Wesley So wins first US Chess Championship title
MANILA, Philippines - Wesley So captured the U.S. Chess Championship for the first time, winning the crown in a hard fought 1.5-.5 two-game rapid chess playoff with Alexander Onischuk on Monday, April 10 (Tuesday Manila time).
Dressed in a Barong Tagalog to highlight his Filipino roots though he no longer plays for the Philippines, So received the trophy with women’s champion Sabina Foisor, formerly of Romania. He also earned the $50,000 top prize for the victory.
So remains the second strongest player in the world, according to 2700chess.com, with a live ELO rating of 2815.4 behind world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway’s 2830 ELO.
Behind the 67-game no loss streak that began last year, So could not win the US Championship with a big margin as expected from a player of his stature. But his main rivals, defending champion Fabiano Caruana and former titlist Hikaru Nakamura, failed to fight for high honors.
It was far from playing risk-free chess for So as he found himself in trouble at one point against Caruana, but managed to draw. Against Varuzhan Akobian, who won by forfeit over So in a controversial 2014 U.S. Championship match, So was on the ropes.
In a game where both kings were exposed, all chess engines showed So was inferior but Akobian failed to find a KO punch. The lines computers spat out were long and complex, and with the digital clock winding down, caution triumphed.
In the final round match against Daniel Naroditzky, So played the Berlin Defense against his foe’s Ruy Lopez. A draw usually ensues out of this opening but only after long maneuvering where both players can lose their way.
But Naroditzky unexpectedly chose a line where an early draw ensued. Filipino chess fans who stayed up until 2 am waiting for a fight vented their ire and some were likely unable to sleep.
So said he was disappointed over the outcome but then played a solid opening compared to the French Defense, an opening with counter attacking chances which he had used in this event.
The two-game rapid match against Onischuk, a former Latvian player, was unexpectedly tough. In this format where both players have 30 minutes each to finish a game, which means a total of an hour, Onischuk carried it right to So, but So outplayed his foe in a crisp attack.
"When he has a winning position, Wesley makes winning look easy. He's so efficient," said the commentator afterwards.
The second game was different. This time, Onischuk held the aces: active queen, better king’s bishop that So’s knight, a pawn at b6 that could fall and create a passed pawn. It wasn't clear how So would makethe draw he wanted so he could avoid another tiebreaker.
Onischuk, who was two pawns up against So had two choices: play for a better ending or go for a mating attack. He did not react vigorously and in the 54th move So seized his chance, activating his knight to force a counterattack. So made 8 of the next 10 moves with his knight, which drew Onischuk’s king from pillar to post and forced the draw So wanted.
So’s victory wasn’t the only major development going on in Philippine chess. At the Bangkok Open, veteran National Master Jony Habla drew with former world championship challenger Nigel Short of Britain while Woman International Master Bernadette Galas of La Salle defeated Kazakh International Master Egveny Egorov. – Rappler.com