-9. Vladimir Malakhov (Russia), Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine) 1½; 10. Lu Shanglei (China) ½.
GM Wei Yi - GM Ruslan Ponomariov
8th Danzhou Super GM, (3)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.0-0 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.a4 The only move to challenge Black's protection of the c4-pawn. The idea is not so much to shift Black knight with a5, as this is easily preventable, but to play Na3 threatening Nxc4 and then dominate the center with e4 and d4. 7...a5 8.Na3 Bxa3 The only logical choice. Allowing Nxc4 followed by e4 and d4 would leave White with central command and a good game. The only drawback with this is that, for the pawn, Black does cede the bishop-pair and he'll see White's rooks quickly coming into the game. 9.Rxa3 0-0 10.e4 Depriving Black of the knight-hop of ...Nd5-b4-d3. 10...e5! Returning the pawn, but at the same time, Black does get's in the all-important ...Qd4 and ...Be6 that will complete his development and make the c4-pawn a problem for White to fully develop his pieces. 11.Nxe5 Qd4 12.Qc3 Qxc3 13.Rxc3 Be6! Defending the vital ...c4-pawn and asking White the vital question: just how are you going to defend the a4-pawn? 14.d4 Nxa4 15.Ra3 b5! Wei Yi now has to take some big risks with the position, else he'll simply see the queenside pawns dramatically rolling down the board. 16.f4 Nb6 17.g4 The only hope here for White is to create a little bit of 'chaos theory' on the kingside - anything less, and those queenside pawns are quickly rolling home. And luckily for Wei Yi, the gamble pays off big-time for him, as his opponent blunders away the game. 17...Nxg4 18.f5 Nxe5 19.dxe5 Bd7 20.Rg3 Bc6 Also good and solid was 20...Kh8 - but Ponomariov is calculating here that his queenside mass will be worth more than the exchange. 21.Bh6 g6 22.Rg5 c3? Wrong! Pono wrongly believes that his a-pawn will simply win the day. But what he missed was the good and winning plan of 22...Na4! 23.Rf2 b4 24.Bf1 Nxb2!! 25.Rxb2 c3 26.Rf2 b3 and those pawns are definitely going to the Ball! 23.bxc3 Nc4 24.fxg6 fxg6 25.Bxf8 Rxf8 26.e6! This is what Pono missed. Instead, he was probably expecting 26.Rxf8+ Kxf8 27.e6 Be8 28.Rc5 c6 29.e5 a4! and he certainly wouldn't be losing this.But there's a subtle difference with Wei first playing 28.e6, as we'll soon see. 26...Be8 27.Rd1! What a turnaround! This not only moves the rook to the vacant d-file, it stays on the board to keep tabs on the a-pawn, and more importantly, it clears the way for Bf1 hitting the knight on c4; and with it, indirectly hitting the b5 pawn. If one of those falls, in the wake Black's game will quickly collapse. 27...Rf6 There's no alternative, as Pono went all-in believing his a-pawn would win the day. So now, if 27...Nd6 28.Rc5! b4 29.cxb4 axb4 30.e5! White's pieces are going to quickly pick off Black's queenside pawns. 28.Rd8 Kf8 29.Rxb5! The game is effectively over right here. 29...Ke7 30.Rbb8 Bc6 31.Rdc8 Rxe6 32.Rxc7+ Kd6 33.Rxh7 a4 34.Ra7 Wei Yi's rooks dominating the a- and b-files will soon mop-up on the queenside. 34...Kc5 35.e5 Bxg2 36.Kxg2 a3 37.Rc7+ Rc6 There's nothing else now. If 37...Kd5 38.Rb5+! Ke4 39.Rxc4+ is a trivial win. 38.Rxc6+ Kxc6 39.Rc8+ Kd5 40.e6! 1-0