The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Wang Hao

Full name
Wang Hao
Born
Aug 4, 1989 (age 31)‎
Place of birth
Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
Federation
China
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Bio

GM Wang Hao is a super grandmaster who was a candidate for the world championship in 2020, which he achieved by winning the 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. He had a fantastic youth career that culminated in winning the seventh Dubai Open at the age of 16, when he topped several dozen GMs and IMs as an untitled player. He climbed the rankings from there and became a top-level player.

Wang struggled during the 2020-21 Candidates Tournament, especially during the second half. At its conclusion, he shocked the chess world by announcing his retirement from the competitive aspects of the game, although he stated he would be open to coaching and participating in casual chess events.

Early Chess Career (1995 To 2004)

Wang has an unusual story of how he learned to play chess. When he was six years old, he showed up at a local youth center to learn Xiangqi, or Chinese chess. However, his instructor didn’t show up. That day, Wang learned how to play chess instead, and within a year, he participated in his first tournament.

In the 1999 World Youth Championships, Wang placed third in the under-10 section. His first success would come three years later at the age of 12, when he won the Qingdao Zhongfand Cup. Just three months later, he won gold playing board four with the Chinese team at the under-16 Chess Olympiad. The following year, in 2003, Wang performed so well that in three tournaments, he added 210 rating points, going from 2215 to 2425. In one of those events, the under-14 section of the World Youth Championships, he beat Carlsen.

In July 2004, Wang took gold again as part of the Chinese national team at the under-16 Chess Olympiad. This time, he played on the first board and scored 8/9 points, earning an individual gold medal with a tournament rating performance of 2577. The same month he won the Children of Asia youth tournament held in Russia.

Topping 83 GMs/IMs As An Untitled 16-Year-Old (2005 To 2011)

Wang made headlines throughout the chess world for his performance at the seventh Dubai Open. Terms like “shocking” and “sensational” were used to describe the young untitled player—Wang turned 16 years old during round five—who won a tournament ahead of 53 GMs and 30 IMs.

He scored 7/9 points and earned a 2731 tournament performance rating in the process. Wang started the tournament with a 2484 rating, but pulled ahead of a field with plenty of 2600+ players.

Wang wasn’t done with his remarkable 2005. Following the Dubai Open in April and, before that tournament, a 6.5/9 performance at the Aeroflot Open A2 group, he needed only one more GM norm. It came at the 2005 Malaysian Open where Wang scored 10/11 points and got a tournament performance rating of 2843. Thus, Wang became a GM in 2005 at the age of 16, leapfrogging the FM and IM titles entirely.

Over the next few years, Wang had several notable performances. In 2006, he placed second in the Chinese Men Selective tournament. Wang won the GACC Tournament held at the University of Malaysia in 2007. The same year he won the Selective Tournament for Asian Indoor Games, finished second at the Asian Individual Championship and came in third place at the World Junior Chess Championship. In 2008 he led China to a gold medal and picked up an individual gold medal for his performance on board three at the 15th Asian Team Chess Championship. He also won the 2008 Reykjavik Open on tiebreak over GMs Hannes Hlifar Stefansson and Wang Yue and topped GM Fabiano Caruana by half a point.

Other highlights in this period of Wang’s career include winning the 40th Bosna International Tournament in May 2010, and then, the following month, winning the Chinese Chess Championship on tiebreak over GMs Bu Xiangzhi and Zhou Jianchao. In 2011 Wang assisted Levon Aronian in preparing for the 2011 Candidate Tournament. He helped lead China to silver with a stunning performance at the World Chess Team Championships, where he scored individual gold on board one with 6/9 points and a tournament performance rating of 2854.

Winning Biel Grandmaster Tournament (2012 To 2014)

Wang scored one of the highest-profile wins of his career by taking the Biel Grandmaster Tournament in an extremely strong field. Wang scored 19 points—the tournament used a special scoring system that awarded three points per win and one point per draw—one point above Carlsen and two points above GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri.

In January 2013, Wang hit the pinnacle of his career thus far. Rated 2752, he was ranked 14 in the world and the top Chinese player. Later that year, at the 2013 Norway Chess tournament, he finished in seventh place but beat GMs Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. Unfortunately, Wang was about to enter a difficult part of his career.

Career Lull (2015 To 2018)

A couple of years removed from being a 2750+, top-15 player, Wang saw a steep drop for a few years. In 2015 he hovered just above 2700 and vacillated between 35 and 47 in the world rankings. His drop-off was most extreme in January 2017, when he was rated 2670 and ranked 75th in the world.

During this time, he did play in open tournaments with some success. In December 2015, he won the fourth Al Ain Classic tournament with a round to spare, scoring 8/9 points, which was 1.5 points ahead of the field. He then took the sixth HDBank Cup in March 2016 with 8/9 points as well.

Wang started to turn things around after hitting the aforementioned low point in January 2017. From that time, the 2670-rated, 75th-ranked player in the world jumped to a rating of 2711, good for 37th in the world, in January 2018. Two wins helped him return—first at the Sharjah Masters Tournament in April 2017 and then at the Asian Continental Championship (edging Bu again on tiebreaks) the next month.

By December 2018, Wang returned as a top-25 player in the world. He finished the year with a 2730 rating that month.

World Championship Candidate (2019 To 2021)

After regaining rating points from an odd point in his chess career, it appeared that Wang was destined for more of the same. After all, in March 2019, he won another open tournament (the HD Bank tournament yet again).

It looked like Wang would play in only open tournaments but that was hardly the case. Later in the year, he not only entered the elite tournament but shocked the world by winning the 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. The event included 154 of the strongest players in the world, including GMs Carlsen, Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, and many other elite names in chess. He beat Anand in the second-to-last round in 28 moves with the black pieces, which a remarkable feat in itself.

Wang Hao with Isle of Man chief minister Howard Quayle MHK
Winner Wang Hao with Isle of Man chief minister Howard Quayle MHK. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Wang nearly didn’t even play in the tournament. Chess.com reported how he was close to withdrawing because he was tired from the 2019 FIDE Chess World Cup (Wang lost in the third round in a long tiebreak against GM Leinier Dominguez Perez). The Guardian revealed how he even talked about giving up chess.

Nevertheless, Wang stunned the chess world by topping the best players—including the clear best chess player, World Champion Carlsen. The victory punched Wang’s ticket to the FIDE Candidates Tournament, making it the first Candidates Tournament with two Chinese players—Wang and GM Ding Liren

Wang began the 2020 Candidates Tournament with a win against Ding. On March 26, 2020, the Candidates Tournament was postponed due to Russia's travel restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic, with Wang sitting on a 3.5/7 score and only a point behind the tournament leaders.

When the tournament resumed in April 2021, Wang struggled—he lost his final three rounds.

Retirement

In an interview after round 14 of the Candidates, Wang revealed that his competitive chess was over, stating: "I will probably try to do something else outside of playing professionally because I have some health issues, and I just don't think that I can continue this profession."

Wang cited a combination of health issues related to digestion that he has been dealing with for years and the stress of competitive play. Fortunately for the chess world, he also said he would remain actively involved in coaching, investment, and friendly/casual events.

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