China's Rise

At my school in Amsterdam, in the late 1950s, our history teacher liked to talk about the Chinese threat. He told us how many people there were in China and said: “If they all come running our way, you can imagine...” I liked to take a scientific point of view and I wondered if all these Chinese running in our direction would influence the speed of the earth rotating on its axis.

Our history teacher was also bitter about the independence of the former European colonies in Africa. In retrospect, I would call him a man of the right, but we schoolboys didn’t think in those terms then.

There was also a man of the left, our geography teacher. He gave us a series of lectures about American empire building, indicating the locations of American military bases all over the world.

Therefore, during the Cuba crisis of October 1962, a few months after I had finished school and become a university student, I wasn’t really worried about the prospect of nuclear annihilation, as I had learned at school from my geography teacher that the U.S. would reign supreme all over the American continent.

In retrospect, this was probably false confidence, as I learned later that even cabinet members of the Kennedy administration had not always been confident that they would see the light of the next day during that crisis.

But my history teacher had prepared me for the rise of China. In chess, it has meant victory in the Olympiad of 2014 and winning the World Team Championships of 2015 and 2017; I don’t think our teacher would have been surprised.

I wonder if he would have come to terms with the modern face of what he called the yellow peril. In my home city Amsterdam, the Chinese running west are tourists who, for a long time, have come to buy diamonds, and nowadays in the tourist shops, also “Dutch cheese,” which is mostly produced in China, shipped to the Netherlands, given fancy brand names here, and then sent to China and to the rest of the world “tax free,” which is a code word for shamelessly expensive.

I think that nowadays school teachers in the Netherlands would be in big trouble if they were to expound their political views so openly. I have read that in the U.S., students claim a right to a “safe space” where they are protected from uncomfortable opinions. There was more freedom in my youth.

But this should be a column about chess and I digress.

Recently I re-read a profile of Wei Yi that had appeared in the magazine New in Chess in 2015. He is now 18 years old and the great hope of China, a potential world championship contender.

In that profile, I read that in 2006, when he was seven years old, Wei Yi left his parents and his grandparents to live in another city with the family of his chess coach. It was difficult for him and he cried sometimes, and maybe his parents also cried, but his father had said that after the pain, the pleasure would be sweet.

Later Wei would move to other cities and even stronger trainers, and when he was 12, he became a full time professional, with a salary like other government servants. When he was 15 and among the best 50 of the world, he was considered as a potential challenger of Magnus Carlsen.

But then, contrary to expectations, his rating did not rise, but declined slightly. It was speculated that he might be one of the child prodigies that had a great future behind him.

In recent years, the trend has been upward again. This year in Wijk aan Zee, he scored 7½ out of 13 and shared third place with Levon Aronian and the Indian Baskaran Adhiban, who had a surprising performance.

In July, in the Chinese city Danzhou, Wei won his first international top tournament. It was a round-robin of five Chinese and five foreigners, among them Vasili Ivanchuk and Ruslan Ponomariov. With this victory, Wei became 14th on the live rating list, still quite some distance behind Carlsen, but getting nearer.

Just as the tennis player Boris Becker was known as “Boom Boom” Becker for his mighty serve, the nickname “Wham” Wei has been used because of his many energetic sacrificial attacks. A typical example, played earlier this year, can be seen in the game viewer, but there is also an impressive positional game from the Danzhou tournament.

Vladimir Malakhov – Wei Yi
Danzhou 2017
Position after White’s 13th move

About Black’s next move, 13...Qe5, Alexander Baburin wrote in his admirable daily e-magazine Chess Today: “What a concept! I bet that 99% of all chess players would have gone for 13...Bc5.”

This may be true, but it must be said that my Stockfish 8 gives 13...Qe5 as its recommended first line. Modern engines like to sacrifice.

To view Wei-Xu and Malakhov-Wei, click here.