In a few years, Wei Yi could be ready to join the fight for the World Championship
The 2016 Candidates tournament just ended this week, but why not have a bit of fun and get a jump on predicting who might play in the 2018 Candidates and even the 2020 tournament — and who might win them. It’s very likely that Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin, Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri, and Hikaru Nakamura could all be in the mix (excepting the one who is the World Champion). Other likely suspects include Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. These players have all been at or near the top for some time, but who could join and even surpass them?
One obvious candidate (pun unintended but welcomed) is the 16-year-old Chinese superstar Wei Yi. Born in 1999, he became a grandmaster at 13 years, 8 months and 23 days — the fourth-youngest player to achieve that title. He was the youngest player to reach a 2700 rating, breaking the record that was held by Carlsen. His rating has stalled a bit lately, and after a year over 2700 he has slipped just below that figure on the live list. Still, there is little doubt that his future is very bright, and it should not be forgotten that even Carlsen had his plateaus as a youngster before climbing to the summit.
Wei’s best-known game so far was his demolition of Lazaro Bruzon Batista of Cuba. As a result of this game, he is mostly thought of as a wild attacking player. There is some justification to that conclusion, but no one can be a 2700 player without great all-around skills. For example, here is an impressive victory in the Berlin ending against his countryman Ding Liren:
Wei, Yi vs. Ding, Liren
CHN-ch |Xinghua |Round 4 |21 May 2015 |ECO: C67 |1-0
1. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. Bb5Nf6Wei Yi thrives on sharp, forcing, tactical
lines, but he shows here that he isn't afraid of more positional variations or
endgames. 4. O-ONxe45. d4Nd66. Bxc6dxc67. dxe5Nf58. Qxd8+Kxd89. h3For now this has supplanted the traditional 9.Nc3. 9... Bd7Ideally Black would
like to play ...b6 and ...Kc8-b7 so as to get the king out of everyone else's
( 9... Ke8 )
( 10... Kc811. g4Ne712. Ng5Be8is also
possible, leading to very sharp, concrete play. For a while Black was doing
very well after 13. f4h5, but lately White has been racking up the wins
with 13.f4. )
11. g4Nh412. Nxh4Bxh413. Nd2Kc814. Nf3Be7Strategically
Black is doing well, so White must achieve something before Black connects the
rooks. 15. Rd3h616. Nd4!Preventing ...Be6 and taking advantage of
Black's last move, as playing ...g6 at some point to oust White's knight from
f5 (or to prevent it from getting there in the first place) could endanger the
pawn on h6. 16... b6Very direct. Black wants to play ...Kb7 as soon as he
( 16... Re8was played in the one earlier game two subsequent ones. The
idea is that if White plays 17. Nf5, then 17... Bf8doesn't shut the rook in on
17. Rf3!Be8Seemingly forced and not bad at all, but there was
another, more radical solution was available.
( 17... Rf818. Nf5Bxf519. gxf5favors White, as Black's g-pawn is a liability. )
( 17... Bc5!is a
remarkable idea. If permitted, Black will take on d4 and play ...Be6, with a
fine position - there's nothing unusual about that. What is unusual is that
Black is ready for the obvious 18. Nb3, and will meet it with the
ridiculous-looking 18... Bf8!After 19. Rxf7Be620. Rf4c5White has picked
up a pawn, but Black has established harmony in his position that more than
compensates for the material. Black will play ...Kb7 and ...Be7, with great
18. Nf5Bf819. b3Bd720. Bb2Be6
( 20... h521. g5h422. Re1!Be623. Nd4Bd524. Rd3 )
21. Nd4Bd522. Re3
( 22. Rd3!? )
22... Bc523. c4Be624. f4g625. Rf1
( 25. Kh2Kb726. Rd1Bxd427. Bxd4Rad828. Ree1c529. Bf2h5is at least equal for Black. White's pawns always look impressive, but
sometimes they're just as much targets as assets. )
25... Kb726. Kg2Rad827. Rd3A critical moment in a tense, well-played game. 27... h5?A good-looking,
thematic move, but it proves to be an error.
( 27... Bxd428. Rxd4Rdg8is a suggestion of Ivan
Sokolov's in Informant 125 which should also hold. Black will continue with ...
h5 and trust that White can't ever break successfully break through. He might
be right, but it's a passive, all-eggs-in-one-basket approach and a little
risky. 29. Kh2h530. f5Bc831. Rd3Rh732. e6fxe633. f6hxg434. Be5gives White enough for the two pawns and maybe a little more, though a draw is
still probably the right result. )
28. Nxe6!Rxd329. Nxc5+bxc530. e6White is down a full exchange, and Black can even give a check on d2. Despite
that, Black is in trouble here. 30... Rhd8
( 30... Rd2+?31. Rf2Rxb232. Rxb2fxe633. Re2hxg434. hxg4Re835. Re5is hopeless
for Black. All of his pawns are weak, and White's king will walk up the board
to pursue the targets on the kingside. 35... Kc8!36. Rxc5Kd737. Kf3Rh838. Rg5Rh639. Ra5ought to win for White. )
( 30... Rg831. exf7Rf832. f5!gxf533. g5Rxf734. g6Rf835. g7Rg836. Be5White is better, but perhaps Black
can save the game with 36... Re3!37. Rxf5Rxe5!38. Rxe5Rxg7+39. Kh2h4!40. Rh5Rd741. Rxh4Rd2+42. Kg3Rd3+!!43. Kg4a544. Rh5Rd4+45. Kf5!a446. Rg5!Rh447. Rg3Rh848. Re3(To let the king go to the g-file without walking into a
skewer.) 48... Kb6I suspect this is a draw, but wouldn't count on it. )
31. exf7Rd2+?This natural move loses.
( 31... h4!!32. Rf3Rd2+33. Rf2Rxf2+34. Kxf2Rf835. f5!Sokolov stops here and claims that White is winning, but
this seems to be a mistake. 35... Rxf736. f6Kc837. Kf3Kd738. Kf4Ke639. Kg5Rf8!40. Kxg6Rg8+41. Kh5Rh8+!42. Kg5a643. Ba1Rd844. Kxh4Rd1!45. Bc3Rc146. Bd2Rd147. Bg5Kf7!48. Kh5Rd8!49. Bh6Rd3!50. h4Kxf6and it seems that Black holds. Unbelievable! )
32. Rf2Rxf2+33. Kxf2Rf834. f5!The key move, which had to be foreseen and worked out prior to 28.Nxe6. 34... Rxf7After
( 34... gxf535. gxh5Rxf736. h6Rh737. Bg7White wins by
advancing the king. 37... Kc838. Kf3Kd739. Kf4Ke640. Kg5Kf741. Kxf5a542. a4Kg8sets up a last trick, but it's easily skirted. 43. Kf6But not ... )
( 35. f6??hxg436. hxg4Kc837. Kf3Kd738. Kf4Ke639. Kg5Rf840. Kxg6Rg8+41. Kh5Kf742. g5Rh8+43. Kg4Kg6Only Black has winning chances here. )
35... gxf536. g5!
( 36. gxh5?f4+37. Kf3Rh738. Kg4?Rxh5 )
( 36. g5!f4+37. Kf3Kc838. g6Rf839. g7Rg840. Kxf4Kd741. Kf5Ke742. Kg6Ke643. Kxh5Kf7With a blockade? Not a successful one. 44. Kh6Re845. Kh7a646. h4Ra847. h5Re848. h6Ra849. Be5Re850. Bxc7Ra851. Bd6Threatening Bf8 followed by promoting. 51... Rg852. Bf8a553. a4 )
A very impressive showing, but that is not what is making Wei a fan favorite. Last week, in the Asian Nations Cup, Wei won a great game against the Vietnamese player Thien Hai Dao. It may not have been as impressive as his win over Bruzon, but it was still a beautiful game in its own right:
Wei Yi vs. Dao, Thien Hai
Asian Nations Chess Cup |? |Round 3 |30 Mar 2016 |ECO: B96 |1-0
11... g5A small trick well-known in many Najdorf lines. Black sacs a pawn (often, but
not always, temporarily) to get the e5 square for his knight.
( 11... b5is played sometimes, and was even used by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 2014,
albeit only in blitz. While almost everyone has played 12.a3 here, Black seems
to be in trouble after 12. e5Played only once before, out of 12 games. 12... dxe513. fxe5Qxe5and now instead of 14.Qg2, played in the one predecessor, 14. Qf3!is correct, leaving g2 free for the bishop in case of 14... Qb8, e.g. 15. Bg2Ra716. Bxf6!gxf617. Nc6Bb718. Rxd7!Bxc619. Rxe7+Kxe720. Qxc6 )
12. fxg5Nh7The main move, but it will surely be abandoned by informed
players after this game. As the alternatives aren't inspiring confidence
either, Black may wish to vary even earlier.
( 12... hxg513. Bxg5b514. a3Rb8may be Black's best, though even here his
compensation for the pawn seems iffy. 15. Qd2! )
( 13. Nf5is also very strong, and has been used with great success. 13... exf514. Nd5Qd815. exf5Ne516. Bg3Bxg5+17. Kb1O-O18. h4Bf619. g5hxg520. hxg5Bxg521. Bxe5dxe522. Qg4Kg723. f6+Kg824. Qe41-0 (24) Calvo Minguez,R (2330)-Kavalek,L (2555) Las Palmas 1973 )
13... hxg514. Nf5!exf5Black has usually preferred to keep things as closed
( 14... Ne5, though after 15. Nxe7Kxe716. h4Black is unlikely to enjoy a long life of ease. )
15. Nd5Qb8?This leads to a brutal finish, but to be fair it's already impossible for
Black to save the game.
16. exf5Ne517. Nxe7Kxe718. Rxd6!So much for
Black's defensive setup. 18... Qxd619. Bxe5Qd520. Bg2Qxa2Now White can take
the rook and win with ease, but Wei Yi finds an even better move, finishing
with style. 21. Bd6+!Kxd6
( 21... Kf622. Qe5# )
( 21... Kd722. Qe7# )
22. Rd1+Kc723. Qe5+Kb624. Qd4+Ka525. Qc5+b526. Qc7+A tiny blemish, as 26.
Qc3+ mated one move faster. This very minor point aside, it was a terrific
game by the young Chinese super-GM, though a puzzling one by his grandmaster
opponent, who was clearly very poorly prepared for the opening.
Of course, many young players start out playing sharply, but between becoming more mature and the hard knocks of experience suffered at the hands of the world’s elite, the usual arc for those young players is to become more stable. Hopefully Wei will not become so stable that he stops winning games of this sort, but if he does, then there will be even greater reasons to celebrate and remember games like the one against Thien. However Wei evolves as a player, it is likely that he will be producing great games for years and even decades to come.
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
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