It was around midnight in Beijing that Chinese Grandmaster Wei Yi broke into a rueful smile, as his American opponent Fabiano Caruana, sitting in his beachside house in Miami, where it was just noon, killed a thrilling faceoff with a slick end-game manoeuvre. The victory left the FIDE Online Nations Cup super-final locked in a 2-2 draw, though China were declared winners as they had won the round-robin phase.
The four Chinese Grandmasters—Yi, Ding Liren, Hou Yifan and Yu Yangyi—appeared briefly for a video conference on the ChessBase website, that was live-streaming the week-long tournament. Following on the livestream, their eyes looked sleepy but beaming, the voices sounded happy but drowsy to all who followed them online. Their American counterparts were dreary and downcast, though Caruana later lifted the gloom with his characteristic humour.
Bafflingly, despite the mounting friction between the two countries, the Chinese victory—or the American defeat—was not lost in political symbolism, layering and interpretations. Like when the Cold War was raging, and the Soviet chess machine was meant to demonstrate mental and athletic primacy over the decadent West. Here, even if you take the Trump administration’s swelling antagonism of China, the accusations and castigations that had flown from the White House to Beijing in the last few weeks, tropes of ideological victory or metaphors of global domination weren’t woven into China’s triumph. For all what it was, the context didn’t leap out of the 64 squares on the board. There was no political rhetoric.