The story is told of a Chinese peasant invited to the emperor’s palace to be rewarded for his loyal service. Would he rather be paid in gold or rice? Seeing the emperor at his chessboard, the peasant chooses rice, requesting one grain for the first square, two for the second, four for the third, and so on. Laughing at the man’s stupidity, the emperor agrees…but soon discovers to his horror that by the 64th square, the multiplying reward now totals more than all the rice in China!
And like the fabled chessboard/rice story that’s now become a popular global math lesson for kids in how doubling makes numbers grow, the growth of chess in China also continues to rise at an exponential rate – and amazingly, this has come from a standing start in 1974 with the relaxing of a chess ban, when the Chinese emerged from behind the Bamboo Curtain to take part in their very first international chess competition.
Now China is riding high in the chess world. They have dominated the women’s game for decades now, and currently, Hou Yifan is the world’s top-ranking female player since Judit Polgar, and Ju Wenjun was recently crowned the new Women’s World Champion. In the men’s/open game, China has a formidable young team that has won Olympiad gold and the World Team Championship – and in their #1, Ding Liren, their first player in the World Candidates.
Not unsurprisingly, there’s also been a growth in top tournaments in China, the latest being the 9th Hainan Danzhou Masters, with a an eight-player field consisting mainly of younger players on the periphery of making a breakthrough into the top-ranking elite circles of Magnus Carlsen et al, such as Yu Yangyi (China) Wei Yi (China), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Santosh Vidit (India), and Sam Shankland, the newly-minted US Champion.
There was added pressure on Shankland, as he’s one of the hottest players in the world right now, coming off a run of three big back-to-back tournament victories, and also a year-long streak of 60 games unbeaten – but the streak ended at 62 games when he lost to Vidit in the third round. And with it, Shankland’s remarkable tournament run also ended, as the top-seeded Chinese #2, Yu Yangyi, took the 9th Hainan Danzhou Masters title ahead of Le Quang Liem, the Vietnamese #1, who also beat the US champion in one of the best games of the tournament.
1. Yu Yangyi (China) 4.5/7; 2. Le Quang Liem (Vietnam) 4; 3-6. Wei Yi (China), Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Bu Xiangzhi (China) 3.5; 7. Sam Shankland (USA) 3; 8. Santosh Gujrathi Vidit (India) 2.5.
Photo: Le Quang Liem scored a striking win over Sam Shankland | © Official site
GM Le Quang Liem – GM Sam Shankland
9th Hainan Danzhou Masters, (6)
Queen’s Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Nc3 c6 8.Bf4 d5 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qc2 Nxf4 12.gxf4 This is a typical formation for White, who willingly cedes the bishop-pair in return for a firm grip in the centre with his pawns, a good knight outpost on e5, and, in certain circumstances, a potential kingside attack with f5. 12…Nd7 13.Rfd1 Qc7 Black has to be cautious here, as he can’t play the immediate 13…c5? as after 14.Ne5! Bxg2 15.dxc5! Qc8 16.Nxd7 Rd8 17.Ne5 leaves White with a big advantage. 14.e3 Rfd8 15.Rac1 Rac8 16.f5! White strikes just before Black can make a clean break with …c5. This isn’t winning – but the sudden switch in direction with the kingside attack makes life difficult for Shankland. 16…exf5 17.Qxf5 g6 18.Qh3 c5 19.d5 Bf6 20.Nd2 Qb8 Shankland is playing all the right defensive moves; but there’s just this little nagging White attack – with the knight hop Nf3-d3-e4 – that makes life difficult for the US champion. 21.Nde4 Bg7 22.Rc2 Nf8 Another solid, precautionary move – and as the late great Bent Larsen maxim would have it, “with my knight on f8, it can’t be mate.” 23.Rcd2 Rd7 It’s a very difficult position, and Shankland has defended resolutely up to now – but this offers White the chance to build the attack further. More solid was 23…f5! 24.Ng5 h6 25.Nf3 and now 25…Rd7 with equality, as Black has everything covered, and forced the knight back to f3. And here, White has to be careful, otherwise, the d5-pawn could well be ganged up on and won. 24.Qh4 Qe5 Now, if 24…f5 there’s 25.Nf6+ Bxf6 26.Qxf6 and the trade of the bishop for knight leaves a chronic dark-squared weakness in the Black camp – and also the trade has empowered the d5-pawn. In hindsight, this might have been safer than what happens in the game. 25.f4!?! A brave move, as White opts to go ‘all-in’ now with the attack, banking on the position being awkward for Black. 25…Qe8 26.Kh1 f5 27.Ng5 Bxc3?! Better was staying calm and simply building up the pressure on the d-pawn with 27…Rcd8! as Black’s dark-squared bishop prevents White’s plan of re-routing the knight to the better e5 outpost. 28.bxc3 Qxe3 29.Nf3 Qxc3? This is a little too greedy. Black should have tried consolidating with 29…Rg7 and the idea of bringing the knight to d7 to challenge the e5 outpost. 30.Ne5 Rg7 31.Qf6! Stopping …Nf8-d7, which will lose to Nxd7 as the …Qc3 is hanging, thanks to White having Nxf6+. It just all gets just a little awkward now for Shankland. 31…Re8 32.Re2 It’s a tricky position, and not made any easier with Shankland in time-trouble here – and it is more than likely he got caught by this unexpected move, having probably analysed and expected the more logical continuation for White of 32.Ng4! Qc4 33.Nh6+ Kh8 34.Nf7+ Kg8 35.Nd6 Qa4! 36.Nxe8 Qxe8 and easier game. There’s no clear win to be found, especially with Black playing good consolidating moves such as …Rf7 and …Qd7. 32…Qb4 33.Ng4 [see diagram] Not the sort of position you like to see on the board, especially with your flag hanging, as Shankland has here! 33…fxg4 34.Rxe8 Rf7 35.Qe6 c4 Shankland envisions pushing his pawn swiftly up the board to confuse his opponent – but the pawn just gets in the way of defending this difficult position. The key move to find was 35…Qa4! hitting the f-pawn (and keeping an eye on a potential back-rank hit on d1), as White can’t play 36.Rf1? due to 36…Ba6! 37.Re1 Bb5 38.Ra8 Qxf4! and Black, with all his bases now covered, and a few extra pawns into the bargain is still very much in the game. 36.Rf1! Now, this is good as …Ba6 doesn’t gain a vital tempo as in the previous note. 36…c3? 37.f5! Kg7 This only hastens the end, but the position is compromised anyway, with the only best way forward being 37…gxf5 38.Rxf5 Qb1+ 39.Rf1 Qg6 40.Rxf7 Qxf7 41.Qxg4+ Kh8 42.Qd4+ Kg8 43.Re3 c2 44.Rc3 easily clearing up. And there is also no time now for 37…Ba6?, as 38.fxg6 wins quickly. 38.f6+ Kg8 39.Qe7! 1-0 The queen sacrifice is a final touch of élan that forces Shankland’s resignation, as after 39…Rxe7 40.fxe7 Qxe7 41.Rxe7 Ba6 42.Rc1 White is easily winning.