2nd Consecutive León Title For Wei Yi

2nd Consecutive León Title For Wei Yi

| 17 | Chess Event Coverage

He won last year and he did it again: GM Wei Yi clinched the first prize in the Masters Tournament in León, Spain after beating GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final.

It was already the 28th edition of the annual Torneo Magistral de Ajedrez Ciudad de León, held in the city in the north-west of Spain. The format was the same as in recent years: four players, two semi-finals on Saturday and a final on Sunday — all played over four games.

The time control was 20 minutes plus 10 seconds increment. An eventual tiebreak would consist of two games of 5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment, followed by an Armageddon game with 6 minutes for White and 5 for Black, who had draw odds.

This year the players were GM Wei Yi of China, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, GM Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine (but living in Getxo, Spain) and GM David Antón of Spain.

There were two former winners: Wei Yi sensationally won the event last year (at 15!) while Ponomariov won in 2003 ahead of Veselin Topalov, Sergei Karjakin and Paco Vallejo. Vachier-Lagrave and Antón made their debut this year.

On Saturday play started with the match between Ponomariov and Vachier-Lagrave. Their very first game was already a rather interesting fight, despite the peaceful result. The game included a remarkable mutual oversight:

MVL and Ponomariov at the drawing of lots. | Photo Léon Masters Tournament.

The second game was a draw as well, and then the first decisive result came in game 3. In a very theoretical 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf MVL “won” a pawn on c4, when Ponomariov could get it back in two different ways. He chose the wrong one, giving his opponent too much activity.

In a must-win situation, Ponomariov came very close to equalize the score again. His 3...g6 Ruy Lopez was a good choice, perhaps inspired by a game by Nigel Short, who won against Vachier-Lagrave in Gibraltar in 2013.

The Ukrainian grandmaster was probably winning but his opponent could escape to a R (and doubled pawns) vs RB ending. Vachier-Lagrave defended flawlessly.

Vachier-Lagrave knows his second-rank defense. | Photo Léon Masters Tournament.

In the second semi-final, title holder GM Wei Yi, who turned 16 on June 2nd, faced quite tough opposition from GM David Antón, who will turn 20 on the 23rd. The Chinese player won the first game, but the other three ended in draws.

1.5-2.5 is quite acceptable against last year's winner. | Photo Léon Masters Tournament.

And so Sunday's final was played between the two highest rated participants. Also in this mini-match, no tiebreak was needed.

The very first game was a fantastic battle that started as a 6.Bg5 Najdorf. In a position with opposite castling, Wei Yi seemed to be first with the attack. MVL had to reply ...Bd8 to the typical f4-f5-f6 push, which is usually a bad sign.

However, then it was Vachier-Lagrave's turn to get some play on the other side, helped by a strong exchange sac. He even declined a move repetition.

The queens were traded but the position remained rather complex, with an extra pawn but a bad knight for Black. Wei Yi missed a tactic no less than three times, MVL spoilt several wins and eventually the game was drawn. What a start of the final!

Wei Yi and Vachier-Lagrave start the final. | Photo Léon Masters Tournament.

The second game was much more quiet, as if the players needed to cool down a bit. Not much happened, and after 28 moves another draw was agreed.

It was the third game where Wei Yi struck first, with very powerful play. It wasn't easy to point out where Black went wrong. The young Chinese won an exchange, and allowed no counterplay.

The last game was a very theoretical Open Ruy Lopez (a novelty on move 20!) where Vachier-Lagrave kept the advantage and won a pawn.

However, the Frenchman couldn't prevent the game from reaching an ending with opposite-colored bishops, and even with a completely passive king Wei Yi had fortress.

Thus, the 16-year-old Chinese won for the second year in a row in León. Last year he finished ahead of slightly weaker opposition: GMs Paco Vallejo, Ivan Salgado and Hou Yifan.

“I was lost in the first game, but I did not panic,” said Wei Yi at the press conference. “I didn't lose control of my nerves. Maybe that was the key to this victory.” 

“I had at least one winning position, and perhaps two or three, in that first game,” said Vachier-Lagrave. “It must be said that my opponent defended with tremendous tenacity and good technique. But the feeling that I had missed a clear win may have affected my play in the next three games.”

The Frenchman will now travel from León to Stavanger, where already tomorrow the Norway Chess tournament begins with a blitz tournament on the Flor & Fjære island. Find your big preview of that tournament here.

In the past 27 years only one player managed to win twice in a row: Vishy Anand. He did much better than that: two times, he won three in a row! That was in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and also in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The players with Leontxo García (l.) and a translator. | Photo Léon Masters Tournament.

Wei Yi also said that besides improving his chess further, he intends to study at university in the future. And to the question how he would celebrate, the young talent simply replied: “With a Chinese dinner and sleeping.”

Thanks to Leontxo García, games via TWIC.

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