Fast-rising Wei Yi
June 12, 2014 07:19:41 PM

By Bobby Ang

CHESS was banned during the first eight years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), but by 1974 there was an easing of the ban that saw China begin to participate in international competitions. Many of China’s top players had already moved to Hong Kong due to the ban (for example, Sin Kuen and Kan Wai Shui, the latter tied for 2nd in the 1972 Asian Zonal behind Eugene Torre) and the Chinese organizers had to start from scratch.

In 1975, Dato Tan Chin Nam, the Malaysian-Chinese tycoon, decided that chess in China had enormous potential, and set up the “Big Dragon Project”, the aim being to see China dominate the chess world by 2010. He was quite successful:

In 1990 Ye Rongguang broke through to become China’s first International Grandmaster in 1990. He was followed in quick succession by Ye Jiangchuan (1993), Wang Zili (1995), Peng Xiaomin and Liang Jinrong (1997), and then the flood gates opened and out came a real torrent of GMs. As of the June 2014 FIDE rating list China already has 34 GMs, and that does not count the ones who have already migrated to other countries (Zhang Zhong & Wu Shaobin to Singapore, Zhu Chen to Qatar, for example).

First player to reach a rating of 2600: Ye Jiangchuan in January 2000

First player to reach a rating of 2700: Wang Yue (October 2007)

In the late ’70s the Chinese top player was Qi Jingxuan (I remember back then his name was still spelled Chih Hsing Hsuang), then came:

1) Ye Jiangchuan, at one time no. 17 in the world, followed in succession by

2) Xu Jun — this guy had a very boring style, but quite unbeatable; he won the very first Asian Continental Championship,

3) Zhang Zhong — almost won the World Junior Championship and was at one time winning everything he took part in,

4) Ni Hua — brilliant; a little bit of everything and currently China’s national team captain,

5) Wang Yue — like Xu Jun, boring but unbeatable — in 2010 he was ranked no. 9 in the world, and

6) Wang Hao — one of the greatest tacticians from China — he peaked at no. 15 in the world and was at one time Levon Aronian’s second.

All of them extremely talented, very well respected players, and especially the latter two deemed among the world elite, but, frankly speaking, none of them considered to have world champion potential.

Now it seems that China has one such player with that potential.

China’s Wei Yi (born June 2, 1999) qualified as a GM at 13 years + 8 months, putting him fourth youngest on the all-time list where the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, is third. Wei Yi also became the youngest ever to reach a 2600 rating (breaking the record of the Philippines’ Wesley So, grrr) and in the 2013 Tromso World Cup he defeated former European Champion Ian Nepomniachtchi in the 1st round and then knocked out the former finalist Alexei Shirov in the second.

I remember in the Tromso event some people, unable to believe that such a young player could play so well, insinuated that he was cheating with a computer. Whatever doubts they had though were extinguished when he was invited to join Susan Polgar in the press room after one of his games. The way he answered questions left little doubt that he completely understood what was going on and that the moves were his.

Wei Yi is currently 15 years old and rated 2634, so he still has some ways to go before joining the world elite, but the quality of his games and the rapidity of his growth tell us that he will soon be there.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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