Wei Yi brilliantly wins Tata Steel Masters in blitz playoff

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/29/2024 – It was a thrilling event from start to finish. The final round of the Tata Steel Masters saw four co-leaders grabbing wins to set up a four-way blitz playoff. Wei Yi, Gukesh D., Anish Giri and Nodirbek Abdusattorov played the knockout tiebreaker, which saw 24-year-old Wei claiming overall victory after showcasing his well-known tactical sharpness in the deciding stage. Meanwhile, Leon Luke Mendonca took clear first place in the Challengers after beating Divya Deshmukh with the white pieces. | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

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A long time coming

In March 2013, almost exactly ten years ago, Wei Yi became the fourth youngest-ever grandmaster in the world after scoring a 7½/10 score at the Reykjavík Open, where he defeated, among others, a 22-year-old Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

That same year, in November, he became the youngest player to ever surpass the 2600-rating mark (a record that has been broken since), after knocking out Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexei Shirov in the first two rounds of the FIDE World Cup. Wei was 14 at the time.

The prodigy’s deep chess understanding and incredible tactical eye prompted pundits to often refer to him as Magnus Carlsen’s biggest threat for the coming years. Up to August 2017, Wei continued his quick ascent, as he reached his peak rating of 2753 shortly after winning his third consecutive Chinese Chess Championship.

At that point, the rating growth stopped, though. Since the second semester of 2017 until the end of 2023, Wei’s rating never fell below 2700, but he seemed to had hit a wall just when he was about to become a fixture in the elite circuit. The Chinese talent never quite modified his attacking style to obtain better results in strong tournaments, while some of his younger colleagues — e.g. Alireza Firouzja, Nodirbek Abdusattorov or Gukesh — surpassed him in the world ranking and collected triumphs in top-notch events.

Now, at 24 (still very young), the man from Yancheng has collected the biggest victory of his career at the Tata Steel Masters. His 8½/13 performance also gained him 14.8 rating points, which means he has joined the world’s top-10 in the live ratings list and achieved a new peak rating of 2755 — just two points higher than his rating in August 2017.

Wei Yi

Wei Yi just obtained the biggest success of his one-of-a-kind career | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Jurriaan Hoefsmit

In a recent interview conducted by chess.com’s Peter Doggers, world champion Ding Liren talked about his friendship with Wei, and the latter’s human sensibility. Before the Astana match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Wei sent Ding a poem which reflected on the purity of chess and the human side of the royal game.

Back in 2015 the down-to-earth side of Wei came up at the Danzhou International Tournament, where three participants — Ding, Wei and Yu Yangyi — recited poems written by Su Dongpo, a Chinese writer considered to be “the pre-eminent personality of the eleventh century”. Back then, Liang Ziming highlighted Wei’s recitation abilities. He was 16 at the time.

Find below one of the poems recited in Danzhou — “Remembrance” by Su Dongpo, translated by Arthur Waley:

To what can our life on earth be likened?
To a flock of geese,
alighting on the snow.
Sometimes leaving a trace of their passage.

Kudos to Wei for making it this far while keeping in touch with his human, sensible side!

Wei Yi, Ju Wenjun

Wei Yi and women’s world champion Ju Wenjun during the closing ceremony | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

The final round

An exciting penultimate round saw Vidit Gujrathi beating Nodirbek Abdusattorov to create a climactic scenario for Sunday — five players entered the final round sharing first place, while Praggnanandhaa and Alireza Firouzja (who stood a half point back) still had theoretical chances to win the event.

Only in one of the seven games two of the co-leaders were paired up against each other (Wei v. Vidit), while the three remaining co-leaders were set to face players with scores below 50%.

At the end of the day, all three players facing contenders out of contention for tournament victory scored full points, while Wei defeated Vidit in the marquee matchup of the round. Thus, four players ended tied for first place, each with 8½/13 points in the final standings.

Following an unpleasant controversy in the 2021 edition of the Tata Steel Masters, the organizers created a new tiebreak system, which considered the players’ fatigue after 13 rounds of classical games. As per the new rules, the four players tied for first went on to fight in a blitz knockout (semifinals and finals) with sudden-death games in case of a tie.

Find below expert analyses by GM Karsten Müller, who looked at Wei v. Vidit (1-0) and Giri v. Warmerdam (1-0).

Results - Round 13

Anish Giri

Defending champion Anish Giri once again had a remarkable performance in Wijk aan Zee | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

The blitz tiebreaker

To decide the champion, 2-game semifinal matches with sudden-death encounters in case of a tie followed. Out of the four contenders, Wei was clearly the underdog, which, as he told Fiona Steil-Antoni, allowed him to relax. In the semis, the Chinese GM was paired up against Abdusattorov, while Giri faced Gukesh.

Giri won the first game and saw Gukesh first bouncing back and then winning the tiebreaker with white. Meanwhile, Wei had the black pieces first, and miraculously escaped with a draw after Abdusattorov failed to prevent a perpetual check in a totally winning endgame.

Black had just promoted his c-pawn, forcing his opponent to play 51.Rxc1. Then, with three seconds on his clock, Abdusattorov played the automatic 51...Qxc1, allowing 52.Qe6+ Kg7 53.Qe7+, with a perpetual check.

Instead, 51...Qe2+ would have won the game for Black — e.g. 52.Kg3 Qe5+ 53.Kh3 Rxc1 (diagram), and Black is not only a rook up but his queen is perfectly centralized to prevent a draw by perpetual check.

Wei won with black in the next game, qualifying to the final blitz match against Gukesh. A second 1½-½ victory gave the Chinese star overall victory. Referring to his attitude in the blitz playoff, Wei noted: “I just wanted to do my best”.

Game analysis by Robert Ris

All games - Blitz tiebreaks

Gukesh, Wei Yi

The final match of the tiebreakers | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Dommaraju Gukesh

It was still a great tournament for Gukesh, who will play the Candidates in three months’ time | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Nodirbek Abdusattorov

Nodirbek Abdusattorov was inches away from winning the Tata Steel Masters for a second year in a row | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Wei 1 - 0 Vidit

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Giri 1 - 0 Warmerdam

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Anish Giri, Sopiko Guramishvili

Anish Giri with his wife, IM Sopiko Gurashmivili, and their two kids | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Video analysis by IM Robert Ris

Final standings

All games

Mendonca beats Divya, wins Challengers

Despite losing two out of his six first games in the tournament, Leon Luke Mendonca qualified for next year’s Masters tournament by winning the Challengers section with a remarkable 9½/13 score. Mendonca collected 6½ points in the last seven rounds, beating dangerous opponents who still had chances to win the event mid-tournament: i.e. Anton Korobov, Mustafa Yilmaz and Saleh Salem.

With two rounds to go, world junior champion Marc’Andria Maurizzi had a full-point lead over Mendonca after winning four games in a row — the French youngster was at that point the clear favourite to take the title.

In round 12, though, Maurizzi lost to Daniel Dardha while Mendonca scored a fine victory with black over Salem. Maurizzi could only draw early leader Erwin l’Ami in the final round. Thus, Mendonca’s victory over Divya Deshmukh gave the 17-year-old from Goa a spot in the 2025 edition of the Masters.

Mendonca is now 9th among juniors in the live ratings list with 2631 Elo points. In May 2020, the youngster was a promising talent with a 2452 rating (by then, Pragg, for example, had already surpassed the 2600-rating mark). A fateful stay in Budapest amid Covid-related restrictions helped him improve his level, as he got to meet living legend Judit Polgar.

Leon Luke Mendonca

Leon Luke Mendonca | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Besides Mendonca’s crucial victory, four more games ended decisively in the final round of what turned out to be a very entertaining Challengers tournament.

  • Daniel Dardha defeated Liam Vrolijk to finish in shared second place. He and Maurizzi scored 9/13 points.
  • Anton Korobov got the better of Mustafa Yilmaz to end the event with 8½ points.
  • Saleh Salem beat Stefan Beukema with the black pieces. The Emirati grandmaster only drew three games throughout the event and finished with 7½ points. (This game was analysed by GM Karsten Müller).
  • Harika Dronavalli defeated Eline Roebers with the white pieces.

Results - Round 13

Beukema 0 - 1 Salem

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Tata Steel Chess 2024

Yet another successful edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament is on the books | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Final standings

All games


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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