You have to feel a bit sorry for Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren. After torturing Wei Yi in their individual game in Round 4 it seemed that by beating Ruslan Ponomariov in Round 5 he was going to catch the leader, but instead Wei Yi worked his wizardry in all stages of his game against Yu Yangyi to score a magnificent win that saw the 18-year-old cross three barriers at once: he leapfrogged his opponent to become the Chinese no. 2, crossed 2750 for the first time and entered the world’s Top 15. In fact he ended the day in 14th after Peter Svidler’s loss in Geneva.
Four of the ten games were decisive in Rounds 4 and 5, with sharp battles almost everywhere you looked:
As we mentioned in our first report from Danzhou, only Wei Yi and Ding Liren managed to win a game in the first three rounds. That changed in Round 4, with Yu Yangyi and Le Quang Liem drawing blood. In fact, their games were both massacres.
Lu Shanglei, the only player not rated around 2700 or higher, has struggled, with three of his Chinese colleagues now beating him. Against Yu Yangyi his opening soon saw him balancing on the brink. First he defended a weakness on h6 tactically, then he did the same for another weakness on c6, but when that pawn fell the game was essentially over. Still, Yu Yangyi’s 32.d5! greatly accelerated the process:
It’s not so much the direct threat to take on e6 and hit the d6-bishop that kills Black, as the plan of Qa4! and Qd7!, when all Black’s pieces will be hit while their queen is stranded on the other side of the board. In the game there followed 32…Bb7 33.Qa4 Rc1 34.Qe8+ Bf8 35.dxe6 Black resigns.
Le Quang Liem, meanwhile, made up for his missed win with the black pieces against Ding Liren by outplaying Vladimir Malakhov, who was already down an exchange when his decision to go on the counterattack with 35.Qf4? ran into 35…Rb1!
There’s no escape, since e.g. 36.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 37.Kh2 Rc1! sees the white king caught in a mating net. Again, the game was soon over: 36.Nh2 Nd2 37.Ng6 Nxf1 38.Nxf1 Rxf1+ White resigns.
Elsewhere the all-Ukrainian battle saw Ruslan Ponomariov play the Berlin Defence and Vassily Ivanchuk meet it with the less common "Anti-Berlin" 4.Nc3, transposing into the four knights. That proved sufficient to equalise, but no more.
The top of the table clash between Ding Liren and Wei Yi was much sharper, with the youngster temporarily up two pawns after 16…Bxe2:
It was actually White who was in the driving seat, but eventually Ding Liren’s advantage fizzled out in a rook ending.
Round 5 saw battles on all boards except for Lu Shanglei-Malakhov, where both players were no doubt happy to play out a quiet 5.Re1 Berlin draw after their losses in the previous round. The wins were again scored by the usual suspects.
Ding Liren sacrificed a pawn to blow open the centre against Ruslan Ponomariov and then played the sharp 17…Be2!
Any attempt to save the f1-rook is met by the crushing 18…Nfg4!, but former World Champion Ponomariov managed to bail out with 18.f4! Bxf1 (18…Nd3!?) 19.fxe5 Bd3 20.exd6 Bxc2 21.Nd5! Nxd5 22.Bxd5 and White had a pawn for the exchange and reason to face the future with confidence:
Ding Liren just kept on grinding, though, and White eventually found himself with the shakiest defensive setup imaginable:
51…Rf2+! was the little push the house of cards needed to collapse, and after 52.Ke4 Rg4+! (of course not 52…Rxg3 53.d8=Q and White wins!) White resigned.
So Ding Liren would catch Wei Yi unless the 18-year-old could defeat Yu Yangyi, in what developed into another epic game. First we got a bold opening choice:
The elite choice here before had been 8.Nbd2, played by Nigel Short and Fabiano Caruana, with Caruana losing to Anish Giri in Reggio Emilia in 2011 – a memorable tournament, since it’s Giri’s only supertournament victory to date and was also where he met his future wife Sopiko Guramishvili!
Wei Yi’s 8.Kf1!? was much rarer and had never been tried at the very top level, though it’s notable Vladimir Kramnik’s early coach Vitaly Tseshkovsky played it in the USSR Championship semifinal in 1984 against Eduardas Rozentalis, getting just the kind of wild struggle Kramnik said his mentor revelled in.
Wei Yi was also in his element, ignoring 14…h6 with 15.Re1:
Needless to say, 15…hxg5?? 16.Bh7+ Kh8 17.hxg5 wouldn’t work out well for Black. In the game the computer flags up some of Wei Yi’s subsequent moves as inaccuracies, but at every turn Yu Yangyi was set the toughest of tasks, with White’s pieces coordinating to perfection:
It may have been even stronger to exchange on f5 first, but here Wei Yi unleashed the beautiful 22.Rh5!!. There’s no avoiding the main line, since e.g. 22…b6? fails to 23.Rxg5 bxc5 24.Rxf5! and if 24…Nxf5 then 25.Nd7# is mate! It’s a position where a lot of lines end in such disasters, and Yu Yangyi instead correctly went for 22…Qxh5 23.Nd7+ Bxd7 24.Qxh5 and, after some more adventures, it seemed that Black had excellent chances of establishing a fortress.
All it took was one slip, though (52…Bf1? seems to be the culprit) and Wei Yi seized his chance, with a key position coming after 54…hxg4:
Yu Yangyi probably wanted to return the bishop to the h1-a8 diagonal after 55.fxg4 Bg2 (though even then the setup might not have held), but instead Wei Yi played the zwischenzug 55.a4!, pushing the rook to f5 or h5, where it would get hit by fxg4 and leave no time for the bishop to support a blockade of the d-pawn. That pawn would decide the game, with Yu Yangyi resigning ten moves later.
Seldom does a single result have so much symbolic
significance. Wei Yi climbed above Yu Yangyi to become the Chinese no. 2, crossed
2750 for the first time and entered the Top 15 for the first time as well,
ending the day as world no. 14 on the live rating list:
Wei Yi only turned 18 a month ago, and while it’s true that, as Tarjei J Svensen points out, Magnus Carlsen had reached world no. 4 at about the same age (here's the January 2009 FIDE rating list)...
...you might note that Wei Yi has had to play much of his chess against Chinese rivals who, in many cases, seem to be underrated. That he’s now combined his tactical brilliance with fine opening preparation and gritty defence of tough positions suggests he’s ready to barge his way into the elite. When will we see him try? Well, the World Cup takes place this September, and that gives him a theoretical chance to reach the Candidates and become the youngest ever World Champion, if he could qualify and beat Magnus Carlsen in late 2018. Ok, that’s a long shot, but games like he’s shown in Danzhou so far make dreamers of us all!
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