So on So

by Albert Silver
1/20/2017 – In round five at the 2017 Tata Steel Masters, Wesley So won a beautiful game against Harikrishna in which he completely asphyxiated his Indian opponent even with the queens off very early. Both players spent a great deal of time in the opening, working out the cunning complications, but the clincher came about after: they had unwittingly replayed the opening masterpiece by Kramnik against Nepomniachtchi in Dortmund 2015. We bring you the game with So’s analysis and comments by Kramnik.

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Photos by Alina L'Ami

It was by all measures a brilliant game. Even the engines could see what was coming, and in spite of Black being up a pawn on the board, they unflinchingly declared White as ‘up a pawn’. Note that their main line did not show a sudden material reversal anytime soon, so it was another example of how advanced they are.

Wesley So has been on fire and is now rated 2817 on the Live Ratings list (as of this writing)


His surrogate mother and permanent companion, Lotis, has been a stabilizing force in his life

After the game, Wesley So joined GM Robin Van Kampen and shared detailed analysis of the game, and notably the opening. Both he and his opponent had spent a huge amount of time, and on move six So had spent a good 14 minutes. It was hardly the only time too, and equally large amounts of time were consumed by Harikrishna, who was on the receiving end of this masterpiece.


Wesley was unsure about its consequences, and commented that if Harikrishna, himself no.12 in the world, had chosen to avoid it, he had probably not felt comfortable or happy with it. As a matter of fact, the databases do have one master level game from 2011 featuring it played by the unlikely names, Fischdick and Schlick (Black won). I would be wont to make better ones up…

The curious thing in all this was that both players were following to the move a brilliant game by Vladimir Kramnik against Ian Nepomniachtchi played in 2015 in Dortmund. They followed it, not for five or ten moves, but a full 15. In fact, any doubts they did not know could be seen from the time spent after 17 moves: Wesley So had spent one hour and 21 minutes, while Pentala Harikrishna had used up one hour and 31 minutes. Astonishing.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but about when it is unintentional? Above is an image of the game that was its spiritual preecessor.

Vladimir Kramnik was actually watching the game live as it unfolded, time spent and all, and was quite baffled. Even if Wesley So had been deliberately luring Harikrishna to his death on the board, remembering it all, it hardly seems possible he would spend 81 minutes of his clock time, most of it very early, just to camouflage it. So what did the former World Champion think of all this?

He had a few wry comments, understandably. A player who has epitomized the standard bearer of opening preparation, out-thinking even his own great predecessor for the title, had to find this all just short of incomprehensible. Wesley So admitted he recognized the position somewhat, though failed to identify exactly where and when. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity, though Kramnik did point out, “Well it is logical that So was slightly more aware of the game since it was played two meters away from his”.

As to Pentala Harikrishna, who followed the Pied Piper to his demise, Kramnik offered the following words of wisdom: “My approach is quite old fashioned, and I prefer to avoid, especially with black, playing openings I know nothing about...”

Here is the full game, with analysis from Wesley So’s post-game conference:

So on So

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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