- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

In the 16th century it was Spain vs. Italy. By the mid-19th century it was France vs. England. In the middle of the 20th it was the Soviets vs. the rest of the world.

And the must-see team match of the 21st century just might be one between two longtime rivals but nontraditional chess powers — India and China.

Although Russia, Ukraine and even the U.S. have far more active grandmasters, the two rising Asian superpowers are closing the gap fast. Both already can boast world champions: GM Viswanathan Anand, the “Tiger of Madras” who sparked a chess boom in his homeland, and for China, a string of women’s world champions stretching from GM Xie Jun in the 1990s to GM Hou Yifan, who dominates the women’s game today.

One sign of a shift in the balance of power in August 2014 came at the 41st Chess Olympiad in Norway, where China won its first gold medal and India — playing without Anand on the roster — took bronze.

Battles between the two can be hard-fought, as was the case at the Asian Nations Cup team competition that wraps up Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. Outrated on every board, the underdog Indians defeated the top-seeded Chinese in their Round 5 matchup last week, with GM Baskaran Adhiban upsetting Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi on Board 1 and 21-year-old Indian GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi taking down Chinese wunderkind Wei Yi on Board 3. Wei, 16, already has some attacking masterpieces under his belt, but he found himself outcombined by his Indian rival in today’s game.

Perhaps to avoid the well-traveled Ruy Lopez routes, the players open with the “Pianissimo” variation (4. d3) of the venerable Giuoco Piano opening. Wei seems to get a slight edge with White, getting Gujrathi’s active light-squared bishop off the board and breaking up Black’s queenside pawns after 13. Ng3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 Qd7 15. a4 a6 16. Bxc6 bxc6.

But White appears to grow impatient, sacrificing a pawn when more development might have been in order: 19. c5?! Bxc5 20. Rxe5 Be4 21. Re1 Nd6, and Black’s pressure on the b-pawn on the half-open file suddenly grows uncomfortable.

Trying to relieve the pressure, the Chinese star appears to overlook a nice tactical finesse on 23. Bf4? (the modest 23. Rb1 was indicated here) Bxb2 24. Rab1 (see diagram) Nb5!, and the knight gets into the action with a gain of tempo as 25. Rxb2? Nd4 exploits the new pin on the e2-knight and wins material after 26. Rxb8 Nxf3+ 27. gxf3 Rxb8.

White is back on his heels for the rest of the game, and his effort to recover at least some of his sacrificed material opens the door to a powerful Black counterpunch. Thus: 29. Ra1 Bb6 30. Bxb6 cxb6 31. Rxa6 (winning back one pawn, but now the rook is badly out of play and White’s knight on g3 is vulnerable) f4! 32. Ne2 (Ne4? Rxe4 wins a piece, while Black keeps his bind after 32. Nf1 Qd4) f3!, threatening to bust up the White king’s pawn cover.

One more White blunder gives Gujrathi the game and India the match: 33. Nf4? (White can still fight on after 33. Ng3) Nd4 34. Ra1 Rf8!, and the attacked White knight can’t retreat and can’t be guarded. Wei resigned, as 35. Qd2 Rxf4! 36. Qxf4 Ne2+ and 35. g3 Rxf4! 36. gxf4 Qxh3 37. Qf1 Ne2+ are hopeless.

Wei-Gujrathi, Asian Nations Cup, Abu Dhabi, April 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. d3 Nf6 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O d5 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. Nbd2 Nb6 9. Bb5 Bd6 10. Re1 Bg4 11. h3 Bh5 12. Ne4 f5 13. Ng3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 Qd7 15. a4 a6 16. Bxc6 bxc6 17. c4 Rab8 18. a5 Nc8 19. c5 Bxc5 20. Rxe5 Bd4 21. Re1 Nd6 22. Ne2 Rfe8 23. Bf4 Bxb2 24. Rab1 Nb5 25. Ng3 Bc3 26. Rxe8+ Rxe8 27. Be3 g6 28. Qd1 Bxa5 29. Ra1 Bb6 30. Bxb6 cxb6 31. Rxa6 f4 32. Ne2 f3 33. Nf4 Nd4 34. Ra1 Rf8 White resigns.

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

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