18 January 2016

Wei Yi

Tata Steel Chess 2016, Round Three

After two rounds, the leaders in the Masters Group of this year's tournament in Wijk aan Zee are Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, and Ding Liren. Nonetheless, the focus today will be on the first game between current World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and probable World Championship contender, Wei Yi. Wei Yi is sixteen years old, the current youngest Grandmaster, and last summer won a game that many analysts have claimed is the best game of the twenty-first century.

In late December at Inland Chess Academy's Holiday Chess Camp after dismissing my young students for the lunch break, I walked into the classroom next door where FM Jim Maki was conducting camp for the advanced group. He had this position on the projection screen.

White to move

Seeing this position, I claimed to have seen it in the Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations, where it cannot be found. Maki pointed out that it is not there, yet. It could not be as it had been played several months after the latest edition of the Encyclopedia was published. I was probably remembering a position from Ragozin -- Veresov, Moscow 1945. The position above is from Wei -- Bruzon Batista, Danzhou 2015, Chess Informant 125/65. I had looked at Wei Yi's beautiful game last summer. The intuitive sacrifice on f7 is a familiar pattern, but is far less clear in this position than in Ragozin's game. There have been many instances of such a sacrifice, several of which are elucidated in Grigory Serper, "From Paul Morphy to Wei Yi," Chess.com (19 July 2015), http://www.chess.com/article/view/from-paul-morphy-to-wei-yi.

Not only this game, but Wei's rapid ascent, has created a great deal of anticipation of his coming battles with Carlsen. The young Chinese player will not dethrone the World Champion today because that is not how it works. But, he could score a symbolic victory. I predict a fighting draw. But, today's battle offers a first glimpse of more battles to come.

Magnus Carlsen is the strongest player ever to sit at a chess board. His style is torturous, rather than flashy. Wei's approach, on the other hand, reflects a hunger for tactical fireworks. Today, we will see a battle of styles as well as the current World Champion defending his position against one of his possible successors.

Wei,Yi (2706) -- Carlsen,Magnus (2844) [C89]
Tata Steel Chess Wijk aan Zee (3), 18.01.2016

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3 d5

The Marshall!

Carlsen previously has played 8...d6 9.h3 Nb8 10.d4 Nbd7 11.c4 c6 12.Nc3 b4 13.Na4 c5 14.d5 Re8 15.Bc2 Nf8 16.a3 a5 17.b3 Ng6 18.Nb2 Bd7 19.Nh2 h6 20.Nf1 Nh7 21.Ne3 Bg5 22.axb4 axb4 23.Rxa8 Qxa8 24.Nf5 Bxc1 25.Qxc1 Bxf5 26.exf5 Ngf8 27.Nd1 Nf6 28.f3 Qa2 29.g4 Ra8 30.Nf2 Qa3 31.Qb1 Qa2 32.Qc1 Qa3 33.Qb1 Qa2 34.Qc1 ½–½ Nakamura,H (2774) -- Carlsen,M (2815) Medias 2011.

9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 

White to move


12.d4 has been more popular. 12.d3 was first played by Vassily Smyslov in 1949.

12...Bd6 13.Re1 Bf5 14.Qf3 Qh4 15.g3 Qh3

White to move


A relatively rare move.

16.Bxd5 has been most frequent.

16...Bxd3 17.Nd2 Qf5 18.Bd4 Rae8 19.Kg2 Qxf3+

19...h6 20.a4 Qxf3+ 21.Kxf3 Re6 22.axb5 axb5 23.Kg2 Rfe8 24.Rxe6 Rxe6 25.c4 bxc4 26.Nxc4 Be4+ 27.f3 Bd3 28.Nxd6 Rxd6 29.Kf2 Rd7 30.Ra3 Nc7 31.Be3 Nd5 32.Bc5 f6 33.Ba4 Bb5 34.Bc2 Nc7 35.Bg6 Na6 36.Re3 Rd8 37.Be7 Rc8 38.b4 c5 39.Bf5 Rc6 40.Bd7 cxb4 41.Bxc6 Bxc6 42.Re6 1–0 Vachier Lagrave,M (2731) -- Adams,M (2740) Biel SUI 2015.

20.Kxf3 Re6

Wei has gone into a long think.

White to move


21.a4 might have been expected, as it is a common idea when playing against the Marshall. The threat to play c4, however, seems to complicate this position.


Yasser Seirawan had commented on the absence of this move earlier. The rook could go to h6, provoking White to play h4, a possibly weakening move.

22.Kg2 Rg6 23.Ne4 Nf4+ 24.Kf3 Bxe4+ 25.Rxe4 Nd3 26.Rd1

I would have played 26.Rc2, which my engine tells me is a slight inaccuracy. The computer likes 26.Rb1, a move that Seirawan also mentioned.

26...Nxb2 27.Rd2 Ba3

White to move

28.Bb6 Rd6

Seirawan looked at 28...c5 29.Ba5 c4 30.Bc2 Nd3 and also other lines prior to 28.Bb6 where Black's queenside pawns become separated. At this point in the game, or a few moves earlier, it appeared that Wei had some chances to play for a win.

29.Rxd6 Bxd6 30.Re2 Nd3 31.Rd2 Ne5+ 32.Kg2 Be7 33.f4 Nc4 34.Bxc4 bxc4 

White to move

Black's pawns have become separated after all, but with substantially less material on the board, their weaknesses do not offer White much.

35.Rd7 Bf6 36.Rc7 Bxc3 37.Rxc6 Rb8 38.a4 Bb2 39.Ba5 c3 40.Bxc3 Bxc3

Both players have reached the time control.


Black to move

A few years ago, I would have suggested that this position should be a simple draw. However, Carlsen became the World Champion by squeezing blood from turnips. If there is anything to play for, any resource in the position, Carlsen will make his opponent play on. His opponents usually find themselves in time pressure and occasionally crack.

41...Rb4 42.a5 Rb5 43.Ra3 Rb2+ 44.Kh3 f5 

White to move

Although this position should be objectively drawn, it is worth noting that Black's rook is more active, his king is more active, and it is possible for the White king to blunder into checkmate (I have been on both sides of that particular checkmate in many a blitz game).

45.Rc3 Rb5 46.Ra3 g5 47.fxg5 hxg5 48.Kg2 Kg7 49.h4 g4 50.Rc3 Rxa5 51.Rc6 Ra2+ 52.Kg1 a5 53.Ra6 a4

White to move

54.Kh1 Kf7 55.Kg1 Ra1+ 56.Kg2 Ra3 57.Kh2 Ra2+ 58.Kg1 Ke7 59.Kh1 a3 60.Kg1 ½–½

David Navara!

While trying to sort out the possibilities in the endgame for Wei and Carlsen, David Navara created some excitement with a rook sacrifice against Anish Giri. My attention was diverted to Navara's game after Carlsen's 20...Re6.

Navara,David (2730) -- Giri,Anish (2798) [D97]
Tata Steel Chess Wijk aan Zee (3), 18.01.2016

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0–0 7.e4 a6 8.Be2 b5 9.Qb3 c5 10.dxc5 Bb7 11.e5 Nfd7 12.Be3 e6 13.0–0 Qc7 14.Rad1 Nxc5 15.Qa3 Ne4 16.Nxe4 Bxe4 17.Ng5 Bc6 18.f4 Qb7 19.Bc5 Re8

White to move

20.f5! exf5 21.Rxf5 gxf5 22.Bh5 Bd5 23.Rxd5 Qxd5 24.Bxf7+ Qxf7 25.Nxf7 Kxf7

White to move

26.Qb3+ Kg6 27.Qg3+ Kf7 28.Qb3+ Kg6 29.Qg3+

Such a repetition could prove useful for reaching the time control before a difficult endgame.

29...Kf7 30.Qf3

30.Bd4 was examined by Seirawan during the commentary and may have been Navara's best chance to win.

30...Nd7 31.Qd5+ Kg6 32.Qc6+ Nf6 33.exf6 Rac8 34.Qxa6 Ra8 35.f7+ Kxf7 36.Qxb5 Rad8 37.Qb3+ Kg6 38.Qg3+ Kf7

Navara is essentially playing on the increment at this point in the game.

White to move

39.Qb3+ Kg6 40.Bd6?


Bxb2 41.Qxb2 Rxd6 42.h3 Ra6 ½–½

Giri dodged a bullet. After the forcing continuation initiated by 20.f5! both players faced a position with difficult imbalances. Giri managed to stay ahead on the clock and Navara was unable to take advantage of his inaccuracies. I hope to see this game with detailed analysis in Chess Informant 127.

The decisive games in the round came when Shakhriyar Mamedyarov blundered a rook in a winning position to Pavel Eljanov. In his postgame interview, Eljanov seemed relieved to have escaped without a loss but did not enjoy such a win. Fabiano Caruana also managed to grind out a win against Michael Adams, which now puts Caruana in sole possession of first place with ten rounds remaining. It is a long tournament.

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