As he has been for some time now, Wesley So has been playing extraordinarily good, successful chess in one event after another. One event that may have slipped below your radar is the PRO League, a slow-moving team tournament which culminates this weekend. I say a bit more about the event here, and present two of So's more recent games from the tournament. There were many to choose from, as his score there is an insane 26-2, including a 12-2 score against grandmasters.
Entries in Wesley So (54)
In addition to the ongoing Women's World Championship and Grand Prix tournament in Sharjah, there's a high-level league competition that's nearing its end. The PRO Chess League sponsored by Chess.com is winding down (it finishes on March 11), and while it's only rapid play (15'/game, plus 2" increments per move) some of the world's absolute elite is participating, including Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, and Fabiano Caruana - the world's three highest-rated players.
In last week's World Chess column, I cover one game from that event, Wesley So's win over Cristian Chirila. So grinds out a win in a long same-colored bishop ending, and while Chirila could have drawn with best play it was still a very impressive performance by So - good technique both objectively and from the practical perspective as well. It, and the league's games in general, are very much worth a look.
With Black in the last round and three players only half a point behind, chances looked pretty good that Wesley So would be caught by at least one player and the winner of the Masters Group in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament would be decided by a rapid playoff. Would we experience a thrilling, nail-biting finish?
Not even close, as it turned out. Ian Nepomniachtchi played an insane opening against So and was lost - really lost! - after just nine moves (remember, this is with White!), and could have resigned in around 14 moves rather than 28. His attempt to battle on was in vain: So was playing too well in the tournament, and his position was so good that he didn't even need to be especially precise (though by and large he was).
Worse, for those hoping for a close finish, the chase pack of Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, and Wei Yi managed a grand total of half a point between them. Carlsen had some troubles with Sergey Karjakin but drew, Aronian played terribly in the opening against Dmitry Andreikin and was outplayed pretty much from start to finish (though Andreikin made a couple of significant inaccuracies along the way), while Wei Yi did enjoy excellent winning chances against Radoslaw Wojtaszek before giving them away and then even losing in a long game.
So thereby finished in clear first with 9/13. This was his third consecutive super-tournament victory, and that doesn't count his exceptional performance in last year's Olympiad. He has gone 56 games without a defeat, gained a pile of rating points, and when Fabiano Caruana lost a few hours later in Gibraltar So could include #2 in the world rankings to his ever-growing resume. Pretty amazing.
So finished a point ahead of Carlsen and a point and a half ahead of Aronian, Wei Yi, and tournament surprise Baskaran Adhiban, who defeated Richard Rapport in the last round. Karjakin and Pavel Eljanov were a further half a point back to round out the players with plus scores in the tournament. Eljanov must have been extremely disappointed with his result, as he drew and even lost three or four games where he was winning or nearly so. As for Karjakin, it wasn't a great result, but he probably didn't feel too disappointed - he pleaded exhaustion afterwards from the match with Carlsen.
Today's annotated games are here; the final standings follow.
- 1. So 9
- 2. Carlsen 8
- 3-5. Adhiban, Aronian, Wei Yi 7.5
- 6-7. Karjakin, Eljanov 7
- 8. Giri 6.5
- 9-11. Harikrishna, Andreikin, Wojtaszek 6
- 12. Nepomniachtchi 5
- 13. Rapport 4.5
- 14. van Wely 3.5
In the Challengers Group the most important games ended peacefully, leaving Gawain Jones and Markus Ragger tied for first with 9 points apiece, half a point ahead of Jeffery Xiong. Jones had the better tiebreak score, so he has qualified for next year's Masters Group. Congratulations to him and especially to So!
But barely. Wesley So entered the last round with a half-point lead over Wei Yi and more against everyone else, and with White against Wei Yi decided to play it safe. Black went for a well-known line of the Queen's Gambit Declined called the Peruvian Variation (I think) that results in Black's having a structure that appears as ugly as sin but which turns out to be very difficult to beat. In the game Wei Yi had no trouble keeping the draw, which meant that he remained half a point behind So, who guaranteed himself of a clear lead heading into the last round.
Unfortunately for So - and for Wei Yi too, for that matter - both Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian won and also came to within half a point of So. Carlsen was in serious trouble against Pavel Eljanov, who played a great game for 28 moves. Eljanov has played a very good tournament so far, but he has failed to convert several better-to-winning positions, and this one he even managed to lose. His 29th move was a serious error, giving away the advantage, and his 37th to 39th moves left him lost. Carlsen played the ensuing rook endgame just about perfectly to stay within striking range of the leader.
As for Aronian, his opponent, Loek van Wely, like Eljanov managed to play very well the first half of the game but not the second. Van Wely's queen moves from 22...Qd8 through 27...Qxe4 left him with a lost position, and Aronian did a fine job of navigating the complications to near perfection.
The remaining games were drawn, several of them quietly, and in any case none of them left the protagonists with a shot at first place. So after the customary link to the day's wins, with my notes, here are the pairings for the final round:
- Andreikin (5) - Aronian (7.5)
- Wei Yi (7.5) - Wojtaszek (5)
- Nepomniachtchi (5) - So (8)
- Carlsen (7.5) - Karjakin (6.5) - !
- Giri (6) - Eljanov (6.5)
- Rapport (4.5) - Adhiban (6.5)
- Van Wely (2.5) - Harikrishna (6)
I don't know what the tiebreak situations will be in case two or more players wind up sharing first, so if some enterprising reader (we all know who that is) wants to inform us, he's welcome to do so. Hopefully for the sake of my patriotic prognostication So will make it simple by winning in the last round.
As for the Challengers Group, the chances of the U.S. national anthem (probably metaphorically) playing took a bit hit as Jeffery Xiong went from clear first to a tie for third after losing to Tari while all his closest rivals - Markus Ragger, Gawain Jones, and Ilia Smirin all won. Ragger and Jones are tied for first, while Smirin and Xiong are tied for third-fourth half a point behind. But the good news for Xiong is that he's the only one of the four with White in the last round, and his opponent has the lowest score of the leaders' four opponents. Here are the critical pairings:
- L'Ami (6.5) - Ragger (8.5)
- Lu Shanglei (7.5) - Jones (8.5)
- Hansen (7) - Smirin (8)
- Xiong (8) - Bok (5)
With two rounds to go, it's looking good for a USA sweep of the gold medals. Wesley So won (convincingly, against Radoslaw Wojtaszek) in round 10 to put himself a full point clear of the field in the Masters group, and while Wei Yi closed the gap to half a point after defeating Sergey Karjakin in round 11 (Karjakin completely misplayed the opening and was losing after his 15th move) So is still looking good to win yet another super-tournament on his current hot streak.
Wei Yi was the only winner in round 11, but several other players came close. Tournament surprise Baskaran Adhiban was pressing with Black against Magnus Carlsen, and had a one-move chance to obtain a winning advantage. Had he played 34...Qg4!, intending ...Re3 or ...Ne3, he probably would have won to join the big tie for third. Anish Giri was completely winning from early on against Penteala Harikrishna, but he not only lost his advantage but even wound up with a losing position near the end. Richard Rapport was better against Loek van Wely early on, but near the end would have been lost had van Wely played 34...Bd7.
The other three draws were smoother for everyone involved. So drew Dmitry Andreikin without a speck of trouble on the Black side of a 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Berlin; Ian Nepomniachtchi and Pavel Eljanov played a relatively long and hard fought game, but one that never got out of hand for either player; finally, Wojtaszek did have a pull against Levon Aronian, but didn't seem to miss any clear chances for a full point.
As for round 10, So's victory over Wojtaszek was already mentioned, and there were two other winners in the round. Karjakin beat Andreikin in an Italian game taking advantage of one inaccuracy at a time, while Levon crushed Rapport in a beautiful attacking game. The most noteworthy game among the draws was Eljanov-Wei Yi, which saw Black have a serious advantage before the time control and Eljanov a similarly large one after it before everything finished peacefully.
The decisive games from the last two rounds are here (with my annotations), and this is what the pairings look like for round 12:
- Aronian (6.5) - van Wely (2.5)
- Harikrishna (5.5) - Rapport (4)
- Adhiban (6) - Giri (5.5)
- Eljanov (6.5) - Carlsen (6.5)
- Karjakin (6) - Nepomniachtchi (4.5)
- So (7.5) - Wei Yi (7)
- Wojtaszek (4.5) - Andreikin (4.5)
Nice pairings on boards 4 and 6!
To the Challengers Group: Entering round 10 Markus Ragger and Ilia Smirin shared the lead with 6.5 points each, half a point ahead of Xiong and Gawain Jones. Ragger and Smirin only managed to draw (against Benjamin Bok and Erwin L'Ami, respectively), and they were caught by Xiong (who like almost everyone else in the tournament so far defeated Sopiko Guramishvili). Jones drew his game (with Lei Tingjie) to remain half a point behind, along with the surging Eric Hansen (who crushed Lu Shanglei in a great game that was the subject of my World Chess column this week).
In round 11 some stratification occurred. Ragger drew again, with Nils Grandelius, and for the first time all tournament was out of first place after one co-leader - Xiong - defeated the third - Smirin. Interestingly, the two players were half a point back also played each other, and Jones defeated Hansen (with Black) to join Ragger in second, half a point behind Xiong.
Here are the leading pairings for round 12:
- Tari (5.5) - Xiong (8)
- Ragger (7.5) - Van Foreest (3.5)
- Jones (7.5) - Dobrov (3.5)
- Smirin (7) - Lei Tingjie (3.5)
Xiong has his work cut out for him this round, but on the flip side he's the only one of the four with seven or more points to have White in the last round, and he also has the easiest opponent by far - at least in terms of the tournament scoretable - in that last game.
For the last seven months or so, though apparently only on an occasional basis until recently, current world #3 Wesley So has been working with Ukranian GM and trainer Vladimir Tukmakov. Tukmakov had previous enjoyed a successful stint with Anish Giri; if he enjoys comparable results with So (obviously not a given, as So is starting from a higher rating and is a couple of years older than Giri was when he started working with Tukmakov) Carlsen's all-time rating record will be in danger. Regardless, So is in his quiet way becoming a bigger and bigger star practically by the month. Just a few months ago I thought that Fabiano Caruana was the clear early favorite for the next Candidates tournament; now, who knows?
It was a quiet round in terms of results, with six draws in seven games, but there was plenty of turbulence within the games themselves. Magnus Carlsen defeated Loek van Wely pretty easily (clearly better out of the opening, a pawn up 10 moves later, in a clearly winning rook ending about another 10 moves after that followed by a smooth conversion). That brought him back where he was before his loss to Richard Rapport in the previous round; namely, within half a point of the leader, Wesley So.
So had White in a Vienna Variation of the Queen's Gambit against Levon Aronian, and as the latter was well-prepared it was soon obvious that the game would finish in a draw. So remained in clear first with 6/9, while Aronian was a point behind.
Two players had an excellent chance to catch up with So. Pavel Eljanov was clearly winning against Dmitry Andreikin in a fantastically complicated game, but couldn't put him away and the game finished in a perpetual. Wei Yi's game with Baskaran Adhiban was quieter (to be fair, most of Tal's games would have been quieter than the Eljanov-Andreikin adventure), but in this game too the player nipping at So's heels should have won, but didn't.
Of the remaining draws, Ian Nepomniachtchi also failed to convert a winning advantage, though unlike Eljanov and Wei Yi he is nowhere near the top of the tournament table. His fortunate opponent, Penteala Harikrishna, isn't quite in the leading group, but is still close enough to make a run in the last four rounds. As for Anish Giri vs. Richard Rapport and Radoslaw Wojtaszek vs. Sergey Karjakin, those were correct draws.
My analysis of Carlsen-van Wely is here, and these are the pairings for round 10 (which won't be in Wijk aan Zee, in an implicit rebuke to my labeling this tournament in the traditional way rather than after its current sponsor, Tata Steel):
- Aronian (5) - Rapport (3.5)
- van Wely (1.5) - Giri (4.5)
- Harikrishna (4.5) - Carlsen (5.5)
- Adhiban (5) - Nepomniachtchi (3.5)
- Eljanov (5.5) - Wei Yi (5.5)
- Karjakin (5) - Andreikin (4)
- So (6) - Wojtaszek (4)
Things are tightening in the Challengers Group after the co-leaders scored .5/2 between them. Ragger only drew with White against Tari, while Jones was mated by Xiong. Smirin defeated Van Foreest with Black, so now he and Ragger share first with 6.5/9, half a point ahead of Xiong and Jones, a further half a point ahead of Hansen and Lu Shanglei.
Wesley So continues to lead the Masters group at the Tata Steel chess tournament with 5 points, but that is only good for a half-point edge over the troika of Magnus Carlsen, Pavel Eljanov, and Wei Yi.
In round 7 So had White against Eljanov, and although he had a slight edge in the opening Eljanov outplayed him in the second half of the game, though not quite enough to muster serious winning chances.
Carlsen really should have caught him, but he faltered badly against Anish Giri. Carlsen played a great first half of the game, and had mate in three (more or less; Black could avoided the mate by accepting catastrophic material losses). With plenty of time on the clock Carlsen missed this and went for another, significantly less convincing winning line, and botched that one too. Giri hung on like grim death and got the draw after 123 moves.
As for Wei Yi, he joined the tie for second by beating Loek van Wely. Van Wely was badly prepared and was lost after just 14 moves, and although Wei Yi made life a bit more difficult for himself than he needed to he was still in control all the way.
The day's other winners were Sergey Karjakin and Baskaran Adhiban. Karjakin beat Levon Aronian in what a very nice, clean positional game, marred only by his missing a chance to win the game on move 11. As for Adhiban's win, it was a messy see-saw struggle with Radoslaw Wojtaszek that won't make either player's best games collection.
As usual, I've annotated all the decisive games, and as a bonus I've included Carlsen-Giri as well, here. Here are the round 8 pairings:
- Aronian (3.5) - Giri (4)
- Rapport (2) - Carlsen (4.5)
- van Wely (1) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
- Harikrishna (3.5) - Wei Yi (4.5)
- Adhiban (3.5) - Andreikin (3.5)
- Eljanov (4.5) - Wojtaszek (3)
- Karjakin (4) - So (5)
In the Challengers group almost all the leaders won their games, so the top standings look like this:
- 1-2. Jones, Ragger 5.5
- 3. Smirin 5
- 4-5. Lu Shanglei, Xiong 4.5
Potentially major games in round 8 include Smirin-Ragger and Lu Shanglei-Xiong.
I disappeared for a few days, but the momentous occasion that took place on Friday, the 20th of January in 2017 has brought me back to blogging. I refer, of course, to Anish Giri's winning a game of chess at a classical time control.
So let's get caught up on the action from rounds 2-6. Pavel Eljanov led through round 4, building on his first round win over Richard Rapport with further wins over Loek van Wely (round 2) and Baskaran Adhiban (round 4) - both with Black. Unfortunately for Eljanov things weren't so great with White: he could only draw with Pentala Harikrishna in round 3 and then lost to Levon Aronian in round 5.
That dropped him into a tie for second with Magnus Carlsen, who won a couple of beautiful games with the white pieces, first against Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 2 and against Wei Yi in round 4.
The leader, however, is Wesley So. Like Eljanov, he has won three games - three in a row from rounds 3-5 - but unlike Eljanov hasn't lost any games. He was in grave trouble against Rapport in round 3, and probably should have lost that game, but Rapport faltered near the time control and lost the game. So's win over van Wely in round 4 wasn't overwhelming either, but van Wely made too many errors leading up to the time control to save the game. So's win in round 5 over Harikrishna was clean by comparison, but there too he didn't play anything close to his best chess, and he was also given a big headstart by Harikrishna's poor opening preparation. If So keeps playing so-so chess, he is not going to win the tournament, but if he can work his way into his best form his chances will be excellent.
Other notables: Aronian, Giri, and Wei Yi are all +1. Aronian's one victory was already mentioned (with Black in round 5 against Eljanov), Giri inflicted a speedy defeat on Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 6, and Wei Yi's round 4 loss to Carlsen was offset by a win in round 2 over Nepomniachtchi and a round 6 victory over Rapport.
I've analyzed all the decisive games from round 2-6, here. As for round 7's pairings, here they are:
- Karjakin (3) - Aronian (3.5)
- So (4.5) - Eljanov (4)
- Wojtaszek (3) - Adhiban (2.5)
- Andreikin (3) - Harikrishna (3)
- Wei Yi (3.5) - van Wely (1)
- Nepomniachtchi (2) - Rapport (1.5)
- Carlsen (4) - Giri (3.5)
In the B-group (aka the Challengers tournament) Top seed Markus Ragger raced out to a 4-0 start before drawing in round 5 in a game he probably should have won. The co-second seeds also went 3.5/4 in rounds 2-5: Ilia Smirin drew in round 1 before his streak to reach 4/5, while Jeffery Xiong was a further half a point behind as he started the event with a loss to Ragger. (That game was analyzed in my round 1 report.) Oddly, all three players lost in round 6, so the leaderboard there looks like this:
- 1-2. Ragger, Gawain Jones (Jones's rating is just a touch behind Smirin's and Xiong's, and he's the one responsible for defeating Ragger in round 6): 4.5
- 3-4. Smirin, Lu Shanglei 4
- 5-7. Eric Hansen, Jeffery Xiong, Nils Grandelius 3.5