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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PhishMaster PhishMaster 2/9/2020 12:45
@Magic_Knight, and it is THEIR responsibility to be there, no matter the circumstances. Sorry, if they qualified, and cannot get there due to outside issues. That is not the responsibility, or worry, of the opponent. You sit down across from me, or you lose...simple. Too bad, life sucks sometimes.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 2/8/2020 04:50
@excalibur2 - well of course I already thought about the presence of chess engines. But if there is an FIDE arbiter present and cameras broadcasting Ding Liren at the table....then this should be fine.

@KevinC - not fair to the oppoenents? I would say it's even more unfair to the person who rightfully qualified months before to deny them their ticket. Yes, life sucks sometimes but there are ways around it...we live in modern times people.
Masquer Masquer 2/8/2020 12:54
Well taken point, but you would need an impartial FIDE arbiter present in China. Would that be a huge issue at this time?
excalibur2 excalibur2 2/8/2020 12:16
Maybe because of the existence of chess engines? @Magic_Knight I for one am very happy to see Firouzja back in top level action again.
KevinC KevinC 2/7/2020 11:31
Any Chinese players heading to the candidates should start their journey now since they may need to be quarantined for two weeks.

And sorry, candidates matches should be face-to-face. It is not fair to their opponent. It is not even remotely the same level of tournament as Fischer playing via teleprinter, or the same circumstances. It is unfortunate, but these are the circumstances.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 2/7/2020 05:43
Why not allow them to play remotely? I know it's a sudden & unexpected change but for people like Ding Liren who undoubtedly deserves his spot in the candidates, to miss it now would be such a catastrophe.

I mean Fischer played remotely (via telegraph?) in a tournament in Havanna in the 1960's, right?

Anyway, just my two cents.