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    Entries in Wesley So (77)

    Tuesday
    Nov212017

    Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship: Carlsen-So

    The last quarterfinal match in Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship took place last Saturday, and saw world champion Magnus Carlsen face off against erstwhile world #2 Wesley So. I'll post a summary of the action in the comments, and you can watch the video of the action here.

    Monday
    Nov132017

    2017 Champions Showdown, Day 4: Americans Sweep; Carlsen Crushing

    It was a great day for the American players, who rolled on to victory. Hikaru Nakamura was always going to win against Veselin Topalov, entering the final day with a big lead and an overwhelming favorite in the blitz. To no one's surprise - including Topalov's - he finished like a hammer, winning nine games and drawing three. The scoring in the blitz was 2-1-0, so he won the session 21-3 and won overall by a ridiculous 61.5-30.5 margin. All the matches have a $100,000 prize fund split 60-40, so Nakamura won $60,000 to Topalov's $40,000.

    In the other two matches, the Americans continued the comebacks they had started at the end of day 3. Fabiano Caruana had won three games followed by a draw at the end of the previous day to close to within four points, and on day 4 he won, drew, and won again to equalize the scores. Having done so, Grischuk enjoyed his one bright spot when he won the fourth game - and even that took a lot of help: Caruana made a fingerfehler in the opening to lose a pawn, and when Caruana fought back to a drawn position he made two further errors to lose the game. But that was the end of his good news: in the last eight games the pattern kept repeating: a draw followed by a Caruana win. In all, Caruana won six games, lost just one, and drew five. He won the session 17-7 and the match 49-43.

    Wesley So likewise continued his great comeback. He had won the last three games on day 3, and although he was still down seven points he too overcame his deficit. He won his first two games, drew, and won two more games to take the lead. The rest of the way the play was closer, but So never surrendered his lead. Overall he went +7-2=3, winning the section 17-7 and the match 47.5-44.5.

    Finally, the world champion proved his greatness yet again. Magnus Carlsen dominated Ding Liren in the g/20 portion of the match, winning three games and drawing three. As you may recall, Carlsen led 12.5-7.5 after the first day, and with each of the 20-minute games weighted on a 4-2-0 basis he took day 2 18-6 and leads the match 30.5-13.5 going into the 10-minute games, which will start momentarily.

    Congratulations to the Americans...and probably to Carlsen too, barring a quasi-miracle.

    Saturday
    Nov112017

    2017 Champions Showdown, Day 3

    It was a good day for the underdogs/those who were trailing, as none of them lost ground on their opponents - though in every case they started off on the wrong foot.

    Thus Veselin Topalov started off with a loss as Black against Hikaru Nakamura, but struck back in the next game. The same pattern happened in the next two games, with first Nakamura and then Topalov again winning with Black. The last two games were drawn, and so while they split the 10-minute games 4-4 (or rather, 12-12 on the 3-1.5-0 scoring used for the 10-minute portion of the match) Nakamura keeps his hefty overall lead, 40.5-27.5 going into the last day.

    Fabiano Caruana came into the day four points behind Alexander Grischuk - the difference provided by the latter's win in the final game in the g/20 portion of the match. It looked like it was about to become a blowout in the g/10 after Grischuk scored 3.5 points in their first four games, thanks in part to his own successful play but also due to some egregious blunders by Caruana. But Caruana righted the ship, winning three games in a row before drawing the last game, so Grischuk maintains his 4-point lead (36-32) heading into the finale.

    Wesley So came into the day with a significant deficit against Leinier Dominguez, and after four draws and a loss in the game/10 portion it looked like the match was as good as over. But not yet! So won the last three games of the day, and trails 37.5-30.5.

    Sunday's action comprises 12 five-minute games, each worth two points (2-1-0 scoring), so none of the matches have been clinched yet (though Topalov's chances of coming back are extremely low).

    The fourth match started today, and will continue through Tuesday: Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren. They played four 30-minute games, drawing the first three before Carlsen won and took the lead in game four. Carlsen had White in games 1 and 3, but should have lost that first game. He was bailed out, and then Ding was bailed out in game 3 when he too was entirely lost. Carlsen's win in game 4 was impressive, pressuring his opponent in a nominally equal ending until he broke. Following the pattern of the earlier matches, they will play six 20-minute games tomorrow.

    Saturday
    Nov112017

    2017 Champions Showdown, Day 2

    Some interesting chess is being played, but the quality of the games is decreasing as the time control gets shorter, thanks especially to the lack of increment. The last rounds were particularly horrible: in their penultimate game Dominguez beat So in a time scramble where So was better on the board and on the clock, but Dominguez moved faster, and both sides engaged in quasi-illegal to illegal behavior (because the board and pieces are slick enough to host a mini-curling match, the pieces rarely wound up where they were supposed to; additionally, Dominguez made two-handed captures, which is certainly against FIDE's rules, as we learned from a Nakamura game back in 2016, if I recall correctly). And in the final round Caruana left his queen en prise in a winning position (and with some time on his clock!), while Topalov failed to defeat Nakamura despite having an extra piece.

    One thing that has been instructive, from a chess point of view, is that we've repeatedly seen (both days) that the anti-Berlin plan of playing 4.d3, taking on c6, and then mounting a kingside attack with castling queenside and playing g4 is surprisingly toothless. And there have been other interesting opening ideas as well. But the lack of time, and probably some fatigue as well, is spoiling the games and severing the logical connection of what's happening during most of the game and its final result.

    Anyway, here are the results: Nakamura won two games and drew four against Topalov, which meant that he went 16-8 in this section on the 4-2-0 scoring. Since he led after the first day 12.5-7.5, his overall lead is 28.5-15.5.

    Grischuk went +2-1=3 against Caruana, winning the day 14-10. They split on day one, so Grischuk has a narrow 24-20 lead overall.

    Dominguez went +3-1=2 against So. Thus, like Nakamura, he won the day 16-8, and since he - again like Nakamura - went 12.5-7.5 the first day he likewise leads overall with a 28.5-15.5 score.

    Today there will be eight rounds of game/10 with the same pairings, and it is also the first day of Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren, who will contest four g/30s.

    The action starts in 20 minutes or so (2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. local time in St. Louis).

    Friday
    Nov102017

    2017 Champions Showdown, Day 1

    The chess on day one of the 2017 Champions Showdown wasn't the best you'll ever see, but it was entertaining. Before moving on, a couple of details need to be added to my initial description of the event.

    First, there is no increment at any stage of the matches. Day 1 was game/30', with no increment, and the same will be true of today's g/20' action, day 3's g/10' games, and likewise for the g/5' contests of the final day.

    Second, the scoring system is weighted. The four 30-minute games counted for five points each, today's six 20-minute games will count for four points per game, the eight 10-minute for three points each, and two points a pop for each of the 12 five-minute games. (All of this applies to the Magnus Carlsen-Ding Liren match as well; the only difference between it and the other three is that it starts tomorrow, two days after the other matches began; and runs until Tuesday, likewise finishing two days after the other matches end.)

    To the review: All three matches were tied after three of the four games, but in the end Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Dominguez led their matches 2.5-1.5 - or rather, 12.5-7.5 - over Veselin Topalov and Wesley So, respectively, while Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk were tied at 2-2 (10-10).

    Nakamura-Topalov: Topalov had White in game 1, a sharp Advance Caro-Kann that first looked a bit better for White, then a bit better for Black, before finishing in a repetition. In game 2 Nakamura was better almost throughout the game, but near the end Topalov did well to reach an objectively drawn ending. However, the lack of an increment played its part, and the dubious 57...Bd6 and the outright blunder 59...f5 lost the game immediately. In game 3 Topalov struck back with a crushing win, helped significantly by Nakamura mixing up moves in his preparation. It was a nice win by Topalov, but it could have been a mini-immortal had he spotted Qd2 in the line 20.Ng5+ Kg8 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Bxe6+ Kh7 23.Qd2!!, with the idea that the otherwise natural and logical 23...Ng8 is broken by 24.Qxd3+! cxd3 25.Bf5#!. Finally, Nakamura won again in game four when Topalov sacrificed his c-pawn in the ending, putting too much faith in his active rooks. The hoped-for counterplay didn't exist, and with little time on the clock Topalov was unable to hold the pawn-down ending.

    Caruana-Grischuk: Caruana struck first in game 1, winning convincingly on the white side of a positional Najdorf thanks largely to Grischuk's very bad 26...h5. He needed to play 26...d5 to create more scope for his pieces, but 26...h5 created loads of fresh weaknesses for Caruana to exploit, and he did. Game 2 finished in a draw and perhaps rightly so. The game was hard-fought, with both players rejecting draws near the end, and came down to a time scramble.

    (Excursus: the chess pieces they are using are horrible for blitz chess and increment/delay-free time scrambles! It's all well and good to play on attractive, large wooden pieces, and they have to use some sort of DGT set, but the pieces they're using aren't designed for blitz. They're too big for the players' hands - watch them in time trouble - they all look awkward - and the players will have to decide whether or not they're willing to chip and break the pieces in time trouble. With all due respect to the St. Louis club and House of Staunton, I say move and bash and let the chips fall where they may - literally. Even so, they will still be slower with these pieces than they would with a slightly smaller-sized set.)

    Back to the time scramble. With the players both under 10 seconds, Caruana decided to just move his king in the general direction of his clock, while Grischuk hoovered up all of Black's pieces. In the end, Grischuk's clock hit zeros before he took Caruana's last unit, a solitary bishop on c5. Grischuk hadn't hit the clock before the zeros appeared, which may or may not be relevant, and a still shot later revealed that he hadn't even taken the bishop when he ran out of time - which is entirely relevant. Because it was still technically possible for Caruana to deliver mate with the bishop (e.g. White promotes to a light-squared bishop, and then there's the construction Kh8+Bg8 vs. kh6+bf6), the rules say that Caruana is entitled to a win. It seems, however, that it was unclear whether Grischuk had managed to take the bishop (even if he hadn't hit the clock), and Caruana wasn't interested in arguing for a win, so the game was declared a draw.

    The game will likely be remembered for the time scramble, but it should have been remembered for something else. On move 41 Caruana could have played ...g3, which both players saw and rejected because of the obvious 42.Qxb6. What they missed was the follow-up 42...Qh3!, which threatens mate on g2. Taking the queen allows a different mate on g2, with the pawn, while Caruana's clever suggestion in a post-game interview, 43.Qf2, is busted by 43...Qxh2+!.

    Grischuk struck back in game 3, winning easily when Caruana's hoped for kingside attack proved to be a bust. Finally, Grischuk had some chances in game 4 as well, but Caruana escaped with a draw when Grischuk allowed too many exchanges.

    Dominguez-So: All four games were Berlins, with just the amount of excitement we've all come to associate with that opening. Jokes (?) aside, games 1 and 3 were very similar, with So trying to exploit a structural advantage that was simply incapable of being exploited, giving Dominguez a pair of easy draws. Dominguez's anti-Berlin efforts didn't bear much fruit in the first game, which So drew easily, and in the last game Black was doing fine from a theoretical perspective as well. The position was very sharp though, and resulted in a time scramble. Right up to the end the position was drawish (and equal almost throughout), but the clock made the difference. Instead of 54...Kf7, with equality, So played 54...Bd3?? and resigned after 55.Ng5+, winning a rook for free.

    The tournament is making an excellent case for increments!

    The day two action starts in about 20 minutes.

    Wednesday
    Nov082017

    2017 Champions Showdown Starts Tomorrow/Today (Thursday)

    St. Louis is the entertainment capital of the chess world, and their latest offering is a new edition of the Champions Showdown. It is a vehicle for the United States's Big Three, and in addition there's the biggest of the big: the World Champion. Each of the four - champ Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Hikaru Nakamura - will play 30 games, and none against each other. Instead, they are matched up as follows:

    • Hikaru Nakamura vs. Veselin Topalov
    • Fabiano Caruana vs. Alexander Grischuk
    • Wesley So vs. Leinier Dominguez
    • Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren

    The first three matches start tomorrow/today (Thursday) at 1 p.m. local time (= 2 p.m. ET), while the last one starts on Saturday. Correspondingly, the first three matches end on Sunday, while Carlsen and Ding will keep us entertained through Tuesday.

    The time controls will drop as the matches go on: Day 1 will see four g/30s, day 2 six g/20s, day 3 offers eight g/10s, and the final day will have 12 five-minute games.

    Each match has its own $100,000 prize fund, with a 60-40 split for the winner and loser, respectively.

    Predictions? I expect Carlsen to win his match comfortably, Nakamura to crush Topalov, and Grischuk to defeat Caruana. So-Dominguez feels like a coin flip to me, but I'll trust So to play enough like his peak self of 2016 to pull it off.

    Tuesday
    Oct242017

    Coming Attractions: The Champions Showdown in St. Louis

    Here's the press release from the Saint Louis Chess Club:

    SAINT LOUIS, October 23, 2017 — The Saint Louis Chess Club will host a series of four matches, the Champions Showdown, November 9-14. In an exciting twist, the three top American players and current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, will face their opponents in 10 games of rapid and 20 games of blitz. Tournament play will begin November 9 at 1 p.m., with World Champion Magnus Carlsen and No. 1 Chinese Grandmaster Ding Liren beginning November 11 at 1 p.m.

    The match-ups include Fabiano Caruana (USA) vs. Alexander Grishchuk (Russia); Hikaru Nakamura (USA) vs. former World Champion Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria); and reigning U.S. Chess Champion Wesley So (USA) vs. Leinier Dominguez (Cuba). These matches will be held November 9th through 12th.

    For the first time in recent history, each match will feature play with no delay or increment, meaning the games will be faster and more exhilarating for fans to watch, both online and in person at the Saint Louis Chess Club. Each day the games will be faster with less time on the clocks.

    “We were looking for something special for some of the world’s top players to come to Saint Louis in November,” said Tony Rich, Executive Director of the Saint Louis Chess Club. “With no time increments or delay, we believe this will be one of the most watched and exciting set of matches of the year.”

    For a complete schedule and to watch live, visit uschesschamps.com. The matches will be broadcast live at 1 p.m., CDT, with the final day starting at 11 a.m.

    Tuesday
    Sep192017

    World Cup, Round 6 (Semi-Finals), Day 1: Two Draws; So Misses a Big Chance

    The game between Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was a waste of the white pieces from a purely chess perspective, but maybe Aronian wasn't feeling well and needed another rest day. He went straight for Vachier-Lagrave's main opening weapon against 1.d4, the Gruenfeld, and went into the well-traveled paths of the 7.Nf3, 8.Rb1 line. For quite some time now theory has claimed that Black is completely fine, and Aronian's mini-novelty on move 24 didn't do much (if anything) to undermine that assessment or put it to the test. Sometimes a novelty leads to equality if the other player finds all the right moves, but finding those moves may not be easy at all. This does not seem to be true in this instance. Black had many completely satisfactory ways to continue, and if anything he could have been more ambitious than he was. The players agreed to a draw eight moves later.

    The game between Wesley So and Ding Liren was a very different story, even if it had the same ending. So was White in an Italian Game, and Ding Liren played an interesting idea that goes back to Akiba Rubinstein (not in that exact position): ...Qd8-b8, to put the queen on a7. It wasn't bad, but So found an excellent way of replying with 17.Qb3 followed by 18.Qb5, offering a trade of queens (Black's queen had subsequently reached a6). Black should have declined the offer, leaving it up to White, because after 18...Qxb5 19.axb5 and the essentially forced 19...b6 White now enjoyed pressure on the a-file, the looming possibility of a b4 pawn break, and beautiful outpost square on d5. So maneuvered a knight to d5, got the maximum out of the queenside, and then gained space on the kingside. Black was in trouble, and if that wasn't enough So was handed a great winning chance not on move 40, but on move 41 - right after the time control. Unfortunately, he quickly rejected the winning 41.Rxb3 for 41.Kc3 after less than three minutes, after which Black's concrete counterplay allowed him to draw. After 42...Rh2 So finally took some time to think, but now it was too late, and the game speedily finished in a perpetual.

    The final match is a best-of-four, but the semis are still best-of-two. Will MVL and Ding Liren punish their opponents, or will we see tiebreaks? Meanwhile, here are today's games, with my comments.

    Saturday
    Sep162017

    World Cup, Round 5, Day 2: Aronian, So, and Ding Liren Advance; Vachier-Lagrave - Svidler Goes to Tiebreaks

    If there was a surprise in today's round, it was that everything one would expect came to pass. Levon Aronian had to work to neutralize Vassily Ivanchuk's attempts to get revenge with White, and he succeeded in that task. Ivanchuk played a long time, but never came close to winning the game. Favorites Wesley So and Ding Liren drew easily with Black on Friday, and used the white pieces today to defeat Vladimir Fedoseev and Richard Rapport, respectively. Finally, the most evenly matched pairing, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Peter Svidler, finished in a second straight draw, so they'll go to tiebreaks tomorrow.

    A complication with the tidy narrative: while the MVL-Svidler game was short, there was an exchange of errors on Black's 19th and White's 20th moves. White had a crude but powerful tactical idea at his disposal, and had he found it the match most likely would have come to an end, and the show would go dark tomorrow. Instead, the action continues.

    The players finally get their first official, universal rest day on Monday, which means that Aronian, So, and Ding Liren will have two days off to get ready for the semi-final. Aronian won't know the identity of his opponent until the MVL-Svidler tiebreak concludes, while So and Ding Liren will prepare for each other - and no doubt already are.

    Games here.

    Wednesday
    Aug092017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Aronian Defeats So to Join the Second-Place Tie behind MVL

    Wesley So was the #2 player in the world coming into the event, and had he defeated Magnus Carlsen in the previous round he'd have been #1. After losing to Carlsen in round 5, and now losing - badly - to Levon Aronian in round 6, he's now #6 in the world and has fallen below 2800. (It isn't easy at the top, or near it. Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, and several other players who have been #2 in recent years - sometimes with a healthy gap between them and the #3 player - have all taken a tumble and had to gradually work their way back up.)

    About the Aronian-So game. Aronian criticized So's 19th and 24th moves, 19...Bxe4 (allowing White to open the f-file, with attacking chances) and 24...Rb7, but while these moves made So's situation precarious the engine insists that Black wasn't in grave danger until he played 27...Qe7 (27...Re7 was correct) and especially 28...Qc5. So needed to play 28...Qd6, to prevent Aronian's excellent response to the move actually chosen. Aronian's 29.Rf6! was crushing, and when So resigned a few moves later it was in a position where White had winning plans to spare.

    The other four games were drawn, with the most notable of the bunch being Carlsen's marathon draw with Hikaru Nakamura. To mention just two or three of the interesting moments in the game: first, there was the series of 10 consecutive captures after Carlsen's 20.Bg5; second and third, and related, there's Carlsen's handling of his kingside pawns in the rook ending. Playing h4-h5 on move 43 or especially move 42 would have given him a forced win (and at least excellent practical chances even if he didn't manage to play like a computer). Instead, 43.g5? made it impossible to make progress against good defense, and while Nakamura may have made his life a little more difficult than he needed to, he held the fort and got the draw.

    Carlsen thus missed out on a chance to catch Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a tie for first; instead, he's tied with Aronian and Viswanathan Anand. Here are the pairings for round 7, which begin in an hour or so:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (4) - Karjakin (3)
    • Svidler (2.5) - Carlsen (3.5)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Anand (3.5) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • So (2) - Caruana (3)