On the eve of the Tata Steel tournament, all eyes were on World Champion Ding Liren, as he re-entered the chess arena after a six-month break. And on Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun, who made her debut in the Masters. But it was the third Chinese ace, 24-year-old former prodigy Wei Yi, who stole the show as he claimed the winner’s trophy ahead of all the top favourites.

[The complete interview with Tata Steel Chess winner Wei Yi can be found in New In Chess magazine 2024#1. Get access to this issue!]

Be a machineBrilliant games
The winner of the Tata Steel Masters played several impressive games. Below Wei Yi annotates his spectacular win against Max Warmerdam. You don’t often see a rook sacrifice on move 9 in a grandmaster game.

Wei Yi
Max Warmerdam
Wijk aan Zee Tata Steel 2024 (11)
Bishop’s Opening C27

This game was played in Round 11, when my score was only plus-1. The only chance for me to fight for first place was to win my last three games. So I chose to play something that is not so popular, 2.♗c4 and 3.d3.
1.e4 e5 2.♗c4 ♘f6 3.d3 ♗c5
This and his next move came as a surprise to me.
4.♘c3 c6 5.f4
I decided to play aggressively. I had looked at this position at some point, but after his reply we ended up in a line that I did not recall clearly.
5...d5 6.exd5 ♘g4

Here I thought for 50 minutes, as it became clear to me that I had to sacrifice my rook on h1.
This seems to be the only move. I cannot play 7.♘h3 because of 7...♕h4+, which is just winning for Black.
Thinking how to sacrifice the rook, I first looked at 7.♕f3, but I found that Black will just be better, as after 7...♘f2 8.♘e4 ♘xh1 9.♘xc5 he will pick up the knight on c5 with 9...♕a5+ 10.c3 ♕xc5 and after for instance 11.♗e3 ♕e7 12.0-0-0 0-0 Black is much better. I remembered from when I had studied this line that White was not worse, so 7.♕f3 could not be the correct move.

He first wants to put his king in a safe place before he goes for ...♘f2.
I had calculated 7...♘f2 8.♕e2 ♘xh1 9.♕xe5+ and now:
– 9...♕e7 seems better for White, because I have 10.♘e4, which is very important as after 10...♕xe5 (otherwise I take on g7) 11.fxe5 cxd5 12.♗xd5 I will win the knight and have a bishop and two central pawns for the rook, which is of course very good for White.
– 9...♔f8 is no improvement, as after 10.♗e3 I want to castle and take the knight, when the black king is very bad, for instance after 10...♘d7 I can take the bishop with check: 11.♗xc5+.
I have no choice but to sacrifice the rook. After 8.♖f1 exf4 Black threatens ...♖e8+ and White’s king looks really bad.
8...♘f2 9.♕e2 ♘xh1

Another very important move – I decide to fight in the centre.
My first idea was 10.♗e3, but after 10...♗xe3 11.♕xe3 he can fight for an advantage in many ways, for example 11...b5 12.♗b3 b4 13.♘e4 cxd5 14.♘d6 ♗e6 15.0-0-0 ♘d7 and perhaps Black is already winning, as after 16.♖xh1 a5 his attack on the queenside looks very dangerous.
Not good either was 10.d6 ♗g4, when White cannot play 11.♗g5 because of 11...♗xf3.
10...♕a5 11.d6

Now I can push this pawn; my plan is to castle long.
A good move. I had calculated 11...♗a3 12.♗d2, when after 12...♗xb2 I have the beautiful 13.♘d5 followed by ♘e7+.
I played this move because I had seen some crazy lines.

Again a good move. I had seen 12...♗d4 13.e6, sacrificing an additional knight. After 13...♗xc3+ 14.♔f1 ♗xb2 I’m a rook and a pawn down, but the attack on the kingside is very powerful: 15.exf7+ ♔h8 16.♗xf8 ♘d7 17.♕e8.

analysis diagram

During the game I thought that after this move, threatening ♗e7+, Black would be lost, but the computer finds the fantastic 17...♕c5!. Now after 18.♗e7+ ♘f8 I have no time to take the rook because of the threatened mate on f2. I would have to settle for 19.♗h4 ♗xa1 20.♕xa8 ♕xd6 21.♕d8, with a slightly better endgame for White.

Here I thought White was winning.
A very beautiful move, that I had missed. Now things are not so clear and I spent some ten minutes on my next move.
I had only calculated 13...fxe6 14.♗xe6+ ♗xe6 15.♕xe6+ ♔h8 (after 15...♖f7 16.♕xd7 ♗a3 17.♕xb7 the queen protects b2) and I can take the knight without any risk: 16.♕xd7, as after 16...♗a3 17.♗xf8 ♖xf8 18.♕xb7 the queen again protects b2.
The line after 14.♗xf8 ♗xb2 15.exf7+ ♔h8 16.♕e8 ♗xc3+ 17.♔f1 ♕c5 is very similar to the line given after Black’s 12th move, but the difference is the position of the black dark-squared bishop and here the position is equal: 18.♗xg7+ (18.♗e7+ again runs into 18...♘f8 and now after 19.♗h4 there is 19...♖c8 and Black is fine) 18...♔xg7 19.f8♕+ ♘xf8 20.♕f7+ ♔h6 21.♕f4+ ♔g7 22.♕f7+, with a perpetual.
14...♔h8 15.0-0-0 ♕xc3 16.bxa3

Played after a long think, but not the best.
During the game I thought that after 16...♕xa3+ the position is equal, but according to the computer there are two ways for White to get a big advantage.
To begin with, 17.♔b1 ♕b4+ 18.♗b3 ♖xf7 19.♖xh1 a5 20.♕e4 and the pawn on d6 is very powerful in combination with the pair of bishops. But also after 17.♔d2 ♕b4+ 18.c3 ♕b2+ 19.♔e1 ♕xc3+ 20.♔f1, the computer claims that White has a big advantage, something I didn’t assess that way during the game.
According to the computer the best move was 16...a5, with the idea of pushing ...b5, with an equal position. Although I must say that for me it’s just an unclear position.

Now I felt I had a big advantage.
And now he is lost. He should have tried 17...♕xa3+ 18.♔b1 ♕b4+ 19.♗b3 ♖xf7, when after 20.♕e6 (instead, after taking 20.♖xh1 White is much better) 20...♘f2 21.♖c1 ♖xe7 22.dxe7 ♖e8 23.♕xd7 ♕xe7 24.♕d4 ♘h3 chances would have been equal.
While he was thinking about 17...♘e5, I also had time to think and this allowed me to play this move quickly and I knew that I was winning.

If he goes 18...♘xc4, then 19.dxc4 ♖xf7 20.d7 wins easily.
19.♖xh1 ♘xc4 20.dxc4 ♕b6+ 21.♔c1

Now it’s an easy win for White, two pawns up and with a very powerful bishop.
Perhaps a better try for Black was 21...♕d4, even if the win for White is not so difficult: 22.♗xf8 ♖xf8 23.♖d1 ♕a1+ 24.♔d2 ♕d4+ 25.♕d3 ♕f4+ 26.♔c3 and the king walks to safety and the passed pawn decides the game.
22.♖d1 ♖ff8 23.d7 ♖g8 24.♕e5

24...♖ad8 25.f4 c5 26.♗xd8 ♕xd8 27.♕xc5
Black resigned.

A remarkable game. I sacrificed a rook after only nine moves, not something that happens in my games every day.