It takes courage to allow an opponent one strong passed pawn, but two? That takes confidence and guts.

China has produced many talented players recently, so it is easy to overlook Ni Hua, who, at 32 years old, is more mature. But over many years, he has been a pillar of strength for the Chinese national team and played a useful role on their gold-medal winning team in the last Olympiad.

In the following game, he slowly outplayed Dennis Wagner, a young Germn grandmster. But around move 40, he allowed Black back in the game. After that, there was an amazing finish as both the players were pushed to their limits.

Ni, Hua vs. Wagner, Dennis
GRENKE Chess Open | ? | Round 7.5 | 27 Mar 2016 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 ......
10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. Bg5 h6 16. Bd2 Bg7 17. a4 Nb6!? An interesting, but rarely played idea.
17... c5 18. d5 c4 is the usual variation. Notice how bleak are the prospects of the bishop on b7. This was the reason behind Wagner's slightly unusual handling of the opening  )
18. b3
18. a5 Nc4! 19. Bc1 d5 is the main justification behind Nb6.  )
18... bxa4 Another unexpected idea. Black's plan does not seem typical of the Breyer, but in this case Black is able to activate his b7 bishop. The bishop is usually a dead piece in these Breyer lines, especially after White plays d5 -- as in the 17...c5 variation.
19. bxa4 a5
19... Nc4 20. Bc1  )
20. Bd3 Ba6 21. Bxa6 Rxa6 The exchange of these bishops is definitely in Black's favor. Now he needs to make sure that White isn't able to target the exposed queenside weaknesses:
22. Qb3 Qa8 23. d5 A typical idea in the Breyer is for White to close the center like this and then slowly regroup his pieces while suffocating Black. But without the light- squared bishops, this plan isn't as annoying for Black.
23... Rb8 24. Qa2 c6 25. c4 Nbd7 26. Be3 Rb4 27. Nd2 Nc5?! There is a classic saying in chess: when two knights are both trying to be on the same square (or one knight is just required to protect the other, as it happens here after Nc5 and Nfd7) then one of the knights is useless. Here, too, the Black knights are very pretty, but one of them will be useless. And Black can make no progress further progress on the queenside. On the other hand, White has ways to continue improving his position.
27... c5!? would have kept the things blocked on the queenside. At the same time, White runs no risk, and can continue slowly improving the position of his position by bringing the knight to c3, etc.  )
28. Qc2 Nfd7 29. Ne2 Qb7 30. Reb1 Rab6 31. Rxb4 Rxb4 32. dxc6! White suddenly has the option to bring his knight to d5 it is not so passive anymore! And those pretty Black knights aren't doing anything.
32... Qxc6 33. Nc3 Kh7 34. Kh2 h5 35. Nd5 Rb7 36. g4! hxg4
36... h4 37. Nf3 the h4 pawn is too weak.  )
37. hxg4 Nf6 38. f3 Ne6 The players were no doubt in some time pressure and that explains the couple of inaccuracies made by both sides before reaching move 40.
39. Kg3 The king looks nicely placed as White is ready to swing his rook to h1, etc., but White completely underestimates Nd4. It is essential for White to keep Black's counterplay limited.
39. Nb3! would have maintained a nice position for White.  )
39... Qc8 but Black does not feel confident about Nd4 either!
40. Rb1 Again, Nb3 would have been stronger. Now Black makes the decision to go for the Nd4 plan just in time.
40... Nxd5 41. exd5 Nd4! 42. Bxd4 exd4 The White knight is slightly better than the Black bishop, but White's king could prove to be weaker, and Black is reasonably active.
43. Ne4 Rc7? This seems like an over ambitious move. I have to admit, it is hard to realize that c5 could be as strong as it is, so practically, this is understandable.
43... Rxb1 44. Qxb1 Black was perhaps worried because
44... Qxc4? doesn't work. Instead he could have simply played Kg8! just waiting, followed by moves like Qc7 etc., which would keep equality. White can't play Nxd6 because of Be5, and there isn't much else White can do. White has to be careful about going after Black's queenside, as the d4 pawn could become dangerous.
45. Ng5+ Kg8 46. Qb8+ Bf8 47. Qb7!  )
44. c5! dxc5 45. d6 Rd7 46. Rb6 Allowing c4 definitely required a lot of courage. I would have given this move double exclamation marks, but just stopping c4 would have been a much easier path to advantage. It would not have been as pretty though.
46. Qc4! Kg8 47. Kg2 White dominates completely. Next will be Rb5, etc., and Black's position will be ready to collapse.  )
46... c4 47. Qb1 Rd8
47... Qe8!? with the idea to meet Rb8 with Rd8 was a much better way to keep things going.
48. f4!? and the position would remain very messy, but it's hard to break through Black's position and the two central passed pawns are a pain to deal with.  )
48. Rb7! If Black had played Qe8 on the previous move, then playing Rb7 would not be as strong because f7 would be protected. At the same time, Black seems to be doing fine after this.
48... Kg8 49. Qb5! It is impressive how quickly White's pieces begin to take control. But those two central pawns are quickly becoming dangerous for White as well.
49... c3! 50. d7
50. Qd5 Qe6 wouldn't give White anything.  )
50... Qa8 51. Nc5
51. Rc7 is the computer suggestion, but
51... d3! 52. Nxc3 d2 53. Nd1! is just ridiculously unnatural, and I feel it would be very hard to convince a human that White can be better after this.  )
51... c2
51... Be5+! 52. Kg2 c2 53. Nd3 Bf4 would have been a very pretty and strong idea! Black tried to do this on the next move, but he had to move Bf8 - Ba3 / or Bf8 - Bd6 - Bf4. This would have saved one whole move for him!  )
52. Nd3 Bf8
52... Be5+! was still a possible way to salvage a draw, but it required some accuracy:
53. Qxe5 Qxb7 54. Qe8+ Rxe8 55. dxe8=Q+ Kh7 56. Qe5 Qb3 57. Qxd4 Qxd3 58. Qxd3 c1=Q  )
53. Kg2 Bd6 54. Rb6 Ba3 55. Qc4 Rxd7?
55... Kg7! was the only way to stay alive. Black underestimates how hard it would be to play with the g6 pawn gone. It required some very precise calculation:
56. Qxd4+ Kg8 57. Qc4 Rxd7! 58. Rxg6+ Kf8 is actually ok for Black, but I have to admit, that during a game this would look even more dangerous than the position with the Black pawn on d4. The key difference is that the Black rook is unblocked, and he is threatening Rxd3, so White can't do much other than repeat moves.  )
56. Rxg6+ Kf8 57. Rc6 keeping control of the position. After Qxc2, the material will be equal, but Black no longer has any leverage in the position. Black's position is getting harder, and in the game, Wagner collapses very fast.
57... Qb7 58. Qxc2 Kg8 59. Qc4 Not the fastest way to win, but White plays in a smooth, positional style. No need to calculate lines if you do not need to!
59... Bf8 60. Rg6+ Bg7 61. Rg5 Qc7 62. Rc5 Qd6 63. Rxa5 Now it is just a matter of time:
63... Qh6 64. Qc8+ Bf8 65. Qxd7 Qd2+ 66. Kh3 Qxa5 67. Qxd4 Bg7 68. Qc4 Qa8 69. Qe4 Qa6 70. Kg2 Qd6 71. Qc4 Qa3 72. g5 Qe7 73. Qc8+ Kh7 74. Qf5+ Kg8 75. Nf2 Qa3 76. a5 Qa2 77. Kg3 Bd4 78. Ng4 Qa1 79. Nh6+ Kh8 80. Qc8+


Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 88 in the world, he is currently a sophomore at Stanford University.