Rapport Outlasts Wei in Unofficial World Junior Championship
BySamuel ShanklandDec 24 — 2:00 PM
Image by Europe Echecs
Richard Rapport barely edged out Wei Yi in a match of two of the world’s most exciting rising young stars.
Jeffery Xiong of the United States won the World Junior Championship last summer. While Xiong is certainly the official champion, I feel that such events are somewhat obsolete because the best players under age 21 are often among the best players in the world of all ages. Indeed, most of the top players eligible to play in the World Junior rarely do.
It was for this reason that a match that ended Friday in China between two of the world’s top players under 21, Richard Rapport of Hungary, 20, and ranked No. 30 in the world, and Wei Yi of China, 17, No. 38, served as an unofficial world junior championship. (Both of them had also skipped the official competition.) The match certainly attracted a lot of attention.
The match format was for four classical games, and if tiebreaks were necessary, it was to be followed by two blitz games and then possibly an Armageddon game.
Part of what made the match compelling is that the players have very different styles.
Wei is extremely well prepared, is a brilliant student of the game, and calculates very precisely. He has a very professional approach for such a young player, and his results are reasonably consistent. He is willing to play risky variations, but never plays openings that are considered objectively poor according to the latest theory.
By contrast, Rapport is much more creative. He operates on a different wavelength than any player rated over 2700 that I have ever seen, often mixing things up in the openings with some bizarre ideas and then relying on his superior understanding of unusual middlegames.
Before the match, I thought Wei’s best chance to win was to punish any mistakes that Rapport made in the openings and then calculate extremely carefully. I thought that Rapport would do best if he could get out of the openings with playable and non-standard looking middle games. Game 1 of the match showed my prediction of success for each player was totally wrong as the game started exactly as Rapport wanted, but Wei won anyway.
Wei Yi vs. Rapport, Richard
Rapport-Wei Match |Yancheng, China |Round 1 |23 Dec 2016 |1-0
Nf811. Bb5?!I don't like this move. The bishop was fine on d3. Why not pay deal with his misplaced pieces?
( 11. Nf1!This move looks almost automatic to me. White would then have a very nice version of what almost resembles an Open Spanish. )
11... Bd712. dxc5bxc513. Nf1Rb8!14. Be2Around this point, White might have been regretting playing Bb5.
( 14. a4d4 )
14... Be6I already prefer Black's position a bit. At this point, I really thought Rapport might win this game and grab an early lead, but Wei surpised me with his resourcefulness. 15. Qa4Qb616. Ne3
( 16. b4!?The computer's recommendation is probably a better bet. )
( 16... Ng6This move looks more natural to me. )
17. Qf4Qb418. Qg3Now things quickly start to become less clear. 18... Nd4!
( 18... Ndxe5!?This move would also be fine but I prefer the move that Black played. 19. Rd1!Bf6!20. Nxd5Bxd521. Rxd5O-OBlack's pieces are very active and he should have some sort of edge even though White has the bishop pair. )
19. Bd2!Offering a piece sacrifice. 19... Nxe2+!
( 19... Nxf3+?This would win the bishop on d2, but give White a ton of activity. 20. Bxf3Qxd221. Qxg7Rf822. Rad1Qxb223. Nxd5And Black will probably be checkmated. )
20. Rxe2Qxb221. Rae1g6?This move significantly weakens Black's dark squares.
( 21... Kf8!This move looks very dangerous, but since White has no concrete threats, I think Black is basically winning. )
22. Ng4!Qxa223. Nf6+!Kd824. Ng5!Black now has very real problems with his king safety. The position has become very unclear. 24... Rb625. Bc3Qa3?
( 25... Qa6!This was the only move for some mysterious reason, according to the computer. It looks basically impossible for a human to find over the board without oceans of time on the clock. )
26. Nxf7+!Bxf727. e6Bxe6
( 27... Nxf628. exf7and Black cannot save the bishop on e7. )
( 27... Bxf628. Bxf6+Nxf629. Qxa3 )
28. Rxe6Black will not survive this onslaught. 28... Rxe629. Rxe6Qa2
( 29... Qc1+30. Re1Qxe1+31. Bxe1Bxf6This is the computer's recommendation, but it offers no salvation. After 32. Qd6Black is also going to lose. )
Rapport struck back in Game 2 as Wei looked a little too eager to punish how Rapport played with the White pieces. Rapport did not play ambitiously, but he did not make any mistakes. Wei opened the position too early and soon suffered the consequences.
Rapport, Richard vs. Wei Yi
Rapport-Wei Match |Yancheng, China |Round 2 |23 Dec 2016 |1-0
5. Nd2e5?!This move looks way too ambitious to me.
( 5... cxd4My instinct would be to play this move. 6. exd4Bf5Simple and easy. Black should be fine. )
6. dxe5Nxe57. Ngf3Nxf3+
( 7... Nc6!In hindsight, this looks like a better move, but I still would prefer to play White. )
8. Nxf3Black would be doing very well if he could castle and keep his pawn structure intact, but this is easier said than done. 8... Be79. Bb5+!Simple and strong. 9... Bd7
( 9... Kf8The engine recommends this move, which is not a good sign for Black's position. )
( 10... Nxd711. Qxd5 )
11. Ne5!Now Qa4 is incoming 11... Qf5
( 11... Qb5?12. Bxf6Bxf613. Qxd5 )
12. Qa4+Kf813. Bxf6gxf6A sad necessity.
( 13... Bxf614. Nd7+Ke715. Nxc5And White is up a pawn and Black's king is caught in the center. )
14. Nf3Rg815. Nh4Qe616. Qc2?!
( 16. g3I don't understand why White didn't play this. It looks very natural. 16... f517. Ng2White is threatening to play Nf4 and Black has no counterplay and a ton of weaknesses. )
( 16... f5!17. Nxf5Rxg2This position looks okay for Black. )
17. g3Qd5?Forcing White to make moves he wanted to make anyway.
( 17... dxe318. O-OAnd White has a lot of compensation for his pawn deficit. )
( 17... Rd8!This was the way to proceed. 18. O-O-OQxa2And Black is fine. )
( 18. O-O-OThis move looks more natural to me but I don't think that Rapport's choice is bad. )
18... Qc419. b3Qxc3+20. Qxc3dxc321. O-O-O!The point. Black will soon lose the pawn on c3 and his pawn structure is in ruins. The knight will go to f5 where it will dominate the Black bishop. 21... f5A desperate attempt to create space for the bishop, but it fails.
( 22... Bf623. Rd7b524. f4White's pawns are much better than Black's. After he plays e5 and Rhd1, Black will not be able to resist much longer. )
23. Rd7Re624. Rxe7Not really necessary, but definitely enough to win. 24... Rxe725. Nxe7Kxe726. Kc2After White takes The Black pawn on c3, he will be up a pawn and have a four-to-two pawn majority on the kingside, which should be enough to win. 26... Rd827. Kxc3b528. Kc2!Preparing Rd1. Once White occupies the open file, further resistance will be futile. 28... Rd6
( 28... Rd429. f3Kd6The engine recommends this move for some reason, but after 30. Rd1White has a huge edge in the endgame. )
29. Rd1Rh630. h4Rf631. Rd2?!
( 31. f4Why not this move? The move played by Rapport wins, too, of course. )
( 31... Rf3This move would have made White work a bit harder to win the game. 32. Kd1Ke633. Ke2Rc3 )
This left the match tied, 2-2, sending the players to the blitz games. Wei won the first game pretty easily, and with Black, when Rapport seriously overestimated his attacking chances with a piece sacrifice.
Rapport, Richard vs. Wei Yi
Rapport-Wei Match |Yancheng, China |Round 5 |23 Dec 2016 |0-1
hxg522. fxg5?I'm not sure what Rapport overlooked in this position.
( 22. Be4After this move, chances are about equal. )
22... Qxb723. Qh5Nd524. Rf3f5!Not the only winning move, but the simplest one. 25. g6
( 25. gxf6Nxf6And Black should win without difficulty. )
( 25. Rh3Nf4!26. Qh7+Kf8White is out of steam )
25... Nf626. Qh4Qe427. Rf4Qe228. Re1Qh5Black is up a piece and in no danger of being mated. 29. Qg3Ne430. Qh4Qxh431. Rxh4Kf832. Rh7Nf633. Rh3Ke734. Re5Rd535. Re1Ne436. Rf3Rh837. g4Rh638. h4Rxh439. Rf4Rh640. Rexe4fxe441. Rf7+Kd642. Rxg7Rg5
Wei then only needed a draw with White to clinch the match, but this is not nearly as easy to achieve in a blitz game. Rapport played a dubious opening, but one that required very precise play to punish. I think he would have lost if he did something like this in the classical games, but in blitz he took over the initiative very quickly.
Wei Yi vs. Rapport, Richard
Rapport-Wei Match |Yancheng, China |Round 6 |23 Dec 2016 |0-1
6. Bb5+Nc6!?This is objectively a bad move, but given the match situation it was just what Rapport needed to play as he needed a way to unbalance the position. 7. e5?Not the best reply.
( 7. dxc5!? )
( 7. d5!a68. Ba4b59. dxc6bxa410. e5!And White is much better. Try finding this in a five-minute game, however! )
7... Nd78. d5Nd4!9. Nxd4cxd410. Qxd4O-O!The point. Black is down a pawn, but White's center is crumbling and he is lagging in development. 11. Bxd7Qxd712. O-OQf5!Winning the pawn on e5. 13. Qd1
( 13. Be3Simple development was better. White would have been fine. For example: 13... dxe514. Qd2And both players have chances. )
13... dxe514. fxe5Qxe5After 14 moves, Black has a healthier pawn structure and an active bishop pair. Not what the doctor ordered for Wei! 15. Kh1Qd616. Bf4Qb617. Rb1Bf518. Qe2Rfe819. Be3Qa6!Not fearing having doubled pawns. 20. Qd2
( 20. Qxa6bxa621. Rf2Red8Black's piece activity will probably net him a pawn or two. )
20... Rad821. Qf2e6Not the best way to continue, but Black is still much better.
( 21... Bxc322. bxc3Rxd5After this, Black would have an enormous advantage. )
( 26. Qf2!This was the last good chance for White to fight on. 26... Bf527. Rd4Black would be a bit better but the game would continue. )
26... Qxd427. Rxd4Kg7?!With Nf6+ no longer a threat, Be4 is a major threat next move.
( 27... Kf8This was even stronger but the text played by Rapport also leads to a win. )
28. Nc7!With the king on f8 this would not be possible. Still Black will win easily.
( 28. h3Re5 )
28... Rxd429. Nxe8+Kf830. Nc7Rd2This doesn't offer White much hope of salvation. He rapidly loses his pawns. 31. Ne6+Kg832. Ng5Bd333. Re1h634. Nf3Rxb235. h3Rxa2The rest of the game was easy for Rapport. 36. Re8+Kg737. Re7Bf138. Nh4g539. Kg1Ra140. Nf3Be2+41. Kf2Bxf342. Kxf3Rb143. Re8b544. Rb8Rb3+45. Kg4Rb4+46. Kf3Rf4+47. Ke3b448. Rb6h549. Kd3Rf250. g4Rf3+51. Ke4hxg452. hxg4Rf4+53. Ke5f6+54. Ke6Re4+
This sent the match to the Armageddon blitz game. Wei had White and had to win in order to win the match. (In Armageddon games, Black has draw odds, but White has an extra minute.) Wei reached a promising position, but lost the thread as his time was running out. Finally, he sacrificed a rook thinking that he had a forced mate, but overlooked a key defense, allowing Rapport to win the match.
Wei Yi vs. Rapport, Richard
Rapport-Wei Match |Yancheng, China |Round 7 |23 Dec 2016 |0-1
( 35. Rxh5!White needed to get the rook into the game. There was nothing to fear as 35... Bd1+Fails to the simple ...36. Bf3 )
35... Bc2!Now Black's pieces spring to life 36. Ra1Bf5+37. Kg3Rd3+38. Bf3a3!The pawn on a3 is now a force to be reckoned with. Black threatens to play Bd4. 39. Nf6Bd440. Rac1c541. Rc4Ra8!42. Ra4Rxa4!Well calculated. 43. Rh8It looks like White can checkmate Black on e8, but... 43... Bxe5!Now Black can play Rd8.
( 43... Bf2+This move would have led to a win as well. )
44. fxe5With the bishop on d4, mate looked unstoppable. But now the simple
( 44. Re8+Kxf6 )
44... Rd8Effectively puts an end to the game. 45. Ng8+Kd746. Nxf7Rxg8+47. Rxg8a2
It was very interesting to watch Rapport and Wei play. I would have liked the match to be longer, but I’m sure this will be far from the last time they face each other.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.
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