Coronavirus keeps Wei Yi grounded at home

by Macauley Peterson
2/7/2020 – The Chinese grandmaster is healthy, but the virus' spread has forced the cancellation of many international flights and, for the second year running, Wei Yi has had to pull out of the Prague Masters just days in advance. He will be replaced by the current top junior in the world, GM Alireza Firouzja from Iran, who now lives in France. An open question is whether the Coronavirus outbreak may impact other top Chinese players heading for next month's Candiates Tournament in Russia. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Firouzja to replace Wei

Yesterday the Prague Chess Fesitval announced that Chinese GM Wei Yi would not be able to travel to Prague in time for the Masters tournament which starts on February 11th, due to the unavailability of international flights leaving China as reported Coronavirus cases continue to climb. There are over 31,000 confirmed cases in the country as of Friday, according to John's Hopkins University's real-time tracker.

Last year it was a late change to the schedule of the World Team Chess Championship that caused Wei's withdrawal. "It was a difficult situation, but we understood that the national team comes first. We immediately agreed with Wei Yi that we would send him an invitation for the next year”, remembers the Festival Director Petr Boleslav.

Wei laments being unable to honour that commitment:

I was happy when I was invited by Petr Boleslav to play at PICF Masters event, it was a great chance to visit the Czech Republic again...But then the sudden coronavirus happened in China, and as the situation became worse and worse, it was impossible to make this journey. It is a pity, but I still look forward to playing in Prague. Perhaps next year.

Wei held the top spot on the World Juniors list for several years until January when Wei aged-out and Alireza Firouzja took over the #1 spot. Now Firouzja, is replacing Wei in Prague, and will have his second major shot at elite invitational competition.

Firouzja Tata 2020

Alireza Firouzja in Wijk aan Zee last month | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Boleslav calls Firouzja the "obvious" choice, adding "I think we have something to look forward to. Firouzja simply lifts viewers out of their chairs, as I experienced recently in Wijk aan Zee”.

Asked to handicap the outcome Wei replied, "It's hard to predict who will win this tournament, because all of them are very strong, but personally I prefer David [Navara], because he was my teammate and helped us to win the 2014 Chinese League."

Chinese players facing travel hurdles

Wei is not the only player currently facing added logistical worries. Ding Liren and Wang Hao are slated to start in the all-important Candidates Tournament next month in Yekaterinburg. FIDE is already anticipating potential travel disruptions affecting the players, and has contacted them in the hopes of heading off problems, due to new visa requirements for Chinese visitors, and the potential need to travel earlier than otherwise might be expected. Both players, currently plan on arriving only days before the tournament gets underway on March 15th.

Ding lives in Wenzhou, China which is 800 Km away from the source of the outbreak in Wuhan. Wang is planning to spend the month of February in Tokyo.

Here's one game played between Wei and Firouzja at the 17th Asian Continental in 2018:


Tactical analysis by Fat Fritz


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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