Openings of the Chinese team


The Chinese team took fourth place at the Olympiad in Istanbul. Their players were: Wang Hao, Wang Yue, Ding Liren, Bu Xiangzhi and Li Chao – five extremely interesting grandmasters. I had the idea of analysing their games from the point of view of the opening struggle.

Here’s what came of that.

Read on

                                                                Alexey Kuzmin

International Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer

Board one – Wang Hao

Wang Hao played his first two games with White and won both of them. Moreover, in the second he confidently refuted Caruana’s somewhat dubious handling of the Pirc-Ufimtsev Defence. In the next encounter Wang Hao came up against Kramnik. It wasn’t easy going for the leader of the Chinese team.

Kramnik,V (2797) - Wang Hao (2726) [E10]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (4), 31.08.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0–0 7.0–0 c6 8.Bf4 b6 9.Nc3 Ba6 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.Rc1 Bb7 12.Ne5 Nbd7 13.Nd3 Ne8


The game Khalifman-Arutinian/Dresden 2007 saw 14.Qb3. Immediately opening the centre is more energetic.

14...dxe4 15.Nxe4 Bd5 16.Nc3 Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Ndf6 18.Qf3 Wang Hao needed to put in serious efforts to hold the position…1/2

Twice, against Ghaem Maghami and Aronian, Hao played the Scotch Game. While he managed to outplay the Iranian grandmaster the leader of the Armenian team easily solved all his problems in the opening – a draw.

But in his “white” game against Radjabov Wang Hao couldn’t counter his opponent’s methodical preparation in a variation of the King’s Indian Defence that’s fairly rare for the top level.

Wang Hao (2726) - Radjabov,T (2788) [E68]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (8), 05.09.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0–0 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.0–0 e5 8.e4 exd4 9.Nxd4 Re8 10.h3 Nc5 11.Re1 Bd7 12.Bf4 h6 13.Rb1 a5 14.b3 a4 15.Kh2 axb3 16.axb3


An improvement. This counterplay plan had already been seen, but after 16...Nh7 17.Qd2 h5 Goksel-Guseinov/Kocaeli 2008.

17.Qd2 h4 18.gxh4 Nh5 19.Bg5 Be5+ 20.f4 Qxg5 21.hxg5 Bxf4+ 22.Qxf4 Nxf4 Black’s position looks more promising ... 1/2

In the penultimate round China played the USA. Nakamura was the first to deviate in a deeply analysed variation of the Slav Defence. Wang Hao managed to hang onto the initiative for some time, but he didn’t manage to transform it into something realistic.

The last match was against Ukraine. In his encounter with Ivanchuk Wang Hao made a new move as early as the eighth move. But it seems he was unfamiliar with the variation – the deviation from the known models didn’t turn out to be a good one.

Ivanchuk,V (2769) - Wang Hao (2726) [E52]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (11), 09.09.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0–0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 b6 7.a3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3


Stronger is 8...Ba6 9.cxd5 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Qxd5 11.c4 Qe4 and Black equalises Aleksandrov-Tomashevsky/Moscow RUS 2012.

9.cxd5 cxd5 10.Qe2 Nc6 11.0–0 Na5 12.a4 White has the initiative ... 1–0

Appearing on the first board Wang Hao won three games, drew six and lost only one. It was a good result, but in terms of the opening struggle Wang Hao looked very pale.

Board two – Wang Yue

Wang Yue played six out of his nine games with Black. He surprised me with his opening choice in the first round game against a chess player from Zambia. The passive variation of the Caro-Kann Defence he chose didn’t facilitate the search for winning chances. The result was a draw. In the two following games his opponents, the Italian Godena and the Romanian Lupulescu, also had the white pieces. They both played very solidly, but were nevertheless outplayed. As well as Lupulescu Wang Yue also beat Movsesian in his favoured Chebanenko Variation of the Slav Defence. However, you couldn’t say the victory had any direct relationship to his opening preparation: Yue outplayed his opponents in a middlegame struggle.

Movsesian,S (2698) - Wang Yue (2685) [A11]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (7), 04.09.2012

1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 a6 5.d4 b5 6.c5 g6 7.Ne5

Lupulesku continued 7.b3 Bg7 8.Bb2 and after 8...Bg4N 9.h3 Bxf3 10.gxf3 Nbd7 11.f4 Ne4 12.Nxe4 dxe4 a complex position arose.

7...Bg7 8.f4 a5 9.Be2 h5 10.0–0 Bf5


The game Wen-Ni Hua/Ningbo 2011 saw 11.Bd2 Ne4. Movsesian’s move is more accurate.

11...Ne4 12.a4! b4 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Be2 Be6 15.Qc2 Bd5 16.f5?

If he’d played 16.Nc4! Nd7 17.Bd2, Movsesian could have counted on a slight edge.


Brilliant! With an unexpected double-pawn sacrifice Yue seizes the initiative.

17.dxe5 gxf5 18.Rxf5 Nd7! 19.Bxh5? It wasn’t worth taking the pawn and opening up dangerous files.

19... e6 20.Bxf7+ Ke7 21.Rf1 Qc7 Almost all of Black’s pieces are prepared to start an attack on the king along the open files. Movsesian didn’t managed to withstand the assault … 0–1

In the match with the Americans Wang Yue confidently equalised against Kamsky in the Petroff Defence. But against Mamedyarov he suffered a loss, unable to withstand the pressure after an unexpected exchange sacrifice.

Mamedyarov,S (2729) - Wang,Yue (2685) [D23]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (8), 05.09.2012

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qb3 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 6.g3 e6 7.Bg2 Nbd7 8.0–0 Be7 9.Nc3 0–0 10.Re1 Ne4 11.Qb3 Qb6 12.Nh4 Qxb3 13.axb3 Bb4 14.Nxf5 exf5


It’s unlikely this move can fundamentally alter the evaluation of the variation, but a positional exchange sacrifice in a well-known position makes an impression!

15...Bxe1 Rejecting the sacrifice - 15...fxe4 would allow White to count on a certain initiative with 16.Rd1 f5 17.d5.

16.Nd6 Bb4 17.Nxb7 Rfc8 18.Na5 Bxa5 19.Rxa5 Rab8 20.Rxa7 A double-edged position.

While Wang Yue scored 4 out of 6 with Black he wasn’t so successful with White – 1.5 out of 3. A loss to Grischuk, a victory over Dizdarevic and a draw with Ponomariov. There were no vivid events in the openings of those games. Wang Yue, like Wang Hao, showed nothing of interest in the opening at the Olympiad. If novelties occurred in his games they were played by his opponents. But despite that, his result was 5.5 out of 9 – with six “black” games that’s not bad at all!

Board three – Ding Liren

While Wang Yue held solid with Black for the majority of the tournament, the third board of the Chinese team – Ding Liren, was regularly “set up to strike”. Out of 10 games Ding played seven with White, and his result – 7.5 points, justified the team strategy.

Ding Liren willingly entered into sharp opening battles. In a complex branch of the Caro-Kann Defence he confidently beat the Iranian Darini, and in the match against Azerbaijan he played a new manoeuvre in a sharp two-pawn sacrifice variation of the King’s Indian Defence against Rauf Mamedov.

Ding Liren (2695) - Mamedov,R (2634) [E94]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (8), 05.09.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 exd4 8.Nxd4 Re8 9.f3 Nc6 10.Be3 Nh5 11.Nc2 Be5 12.Nd5 Bxb2 13.g4 Ng7 14.Rb1 Bf6 15.f4 Rxe4 16.g5 Be7 17.Bd3 Re6


A very strong manoeuvre, which may well have been found at the board. The bishop is switched to the long diagonal and becomes extremely dangerous! The game Atalik-Juergens/Dresden 2005 saw 18.Qf3 f5 19.Rfe1 Ne8 20.c5 Bf8 21.Rbd1 Bg7 and Black consolidated his defence.

18...f6 In case of 18...f5 19.Bb2 Ne8 it's very strong to play 20.Nce3! Bf8 21.Nxf5! gxf5 22.Bxf5 with an attack.

19.h4 fxg5 20.hxg5 Bf8 21.Nce3 Nh5? The attempt to organise counterplay is doomed. He should have chosen the defensive 21...Nd4 22.Bb2 c5, although even in that case after 23.Qd2 White has more than sufficient compensation.

22.f5! The decisive storm.

22... Bg7?! [22...Re5] 23.fxe6 Bxe6 24.Bf5 Bf7 25.Bg4 1–0

Ding also played a new plan in the single game he lost. His opponent blundered badly almost immediately, but the Chinese grandmaster didn’t take his chance.

Ding Liren (2695) - Parligras,M (2618) [D38]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (3.10), 30.08.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.e3 0–0 9.Be2 Bd7 10.Qb3 dxc4 11.Qxc4 Qg6 12.0–0 Bd6


This at least looks more principled than 13.Rfd1 Na5 (13...a6), as seen in the game Lahno-Kosintseva/Tbilisi GEO 2012

13...Rac8 14.Rac1 Be7? Black should have played 14...e5. After the bishop retreat Ding could simply have won a pawn - 15.Nxa7! Nxa7 16.Ne5.

15.a3?a6 16.Nc3 Bd6 I suspect that during the game he noticed his mistake, got upset and then didn’t play as well as he could have done …0–1

In the next example Ding Liren handled a well-known variation of the French Defence in a new manner.

Volokitin,A (2709) - Ding Liren (2695) [C11]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (11.1), 09.09.2012

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Ne2 Be7 9.c3


People usually play 9...0–0. Ding decided to delay castling for now.

10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Ned4 Bd7 12.Nxc6 Bxc6 13.Nd4 Bd7 14.Be2 Na4 and Black has decent counterplay …1/2

I wouldn’t claim that the novelties introduced are the fruit of home preparation. It’s perfectly possible that Ding Liren found them at the board. In any case, the opening battles in his games at the Olympiad were very interesting.

Board four – Bu Xiangzhi

Bu Xiangzhi was, like Wang Yue, allocated the role of “defender of the black pieces”. And that strategic idea by the trainers also paid off: in six “black” games Bu didn’t suffer a single defeat, and he managed to beat the Philippines player Torre and the Romanian Marin. With White, however, Bu Xiangzhi didn’t do well. In the game against the Iranian Idani he didn’t manage to pose any serious problems. And when he got to play White for the second time in the last round he lost to Eljanov.

After the game Kramnik – Aronian, which the ex-World Champion won brilliantly in Istanbul, the Exchange Variation of the Slav Defence has attracted increased interest. In his game against Akobian Bu rejected the popular plan with a7-a6 that was played by Aronian and confidently equalised in another variation.

Akobian,V (2617) - Bu Xiangzhi (2670) [D14]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (10), 07.09.2012

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 Bf5 [6...a6] 7.e3 e6 8.Qb3 Bb4!? 9.Ne5 Another option is 9.Bb5

9...Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Nxe5 11.Bxe5 0–0 12.Be2

12...Rc8N 13.0–0 Ne4 14.Qxb7 f6 15.Bg3 Rf7 16.Qa6 Nxc3 The game soon ended in a draw.

In his encounter with Karjakin Bu deviated from the main line of the Petroff Defence and then played an improvement and resolved all his problems quite easily.

Karjakin,S (2785) - Bu Xiangzhi (2670) [C42]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (4.2), 31.08.2012

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nf6 It’s much more common for Black to take on c3. The knight retreat is thought to give White freer play.

6.d4 Be7 7.Bd3 0–0 8.h3 Re8 9.0–0 Nbd7 10.Ne2


An important improvement. If the known 10...Bf8 was played Karjakin would have continued 11.c4 with a small edge.

11.Ng3 Nf8 12.c3 Bd6 13.Nf5 Bxf5 14.Bxf5 c6 White’s two bishops aren’t such a significant factor in the given position – Black has resolved his opening problems ...1/2

It seems Bu Xiangzhi’s “black repertoire” has been well-worked out, while with White… Well, we won’t judge only on the basis of two games even if they were played in such an important event as the Olympiad…

Reserve – Li Chao

Li Chao, who was playing on the last board, posted a wonderful result of 6 out of 7! The opening clashes in his games were very interesting. He demonstrated a series of new ideas. For example, he improved Black’s play in one of the variations of the Petroff Defence.

Vocaturo,D (2542) - Li Chao (2665) [C43]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (2.9), 29.08.2012

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.dxe5 d5 5.Nbd2 Be7 6.Nxe4 dxe4 7.Qxd8+ Bxd8 8.Nd4 0–0

Last year against Ponomariov and Karjakin Wang Yue twice played 8...c6.



An important improvement. Neither 9...c5, nor 9...Re8 resolves all the problems.

10.0–0–0 c6 11.e6 Nb6 12.Bd6 Bg5+ 13.Kb1 Re8 14.exf7+ Kxf7 15.Be2 Bf6 The active positions of the pieces compensate for a certain weakness of the e-pawn. Black has a pleasant position … 0–1

In the Gruenfeld Defence Li Chao played a questionable but interesting novelty.

Li,Chao (2665) - Paragua,M (2508) [D85]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (9), 06.09.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0–0 8.Qd2 c5 9.d5 Qa5 10.Rc1 e6


This position has been seen dozens of times. White usually either offers a queen exchange - 11.c4, or continues to develop - 11.Nf3.

11...Nd7 12.h4 Qa4 13.f3 h5 14.Nh3 b6 15.Be2 Ba6 16.0–0 Both sides have chances.

Li Chao suffered his only loss in the match against Russia. In a variation that Jakovenko plays regularly the Chinese grandmaster had prepared a new plan to develop the initiative. The novelty worked – his opponent went astray. Li should have got a tangible edge, but he rushed, blundered and ultimately lost. Annoying!

Li Chao (2665) - Jakovenko,D (2722) [D16]

40th Olympiad Open Istanbul TUR (4.2), 31.08.2012

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 e6 6.e4 Bb4 7.Qc2 b5 8.Be2 Bb7 9.0–0 a6


A new strategic plan. White usually chooses between 10.Bg5 and 10.e5.

10...cxb3 11.Qxb3 Be7 12.Ba3 0–0 13.e5 Bxa3

Here Li Chao could have played 14.exf6! and after the almost forced 14...Bd6 15.fxg7 Kxg7 16.Ne4 Be7 17.Nc5 Black would have faced a tough defence. Such an opening outcome would have been a deserved reward for the original idea.

But in the game there followed 14.Qxa3?! Nd5 15.Ne4 b4 16.Qc1 a5 and there began to be doubts about the existence of sufficient compensation for the pawn...

We’ve discussed the games of all the team members, so let’s draw some conclusions. In terms of openings the Chinese grandmasters adhere to a classical approach. It’s perhaps only Li Chao who’s a little more inclined to try risky experiments. It’s interesting that the best Chinese grandmasters, despite all the individuality inherent in talented people, have much more in common than, for example, the Russians or Ukrainians. It’s unlikely you can explain away as a mere coincidence the fact that the whole top-5 prefers closed openings with White – and it’s only Wang Hao who regularly alternates 1.e4 and 1.d4. With Black, meanwhile, they’re drawn to solid openings, for example the Slav Defence.

Having looked through all 44 games I came to an unexpected conclusion.

In comparison to Wang Hao and Wang Yue – the players on the top two boards, the three remaining members of the team, Ding Liren, Bu Xiangzhi and Li Chao looked more prepared in opening terms or, at the very least, more interesting. Although I also can’t say the games of those three were overflowing with a wealth of up-to-date ideas.

In creative terms I expected more from the encounters of the Chinese players. Of course their intuition and readiness to seek hidden resources in what would seem already to be simplified positions, and particularly their extremely good technique, impressed me. But that can’t replace the struggle for the initiative from the very first moves, or rather during home preparation with a computer. It’s strange, but despite the already legendary hard work and organisation of the Chinese players their leaders still haven’t got their opening preparation up to the world’s top level. Perhaps that’s what hindered the Chinese team from stepping onto the Olympiad rostrum in Istanbul…