As if winning the Chinese Championship at the age of 15 isn’t enough for one year, Wei Yi has now added victory in the China Kings and Queens tournament – coming out on top of a knockout that included Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi and Wang Yue. He finished with a flourish, beating Bu Xiangzhi with a brilliant attack, though as our annotator IM David Martinez points out, it also revealed some weaknesses. The queen of Chinese chess is 24-year-old Tan Zhongyi, whose final against Ju Wenjun went all the way to Armageddon.
China have had incredible team success in the last couple of years, while Hou Yifan is their latest star in the women’s game, but they’ve made no secret of their ultimate ambition – for a Chinese player to claim the absolute World Championship title. One path to that goal is the World Cup, but this year in Baku the Chinese players were eliminated relatively early. Only Ding Liren and Wei Yi made it to the fourth round, where they played each other. Wei Yi won, then fell to Peter Svidler in the following round.
So what do China do? Organise a World Cup-like competition to train their players! The all-Chinese events (one for men, one for women) started in the quarterfinals with eight players. Each round consisted of two classical games and then, as in the World Cup, rapid, blitz and Armageddon tiebreaks if the scores were tied.
You can play through all the games using the selector below:
Wei Yi: The Chinese prodigy eased past Zhao Jun in the quarterfinals, following a quick draw with White with an accurately judged ending in the second:
Zhao Jun accepted the exchange of queens here, but the pawn ending proved hopeless.
The semifinal against Yu Yangyi was much tougher and recalled the Wei Yi we got to know in the World Cup - stubborn and incredibly resilient under pressure. After three draws the most memorable game was the second rapid encounter. Yu Yangyi has won the opening battle and was ready to pounce:
20…Nxh4! Wei Yi couldn’t capture the knight (moves like Qg6+ and Bxh4 leave the white king in deep trouble), but he composed himself, played the best move - 21.Qc7! - and ultimately managed to draw a rook ending two pawns down.
That took 73 moves, and in the next game – now blitz – Wei Yi went on to win after provoking a blunder on move 103! A draw from a position of strength in the final game sealed a place in the final.
Bu Xiangzhi: Bu is now, at 29, almost an elder statesman of Chinese chess, but his performance in Taizhou reminded us that he was once an uber-prodigy himself, gaining the grandmaster title at the age of 13.
In the quarterfinals he brilliantly beat Wang Yue, after his opponent uncharacteristically neglected development:
20…Rxc4! was one of a hail of blows that never stopped, with 21.Qxc4 Qxf3! leaving the white king too exposed.
In the semifinals Bu Xiangzhi again won impressively with Black, beating Lu Shanglei, who had taken care of Ding Liren in the previous round.
And so the final, which followed the pattern of the rounds before. Wei Yi played rock-solidly in the first game with Black, and was ready to play for a win with White – as, of course, was Bu Xiangzhi with Black.
It turned into a classic, and was far from as one-sided as you might assume from the spectacular conclusion. Spanish IM David Martinez has annotated the game for us:
1. e4 e5 Bu Xiangzhi has a repertoire that alternates between Accelerated Dragons and different types of Ruy Lopez. Today he preferred to go with the second option, which he'd already used to beat Wei Yi three months ago.
6. ♖e1 b5 7. ♗b3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 ♗b7 10. d4 ♖e8 11. ♘g5 ♖f8 12. ♘f3 ♖e8 13. ♘bd2 exd4 A move I believe will eventually overtake what used to be the almost automatic 13...Bf8. Bu is following in the footsteps of Svidler, who used this variation successfully to eliminate none other than Anish Giri in the World Cup in Baku.
14. cxd4 ♘d7 Black tries to play more actively than in other similar lines of the Ruy Lopez. The black knight will go to f6, and after c5 the pressure on d4 will start to play a significant role in the game.
17. ♖b1 was the move chosen by Giri in the World Cup, aiming to give no respite to the black knights - it's not so easy for them to find any squares. After 17... c5 18. d5 ♘c4 19. b3 ♘ce5 20. ♘3h2 ♘g6 the position was double-edged. Giri's attack on the black king didn't go well, and with the same plan that Bu employs in this game Svidler managed to open up the queenside and score a full point. 21. ♘g3 ♗c8 22. ♖f1 ♘b6 23. ♘g4 ♗xg4 24. hxg4 h6 25. ♘f5 ♘e7 26. ♘e3 b4 27. g3 a5 28. ♔g2 a4 29. bxa4 ♕d7 30. ♕d3 ♘g6 31. ♘f5 ♘xa4 32. ♗xa4 ♖xa4 33. ♖h1 ♘e7 34. g5 hxg5 35. ♘e3 ♖xa2 36. ♗d2 ♘g6 37. ♘f5 ♘e5 38. ♕e2 g6 39. ♘h6+ ♔g7 40. ♘f5+ ♔g8 41. ♘h6+ ♔g7 42. ♘f5+ gxf5 43. ♕h5 ♘g6 0-1 (41) Giri,A (2793) -Svidler,P (2727) Baku 2015
23. ♗e3 ♗c3 24. ♖e2 b4 Both now and a couple of moves later Bu rejects the classical counterplay in the centre with f5, which would simplify the position and equalise. Instead he trusts in his queenside attack, which is slow, but unstoppable!
25. ♗f4 If there's anyone who trusts in his chances it's Wei Yi! He gets his bishop out of the way to make room for his rook.
25... a5 26. ♖e3 ♗c8 Once again, Bu Xiangzhi opts for the most ambitious option. He seeks to eliminate the white knight in order to significantly blunt the attack and then later advance on the queenside.
27. ♖g3 ♗xg4 28. hxg4 a4 29. g5 Wei Yi stays true to his direct style, looking to put the queen on h5 and give mate on h7. Black can, however, stop that plan relatively easily and leave the white attack looking very slow! An interesting try was
29. bxa4 which is certainly ugly, but prevents the black rook from entering on the second rank so quickly. Of course, after a typical move like 29... ♕f6 followed by Nc4, Black would have no problem and his position would even be slightly preferable.
30... ♗d4 when the bishop is better placed to coordinate with the black rook. After 31. ♕h5 g6 the white attack is more visually appealing than it is dangerous. 32. ♕h6 (32. ♕h4 ♖a2 33. ♖h3 h5! ) 32... ♖a2 33. ♖h3 ♖xc2 34. ♕xh7+ ♔f8 and the black king is safe.
31. ♗e3! Now there's no d4-square for the bishop!
31... c4 Bu Xiangzhi calmly continues to open up the queenside.
35. ♖c1 ♖b2? The decisive mistake. Bu thinks he has time to double rooks on the second rank, but now White has a powerful attack and, of course, once Wei Yi has a winning line he makes all the necessary moves!
35... ♘d7! , heading to e5 with the knight, is the best move, posing White a lot of problems. 36. ♗d4 (36. ♕g4 ♘e5 37. ♕h4 h5! 38. gxh6 ♔h7 and the white attack has come to nothing.) 36... ♗xd4 37. ♕xd4 ♘e5 38. f4 cxb3
36. ♗d4 Threatening Rxh7 followed by Qh1, which forces Black to weaken the long diagonal.
36... f6 A move as unavoidable as it is ugly.
39. ♖xh7! Although the diagonal is "closed" this blow is decisive.
41. ♖h1! The white queen and rook coordinate perfectly at a distance.
42. ♗d1! And the bishop, that has suffered so much during the whole game, will play the decisive role! There's no way to stop it reaching e6, with devastating consequences.
44... ♕e5 It was possible to put up more resistance with
44... ♔f8 aiming to follow 45. ♗e6 with 45... ♖e7 46. ♕b8+ ♖e8 and the win is far from a foregone conclusion. 47. ♕xd6+ ♔g7 48. ♕c7+ ♖e7 49. ♕c5 ♖xb3 Black has managed to create counterplay, and the machine gives the only refutation as 50. ♖h4! - threatening Rf4 - 50... g5 51. ♖h3! followed by Bf5, winning. We're left to wonder whether Wei Yi would have found that way to crack Black's best defence! I think the answer is yes...
46. ♔xf2 ♖f8+ 47. ♔g2 ♕xe4+ 48. ♔h2 ♖f2+ 49. ♕xf2 ♔xh7 50. ♕f7+ ♔h8 51. ♕f4 ♕c2+ 52. ♔h3 ♔g7 53. ♕d4+ ♔h7 54. ♕xc4 ♕f2 55. ♕f4 ♕g1 56. ♕f3 A game very much in the style of Wei Yi - aggressive, looking to win and taking perfect advantage of his chances... but it also shows his weaknesses! Bu Xiangzhi played well in the opening and followed a thematic plan that gained him a big advantage. If he'd played a little more precisely at certain moments he could have posed the Chinese prodigy real problems. Will Wei Yi be able to attack elite players in this manner? Fortunately there's not too long until we find out, since the youngster is playing first the Qatar Masters and then the Tata Steel Masters. I can't wait!
That left 16-year-old Wei Yi at 2736, 22nd in the world on the live rating list.
Meanwhile, long after the men’s final was over, the women kept going. Although Hou Yifan wasn’t taking part, seven of the next eight highest-rated players were, and in the end the final saw no. 2 Ju Wenjun take on no. 4 Tan Zhongyi.
After two draws in the classical games the remaining rapid and blitz games recalled the mayhem of Svidler-Karjakin in Baku. White won four games in a row, with the first rapid game setting the pattern. Ju Wenjun has just played 14…Nd7?
That ran into 15.Bxh6!, since 15…gxh6 loses the d7-knight
to 16.Qg4+. Ju Wenjun lost that game but came back to win the next two games
with White convincingly. Well, almost... 29.Qf4+? could have been painful:
29…Rdg8! would now have left White dead lost, but Tan Zhongyi automatically captured the queen and the moment had passed. It didn’t prove fatal, though, since she won the next game to force Armageddon.
Ju Wenjun had White and needed to win, which seemed a strong possibility, until… 18.Bc3???
Tan Zhongyi picked up the free piece with 18…Qxg5 and finally it was Black who won. You can find video of that game here, with the fateful moment arriving at 01:37. Ju Wenjun attempted to maintain her composure after that, but the game and the tournament were gone.
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