The quadrennial competition is being held in China and started with the rapid competition.

The World Mind Sports Games, not to be confused with the World Mind Games, is a quadrennial competition organized in the same years as the Summer Olympics. The 2016 edition is currently under way in Huai’an, China. It is a very strong competition, with 14 of the 16 players rated 2700 or higher.

The chess part of the games began with a two-day rapid tournament. The gold medal went to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, who won a playoff with Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine after both scored 5 out of 7. Ponomariov earned the silver, while Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba took bronze. 

The leaders after the first day had been Ponomariov, Wang Hao of China and Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba. Day 2, which was Round 5, began with a clash between Ponomariov and Wang. Ponomariov really shined, winning a fine game.

Ponomariov, who is White, is a bit better because he controls more space and his bishop is better placed. Wang tried to change the course of the game with 21. … Qb4!?, aiming to exchange queens. It was a sacrifice because after 22. Qxb4 axb4 23. Rd2 Ke7 24. Rb1, Black is unable to save the b4 pawn. But, Wang clearly had thought of this in advance and responded with 24. … Ba6! 25. Rxb4 Rc1+, with a lot of activity. Still, this was not quite enough for full equality.

After 26. Nd1! Rb8 27. Rbb2 Bc4 28. Kf2 Rxb2 29. Rxb2 Ra1, it looked like Black would survive — he was threatening Rxa2, and 30. Nc3 could be met by 30. … Rc1!, followed by returning the rook to a1 after the knight moved.

But, after repeating the position a couple times, Ponomariov found the way with 32. Ne3!, the point being 32. … Bxa2 fails to 33. Nc2 and 32. … Rxa2 fails to 33. Nxc4. This was the moment he fully turned the corner, and he went on to convert his advantage into a victory by move 48.

Dominguez only drew in Round 5, so this left Ponomariov in clear first. But, in addition to Dominguez being half a point back, Mamedyarov also won a fine game over Ding Liren of China to join the chasing group.

The position above looks difficult for Mamedyarov, who was Black. He is down a pawn, the d5 knight is extremely strong, and White can hope to round up the d4 pawn at some point. But Mamedyarov is always very tactically aware, and he struck here with 25. … Nxc4!, with the point that 26. Qxc4 would fail to 26. … Qxe4+, winning back the knight and remaining a pawn up. Instead Ding tried 26. Qd3, but after another strong move, 26. … f5!, it was clear he had lost control of the game.

White could still hold on with a move like 27. Ne7+, but Ding quickly got himself into trouble after 27. Qxd4?! Qxe4+ 28. Qxe4 fxe4, when both his knight and b2 pawn were hanging. He tried 29. Nc3, but after another good move, 29. … Rd2!, the position was very difficult for White.

Following 30. Rc1, Mamedyarov found one last strong resource to put the game away with 30. … e3! 31. Ne4 Nxb2!, after which he is completely winning. Ding resisted admirably but had to resign on move 50.

Mamedyarov won again in Round 6 to catch Ponomariov, and they both drew in round 7. As they were tied for first, they had to play an Armageddon game to decide the title. Mamedyarov got White and 5 minutes, while Ponomariov had Black and 4 minutes, plus he only had to draw to be declared the winner. Often, these Armageddon games wind up in wild time scrambles, but Mamedyarov won the game cleanly.

Ponomariov got himself into a pretty unpleasant version of the Hedgehog defense, but, in the position above, he still could try a move like 14. … Ba3 to dislodge White’s pieces. Instead, he aimed to break out of the bind immediately with 14. … d5, but after 15. Ne5!, the problems were too much to control. There followed 15. … Bb4 16. Bg5! Re8 17. Qf4!, and Black’s position was collapsing. Ponomariov found nothing better than 17. … h6, but after 18. Bxf6 Qxf6 19. Qxf6 gxf6 20. Nd7, Mamedyarov had won a pawn, and though Ponomariov fought on, the result was no longer in doubt. It was a well-deserved victory, and the gold, for Mamedyarov.

One game which did not play any role in the fight for first place but was still very enjoyable was the win of Li Chao b of China over Laurent Fressinet of France. Li sacrificed a piece for a strong attack, and when it came time to bring home the point, he found all the right moves with very little time on his clock.

It is not too easy to break through to the Black king here, but Li, who was White, managed with 26. Qd3! Kf8 27. fxg5!, when 27. … Bxg5 would fail to 28. Rh8+. Fressinet instead played 27. … Bg7, but after the subtle 28. Qg6!, the threat of Rf1+ followed by Qh7 mate, forced Black to try 28. … Bxd4.

After another correct move, 29. Rh7!, the threat of Qf7 mate forced 29. … Qe8. There followed 30. Qh6+! Kg8 31. g6!, and Black was powerless to stop the simple threat of g7. Fressinet allowed Li to execute his idea and resigned after 31. … Bxc3 32. g7.

The blitz tournament is Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, followed by a basque (two games at the same time, each player having White and Black) event on Wednesday and Thursday.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 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 is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.