There was heightened speculation at the weekend that the world No.1 spot could dramatically change hands as the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess-Meeting got underway in Germany, with Vladimir Kramnik - dubbed ‘Mr. Dortmund’ - looking to add to his record-breaking super-tournament haul of 10-title wins there, as in the process the Russian ex-world champion would topple current champion Magnus Carlsen as numero uno in the world rankings.
Only 10 Elo points separated the two at the top - but Kramnik sensationally lost in the opening round to Vladimir Fedoseev, and then fell further behind in the rating-race by drawing his next two games to find himself slipping rapidly down the rankings to No.4 in the unofficial live ratings, as the American duo of Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana profited from his demise by moving respectively now to No’s.2 & 3.
So while Carlsen can sleep easy for now, it might not be long before the Norwegian has to worry about the rapidly rising in-form Chinese teenager Wei Yi, who has been wowing the fans with his stellar +4 unbeaten performance at the 8th Danzhou Super-GM tournament, and is on the cusp of achieving his first major tournament win. Going into the final round, Wei enjoys a one-point lead over his nearest rivals.
One of the most famous games in the anthologies is Freidrich Saemisch vs Aron Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen 1923, dubbed “The Immortal Zugzwang”, as Nimzowitsch (playing Black) totally paralysed his opponent into an early resignation. And likewise in today’s featured game, Wei similarly has his opponent paralysed and in a virtual zugzwang, and reduced to waiting to be put out of his misery in a brilliant, virtuoso performance by the 18-year-old with the Black pieces.
1. Wei Yi (China) 6/8; 2-3. Le Quang Liem (Vietnam), Ding Liren (China) 5; 4-5. Wang Hao (China), Arkadij Naiditsch (Azerbaijan) 4½; 6-7. Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine), Yu Yangyi (China) 4; 8. Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine) 3; 9-10. Vladimir Malakhov (Russia), Lu Shanglei (China) 2.
GM Vladimir Malakhov - GM Wei Yi
8th Danzhou Super GM, (6)
1.Nf3 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.b3 c5 5.Bb2 Nc6 6.cxd5 exd5 7.Bb5 We started with a Reti Opening but now crossed-over to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, made famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s by one of the world's best players, Denmark's Bent Larsen. 7...Bd6 8.0-0 0-0 9.d4 cxd4 10.Nxd4 Bc7 11.Be2 The double capture on c6 is taboo: 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bxc6? Qd6 winning on the spot by hitting the Bc6 and the threat of mate on h2. And no different is the other capture on c6: 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Nxc6? Qd6 13.Ne5 Ng4! 14.Nf3 Nxh2 again winning. 11...Qd6 12.g3 Bb6!! A stunning concept that must have made Wei's opponent feel he'd just walked right into one of the teenager's legendary tactical sacrifices. Basically, Wei gives up the exchange, but gains a pawn and more importantly all his pieces become dangerously active. 13.Ba3 Qe5 14.Bxf8 Kxf8 15.Nd2 Nxd4 16.exd4 Qxd4 17.Nf3 Qxd1 Also incredible is that key to Wei's sacrificial strategy now involves voluntarily exchanging queens! 18.Rfxd1 In an ideal world Malakhov would like to have recaptured the queen with his other rook - but that falls into 18.Raxd1 Bh3 19.Rfe1 Ne4! 20.Nd4 Nc3 (Also worthy - but not so convincing - was 20...Ba5 as White has 21.f3! Bxe1 22.fxe4! Bb4 23.exd5 Re8 24.Bf3 and that protected passed d-pawn could well save the day for White.) 21.Rd3 Bxd4! 22.Rxd4 Re8 23.Rd2 Bg4! 24.Bxg4 Rxe1+ 25.Kg2 Re7 and Black is a solid pawn up and can reasonably expect to convert his endgame advantage. But with recapturing with the other rook, Malakhov hopes he can keep more material on the board and create some weaknesses he's hoping will help save the game. 18...Ne4 19.Rxd5 The dilemma for Malakhov is where to put his rook? Here, ...Be6 is threatened and he still has to deal with the omnipresent threat of the discovered check. And hopeless is 19.Nd4? Nc3! 20.Bf3 Nxd1 21.Rxd1 Bxd4 22.Rxd4 Be6 with a winning advantage and - importantly - the same colored bishops. 19...Nxf2 20.Rh5 The only practical option. If 20.Rb5 Ne4+ 21.Rxb6 axb6 22.a4 Bg4! 23.Rc1 Nc5 and it's likely White's b-pawn will fall - and when it does, also the a-pawn will fall. 20...h6 Not just protecting the pawn but also again depriving White's stranded rook of safe squares. 21.Kg2 Ng4 22.h3 Ne3+ 23.Kh2 Nf5! The net is closing in on the rook now, with ..g6 threatened and the ...Nf5 protecting ...h6. 24.Bd3 g6 25.Bxf5 gxh5 26.Be4 Too easy would have been 26.Bxc8? Rxc8 where Black is a pawn up, has a domineering bishop vs bad knight and the more active rook coming to the seventh. 26...Rb8 Malakhov may well be a pawn down, but at least he has crippled Wei's kingside pawns. This was the sort of position he was banking on when he played 20.Rh5 - but will it be enough to save the game? 27.Nh4 It's never usually a good thing to put your knight on the rim, but Malakhov's idea is to play Nf5 to try and either engineer an opposite color bishop ending or pick off one of the h-pawns. 27...Be6 28.Rc1 Ke7 29.Rc2 There may well have been 'some' merit in playing 29.Bf3!? Kf6 30.Bxh5 Rd8 31.Rc2 Rc8 32.Rxc8 Bxc8 and trying to save this ending. It does make sense, as the pawns are equal and so few of them left on the board, but you can see that Black's bishops are very active and the king can quickly cross the board to threaten White's queenside pawns. 29...Rc8 30.Re2 And Malakhov similarly concludes that swapping rooks and leaving Black with a pair of active bishops and the king sprinting quickly over to the queenside is too much. And another reason Malakhov had for keeping the rooks on the board was that Wei here was in deep time-trouble, and in such a scenario you want to keep the position as complex as you can - but it backfires as Wei finds all the right moves. 30...Rc3! The rook hits g3 and virtually ties White in a knot now. 31.Bxb7 Bc7 32.Bf3 Kf6 33.Kg2 Kg5 34.Re1 Malakhov is all but in zugzwang here - but the real beauty was watching this game unfold live here, as Wei Yi 's flag on his digital clock was metaphorically hanging, but he showed experience that belied his age by putting the position in a 'holding pattern' until he'd reached the safety of the time-control at move 40. 34...Bd6 35.Re2 Bb8 36.Re1 Bc7 37.Re2 Bd6 38.Re1 Bc8 39.Re2 Be6 40.Re1 Bb8 41.Re2 Bc7 Time-control safely reached, and with just seconds to spare, Wei now goes about finding the fatal blow. 42.Re1 a5 43.Re2 Bc8! Setting up the winning plan that involves depriving White's rook of the e2 square. 44.Rd2 If 44.Re1 Ba6! 45.Rd1 Rc2+ 46.Kg1 Bc8!! forcing 47.Rd5+ Kf6 48.g4 Bh2+ 49.Kf1 Bg3 50.Rxh5 Rf2+ 51.Kg1 Bxh4 52.Rxh6+ Ke7 53.Rxh4 Rxf3 winning a piece and with it the game. 44...f5! Malakhov can't stop ...f5-f4 leaving the Nh4 somewhat embarrassingly short of squares. All of which reinforces the old adage that "A knight on the rim is dim". 45.Re2 f4 46.Re8 fxg3 47.Be4 Ba6 48.Nf3+ Kf4 49.Nd4 Be5! The final twist. Despite Malakhov hanging by his finger tips for so long, the end is nigh as he's either getting mated or a heavy loss of material. 50.Nf3 Rc1 51.Nd2 If 51.Rxe5 Bf1+ 52.Kh1 Bxh3+ 53.Ng1 Kxe5 easily wins. 51...Rd1 0-1