- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2015

China’s women have already taken the chess world by storm, and now the Chinese men are trying to follow in their path.

Women’s world champion Hou Yifan is on the verge of surpassing Hungary’s Judit Polgar, the greatest female player of all time, on the ratings chart, and she is the fourth Chinese woman to hold the world crown since 1991.

And seven Chinese male grandmasters now rank among the 50 highest-rated players in the world, led by rising superstar GM Ding Liren at No. 14 on the latest FIDE ratings list, published last week.

The most recent player to crack the Top 50 may be the one with the most promise: 15-year-old Wei Yi, coming in at No. 49 with a rating just under 2700. The prodigy from Jiangsu is one of the hottest players on the international circuit, having just won the Tata Steel Challengers Tournament in Wijk aan Zee last month, a victory that earns him a spot in the elite Tate Masters in 2016.

With barely a pause to reboot, Wei continued his winning ways at the superstrong Tradewise Gibraltar tournament now underway on the Mediterranean island, starting out with four wins and a draw before finally losing at the hand of veteran English star David Howell. With six wins in the first six rounds, American GM Hikaru Nakamura was setting the pace with three rounds to go Monday.

Wei has long been a talent to watch. He earned the grandmaster title at age 13, at the time becoming the youngest GM in the world. One of the games on the way to the title was a fine win over fellow Chinese star and 2010 national champion GM Zhou Jianchao, from a 2013 invitational in Danzhou.

Employing the English Attack in a Sicilian Scheveningen, Wei as White lands the first blow after 13. exd5 Nxd5 14. Nf3 Nxe3?! (Black understandably moves to eliminate a powerful bishop, but this doesn’t turn out well; better was 17N7f6 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. Bg1, with just a slight edge for White) 15. Qxe3 Qe5 16. Qd2 Bc5 17. Nf5! (Bc4 0-0 18. Nc6 Be3! 19. Nxe5 Bxd2+ 20. Rxd2 Nxe5 is only equal; now, of course, 17exf5?? 18. Re1 loses the queen) 0-0 19. Re1 Qb8 (see diagram; Black’s pieces are lined up for a classic Sicilian queenside counterattack, but Wei’s offensive strikes first) 19. Nxg7!, when Black is annihilated after 19Kxg7? 20. Nh5+ Kh7 (Kg6 21. Bd3+ f5 22. Rxe6+) Bd3+ f5 22. Rxe6 Nf6 23. Bxf5+ Kg8 24. Nxf6+ and wins.

Zhou’s only hope is to press on with his own attack, and the position grows extremely sharp: 19b3! 20. axb3 Qb4 21. c3 Qxb3 22. Ngh5 Rb8 23. Nd3 Ba3, when 24. Qxh6? loses to 24Bxb2+ 25. Nxb2 Qxc3+ 26. Kd1 Rxb2.

But with 24. Rh2!, White’s defense holds up just barely long enough to do the job: 24Bb7 (Qa2 25. Qxh6 Qa1+ 26. Kd2 Rxb2+ 27. Nxb2 Qxb2+ 28. Kd1 Qb1+ 29. Ke2 Qb2+ 30. Qd2 holds and wins) 25. Kb1 Bxf3 26. Qxh6 Qxc3 27. Re5!!, a beautiful blocking sacrifice. Mate on g7 is threatened and if 27Nxe5, White can choose between 28. Qg7 mate and 28. Nf6 mate; Zhou resigned.

We go from a glimpse of the future to a blast from the past.

California GM James Tarjan was one of the country’s best players in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a regular participant in U.S. championships, a member of five Olympiad teams and a qualifier for the 1978-1980 world championship cycle. But after finishing third in the 1984 U.S. title tournament, Tarjan gave up the game for three decades, paying the bills by working as a librarian.

Now Tarjan, who turns 63 later this month, has suddenly resurfaced, scoring a creditable 7-2 in last year’s U.S. Open and now competing alongside Wei at the Tradewise Gibraltar event. The rust showed even as he got off to a nice 2½-½ start, as he had to struggle to defeat English IM Nigel Povah from the Black side of a Trompowsky Attack in Round 3.

Tarjan’s queen gets chased around the queenside as White builds up his position, with strong pressure along the d-file. With an increasingly jumbled position, Black makes a good practical decision to jettison the pawn on 25. Nc7 Rc5 26. Qd2 (Nxa6?? Bxa6 27. Rxa6 Nb4) d5!? 27. Nxd5 Kh8 28. Qe2 Ne5, although White retains a clear advantage. But Black claws back into the game after 29. Nxe5?! (better was 29. Ndb6 Nxc4 30. Rxc4 Rxc4 31. bxc4 Bxg2 32. Kxg2, keeping his edge) Bxe5 30. Nb6 Rxd1+ 31. Qxd1 Qd6 32. Qxd6 Rc1+ 33. Bf1 Bxd6 34. Rd4 Be5, and Black’s bishop pair provides strong compensation for the pawn deficit.

Those bishops help turn the tables as White’s pieces suddenly start getting in each other’s way: 36. Nc4 Bf6 37. Rd7? (the wrong square for the rook; equal was 37. Rd6! Bf3 38. Nd2 Rd1 39. Nc4) Bc6 38. Rc7 Bf3 39. Rd7 Bc3 (also strong was 39Be2, when White had to try 40. Nd2 Rd1 41. Ra7 Rxd2 42. Bxe2 Rxe2 43. Rxa6 and hope to hold on) 40. Nd2? (the last chance to fight for a draw was giving back the pawn with 40. e4 fxe4 41. Ne3 Ra1 42. Rc7, though again, the Black two bishops give him a strong endgame edge) Bc6 41. Rd6 Bxd2, and White resigned because 42. Rxd2 Bb5 collects the pinned bishop.

Wei-Yi, 4th Danzhou Tournament, Danzhou, China, May 2013

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. f3 b5 8. Qd2 Nbd7 9. g4 b4 10. Nce2 h6 11. O-O-O Qc7 12. h4 d5 13. exd5 Nxd5 14. Nf4 Nxe3 15. Qxe3 Qe5 16. Qd2 Bc5 17. Nf5 O-O 18. Re1 Qb8 19. Nxg7 b3 20. axb3 Qb4 21. c3 Qxb3 22.Ngh5 Rb8 23. Nd3 Ba3 24. Rh2 Bb7 25. Kb1 Bxf3 26. Qxh6 Qxc3 27. Re5 Black resigns.

Povah-Tarjan, Tradewise Gibraltar Tournament, January 2015

1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 g6 3. Bxf6 exf6 4. e3 Bg7 5. c4 O-O 6. Nc3 f5 7. g3 c5 8. Nge2Nc6 9. dxc5 Qa5 10. Rc1 Qxc5 11. b3 a6 12. Bg2 b5 13. Nd5 bxc4 14. Rxc4 Qa3 15.Ra4 Qb2 16. O-O Rb8 17. Nef4 Qe5 18. Nd3 Qd6 19. Qc2 Rb5 20. Nc3 Rb8 21. Rd1 Rd8 22. Nd5 Rb5 23. Nb2 Qf8 24. Nc4 Bb7 25. Nc7 Rc5 26. Qd2 d5 27. Nxd5 Kh8 28. Qe2 Ne5 29. Nxe5 Bxe5 30. Nb6 Rxd1+ 31. Qxd1 Qd6 32. Qxd6 Rc1+ 33. Bf1 Bxd6 34. Rd4 Be5 35. Rd8+ Kg7 36. Nc4 Bf6 37. Rd7 Bc6 38. Rc7 Bf3 39. Rd7 Bc3 40. Nd2 Bc6 41. Rd6 Bxd2 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]


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