The defensive wizardry of Tin Jingyao
Tin Jingyao playing in a blitz tournament in Singapore

The defensive wizardry of Tin Jingyao

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When I was playing basketball in the high school, our coach always repeated the same mantra: "Defense wins games". None of us liked to hear it back then and even fewer of us could really put this phrase into practice, but of course the coach was right. In fact, this bit of practical wisdom applies to most sports, whether it's basketball, or football, or chess.

The defensive ability often makes a difference between the the levels and titles. When club players land in worse positions, they usually fall apart after a while, or lash out in hopeless attacks, IMs typically demonstrate more resilience, and of course GMs are the hardest ones to beat. And yet in each of these categories you can come across the players that stand out with their natural talent for defense.

Among the people that I recently met at the board, the Singaporean IM Tin Jingyao is definitely in a class of his own. His play is not without flaws and his opening repertoire could probably use some work but he is incredibly tenacious. I first played Tin Jingyao when he was 13 or 14 years old and already then he had this edge in defense. Watching Jingyao play in 2021 I realized that this defensive magic often works even against the strongest grandmasters. I was so impressed that I decided to share a few examples of Tin Jingyao's defense in this post. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you the next time are struggling against a GM!

The first few games come from the 2021 Asian Individual Hybrid Chess Championship, in which Tin Jingyao achieved his biggest success to date, sharing 1st and 2nd places with GM Shamsiddin Vokhidov from Uzbekistan. As you will see, Jingyao's triumph had a lot to do with his defensive skills.

We will start with the game from the 2nd round, in which Jingyao was facing a lower-rated from Philippines but stepped on a landmine in the time trouble and had to navigate the position that looked quite scary at first glance:

Fast forward a few rounds and we find Jingyao struggling in the 5th round game against GM Enam Hossain from Bangladesh:

Ok, that was probably more of a lucky break than a great defense, but it helps to be lucky!

A few rounds later Tin Jingyao would need both the tenacity in defense AND a bit of luck to turn the tables on the Iranian super GM Parham Maghsoodloo - and a beautiful tactical shot to cap the effort!

What an amazing finish! 

(By the way, in my commentary I only focused on the final part, but Singapore GM Kevin Goh Wei Ming actually annotated the full game, and I wholeheartedly recommend you to check out his insightful analysis.) 

This victory set up an exciting battle between the tournament leaders in the final round. In the opening Jingyao was pressing but later in the game he had to fight for half a point, which he managed to achieve thanks to an incredible stalemate idea:

And so Tin Jingyao shared 1st and 2nd place in the 2021 Asian Championship (he ended up getting silver because of the worse tie-breaks). This result qualified him to the 2021 World Cup in Sochi.

Checking Jingyao's first game in Sochi that he played yesterday against GM Timur Gareyev, I was not surprised to find another example of snatching half a point in a completely hopeless position. Let's take a look at it:

Not a smooth sailing, but saving a "-4" endgame against a 2600 grandmaster is an impressive achievement regardless of what happened along the way!

So that makes it five games, in which Tin Jingyao was much worse or simply lost, facing a GM-level opposition, and yet he managed to score 3.5 points instead of zero. 

Somehow I find these games more inspirational than some of the finest grandmaster wins. Defense is a very difficult skill to master, but these examples show that one should never give up. With the right mindset - and of course, with good calculation and endgame technique as well - there might be practical chances even in the most hopeless positions.

Last but not least - good luck to Tin Jingyao and Kevin Goh Wei Ming in their today's games at the World Cup!