Fischer Random Final: Wesley So leads

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/1/2019 – Wesley So has a 4½:1½ lead over Magnus Carlsen after day one of the finals at the Fischer Random World Championship in Norway. The Filipino-born grandmaster and the world champion played two remarkable games, but only So made the most of the time he had a better position. Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi, in the meantime, traded wins and go into day two with the score tied in the match for third place. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

My Black Secrets in the Modern Italian My Black Secrets in the Modern Italian

The Italian Game is considered a sound but quiet opening without early trades, giving rise to rich positions where plans are more important than forced variations. So shows black's plans on this DVD.

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Not so random

The action of day one at the Fischer Random World Championship was marked by the fact that the drawn position for games one and two of 'slow rapid' was not too dissimilar to the normal initial position. The bishops were on their normal initial squares, on the c and f-files; one of the knights was on the b-file, as usual; and it was quite clear that the best way to protect the kings was by castling short. The one big difference was that the queen was placed on the a-file, which actually made for a slower development of active plans for either side.

 

Three out of four games on Thursday started with 1.d4, which resulted in most positions having comparable setups to the ones seen in normal semi-open structures. In fact, three out of the four encounters were long-haul affairs, lasting 68 moves or more.

The one exception was Caruana's win over Nepomniachtchi. The Russian came from a painful loss in the semi-finals, which might have prompted him to play too loosely from the get go. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich was interviewed after this game, and referring to Ian, as he calls his compatriot, explained that he is "an emotional player", who considers his qualification to the Candidates much more important than this event. Dvorkovich was hinting at the fact that the third leg of the Grand Prix kicks off in a few days in Hamburg, and a good performance by Nepomniachtchi will highly increase his chance to qualify to the Candidates. 

Nepomniachtchi had a good position out of the opening, but his overtly ambitious 15...h4 allowed his rival to gain control of the centre:

 

The game continued 17.e4 dxe4 18.fxe4, and the Russian gave up a piece with 18...g4 allowing 19.e5. Black tried to create some sort of attack, but Caruana was as cold-blooded as ever, converting his advantage into a win by move 42.

Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Fabiano Caruana v Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

While Caruana got his victory, Carlsen and So were playing the first of two thrilling encounters in the championship match. All throughout the day, White — in this case Carlsen — was the one getting an initiative out of the opening. However, when his pieces were all pointing at Black's kingside, the world champion failed to find a strong continuation:

 

Here White had 19.♘xg7, when after 19...♝xc4 20.♘xe8 the dark squares around the black king are completely vulnerable — notice that after 19...♚xg7, 20.♗h6+ leads to mate in a few moves. None of this happened though, as Carlsen first exchanged twice on d5 — 19.xd5 xd5 20.xd5 xd5 — and only then went for the knight capture on g7. 

White was still in the driver's seat, but So showed his usual resilience in defence, getting a draw after surviving an ending a pawn down. The game lasted 96 moves. 

Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Magnus Carlsen talking to the press | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

The second games of each match continued with what became the thematic idea from the day's initial position — to pound on the weak dark squares around Black's king:

 

Nepomniachtchi found 29.xg7 here and, although the computers think the game is still balanced, Black is the one who needs to find good defensive moves to keep the status quo. Caruana faltered a couple of moves later, allowing White's queen to penetrate with decisive effect:

 

33.b2 is what the American missed. White infiltrated Black's camp and eventually gained an exchange. Nepomniachtchi needed to work hard to force Caruana's resignation, but he finally managed after 68 moves, thus levelling the score board in the match for third place. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Keep an eye on Russia's number one... | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

While the aforementioned encounters did not lack in excitement, the game of the day certainly was So's impressive white victory over the world champion. Most of the credit should be given to the American's dark-squared bishop:

 

Up to this point, a tense balance had been maintained by both players, and here, instead of going for a massive series of exchanges on f6, So took the bull by the horns and played 24.h6. Carlsen thought for six minutes and responded with 24...e8, when 24...♛d7 was a better try. Then came 25.xg7 (yes, again) and 25...d2, forking White's rooks.  

When asked about what he felt at this moment, So explained that after ...♞d2 "there's no going back" — therefore 26.xf7 xf1 27.f8+ h7. And the dark-squared bishop was the protagonist once again:

 

Follow the moves of the game on the diagram above

So found 28.e5, noticing that Black needs to enter the forced line that followed in the game if he does not want to fall into a mating net — notice that at this point White is a full rook down. There followed 28...c1 (attacking the queen) 29.h8+ g6 30.e7+ f7 31.h7+ e6 32.xc8 xa1 33.xa1 g3 34.xa7, and now White is a pawn to the good.

This ending still left some defensive resources for Black, but after 34...f5 35.h8 Carlsen erred decisively:

 

35...e2 gave way to 36.g4, and after 36...hxg4 37.hxg4 e3 White gained a piece with 38.e7+. However, instead of keeping the bishop on the board, So went into a not-at-all-trivial endgame with rook, knight and a-pawn against rook. Carlsen put up stiff resistance, but in the end So got a valuable 72-move victory.

Wesley So, Magnus Carlsen

It was a commanding performance by Wesley So | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Download the PGN files of the games and examine them in ChessBase: Day 1.

Rank Name Score Rating
1 So, Wesley 4½/6 2767
2 Carlsen, Magnus 1½/6 2876
Rank Name Score Rating
1 Caruana, Fabiano 3/6 2812
  Nepomniachtchi, Ian 3/6 2776

Commentary webcast - Finals Day 1

Commentary by Sopiko Guramishvili, Danny Rensch and Yasser Seirawan

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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