After a long spell of poor performances and indifferent results that belied all his early promise, China’s former teenage prodigy Wei Yi – who was the youngest-ever 2700-rated player before his 16th birthday; and often talked up as a newer-generational rival for Magnus Carlsen – has finally begun to emerge from the shadows of that barren period, as he turned on the style to beat David Navara, and he will now go forward to the FIDE Grand Prix Final in Jerusalem, Israel.
A serious error in the opening in the second tiebreak-decider proved fatal for Navara, as Wei Yi, 20, was back to his sparkling sacrificial best with a near-miniature crush to go forward to meet Ian Nepomniachtchi in Saturday’s final. The welcomed return to form of Wei Yi in Jerusalem has seen the former teenage ace knocking out the world #9 and qualified candidate, Anish Giri, Carlsen’s 2016 title challenger, Sergey Karjakin, and now the Czech #1 – and with it, another big Beijing moment could be on the cards with the three-day final getting underway on Saturday.
And Wei Yi will wake up to discover that he has a new growing fan-base in France, as he’s now Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s last hope to finally make it to the candidates’, as the Russian needs to win the GP title to be sure of overtaking the Frenchman in the near year-long GP standings race for the second of the two candidates spots (the other already assured for GP leader Alexander Grischuk) – but for China, a Wei Yi win could prove to be another milestone moment in their long-term “Big Dragon” project to be the dominant chess superpower, in much the same way as the post-war hegemony the Soviets had over the game.
Currently, China holds both Olympiad titles while Ju Wenjun holds the women’s world crown – but the crown they covet most of all is undoubtedly Carlsen’s crown, which will be in play in 2020.
This year has been another stellar success for China, with world #3 Ding Liren securing a candidates spot, victory over Carlsen in a playoff for the Sinquefield Cup, and recently becoming the 2019 Grand Chess Tour champion. Also, Wang Hao’s surprise victory in the FIDE Grand Swiss secured China a somewhat unexpected second candidates spot.
And while Wei Yi can’t secure a candidates spot for Ekaterinburg in 2020, a victory over Nepomniachtchi in the Jerusalem Grand Prix will give him added confidence going into the new year and beyond, plus it will only further serve to reinforce China’s growing status in world chess.
Photo: Is Wei Yi set to come out of the shadows? | © Niki Riga / World Chess
GM Wei Yi – GM David Navara
Jerusalem FIDE Grand Prix Semifinal, (TB 2)
1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 Bf5 3.Bb2 e6 4.d3 h6 5.Nbd2 Nf6 It’s pretty much a reversed London System – but this is the mirrored version from the other side of the Atlantic, the New York Defence! It got its name because Emanuel Lasker adopted this set-up against Richard Reti at the New York International in 1924 for a famous victory. 6.g3 c5 The New York Defence proper would have been 6…Be7 7.Bg2 0-0 8.0-0 c6 9.Re1 Bh7 with a solid and reliable set-up that’s very popular at all-levels – from clubplayer to grandmaster – against the Reti. 7.Ne5 Nbd7?!N It’s a novelty, and certainly the sort of move we would see if Black had adopted the New York Defence proper with a …c6 set-up – but here, what looks an automatic move, is, in fact, a big mistake that Navara can trace all of his troubles back to. 8.e4! And this is the reason why! 8…Bh7 Forced. There’s no time for anything else as 8…dxe4 9.dxe4 Bxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe5 11.Bb5+! Ke7 12.Qxd8+ Rxd8 13.Nxc5 and if 8…Nxe5 9.exf5 leaves White with a big advantage. 9.Nxd7 Qxd7 10.Bg2 Wei Yi just makes simple developing moves, and Navara’s world is coming crashing down around him thanks to his early error of 7…Nbd7. 10…Qd8?! It looks like another strange move from Navara, but the Czech is in a dilemma of just how to complete his development to try to stay in the game, as the obvious 10…Be7 will be hit by 11.e5 Ng8 12.c4! Bf5 (No, not a mistake, as snatching the pawn with 12…Bxd3? soon backfires to 13.cxd5 exd5 14.Qf3! Bg6 15.Qxd5 Qxd5 16.Bxd5 0-0-0 17.Bg2 with a big advantage, as White will just castle queenside and play Ne4 for a commanding position.) 13.cxd5 exd5 14.Rc1 Rc8 15.d4! Bg4 16.Bf3 with the better prospects, as Black will still have to figure out how to develop the …Ng8. Alternatively, the lesser of the two evils might well have been 10…d4 11.0-0 but White is going to easily get in f4, a4 and Nc4 with a total bind over the position as the …Bh7 is locked-in behind the advancing pawns. 11.exd5! Wei Yi probably couldn’t believe his luck here, as he’s allowed to open the game to his advantage – a really big advantage! 11…exd5 It was either this or 11…Nxd5 12.0-0 and White will soon be following up with Nc4, Re1 and Ne5 for a huge advantage. 12.Qe2+ Be7 Black’s position is grim, and I would imagine a very dispirited Navara had decided he may as well hang for a sheep than a lamb now, as the alternative recapture with 12…Qe7 13.Bxf6 Qxe2+ 14.Kxe2 gxf6 15.Bxd5 is going to lead to the easiest of endgame wins. 13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.0-0 Bf5 Another Navara move that looks strange, but there’s no other way to stop the coming threat down the e-file, as 14…Qd7 15.Rae1 leaves Black dead in the water with the pin down the e-file. Navara’s hope is that, somehow, he can try to survive with …Be6 – but Wei Yi soon throws a spanner in that possible get out. 15.Rae1 Be6 16.Qh5 With all of White’s pieces now locked and loaded, Navara can’t avoid the looming miniature. 16…Qd7 17.Rxe6!! [see diagram] It’s hard to even categorise this as a sacrifice, as not only does White have two good pawns for the exchange, but the end result is that renders Black’s position hopeless. 17…Qxe6 18.Bxd5 Qd7 19.Bxf7+ Kd8 The alternative of …Kf8 was just as bad. 20.Re1 Kc7 21.Be6 Qd8 Even attempting to bail-out to an ending with 21…Qe8 loses on the spot to 22.Qxe8 Raxe8 23.Bf7 with a considerable loss of material. 22.Nc4 a6 23.Bd5 Ra7 It’s a bad day at the office when you are reduced to playing this hopeless move just to try and stave off a ‘miniature’ (a loss in 25 moves and under). 24.Qf7 Re8 Opera heroines have died a less agonising, less painful death here than Navara. 25.Bf3! A nice little finishing finesse from Wei Yi, who simply retreats his bishop to threaten Bh5 winning material. 25…b5 On the plus side for Navara, at least he has successfully avoided the miniature! 26.Na5 Kb6 27.Nc6 1-0