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So, Carlsen swap blows as Skilling crown hangs

Wesley So swapped punches with Magnus Carlsen as their two-match fight for the Skilling Open crown went back to scratch.

The favored Carlsen snatched game 1, So persevered to clinch game 2, Carlsen pounced on an inaccuracy by So to take game 3, but So proved better in game 4 to level the first match at 2-2 on Sunday, November 29 (Monday, November 30, Philippine time).

It means whoever wins the second match on Monday will emerge king of the online event kicking off the $1.5 million (P72 million) Champions Chess Tour.

Thus far, whoever handles white has won and if they still end up tied after the four-game second match, there will be blitz tiebreakers, and if the outcome remains unresolved, an Armageddon will decide who pockets the $30,000 (P2.4 million) top purse.

The Bacoor, Cavite-born So, now representing the United States, showed depth in game 4 when he moved Rh5, leaving commentator Vladimir Kramnik, the world champion from 2006 to 2007, to remark to former world title contender Peter Leko: "It's a different chess now, we are dinosaurs!"

Forced to yield his bishop later, a fuming Carlsen eventually resigned. So, of course, was elated with his performance.

"Very surprised, because my goal in this match is to make it interesting, to try to put up a good fight, at least, because Magnus is really the better player and he’s the best player in the world right now,” said So in the post-match interview. 

“Just to compete with him is a very good feeling, and he’s better in all parts of the game than me. So I had to do my best or hope to catch him in an off day. I think today has been slightly an off day for him. I don’t think he even lost any game in the semifinals [he lost one to Ian Nepomniachtchi] or the quarterfinals, so to beat him twice today is very special.”

Ratings-wise, Carlsen is indeed superior to So in all time controls. 

Carlsen is world No. 1 in classical with an Elo 2861 while So is No. 9 (2770); Carlsen is No. 1 in rapid (2881) while So is No. 21 (2741); and Carlsen is No. 2 in blitz (2886) while So is No. 4 (2816).

For Carlsen, however, So is a strong threat.

"When he's at the top of his game, it's very hard to find any obvious weaknesses,” said Carlsen of So. 

“Sometimes he's a bit in his own head; that's the only thing that can hurt him. He's one of the people I find most difficult to play against because he rarely makes neither a tactical nor a positional mistake. I'll have to be at the top of my game to win," Carlsen told chess.com.

Carlsen's intuition turned out to be right in the first match.

Whether the seven-year world champion can channel back his mind in the second match coinciding with his 30th birthday remains to be seen.

For So, surviving his black openings and playing his best are the keys to spoiling Carlsen's party. – Rappler.com