Wang Hao wins Grand Swiss

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

FIDE Grand Swiss 2019
Douglas, Isle of Man
Oct. 10–21, 2019

Final Top Standings (GM all)

1–2. Wang Hao CHN 2726, Fabiano Caruana USA 2812, 8.0/11

3–8. Kirill Alekseenko RUS 2674, Levon Aronian ARM 2758, David Anton Guijarro ESP 2674, Magnus Carlsen NOR 2876, Hikaru Nakamura USA 2745, Nikita Vitiugov RUS 2732, 7.5/11

9–13. Alexander Grischuk RUS 2759, David Paravyan RUS 2602, David Howell ENG 2694, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2718, Le Quang Liem VIE 2708, 7.0/11

Total of 154 participants: 133 GM, 2 WGM, 16 IM

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, followed by 15 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every chess move starting move 1.

Wow! That was one strong tournament. There were two GMs rated above 2800 (Carlsen & Caruana) and 19 more who were rated above 2700, including no. 3 seed Wesley So (2767).

The big prize of the 2019 FIDE Grand Swiss is an automatic qualification slot to the Yekaterinburg Candidates tournament next year (this is the competition to determine who will challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world title) and the Chinese GM Wang Hao took that slot after winning on tie-break from Fabiano Caruana.

The tie-break was not the conventional Sonneborn-Berger (add to your score the number of points the people you beat scored, and half the output of the people you drew against) or the Buchholz (add all the points scored by your opponents to your own). Here in the Isle of Man they used the modified average rating of opponents. How does this work? First you list down all of the 11 players you faced in the tournament from highest to lowest rating. You then remove no. 11, followed by averaging out the ratings of the remaining 10.

Wang Hao had an average opponent rating of 2735 while Caruana’s was 2720, so Wang Hao gets to go to Yekaterinburg. The criticism against using the average rating tie-break system is that there is always a bias against the top-rated players. Wang Hao played Caruana and got to use the American’s very high 2812 ELO rating in his average computations. On the other hand Caruana cannot play himself and so will not have a 2812 opponent to shore up his average.

Also, this tie-break system emphasizes rating over performance. Beating an off-form Yu Yangyi with a 2760 rating is given more weight than defeating a rampaging Kirill Alekseenko (2674) who eventually finished in 3rd place.

Anyway, I don’t think Caruana minded very much being relegated to 2nd place. He has, after all, already qualified for the Candidates Tournament by virtue of being the losing finalist in the world championship last year, and besides the prize money was split equally among himself and Wang Hao. $70,000 was earmarked for first and $50,000 for second. The organizers gave the two players $60,000 each.

Wang Hao was born Aug. 4, 1989 in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China. Harbin is the largest city in the northeastern region of China and it is a very cold place. It is also called the “Ice City” because of its winter tourism and recreations, including the ice sculpture festival in the winter.

In 2005, when only 16-years-old, the unknown Wang Hao announced himself upon the chess world by winning the Dubai Open even though he was still untitled with a score of 7/9 points (rating performance of 2731), ahead of 53 grandmasters and 30 international masters. A few months after that Wang played in the 2nd Dato Arthur Tan Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur and won with 10/11, 2 points clear of the rest of the field with a rating performance of 2843. He was awarded the GM title after the Malaysian tournament and became one of the few players to get the grandmaster title without going through International Master.

To emphasize his assault on the chess establishment, Wang Hao wasn’t winning his games with grinding marathons but crashing through with a disrespectful slamming of doors. Here is a sample:

Kacheishvili, Giorgi (2597) — Wang, Hao (2484) [D17]
Dubai op 7th Dubai (9), 12.04.2005

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Qc7 8.g3 e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Bg2 f6 12.0–0 Nc5 13.Ne3 Bg6 14.b4 Ne6 15.b5 Rd8 16.Qc1 Bc5 17.bxc6 bxc6 18.Bxe5 fxe5 19.Ne4 Be7 20.Nc4 Nd4 21.Ra2 0–0 22.Kh1 Kh8 23.e3 Nf3 24.Ncd2 Qd7 25.Qa1 Qe6! 26.Nc5 Bxc5 27.Nxf3 Be4 28.Ne1?

Kacheishvili misses Black’s idea. He should have played 28.Ng5! and he might even equalize.

28…Bd5 29.Bxd5 Qxd5+ 30.Kg1 Bxe3! 31.fxe3 Rxf1+ 32.Kxf1 Qh1+ 33.Ke2

[33.Kf2 e4 34.Ng2 Qxh2 (threat is …Rf8+) 35.Kf1 Qh1+ 36.Kf2 Rd1 Black wins]

33…e4 34.Kf2 Qxh2+ 35.Ng2 Rf8+ 36.Ke1 Qxg3+ 37.Kd2 Qxg2+ 38.Kc3 Qg5 0–1

Wang Hao continued his rise in the following years and, in the 2012 Biel tournament, even managed to win ahead of Magnus Carlsen. On January 2013 he achieved his peak rating of 2752 and was ranked no. 14 in the world, but that was to be the rise before the decline. After that came a period of self-doubt and disillusionment with the excitement and satisfaction that chess could offer, and the belief that computers will end classical chess and that rapid and blitz are the future for the royal game. In his words “Limited time, so the first player who makes a mistake will lose.”

He decided to play less and go back to the University to finish his studies. As a steady form of income he took on students for personal training. The result, of course, was that Wang dropped out of the chess elite tournament circuit and would only be seen thereafter in random open tournaments here and there.

The 2019 FIDE Grand Swiss event did not have any qualifying event — it just required a minimum rating for participants. Wang Hao therefore had no difficulty signing up to play. When the tournament started he reeled off 3 straight wins and tied for the lead with Fabiano Caruana which they held through till round 6.

Wang, Hao (2726) — Bu, Xiangzhi (2721) [C54]
FIDE Grand Swiss
Isle of Man (3.2), 12.10.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.c3 0–0 6.0–0 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nbd2 Nb6 9.Bb5 f6

For the first 10 moves Wang Hao had taken 30 minutes while Bu’s clock had virtually not moved.

10.d4 exd4 11.Nb3 Qd5 12.Bf4 Bg4 13.Bxc7 Rf7 14.Bg3 Ne5?

With the benefit of 100% hindsight we know now that Black’s bishop on c5 proves to be a weakness and he should have retreated it with 14…Bf8.

15.Bxe5 fxe5 16.Be2 Rd8? <D>

[16…e4 17.Nfxd4 Bxe2 18.Qxe2 Bxd4 19.Nxd4 the pawn on e4 will be a weakness rather than a strength]



Nice shot! Black cannot take the pawn because he will lose his c5 bishop after 17…Nxc4 18.Bxc4 Qxc4 19.Rc1.

17…Qd6 18.Ng5! Bf5

[18…Bxe2 19.Qxe2 Rc7 (19…Rdf8 20.Ne4 and again the c5 bishop falls) 20.Nxc5 Rxc5 (20…Qxc5 21.Qg4!) 21.Ne4 White is clearly better in all lines]

19.Nxf7 Kxf7 20.Bd3 e4 21.Nxc5 Qxc5 22.Qh5+ Kf6 23.Bxe4 Na4 24.b4 Qe5 25.f4!

White is just one move ahead of Bu throughout the game.

25…Qxe4 26.Rae1 1–0

After the black queen moves then 27.Qg5+ Kf7 28.Re7+ followed by mate.

In round seven Wang Hao fell to a completely unnecessary loss to Levon Aronian in a drawn rook and pawn endgame, which allowed the Armenian to take over Wang’s place at the top of the standings. Most people would have collapsed then but GM Wang gathered himself and drew the next two games (against Magnus Carlsen no less and Nikita Vitiugov) followed by beating Vishy Anand and David Howell in the last two rounds to tie for the lead once more and get himself crowned the champion on tiebreaks.

Anand, Viswanathan (2765) — Wang, Hao (2726) [C43]
FIDE Grand Swiss
Isle of Man (10.4), 20.10.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.Bd3 d5 5.Nxe5 Nd7 6.Nc3 Nxe5 7.dxe5 Bb4 8.0–0 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Bxc3 10.Rb1 0–0 11.Bxh7+ Kxh7 12.Qd3+ Kg8 13.Qxc3 b6 14.Qg3 Qd7

If Black were just automatically making moves then he might fall for 14…Bb7? which is refuted right away with 15.Bg5 Qd7 16.Bf6 g6 17.Qh4 forcing mate. The text move ensures that Black has …Qg4 to stop the mate threat.

15.Rb4 Qf5 16.Rh4 Re8 17.f4

[17.Bh6 doesn’t work because of 17…Qxe5!]

17…Re6 18.Qf3 Qe4 19.Qxe4 dxe4 20.Rg4 Ba6

Maybe better is 20…Rxe5 21.Rxg7+ Kxg7 22.fxe5 Be6 23.a3 Rd8 as sit would go into an endgame which is easier to play for Black.

21.Re1 Rd8

Time is of essence. A lazy move like 21…Bb7 22.Bb2! intending f4–f5 and the initiative switches back to White.

22.Rg3 Rc6 23.f5 Rd5 24.e6?

[24.h4 is correct. The e5–pawn is not in danger because …Rxe5, Bb2 focuses the attack on g7]

24…Rxf5 25.Ra3 Bc4 26.exf7+ Bxf7 27.c3 a5 28.Rxe4??

A serious blunder. He had to preface this move with 28.h3.

28…Rcf6! 0–1

Black is threatening mate on f1 and even 28…Rcf6 29.Re1 Bc4 forces Anand to give up his bishop.

Perhaps a few years from now, 2019 will be known as the “Year of the Comebacks” where two semi-retired players suddenly clawed back to the chess limelight and qualified for the 2020 Candidates’ tournament. Last month there was the Azeri GM Teimour Radjabov who made his way by winning the gigantic 128-player World Cup, and now it is GM Wang Hao. In fact, the Chinese GM has even regained his 2752 rating and will be the world no. 17 in the November FIDE rating list. Definitely, the 2020 Yekaterinburg Candidates will be an interesting event!


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.