Significant Olympiad milestones in China's path towards becoming World Chess conquerors!
The great Chinese juggenault has never been more apparent than in recent months. After their national team had won the Tromso 2014 Olympiad event, Chinese players have gone on to seize the top prizes in significant events around the world. Lu Shanglei and Wei Yi won the gold and silver medals respectively at the World Junior Championships in Pune, India, Yu Yangyi took out Kramnik in the final round to emerge Qatar Masters Champion and finally, Ni Hua and Zhao Xue dominated the proceedings in the Australian Open and New Zealand Open respectively. Today, China are World Team Champions, winning that accolade in May 2015. Wei Yi and Ding Liren (like Wang Yue before them) have since streaked into the chess stratosphere, with the former winning the extremely tough Tata Challenger and Magistral de León event, and Ding finishing 2nd in the Tata Main event (only behind Magnus Carlsen).
In terms of Olympiad history, China made its entry into the prestigious event in 1980 and it took her 18 years to get the women's title. The men's title eluded them for 34 years until last year's success. Let's have a look at some key memorable moments in China's Olympiad history leading to their eventual capture of chess' most prestigious team event.
1) Upsetting an established European team in their debut Olympiad outing!
China's first foray into the World Chess Olympiad in Bueno Aires 1978 was a stunning one as they opened proceedings by crushing Iceland (comprising 1 GM and 2 IMs) 3-1. GM Sigurjónsson, IM Pétursson and Árnason were upended by Qi Jingxuan, Liu Wenzhe and Liang Jinrong respectively.
Qi Jingxuan became the first Chinese player to beat a Grandmaster in the Olympiad when the Chinese Board 1 combined minimal defence with powerful queenside play. (The honour of the first GM scalp by a Chinese player belonged to Liu Wenzhe who beat GM Krogius in Hangzhou 1965).
Also of interest was Liu's win over IM Petursson where the Icelandic player sacrificed a piece in an attempt to force mate only to stumble into a wicked overloading back rank mate tactic.
2) 16 Qxg6!! The move that announced to the Western chess world that the Chinese have 'arrived'.
Liu Wenzhe made himself a household name in the world of chess by blasting GM Donner in 20 moves, utilizing his' Chinese Attack' in the Pirc (1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Be2 Bg7 5 g4!?) line he had experimented with success in the preceding Chinese Championship. The sheer beauty of the queen sacrifice and the exquisite finish had (according to Liu) Timman shaking his head, Donner shrugging his shoulders and Dr Max Euwe (FIDE president and former world champion) shaking Liu's hands while congratulating him.
3) The Chinese women's team holding their own against the reigning Olympiad champions Soviet Union (and also the eventual winners) in their maiden outing (Malta 1980).
In their round 12 encounter, the Soviet Union were trailing Hungary by 1/2 point and were pitted against debutants China who had done very well to keep themselves in medal contention in 4th position after crushing Bulgaria 3-0. USSR's two world champions Chiburdanidze and Gaprindashvilli had already agreed to two early draws in 17 and 20 moves against Liu Shilan and Wu Mingqian. But watch what happened on board 3...
4) The Chinese women clinching their first Olympiad medal by finishing 2nd to Georgia in Yerevan 1996.
Future world champion Zhu Chen showed evidence of her potential by clinching the Board 2 gold medal as well as obtaining the highest TPR in the event. Here, she embarked on a highly promising long term piece sacrifice which proved too difficult for Kazan WIM Uzkova to resist.
Xie Jun showed her tactical acumen by taking advantage of a critical zwischenzug to take out Stefanova from a seemingly equal position.
5) Champions at last! The Chinese women were crowned Olympiad champion in Elista 1998.
By round 11, The mighty Chinese ladies were already 1.5 points ahead of their nearest pursuers Georgia wiith Russia another 0.5 points adrift. The 3-0 whitewash of Hungary virtually ensured China their first ever Olympiad title as they took a 2.5 points lead after Round 12.
Xie Jun led by example with a mate-in-10 combination (more if you count the desperado moves Black can throw in to fend off mate) against the helpless Lakos.
6) The Chinese Men making the medal tally by winning the silver medal in Turin 2006. China also won the Nona Gashprindashvilli Cup for the best overall score (Men + Women team score)
Ni Hua demonstrated the trademark tenacious endgame technique (that the Chinese Team members are famed for) in overcoming the resistance of Nijboer.
7) The Chinese Men's team emerging Olympiad Champions in Tromso 2014
The Chinese Men's team's Olympiad win was covered in NIC Magazine 6/2014 which featured the whole Chinese Team players' personally annotated personal favourite games (pg 19-23). Personally, with respect to Yu's choice, I prefered the following endgame masterclass by the Qatar Masters Champion who brilliantly orchestrated the immolation of Black's bishop pair while his own bishop and knight danced around with impunity. Finally, when the bishop pair got out, it was too late to stop Yu's connected c- and d-pawns from marching to victory.
The Chinese Chess Juggenault just keeps rolling on and the 29-21 Chinese win over Russia (54-46 in blitz too) in the recently concluded Ningbo China vs Russia match (14th - 20th July) reinterated their strength at team chess. Let's see if their top talents Wei Yi and Ding Liren can break into the top ranks to achieve the highest indivdual honours as well!