U.S. Championship: So leads with perfect score

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/27/2020 – Wesley So scored three wins in as many games to take the sole lead of the 2020 U.S. Championship. Ray Robson and Jeffery Xiong are sharing second place a half point behind, while Sam Sevian is the only other player with a plus score, currently in sole fourth place with 2 out 3 points. The tournament, taking place online, is a 12-player single round-robin. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Three out of three

Much has been talked about, and rightfully so, about the rivalry between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura during the period of online events that were organized due to the pandemic. However, there is another player that has shown strong results quite consistently during this period as well — Filipino-born grandmaster Wesley So.

So helped the U.S. team reach the final of the Nations Cup, won the all-American edition of Clutch Chess, and was declared co-champion of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Tournament. Now, at the 12-player U.S. Championship, taking place online, he has grabbed the sole lead  by getting three straight victories on day 1.

Jeffery Xiong and Ray Robson stand a half point behind.

US Championship 2020

Round 1

Certainly the most anticipated matchup of round 1 was Leinier Dominguez v Hikaru Nakamura. The clash of 2700+ grandmasters ended in a 49-move draw after the players showed their theoretical knowledge and familiarity with the position that arose out of a Berlin Defence.

The first decisive result of the championship was Xiong’s win over Awonder Liang, with the former making good use of his advantage on the queenside after opening with 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.Nbd2 d5 4.b4, showing his intentions from the get go.

At some point, it seemed like this would be the only decisive game of the round, until Aleksandr Lenderman blundered in a technical ending against So:


True to his style, So slowly improved his position and increased the pressure while keeping an edge on the clock. As the commentators mentioned, in this endgame, Lenderman would have most likely noticed that 92...Bb5 was a blunder had he had more time on his clock. However, the move he opted for allowed 93.c6 Ba4 94.Kb7 Ke7 95.c7 Bd7 96.c8Q Bxc8+ 97.Kxc8 and the pawn will promote:


Black resigned after 97...Kd6 98.Kb7 Kd7 99.b5. In the first diagrammed position, keeping the status quo with 92...Ke7 would have led to a draw.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Round 2

For a second game in a row, Lenderman found himself defending a slightly worse endgame against an elite player with the black pieces. This time around, however, he managed to hold Nakamura to a draw after no fewer than 144 moves.

Meanwhile, Robson outplayed Liang in a sharp position with both kings uncastled, and So again proved his technical strength in an endgame to beat Alejandro Ramirez. The shock of the round was Sevian’s victory over Dominguez. Dominguez miscalculated in the middlegame:


White’s rook looks stuck on the back rank, but in fact there is no way for Black to take advantage of the piece’s awkward placement. At this point, Dominguez needed to improve his position with 30.Bf1 or 30.Rd2 instead of going forward with 30.Nc5, a knight sortie that actually gives Black a chance to gain a pawn by force — 30...Nb6 31.Rxd6 Bxd6 32.Rd8 Bxc5 33.bxc5 Nxa4:


The game continued 34.Rc8 a5 35.c6 bxc6 36.Rxc6, and Black successfully used his passer on the a-file to transfer into a winning endgame.


Round 3

While all three wins in round 2 were achieved with black, the third round saw all three winners getting full points with the white pieces. Xiong beat Dariusz Swiercz in a sharp 49-move struggle, while Robson impressed by finding a remarkable pawn break against Sam Shankland:


21.e5 was the shocker, opening up the diagonals for the light-squared bishop and the queen. Shankland immediately sensed the danger and responded with 21...Kf8, but after 22.exf6 Ke8 23.b3 it was only a matter of time before White converted his favourable position into a win.

So inflicted Liang’s third consecutive loss after the youngster failed to make the most of a clearly superior position:


Black has a strong passer on the f-file and has managed to safeguard his king with his major pieces. Thus, keeping pieces on the board to increase the pressure was the way to go — with 27...Rfe8 specifically. Liang instead simplified the position with 27...Rxe6 28.Nxe6 Qe5 29.Qxd5 Qxd5 30.Rxd5 and both players now had about equal chances in the endgame.

Unfortunately for Liang, So is an expert in finding resources in technical endings. The Filipino-born grandmaster ended up winning the game after 52 moves.



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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