Ex Oriente Lux

The tournament on the Isle of Man, that was held from October 10 to October 21, was said to be the strongest open in history and that might well be true. It was won by the Chinese player Wang Hao, who thereby earned a place in next year’s candidates tournament. Fabiano Caruana came second, with as many points as Wang, but against a slightly weaker opposition, and Magnus Carlsen shared third place with five others. That shows how strong it was.

 A month earlier during the World Cup we had wondered if Yu Yangyi might qualify there for the candidates. This would have happened if he had beaten his compatriot Ding Liren in the tiebreak of the semi-final, which he did not manage to do.

 But imagine what life at the top of the chess world would look like if he had. In that case three of the eight candidates would be Chinese; Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi and Wang Hao. It would be as if the old supremacy of the Soviet-Union had returned in a different guise.

 Wang is only 30-years old, but we had almost forgotten about him. Six years ago he was close to the top ten in the world, but like many Chinese top players he became a trainer at a young age. Apparently, when they find the time to go outside and play, they are still in good shape.

 The old saying ex oriente lux – the light comes from the east – applies more and more to the chess world. Measured by the average rating of a country’s top ten players, Russia is still the strongest, followed by the United States. The old guard, you might say. Then come China and India.

 India is the land of prodigies. Dommaraju Gukesh, 13-years old, became a grandmaster this year when he was only 12-years old. The most prominent Indian wonderboy is Praggnanandhaa (14), who recently, after many other stunning successes, won the U-16 world championship. There are more. Apparently, when Carlsen was asked a few years ago who would be world champion in 2050, he answered, “By that time India will have had many already.”

 Iran as a chess nation is obviously not nearly as imposing as China and India, but the young Iranians are rattling at the gate. On the world ranking list of the best juniors there are three Iranians in the top ten. The best of them is Alirezja Firouzja (16), who became champion of Iran when he was 12, grandmaster when he was 14 and now is one of the top thirty players in the world.

 During the annual chess festival in the Dutch town Hoogeveen, from October 19 to 26, he beat the Peruvian grandmaster Jorge Cori in a short match with 4½-1½, playing in a grand style with speculative sacrifices.

 And speaking about prodigies, in the open group in Hoogeveen there was the 13-year-old grandmaster Javokhir Sindarov from the Central Asian republic Uzbekistan. In a field with many GMs he started with 5 out of 5, easily qualified for the semi-finals and was only beaten in the final by the experienced Dutch grandmaster Sipke Ernst.

 It’s really amazing, all those prodigies from Asia. It must be something in the food.

 Click here for: Cori-Firouzja, Hoogeveen 2019, second match game.