GM Wei Yi

Full name
Wei Yi
Born
Jun 2, 1999 (age 21)‎
Place of birth
Yancheng, Jiangsu, China
Federation
China
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Bio

Chinese GM Wei Yi is an elite player and one of the greatest chess prodigies in history. At the age of 15, he broke GM Magnus Carlsen’s record for the youngest player to reach a rating of 2700, which Wei still holds. Two years prior, he became the fourth-youngest GM in history at the time (now the eighth-youngest GM ever). And from January 2015 to the end of his candidacy as a junior (in late 2019), Wei ranked first or second on FIDE’s list of the top-100 juniors.

Still only 20 years old at the time of publication, Wei has a bright future. Since February 2017, he has been ranked in the top 30 players in the world. Will he make the next step to the highest tier of chess players? That remains the critical question after facing high expectations from his time as a junior.

Playing Style

Wei has a flair for aggressive, tactical positions. The following game represents just how dangerous he can be. In the Berlin Defense of the Spanish, Wei develops a dangerous attack in an opening known to be relatively drawish and stale. He sacrifices a knight to take down talented GM David Navara.

Another game showcases Wei’s brilliant attacking prowess. He dismantles young WGM Anne Haast’s position in a wild, exciting game.

Wei is dangerous in any facet of the game. Some of his greatest games come when he has the initiative. Take a look at his “immortal” game of sorts in 2015, below, for a true masterpiece.

Early Chess Career (2007 To 2012)

Wei’s first FIDE activity came when at just eight years old he appeared in the Chinese Chess Championship Group B in 2007. He finished with 5/11 points and quite impressively drew GM Zhou Jianchao and beat FM Fan Chen in the event.

Two years later, before his ninth birthday, Wei played in the under-11 section of the World School Chess Championship. He dominated the competition with a score of 8.5/9, taking the title by a clear two points.

The next year, in 2010, he added two more prestigious youth titles to his collection. Wei won the under-12 events at the Asian Youth Chess Championship and the World Youth Chess Championship (then-FM Jan-Krzysztof Duda placed third). Winning the world under-12 championship gave the 11-year-old prodigy an FM title.

Wei rounded out the earliest part of his chess career by earning his IM title in 2012. In the World Junior Championship that year, he scored 8.5/11 points for 11th place as a 13-year-old in the competition available to those aged 20 and younger. He scored a victory over GM Richard Rapport and drew the winner of the tournament, Turkish GM Alexander Ipatov. The tournament provided Wei with his first GM norm, and he added his second two months later in October 2012.

Here is Wei's victory over Rapport from this tournament. Wei plays an unusual line in the Nimzo-Indian defense with 5...c6, and the position is roughly level for some time. By move 23, Wei has established a strong centralized knight on e4 and his bishops are raking the board. He continues to build pressure on the pinned knight on d4 and then temporarily sacrifices the exchange on move 29. After a tactical skirmish, Wei wins material and ends the game with a back rank shot.

Grandmaster At 13 Years Old (2013 To 2014)

Wei’s final GM norm came in February 2013, when he scored 7.5/10 points at the Reykjavik Open. He finished sixth in the tournament and had a notable win against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

As a result, Wei became a grandmaster at the age of 13 years, eight months and 23 days—the youngest GM in the world at the time and the fourth-youngest ever (he’s now eighth on the list of the youngest chess grandmasters in history).

He wasn’t finished in 2013. In August, Wei made his mark at the FIDE World Cup, defeating GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexei Shirov in the first two rounds before losing to GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the third round. In November, Wei became the youngest player to reach a 2600 rating, a record previously held by GM Wesley So and now held by GM John Burke.

Here is Wei's victory over the tactical wizard Shirov. After a normal Sicilian Najdorf opening, the fireworks begin early with Wei sacrificing a piece on move 12 and then following up with a pseudo-queen sacrifice on move 14! After the dust settles, an endgame occurs where Wei has three connected passed pawns for a knight. On move 32, Wei finds the nice tactical shot of Nxe6 which nets him a fourth pawn for the piece. By move 38, Wei has won another pawn and shows strong technique to pick up the full point!

Wei played in the Chinese Chess Championship in 2013 and 2014, finishing in the top four spots each time. In the 2013 event he scored 5.5/11 points, which was good for fourth place. The following year he placed third with 6.5/11 points.

In 2014 Wei had two impressive performances in the summer. At the Magistral de Leon rapid tournament in June, he won the tournament after defeating GM Francisco Vallejo Pons in the final. At the 41st Chess Olympiad that took place in August, Wei scored 4/5 points on the reserve board to help the Chinese team win its first gold medal at an Olympiad. Another notable finish for Wei took place in October when the young Chinese GM won silver at the World Junior Championship.

One Remarkable Year And Three Consecutive National Titles (2015 To 2017)

In 2015 Wei had a stunning year of chess that spanned elite tournament wins, international gold medals, a national championship and all-time chess records.

The year started when the 15-year-old prodigy won the challengers group of the 2015 Tata Steel event in January. He went undefeated with 10.5/13 points and a 2800+ rating performance, coming out a half point ahead of GM David Navara. In February, Wei performed well in the Gibraltar Masters tournament, finishing in joint third place and, most notably, bringing his rating above the 2700 mark. He became the youngest to do so and broke the record set by Carlsen. Wei still holds the record to this day.

Wei Yi chatting with GM Zhaoqin Peng
Wei Yi chatting with GM Zhaoqin Peng. Photo: Alina l'Ami.

Then, in April, Wei helped the Chinese team win gold at the World Team Championship. He went undefeated with 7/9 points on board four, which granted him an individual gold medal as well. The next month, he topped GMs Ding Liren, Wang Hao and Yu Yangyi to win the Chinese Chess Championship for the first time. Wei became the youngest Chinese champion ever—and his performance boosted his rating to make him one of the top-30 players in the world.

In June the now-16-year-old prodigy took his second consecutive Magistral de Leon rapid tournament by beating Vachier-Lagrave in the finals. (As a bonus accomplishment for 2015, in July Wei produced what’s called the 21st-century immortal game when beating Cuban GM Lazaro Bruzon.) Three months later at the Chess World Cup 2015 in September, Wei knocked out GMs Saleh Salem, Yuri Yovk, Alexander Areshchecko and Ding before losing in the quarterfinals to GM Peter Svidler on tiebreaks. Finally in December, Wei capped off the year by winning the knockout China Chess King Match. He defeated GMs Zhao Jun, Yu and Bu Xiangzhi to take the event that featured China’s best players.

Wei Yi at World Chess Cup 2015

Wei Yi at the 2015 World Chess Cup. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

If Wei’s spectacular 2015 wasn’t enough, he added two more national titles. He went undefeated in the 2016 Chinese Chess Championship (7.5/11 points) and the 2017 Chinese Chess Championship (8.5/11 points) events, which gave him three consecutive national championships.

Another highlight in this period came when Wei won the Danzhou Super GM Tournament in 2017. He went undefeated with a 6.5/9 score and a 2883 tournament performance, finishing a full point ahead of second-place GMs Le Quang Liem and Ding. The event brought the 18-year-old Chinese prodigy to number-14 in the world.

Recent Performances (2018 To 2020)

Wei has been quiet recently, at least according to his standards.

In 2018 he won the Asian Continental Championship with 6.5/9 points. Wei won on tiebreaks with GMs Amin Tabatabaei and Liem. The win qualified Wei for the FIDE World Cup 2019, and in that event he had a good showing in the fourth stage held in Jerusalem. Wei pulled off two upsets in the first two rounds against GMs Anish Giri and Sergey Karjakin, and then beat Navara in the semifinals before losing to Nepomniachtchi in the finals.

Wei won the 2019 Junior Speed Chess Championship after edging GM Jeffery Xiong in the finals. It took an armageddon tiebreak game to settle the battle between the two strong juniors.

Present And Future

There’s no question that Wei has solidified a spot in the upper echelon of chess prodigies and juniors. The real question is whether he can live up to the expectations that has formed after such an impressive early chess career.

Wei Yi

Wei Yi at the Polihroniade Memorial. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It’s easy to forget that Wei is still young. As of April 2020, he’s only 20 years old and is ranked 20th in the world. With a small bump in results, he could become a regular at super-GM tournaments and top-level events that would, once again, put him in the spotlight. 

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