Wang Hao - Profile of a chess prodigy (2/2)

by Diana Mihajlova
3/29/2016 – In this second part of the profile of Wang Hao, the 26-year-old player shares his dire predictions of the future of classical chess, and his opinion of Magnus Carlsen's play. He also goes into detail on his passion for Manga, and his recommendations, as well as eclectic reading tastes from modern fantasy such as The Witcher to literary giants like Yukio Mishima.

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Over the years, Wang Hao got disillusioned with the excitement and satisfaction that chess could offer. Today, he stands by a firm belief that classic chess has no future. In the spirit of the old philosophy, of which the Chinese Tao is probably the earliest precursor, Wang Hao supports his theory with the adage: ’Everything has its end.’

He reminds me that Chinese chess has a much longer tradition, since the Tang dynasty. ’But… classic chess is doomed. It will be killed because of computers. It is a myth that chess offers endless combinations. Combinations in chess are limited! Chess is not growing. It will die.’

Wang Hao overpowered Ruslan Ponomariov in the last round of Bucharest 2013 to take second | Photo: turneulregilor.com

It might sound drastic the way Wang Hao puts it, but it is not entirely off the mark. The future of classic chess has been a worrisome subject over quite some time, on various levels within the chess community. Measures have been taken, with varied effects, to change the format of tournaments or the time controls. The newest such change was applied at the recently finished 5th Zurich Chess Challenge 2016: games shortened to 40 minutes with additional 10 seconds per each move.

Would the rapid and blitz formats be a solution?

’Yes, rapid and blitz are the future of chess. Limited time, so, the first player who makes a mistake will lose.’Here he lamented that this year, regrettably, at the Al Ain Classic there was no rapid tournament. He continues, ’There is no attraction even for commentators. Rules or the format need to be changed. Fischer-random could be an answer, but it has no culture. You cannot name an opening.’

Wang Hao is not deterred from the prospect of encountering strong opposition to his opinions. He is incensed at, the way he sees it, an unrealistic mystification of chess.

’People that discuss chess giving it some unnatural philosophic powers run into big contradictions. Their talk is just an illusion. If you understand professional chess, they make you think that they don’t know what they are talking about. Even all this talk about children becoming more intelligent because of chess is just an illusion. If it were to gain intelligence, children would be better off playing computer games. There are more variations in computer games than in chess.’

Wang Hao in Al Ain 2015 | Photo: Diana Mihajlova

Some changes in Wang Hao’s life are about to take place, which would already make a difference in his existence as a professional chess player. He is preparing to move to Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong, where he has been invited to be a coach to the Shenzhen’s chess team. He will switch teams, abandoning the Heibei for whom he has been playing until now. It will not only bring him some steady income, but it will help him to get away from Beijing, a city highly polluted, which he does not like. ’I feel like living somewhere else’, he says with a relief.

Wang Hao has no coach, but he likes to study with his second, Lou Yiping, a young Chinese IM. ’He is very good at openings. He helped me a lot’. They are primarily close friends having met at the University of Beijing, at the School of Journalism and Communication, where they both studied. He has no inclination of becoming a journalist though. The subject he specialises in is advertising. But, it is unlikely that he would practise this profession after graduation either.

However, he believes that a formal education, even as a professional chess player, is quite important and advisable. He is not in favour of ’obsession with chess and no education or culture’. He cites Kramnik as someone who had no formal schooling but who knows a lot because both of his parents were artists and culturally oriented. What about Carlsen in this respect? ’OK, he loves football and tried to be a model.’

’Some people long to play. Wei Yi, in blitz, has no chance. For now, he is too weak, but he is only 16… He may become stronger later if he does not find some other diversion. Li Chao is also obsessed. But Li and Wang Yue had a good idea for survival. They want to play less chess and earn more money. They created a chess school in Chengdu, Sichuan province.’

As for himself, he has set up, as a most important duty at this point in time, to finish his University studies. Quite disciplined, he has given himself about a half a year to accomplish this task. That means, no chess for a half a year from now.

Wang Hao in Al Ain, by a street banner of the Al Ain Classic, possibly
his last tournament for a while | Photo: Diana Mihajlova

Talking about his University studies, I learn of his special love and appreciation of Manga, the Japanese comics. He is passionate about them and wishes for everybody to read them because he believes that the stories they depict are very deep and full of life wisdom. He passionately states: ’Manga are very serious. Westerners think manga is for kids. I don’t like this judgment’.

Connected to his love for Manga, it is understandable that he also loves animation movies. He has quite a knowledge of the cinematographic history of animation. We talked about the famous director Miyazaki Hayao who won an Oscar, in 2002, for his animated movie ’Spirited Away’. However, he is quick to point out that although this movie won an Oscar, it is not his favourite. He much prefers ’Princess Mononoke’, by the same director.

He is so much taken by this artistic genre that he suggested to his university mentor to write his final paper on animation movies. His subject was accepted, but, as advised by his mentor, he will be looking at the animation movies from a social and communication point of view.

On the left: a poster of the 2002 Oscar winner ’Spirited Away’; on the right: a still from ’Princess Mononoke’

I remembered that another of my interviewees had a special love relationship with the Manga, the Polish shogi woman master, Karolina Styczynska. It must not be a coincidence; perhaps, we should heed Wang Hao’s advice and check on the Manga literary genre. Another popular manga story, ’JoJo’s Adventure’, according to him, is ’a must read.’

JoJo – Wang Hao’s manga hero

Wang Hao generally likes literature and movies. His favourite pastime is reading. He likes fiction: novels and dramas. Even in the classic literature, he likes Japanese authors, particularly Yukio Mishima (Ed: I could not agree more!) and his novel ’Spring Snow’. During the Al Ain Classic, he was engrossed in ’The Witcher’ series by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, a fantasy series of short stories and novels, which he absolutely intended to finish by the end of the tournament. 

’Tournaments are usually quite a lonely affair. We do not mix up much among friends. Closed tournaments tend to be friendlier. On the rest day, we socialise a bit more. It can be even quite fun.’

He had established a closer interaction with Levon Aronian whom he had assisted in preparing for the 2011 Candidate Matches.

’Aronian has lots of ideas about politics and sociology. He reads a lot, but he does not like animation. (He smiles wryly) Before we kept in touch. But now I am lazy for keeping up with communication. That time, I did not have such an opinion about chess. Probably he would disagree. Anyhow, time will tell.’

2011 World Chess Team Championship, first board best players (according to percent):
Wang Hao, gold; Levon Aronian, silver; Gata Kamsky, bronze | Photo: sina.com.cn

At the end of our chit-chat, I asked him if he would provide our readers with one of his games that he would annotate himself. But he met my request with an unexpected declaration: ’I cannot write notation.’ To my surprised look, he clarified: ’I do not like going through my games, analysing them in a written form.’

However, sometime later, I was pleasantly surprised when I received a game, from the latest Al Ain tournament, annotated by himself!

V. Onischuk - Wang Hao (annotated by Wang Hao)

[Event "4th Al Ain Chess Classic Al-Ain"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.12.26"] [Round "4"] [White "Onischuk, V ."] [Black "Hao, Wang"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C01"] [WhiteElo "2612"] [BlackElo "2707"] [Annotator "GM Wang Hao"] [PlyCount "116"] {This game was played in round four when both players stood at 100% with 3.0/3. } 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Bd3 {My opponent recently played some games of this rare line against French. Naturally, I had prepared thoroughly for this.} dxe4 4. Bxe4 Nf6 5. Bf3 Nbd7 (5... c5 {is the main line. After} 6. Ne2 {Black has two options: 6...Nc6 and or 6...Be7, with dynamically balanced chances.}) 6. Ne2 e5 {This is the idea of 5...Nbd7. Black is playing against the bishop on f3.} 7. Nbc3 (7. dxe5 {looks not natural, after} Nxe5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. Nbc3 Nxf3+ 10. gxf3 Bf5 {and Black has a good position.}) 7... Bd6 8. Be3 (8. O-O O-O 9. d5 {what I prepared. Black may probably make an excellent setup with} Ne8 $1 {After} 10. g3 f5 11. Bg2 a6 {Black has a nice position.}) 8... O-O 9. d5 $6 {White started to have problems with this move.} (9. O-O {was what I had expected.} exd4 10. Nxd4 Ne5 11. Ndb5 $11) (9. Ng3 {is also decent.} Nb6 10. Qd3 Be6 11. b3 $11) 9... Nb6 (9... Ne8 10. g4 Bc5) 10. h3 $6 {Too slow.} (10. O-O {is necessary, although Black can get a slightly better position with} Ng4 11. Bxg4 Bxg4) 10... Bf5 $1 {Now White is already in trouble since the pawn on d5 is going to fall soon.} 11. g4 e4 12. Bg2 Bg6 13. Bg5 Re8 14. O-O h6 15. Bh4 Bh7 (15... Be5 {is also good.}) 16. Re1 Bc5 17. Nd4 g5 18. Bg3 Nbxd5 {Now Black is a pawn up, with a good position. During the game I thought that I could convert this advantage without problems.} 19. Nb3 Bf8 20. Qd4 Nb4 { I wanted to play solidly since there was no need to take risks.} (20... Bg7 { is probably even stronger.}) 21. Re2 c6 22. Be5 Qxd4 {The Queens are exchanged. } 23. Bxd4 Nfd5 24. Bxe4 Bxe4 25. Nxe4 Nxc2 26. Rd1 Nxd4 27. Nxd4 Kh7 {I had a good idea behind this move.} 28. Nf5 Kg6 29. f3 (29. h4 {is stronger, to stop my next move. Black still has a huge advantage after} Nf4 30. Re3 Rad8) 29... h5 30. Red2 (30. h4 {too late. Black can continue with} Rad8 31. hxg5 Nc3 32. Ne7+ Bxe7 33. gxh5+ Kxh5 34. Rh2+ Kg6 35. Rxd8 Bxd8 36. bxc3 Bxg5 {with a winning endgame.}) 30... h4 $1 {Now the pawn on h3 is already fixed, and it's too difficult to defend the position for White.} 31. Kf2 Re5 32. a3 a5 33. Ne3 Nf4 34. Nc4 Rd5 35. Nb6 Rxd2+ 36. Rxd2 Re8 37. Nd7 Nxh3+ 38. Ke3 Nf4 {Black is completely winning here, thanks to his two extra pawns. The rest was quite simple.} 39. Nxf8+ Rxf8 40. Rd6+ f6 41. Kf2 Nd5 42. Rd7 f5 43. Rd6+ Nf6 44. Nc5 Rf7 45. Kg2 Re7 46. b4 axb4 47. axb4 fxg4 48. fxg4 Kf7 49. Kf3 b6 50. Nd3 Nd5 51. Kf2 Re6 52. Rxc6 Rxc6 53. Ne5+ Ke6 54. Nxc6 Kd6 55. Nd8 Ke5 56. Kf3 Nxb4 57. Nf7+ Kf6 58. Nd6 Nc6 0-1

 

Also, on YouTube, there are a large number of his games and postmortem analysis from many tournaments.
I chose one of them: his win over Anand at Norway Chess 2013 beautifully commented by Daniel King

Wang Hao’s current rating is 2717, 32nd in the world (rapid, 2752; blitz, 2744). But, since peaking at 2752 in 2013, it has been ’steadily’ declining. Throughout the last year, it barely stood above 2700, in January of this year it hit a low of 2695, as the Al Ain results had not yet been computed. At 26 years of age, it seems quite an early decline after such a brilliant start. My impression is that Wang Hao has not been cultivating his talent to its full potential. He often likes to say, in a nonchalant manner ’I am too lazy to work …’ But also, a dispute with the Chinese Chess Federation has been aired here and there, about which, he was not willing to elaborate, as a result of which he did not represent his country at the 2014 Olympiad, even though he was a top Chinese player.

From our very pleasant conversation, I could detect his sensitive character, openness and sincerity. He likes to observe and pay attention to the world around him, perhaps lacking the ’healthy’ indifference that many top players possess. His dedication to his university studies must have taken its toll too. But, this is not the end. I hope that he regains stability and we will see his rating soar again. Or, he may hit a stock market windfall...As he likes to say: 'Time will tell'.

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A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.