Reports Aug 3, 2018 | 4:23 PMby Colin McGourty

Yu Yangyi wins battle of rising stars in Danzhou

Yu Yangyi has won the 9th edition of the Danzhou Grandmaster Tournament by a full point after drawing with Sam Shankland in the final round while his title rivals Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Bu Xiangzhi both lost their “must-win” games. Yu Yangyi shrugged off a second round loss to win three of his next four games, while Vietnam’s Le Quang Liem eventually finished second by winning his last two. It was a lively and unpredictable event.

Yu Yangyi is only a couple of wins away from making it two Chinese players in the World Top 10 | photo: qipai.org.cn

The 9th edition of the tournament in Danzhou, on the South China Sea Island of Hainan, was reduced from 10 players the year before to 8 this year, but it featured such an exciting line-up that it was hard to see that as a step backwards. The players were drawn from the hungry group of grandmasters rated just below those who can expect to receive regular super-tournament invitations:

The live ratings (and rankings) of the Danzhou players after the event | source: 2700chess

It had the world’s top juniors, Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda and China’s Wei Yi, and three players who have barged their way into elite company over the last year or two – Russia’s Vladimir Fedoseev, India’s Vidit and US Champion Sam Shankland. The “veteran” of the field was 32-year-old Bu Xiangzhi from China, with the next oldest 27-year-old Le Quang Liem from Vietnam, though in the end the tournament was won by a player who didn’t quite fit into any of those categories:


Yu Yangyi is just 24 years old, but has been established on the verge of the elite for a number of years now, with his career best individual results his victories in the 2014 Qatar Masters (beating Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik in the final rounds) and the 2015 Capablanca Memorial. He’s recently been overshadowed by his Chinese teammate Ding Liren, but Yu Yangyi entered the tournament as the world’s no. 14 and would end in the same position on the live rating list, just 7 points shy of the Top 10. 

Replay all the Danzhou games using the selector below:

Yu Yangyi's ultimate success was all the more remarkable since he started with 0.5/2, suffering an avoidable defeat to Bu Xiangzhi in Round 2. The critical moment of a tough defence came on move 66:


After 66.Nh6+? Ke6! 67.Nf7 e4! the black e-pawn was a game winner, but it could have been eliminated here with 66.Nxe5! To play that you should spot a crucial detail, though – after 66...Kxe5 67.Kf7 Rf1+ 68.Ke7! Ra1 69.g7 Ra7+ 70.Kf8 Kf6 White has just one saving move:


71.g8=N+! Even with that underpromotion, it’s only because 71...Ke6 can be met by 72.Nh6 that White is holding on.

Yu Yangyi punished Fedoseev for his crimes against fashion... | photo: qipai.org.cn

From there on, though, everything went Yu Yangyi’s way. Wei Yi strangely crumbled in a rook ending in the following game, Vidit allowed a queen exchange into a lost bishop endgame, and in the penultimate round Vladimir Fedoseev was caught out in the opening and left in a lost position by move 17:


Fedoseev took just 13 seconds to play 17...Qe7? here instead of the only move 17...Bg4! True, White could meet that with 18.Qxg4!, but after the dust settles Black would “merely” be a pawn down.  In the game after 17...Qe7 18.Kf1 0-0-0 19.Nxf6 Black had no way of avoiding the loss of a piece to the pin of the f6-knight (19...Nxf6 20.Qf3!), so tried to mix things up with 19...Rh8. However, 20.Qc2!, preparing a knight jump with discovered check, was enough to end Black’s dream of winning the a1-rook. Fedoseev put up great resistance in the play that followed, but couldn’t stop Yu Yangyi grabbing a vital win.

Vidit was another of Yu Yangyi's victims | photo: qipai.org.cn

In fact Yu Yangyi had almost made it four wins in a row, since he was clearly better against Jan-Krzysztof Duda as well, but in the end he went into the final round with a half-point lead over Duda and Bu Xiangzhi. He scored a solid draw with Black against Sam Shankland, throwing down the gauntlet to his rivals, who had to win to catch him. That didn’t seem a mission impossible given that their opponents, Wei Yi and Vladimir Fedoseev, had had disappointing tournaments – 5 draws, 1 loss and 0 wins apiece. They’re both highly dangerous players, though, and finally showed their teeth: Fedoseev overcame Bu Xiangzhi in a rook endgame, while Wei Yi brutally punished Duda for some hesitant and dubious opening play. The final stages featured a nice tactical moment:


34...f4! 35.gxf4 exf4+! and the point is that taking a full rook with 36.Kxd4 runs into a quick mate: 36...Bg7+ 37. Kd5 c6# Duda played 36.Kxf4, which allowed him to stumble on for a while, but after 36...Rd2! the cause was lost, and if the final moves are correct he managed to resign just in time before Wei Yi could deliver mate-in-1.

So Yu Yangyi had won the tournament, but it was full of twists and turns, and some thrilling chess:

There were other talking points:

Shankland’s unbeaten run ends

Sam Shankland lost his first games of 2018 in Danzhou | photo: qipai.org.cn

Sam Shankland had gone an incredible 62 games without defeat as he won the US Championship, Capablanca Memorial and American Continental while defying gravity to soar far into the 2700 club at the age of 26. He had to lose a game of chess at some point, though, and that came against Vidit in Round 3, when the Indian Grandmaster, who otherwise had a miserable event, applied a nice squeeze to take home a full point. Sam commented:

He demonstrated the power of auto-suggestion by bouncing straight back to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the next round, when the young Polish grandmaster seemed to underestimate the danger after swapping off queens and allowed his opponent a monster passed pawn in a rook endgame. Sam was back in business,  but the wheels came off in the penultimate round, when Le Quang Liem spotted a nice tactic:


33.Ng4!! and now 33...Rxe2 is mate-in-3: 34.Nh6+ Kh8 35.Qxf8+ Rg8 and 36.Qxg8# or 36.Nf7# White won an exchange after 33...fxg4 34.Rxe8, but the bigger problem was the firepower lined up against the black king. There may have been a very narrow path to a draw, but instead the game ended more logically in a brutal attack crowned by an exquisite final move:


Le Quang Liem's 39.Qe7!!  provoked resignation, since after 39...Rxe7 40.fxe7 there’s nothing better than giving up the queen for a pawn.

Sam summed up his tournament:

Le Quang Liem takes clear 2nd

Le Quang Liem is said to be studying to become a "Chartered Financial Analyst" after graduating from his undergraduate degree, but he reminded everyone, perhaps himself included, that he's also a fine chess player... | photo: qipai.org.cn

Le Quang Liem, who up until that point was on -1, then went on to win his final game as well to climb into clear 2nd place. The Vietnamese grandmaster’s victim was Vidit, who slumped to a third loss of the event when he went astray in a difficult position a pawn down. That meant sole last place for Vidit, but the fact he only dropped 9 rating points is an indication of how closely matched the players proved.

Duda continues to entertain

The last-round loss to his biggest junior rival, Wei Yi, took some of the sheen off his event, but 20-year-old Duda only enhanced his reputation. Despite having to travel straight from Dortmund he was instantly in the mood for fighting chess in Round 1 as he beat Vidit in 70 moves with the black pieces in a game full of dramatic moments:


24...Nxc3! was a bold piece sacrifice, which soon paid dividends when Vidit went astray. The ensuing struggle was enthralling, with time trouble coinciding with a critical moment:


White’s threats shouldn’t be underestimated, since e.g. the plausible 40...Rc8? loses to 41.Bh4! and the threat of Bf6+ to follow after the g5-rook moves. It turns out, though, that 40...f4!! is a crusher. Instead Duda took the reasonable decision to go for an endgame with 40...Qxg5+ 41.Qxg5 Rg8, a choice that he justified with some virtuoso play to haul in the full point.

Duda in determined mood | photo: qipai.org.cn

He was just short of creating an attacking masterpiece in Round 3 against Vladimir Fedoseev, which featured the kind of king hunt we don’t get to witness often at the highest level:


29.Ng6+! fxg6 30.Rg7+! Nf7 31.Rxf7+! Kxf7 32.Qxg6+ and so it went on, but Fedoseev was ultimately able to give up his queen for White’s rook and hold on by the skin of his teeth. Duda still managed to end with a flourish, sacrificing his queen for a cute stalemate:


Perhaps the highlight of the tournament for Duda was how he provoked the then leader Bu Xiangzhi in the penultimate round. 

Duda lured Bu Xiangzhi into some brilliant attacking moves, only to launch a ferocious counterattack | photo: qipai.org.cn

Bu’s 21st move was beautiful:


21.Bf6! is a nice shot, with 21...gxf6 running huge risks of Black getting crushed after 22.e5! or 22.Qh6!. Duda was in his element, though, and after 21...Nbd7 22.e5!? Nxf6 23.exf6 Qxd5 24.fxg7 Rfd8! it turned out it was Black who was taking over. 25.Qh6 Bb7 26.Re5 Qd3 27.Rc3 Qb1+ 28.Kh2 Ne4 29.Rc1? was the single slip Duda needed to gain a winning position:


The computer in fact says 29...Qxb2! is best here, but Duda got to demonstrate the point of his previous move: 29...Nxf2! 30.Rxb1 Ng4+ 31.Kg1 Nxh6. That led to an endgame two pawns up that Duda converted with aplomb. 

Of course his tournament included bitter moments – the losses to Shankland and Wei Yi – but overall he showed both great potential and huge will to win. Wei Yi won their individual encounter and finished on the same score, but instead raised questions again about whether he really is the player we hoped for when he exploded onto the scene a few years ago. It’s noteworthy that the 19-year-old had been the one to win the tournament by a full point a year ago, blowing away the field with a brilliant 4 wins in his first 6 games. This year he was a pale shadow of his all-out attacking self. Too much time spent as Ding Liren's second and not enough at the board?

It wasn't entirely his fault (when he did play 1.e4 it was met by 1...e5) but we didn't get to see any brilliant Sicilians from Wei Yi this time in Danzhou | photo: qipai.org.cn

There's lots of time for most of these players to break through into the elite, though, and Danzhou just whetted our appetite for the battles ahead!   

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