Wesley So begins defense of US crown versus Xiong

Roy Luarca
Wesley So begins defense of US crown versus Xiong

REJUVENATED. Wesley So looks to open strong after a two-day break.

Looking to shake off a recent skid, Wesley So kicks off his title defense in the US Chess Championship

Wesley So hopes a brief rest did him some good when he defends the US Chess Championship crown starting Wednesday, October 6 (Thursday, October 7, Philippine time) at the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri.

Feeling tired due to his grueling schedule this year, So won just one of his last four matches and tumbled to fourth place in the recent Champions Chess Tour Finals after hounding eventual winner Magnus Carlsen at the top spot.

Whether the two-day respite is enough to recharge So will be known when he tackles Jeffery Xiong, last year’s runner-up, in one of six inaugural matches in the over-the-board 11-round classical event dangling $50,000 (P2.5 million) to the winner.

The Filipino-born So is seeded second behind world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana, the 2016 US champion who’ll be tangling with Lazaro Bruzon.

Other matches pit third seed Leinier Dominguez against Alex Lenderman, 2018 champion Sam Shankland against Sam Sevian, Ray Robson against Daniel Naroditsky, and Darius Swiercz against John Burke.

So, overall champion of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour, ruled last year’s edition done online with 9 points out of a perfect 11, improving on his triumph via a rapid playoff in the 2017 US Chess Championships.

The 20-year-old Xiong placed second with 8.5 points and is expected to give So, also the 2017 US champion, a tough challenge with the white pieces.

A notable absentee this year is five-time US champion Hikaru Nakamura, who wound up joint seventh in the 2020 edition. –