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. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 Wei Yi thrives on sharp, forcing, tactical lines, but he shows here that he isn't afraid of more positional variations or endgames.
4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 For now this has supplanted the traditional 9.Nc3.
9... Bd7 Ideally Black would like to play ...b6 and ...Kc8-b7 so as to get the king out of everyone else's way.
9... Ke8  )
10. Rd1 Be7
10... Kc8 11. g4 Ne7 12. Ng5 Be8 is also possible, leading to very sharp, concrete play. For a while Black was doing very well after
13. f4 h5 , but lately White has been racking up the wins with 13.f4.  )
11. g4 Nh4 12. Nxh4 Bxh4 13. Nd2 Kc8 14. Nf3 Be7 Strategically Black is doing well, so White must achieve something before Black connects the rooks.
15. Rd3 h6 16. 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... b6 Very direct. Black wants to play ...Kb7 as soon as he can.
16... Re8 was played in the one earlier game two subsequent ones. The idea is that if White plays
17. Nf5 , then
17... Bf8 doesn't shut the rook in on h8.  )
17. Rf3! Be8 Seemingly forced and not bad at all, but there was another, more radical solution was available.
17... Rf8 18. Nf5 Bxf5 19. gxf5 favors 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. Rxf7 Be6 20. Rf4 c5 White 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 play.  )
18. Nf5 Bf8 19. b3 Bd7 20. Bb2 Be6
20... h5 21. g5 h4 22. Re1! Be6 23. Nd4 Bd5 24. Rd3  )
21. Nd4 Bd5 22. Re3
22. Rd3!?  )
22... Bc5 23. c4 Be6 24. f4 g6 25. Rf1
25. Kh2 Kb7 26. Rd1 Bxd4 27. Bxd4 Rad8 28. Ree1 c5 29. Bf2 h5 is at least equal for Black. White's pawns always look impressive, but sometimes they're just as much targets as assets.  )
25... Kb7 26. Kg2 Rad8 27. Rd3 A critical moment in a tense, well-played game.
27... h5? A good-looking, thematic move, but it proves to be an error.
27... Bc8 28. Rfd1 h5 29. e6 hxg4 30. hxg4 Rhf8 31. Kg3 f5! 32. g5 Rfe8 33. Nf3 Rxd3 34. Rxd3 Bxe6 35. Bd4 Ba3 36. Bf6  )
27... Bxd4 28. Rxd4 Rdg8 is 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. Kh2 h5 30. f5 Bc8 31. Rd3 Rh7 32. e6 fxe6 33. f6 hxg4 34. Be5 gives White enough for the two pawns and maybe a little more, though a draw is still probably the right result.  )
28. Nxe6! Rxd3 29. Nxc5+ bxc5 30. e6 White 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. Rf2 Rxb2 32. Rxb2 fxe6 33. Re2 hxg4 34. hxg4 Re8 35. Re5 is 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. Rxc5 Kd7 37. Kf3 Rh8 38. Rg5 Rh6 39. Ra5 ought to win for White.  )
30... Rg8 31. exf7 Rf8 32. f5! gxf5 33. g5 Rxf7 34. g6 Rf8 35. g7 Rg8 36. Be5 White is better, but perhaps Black can save the game with
36... Re3! 37. Rxf5 Rxe5! 38. Rxe5 Rxg7+ 39. Kh2 h4! 40. Rh5 Rd7 41. Rxh4 Rd2+ 42. Kg3 Rd3+!! 43. Kg4 a5 44. Rh5 Rd4+ 45. Kf5! a4 46. Rg5! Rh4 47. Rg3 Rh8 48. Re3 (To let the king go to the g-file without walking into a skewer.)
48... Kb6 I suspect this is a draw, but wouldn't count on it.  )
31. exf7 Rd2+? This natural move loses.
31... h4!! 32. Rf3 Rd2+ 33. Rf2 Rxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Rf8 35. f5! Sokolov stops here and claims that White is winning, but this seems to be a mistake.
35... Rxf7 36. f6 Kc8 37. Kf3 Kd7 38. Kf4 Ke6 39. Kg5 Rf8! 40. Kxg6 Rg8+ 41. Kh5 Rh8+! 42. Kg5 a6 43. Ba1 Rd8 44. Kxh4 Rd1! 45. Bc3 Rc1 46. Bd2 Rd1 47. Bg5 Kf7! 48. Kh5 Rd8! 49. Bh6 Rd3! 50. h4 Kxf6 and it seems that Black holds. Unbelievable!  )
32. Rf2 Rxf2+ 33. Kxf2 Rf8 34. f5! The key move, which had to be foreseen and worked out prior to 28.Nxe6.
34... Rxf7 After
34... gxf5 35. gxh5 Rxf7 36. h6 Rh7 37. Bg7 White wins by advancing the king.
37... Kc8 38. Kf3 Kd7 39. Kf4 Ke6 40. Kg5 Kf7 41. Kxf5 a5 42. a4 Kg8 sets up a last trick, but it's easily skirted.
43. Kf6 But not
...   )
35. Kg3!
35. f6?? hxg4 36. hxg4 Kc8 37. Kf3 Kd7 38. Kf4 Ke6 39. Kg5 Rf8 40. Kxg6 Rg8+ 41. Kh5 Kf7 42. g5 Rh8+ 43. Kg4 Kg6 Only Black has winning chances here.  )
35... gxf5 36. g5!
36. gxh5? f4+ 37. Kf3 Rh7 38. Kg4? Rxh5  )
36. g5! f4+ 37. Kf3 Kc8 38. g6 Rf8 39. g7 Rg8 40. Kxf4 Kd7 41. Kf5 Ke7 42. Kg6 Ke6 43. Kxh5 Kf7 With a blockade? Not a successful one.
44. Kh6 Re8 45. Kh7 a6 46. h4 Ra8 47. h5 Re8 48. h6 Ra8 49. Be5 Re8 50. Bxc7 Ra8 51. Bd6 Threatening Bf8 followed by promoting.
51... Rg8 52. Bf8 a5 53. 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
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Nbd7 8. Qe2 Qc7 9. O-O-O Be7
9... b5 10. a3 Be7 11. g4 Rb8 12. Bg2 h6 13. Bh4 Bb7 14. Rhe1 Nb6 15. Bxf6 Bxf6 16. e5 dxe5 17. Ndxb5 axb5 18. Nxb5 Qc5 19. b4 Qe7 20. Nd6+ Kf8 21. Bxb7 exf4 22. Qf3 Nc4 23. Nxc4 Qxb7 24. Qxb7 Rxb7 25. Ne5 h5 26. Rd7 Rxd7 27. Nxd7+ Ke7 28. Nxf6 Kxf6 29. gxh5 e5 30. b5 Kf5 31. a4 f3 32. b6 e4 33. Kd2 Kf4 34. Rb1 e3+ 35. Ke1 Rd8 36. Rb4+ Kf5 37. b7 Rd2 38. Rf4+ Kxf4 39. b8=Q+ Kf5 40. Qc8+ Ke5 41. Qc7+ Ke4 42. Qe7+ Kd4 43. Qb4+ Kd5 44. Qb7+ 1-0 (44) Wei, Y (2706)-Zhou,J (2578) China 2015  )
10. g4 h6
10... b5 is the main alternative.  )
11. Bh4
11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. h4 is also common.  )
11... g5 A 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... b5 is 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. e5 Played only once before, out of 12 games.
12... dxe5 13. fxe5 Qxe5 and 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. Bg2 Ra7 16. Bxf6! gxf6 17. Nc6 Bb7 18. Rxd7! Bxc6 19. Rxe7+ Kxe7 20. Qxc6  )
12. fxg5 Nh7 The 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... hxg5 13. Bxg5 b5 14. a3 Rb8 may be Black's best, though even here his compensation for the pawn seems iffy.
15. Qd2!  )
13. Bg3
13. Nf5 is also very strong, and has been used with great success.
13... exf5 14. Nd5 Qd8 15. exf5 Ne5 16. Bg3 Bxg5+ 17. Kb1 O-O 18. h4 Bf6 19. g5 hxg5 20. hxg5 Bxg5 21. Bxe5 dxe5 22. Qg4 Kg7 23. f6+ Kg8 24. Qe4 1-0 (24) Calvo Minguez,R (2330)-Kavalek,L (2555) Las Palmas 1973  )
13... hxg5 14. Nf5! exf5 Black has usually preferred to keep things as closed with
14... Ne5 , though after
15. Nxe7 Kxe7 16. h4 Black is unlikely to enjoy a long life of ease.  )
15. Nd5 Qb8? This leads to a brutal finish, but to be fair it's already impossible for Black to save the game.
15... Qd8 16. exf5 Nb6? 17. Nxb6 Qxb6 18. Bxd6 1-0 (18) Fedorowicz,J (2435)-Kuligowski,A (2450) Ramsgate 1981
18... Qd8 19. Be5 is the brutal point.  )
16. exf5 Ne5 17. Nxe7 Kxe7 18. Rxd6! So much for Black's defensive setup.
18... Qxd6 19. Bxe5 Qd5 20. Bg2 Qxa2 Now White can take the rook and win with ease, but Wei Yi finds an even better move, finishing with style.
21. Bd6+! Kxd6
21... Kf6 22. Qe5#  )
21... Kd7 22. Qe7#  )
22. Rd1+ Kc7 23. Qe5+ Kb6 24. Qd4+ Ka5 25. Qc5+ b5 26. 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.
26. Qc3+ Kb6 27. Rd6+ Ka7 28. Qc7+ Bb7 29. Qxb7#  )
26. Qc7+ Ka4 27. Rd4+ Qc4 28. Rxc4+ bxc4 29. Bc6+ Kb4 30. Qb6#  )

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.

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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.