Luke McShane

Seizing the moment

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‘If the ball came loose from the back of the scrum, which it won’t of course…,’ said Boris, about his prospects of becoming prime minister. Disingenuous or not, it’s surely not a job won by determination alone. One needs a little help from events.

Despite a strong start, Wang Hao, from China, downplayed his chances of winning the Fide Chess.com Grand Swiss, so fierce was the competition. The field comprised most of the world’s top 100, plus a number of promising juniors, women and players from the Isle of Man where the event was held. But his score of 8 points from 11 games marked a career breakthrough for a player who has generally ranked just outside the world’s top 20 for a decade.

With generous sponsorship from the Scheinberg family, there was more than $400,000 at stake, including $70,000 for first place. In winning the event, Wang Hao also earns a golden ticket to the eight-player Candidates tournament in Yekaterinburg 2020, which will decide a challenger for the world championship. He is the second Chinese player to qualify for Yekaterinburg, after world no. 3 Ding Liren. Somewhat anomalously, Wang has not represented China at the Chess Olympiad since 2012, seemingly due to tensions with his federation.

England no. 1 David Howell played an excellent tournament. His resounding victory against the elite Russian player Alexander Grischuk even put him in contention for the Candidates spot, but he lost a tense battle with Wang Hao in the final round. Earlier in the event, Wang beat me too. After our game, I was struck by his gentle manner as he accurately identified my error. When interviewed, he often appears pensive just before breaking into an endearing grin.

The penultimate round was auspicious, and a fine example of his engaging style. Playing Black against Vishy Anand, one can never count on more than a draw, but the former world champion stumbled onto some terrain that Wang had studied thoroughly at home. After the queens were exchanged, Anand’s attack foundered, and Wang seized his opportunity.

Viswanathan Anand–Wang Hao

Fide Grand Swiss, Isle of Man, October 2019

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 Nxe4 4 Bd3 d5 5 Nxe5 Nd7 6 Nc3 Nxe5 7 dxe5 Bb4 Probably a surprise for White. 8 O-O Nxc3 9 bxc3 Bxc3 10 Rb1 O-O 11 Bxh7+ Kxh7 12 Qd3+ Kg8 13 Qxc3 b6 14 Qg3 Black’s king position looks dangerous, but Wang had prepared the clever manoeuvres Qd8-d7-f5 and Rf8-e8-e6 and judged he could keep things under control 14 … Qd7 15 Rb4 Qf5 16 Rh4 Re8 17 f4 Re6 18 Qf3 Qe4 An important move, as 19 Qh5 can be met with 19…Rh6! 19 Qxe4 dxe4 20 Rg4 Ba6 21 Re1 Rd8 22 Rg3 Rc6 23 f5 Rd5 24 e6 A mistake, though the position was already becoming difficult. A better try was 24 h4, hoping to meet 24 … Rxe5 with 25 Bb2. 24 … Rxf5 25 Ra3 Bc4 26 exf7+ Bxf7 27 c3 a5 White’s rook is suddenly locked out of the game 28 Rxe4 A blunder in a desperate situation 28 … Rcf6 (see diagram). White is losing a piece after 29 Re1 Bc4 30 h3 Rf1+ 31 Rxf1 Rxf1+ 32 Kh2 Rxc1 0-1