Wesley So is the first official Fischer Random World Champion

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/3/2019 – Wesley So needed only six out of the twelve scheduled games to take down Magnus Carlsen at the final of the Fischer Random World Championship in Bærum. The final score was a resounding 13½:2½ in favour of the American, who thus became the official world champion in this format. In the match for third place, Ian Nepomniachtchi got the better of Fabiano Caruana after recovering from his painful loss against So in the semis. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Opening package: 1.b3 and Black Secrets in the Modern Italian Opening package: 1.b3 and Black Secrets in the Modern Italian

Wesley So published two new opening DVDs: 1.b3, the so called Nimzo-Larsen-Attack, for White and his black secrets in the modern Italian. Get them in a package and save money!


A dominating performance

The third day of both the semis and the finals started with four 'fast rapid' games, with a time control of 15 minutes for the whole game and 2-second increments per move. A blitz phase with four 3-minute games was supposed to follow, but none of the four matches played in Norway throughout the week reached that stage, as the winning player collected 12½ points or more in the 'fast rapid' every single time.

Saturday's drawn initial position had an awkward bishop on the d-file and a chance to immediately attack a7 (or a2) after move one:


1.f4 and 1.b3, defending the pawn weakness on the a-file, were the obvious choices to start the game. Carlsen chose the latter in the first encounter of the day, but later found it hard to place his light-squared bishop on an active square.


The eventual champion later pointed out that Carlsen's 20.b1 was a critical mistake, as maintaining the bishop on the f1-a6 diagonal was necessary to help a potential attack on the kingside — especially given the fact that White needed a win to recover lost ground.

Three moves later, the computer assessed the position as winning for Black:


White's previous 23.a5 allowed Black to plant his own knight on the strong c5-outpost, getting a clear strategic edge. However, after 23...c5 24.c6+, So opted for 24...b7 instead of 24...♚a8 and permitted his famed rival to give perpetual checks from a5 and c6. The American later recounted that he was told right after the game that the engines gave him a large advantage, and declared:

I was totally shocked. I felt I was better, but I thought that +3 was too high, considering the position has equal material. That just shows how strong computers are these days.

Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So

Wesley So offering the draw | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Thus, the world champion was obliged to get a string of consecutive wins if he wanted to make a comeback, but by that point he was most likely discouraged by his previous play in the match. He tried to get a double-edged position with Black, only to face an unforgiving So, who got yet another strategically superior position. Moreover, Carlsen allowed his dark-squared bishop to get trapped on move 16:


By playing 16...e5 here, the Norwegian gave way to 17.g3, when his bishop has no place to go. From this point on, there was no looking back for So, who showed precise technique to convert his material advantage into the win that gave him the title. This was the final position:


It is Black to move here, but even if he plays 29...b5 White can continue with the lethal 30.♖a4+, when after 30...bxa4 31.♕a5+ ♚b8 32.♕xd8+ White's attack with the queen and the pair of knights is unstoppable.

Magnus Carlsen

A large audience witnessed the last day of action at the Henie Onstad Art Center in Høvikodden — Magnus Carlsen arriving | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Afterwards, Wesley So stressed the fact that this was a totally unexpected result for him, mentioning once and again the respect he has for his opponents. Talking about the difficulties of playing at such a high level, he pointed out that top athletes need not get very cosy even when they are doing well:

I usually get comfortable with where I am, with my play, but that's never good if you're still competing, if you're an athlete. You always need to desire to get better and to achieve more.

Referring to the format, he declared his wish to see more Fischer Random events in the future, as "it adds a very interesting flavour to the game of chess".

Wesley So

So was as polite as ever during his closing speech | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So

The two strongest players in the world could not stop him... | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Nepomniachtchi gets the bronze

The closing ceremony had to wait for the match for third place to end, as So got the title after merely two games. The wait was not long though, as Ian Nepomniachtchi secured the bronze after three 'fast rapid' encounters against Fabiano Caruana. The Russian had started the day with 7½ points. He won the first game and found a nice perpetual to draw the second, thus getting to 10½. 

A win in game three was all he needed, and he got it in style, with a lethal onslaught against the white king:


37...xc3 was the beginning of the end for Caruana. After 38.e2, Black placed his bishop on a strong outpost with 38...d4, and the attack resumed. Resignation came six moves later, with mate-in-seven on the board:


With the black king on b6, there are no more checks for White, and there is no way to defend the immensely vulnerable c1 and c2-squares. White resigned.

For Nepomniachtchi, this was the perfect recovery after having suffered a painful loss against Wesley So in the semi-finals. The Russian expressed his frustration after that match on his Twitter account, but after his clear victory over the world number two he will certainly face the coming leg of the Grand Prix with a more positive outlook.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Maria Emelianova / frchess.com

Download the PGN files of the games and examine them in ChessBase: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Rank Name Score Rating
1 So, Wesley 13½/12 2767
2 Carlsen, Magnus 2½/12 2876
Rank Name Score Rating
1 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 12½/12 2776
2 Caruana, Fabiano 5½/12 2812

Commentary webcast - Finals Day 3

Commentary by Sopiko Guramishvili, Danny Rensch and Yasser Seirawan


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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Perdurabo Perdurabo 11/6/2019 01:20
Congratulations to Wesley So
genem genem 11/4/2019 09:51
There are two different aspects to chess960-FRC. (1) Non-classical start setup (2) Constantly changing the start setup. I dislike the constant Changing of the setup. Instead, pick one non-classical setup, and stick with it for a decade or so.

"Discard the 'Random' from Fischer Random Chess!"
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 11/4/2019 09:22
Wesley So is a class act. And what a dominating performance, over the greatest player of modern times.
reddawg07 reddawg07 11/4/2019 06:13
Did Wesley caught Magnus at a vulnerable moment? Or that like all GM's at this level opening preparation is the key to maintaining a world top ten position in classic chess. Middle games patterns in Fischer Random chess ultimately settles down to the usual classic chess patterns after a number of moves.
So it is still chess and being ahead of Magnus and Caruana is an achievement.

Congratulation Wesley.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 11/4/2019 05:03
@SevenBySeven, no one believes you. GMs are overwhelmingly in favor of Fischer Random. GMs do not care enough about the damage Fischer Random is causing to chess, which is their profession? lol.
SevenBySeven SevenBySeven 11/4/2019 04:08
Fischer Random Chess is an aberration, [literally] a side show. Similarly, in the way that Fischer himself was a side show. The chess financial whores see an opportunity for profit, in the same way the actors and actresses shill for one another on talk shows. Many GM's are averse to this cancer, but in spite of this they smile, write books and do videos. Little do they care enough to admit to the damage they may be causing to the royal game. I can hear the millennials echoing phrases like "there are many different kinds of chess" or, "would you like to play chess"?, "sure, which one"? I can imagine a chess website: "Originalchess.com", where purists and older people gather [there] to remember the royal game.

Did you hear of the new FRC chess openings?: the twisted bishops variation of the shallow waters opening; the head on collision variation of the cluster bomb opening; the I won your queen without thinking variation of the silly hillbilly opening, and so on. "Chess" anyone?

In any case Caissa will have the last laugh in the Endgame. THIS cannot be adulterated!
a6najdorf a6najdorf 11/4/2019 01:40
congratz gm so :)) mabuhay ka po :))
LLeow LLeow 11/4/2019 01:49
congrats to wesley so for the unexpected upset. once again carlsen does not play his best in norway. many thanks to bobby fischer and FIDE for this attempt to refresh the game of chess by getting away from opening theory.

i strongly support chess960, but it is flawed in that some of the starting positions are in white's favor. that the same opponents play both white and black sides of the same position helps to mitigate the flaw, but not totally.

it is way too late, but let me suggest an alternative. make a single simple change from the standard starting position. black's a pawn starts at a6 instead of a7. other than that the game is exactly the same. white makes the first move, etc. the game is the same as standard chess with colors reversed where white plays 1.a3 on the first move.

with this minor change, opening theory is thrown out. who has the advantage? not sure but one can say with high probability that whichever color has the advantage, it is less than the edge that white starts with in the standard game of chess. a huge plus.

let's take this mental exercise further. put the black a pawn back on a7.
- instead put black's b pawn on b6 instead of b7. this is equivalent to white starting with 1.b3 in standard chess. as an attempt to get away from theory this one does not totally work.
- instead put black's c pawn on c6 instead of c7.
- and so on through black's pawn starting on h7 instead of h7.

instead of chess 960, this could be chess8. much less random. in every case(with the possible exception of the f6 pawn) i do not know which color is preferred, but the advantage seems likely to be less than white's advantage in regular chess. if it turns out that the f6 pawn increases white's edge, remove it from consideration.
wb_munchausen wb_munchausen 11/3/2019 09:59
Congrats Wesley! A reminder that chess is a gentleman's game (or woman's). It's great to see a deserving player succeed.
PEB216 PEB216 11/3/2019 09:20
An outstanding chess player and a true gentleman, congrats Wesley So.
Denix Denix 11/3/2019 08:35
At last a World Crown! Congratulations Wesley! Mabuhay!
Leavenfish Leavenfish 11/3/2019 05:49
Most everyone called this an 'upset'. But was it? I mean, Magnus is SO good at evaluating positions, but his main strength may be his memory. Memory (at this stage at least) does not have much say so in Fischer Random.
ChessHulk ChessHulk 11/3/2019 04:09
Well done, and congratulations Wesley!
It just goes to show how much work is done on theory of classical chess! I started playing 960 a few months back, and it is fun, but so exasperating as well. There are some "rules" I've observed. Is there a book for this? Ha ha, Wesley, maybe time to write one! :)
Kilovs 2016 Kilovs 2016 11/3/2019 02:34
Congrats Wesley!