U.S. Championship: A one-point lead for So

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/29/2020 – Wesley So continues his amazing run at the 2020 U.S. Championship, played online this year on October 26-29, as he has a one-point lead going into the last two rounds after having scored 8 points in the first nine rounds. Despite his great performance though, there are still two players who have chances to catch up with him on Thursday — Ray Robson and Jeffery Xiong, both currently on 7/9. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Robson and Xiong with outside chances

After starting the tournament with five consecutive wins, Wesley So continues to impress in this year’s U.S. Championship, exceptionally being organized online. So obtained two wins and a draw both on days 2 and 3 of the competition to reach the final two rounds a full point ahead of Jeffery Xiong and Ray Robson. Sharing fourth place are Leinier Dominguez and Sam Shankland, a whole two and a half points behind the chasers.

One of the biggest surprises is Hikaru Nakamura’s subpar performance. Before the tournament started, it seemed more than likely that the 5-time national champion would be fighting for first place, as he has proven once and again that he is one of the best in the world when playing online with faster time controls. However, so far ‘Naka’ has lost to Awonder Liang, Xiong and Robson for a 4/9 score. Nevertheless, Nakamura will get a chance to have a major impact on the final standings, as he will face the leader in the last round.

Besides Nakamura, So will also have to face Robson on the final day of action.

US Championship 2020

Round 7

Wednesday was full of fighting chess and decisive games. In round 7, So started off quietly, getting a 28-move draw with white against Sam Sevian. However, his two young chasers both won to catch up with him in the lead. Xiong convincingly beat Nakamura, while Robson took down Elshan Moradiabadi’s French Defence: 

 

After spending almost seven minutes considering the bishop sacrifice, White opened up the position with 16.Bxc4 dxc4 17.d5. Robson got a commanding positional edge and went on to score a 37-move win.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Round 8

After having to share the lead for the first time since round 1, So reacted immediately by beating Moradiabadi with the black pieces. Meanwhile, the new co-leaders were facing each other. Xiong played the Scotch and simplified into a favourable position on move 16:

 

16.Ba3 Qxa3 17.Qxe5 Be6 18.Rfe1 Qd6 19.a4 and White has kept his extra — albeit doubled — pawn. Xiong kept the queens on the board and showed great technique to convert his advantage into a key victory. He was now sharing the lead with So, a full point ahead of Robson before round 9.

Xiong’s next opponent? None other than Wesley So.

 

Round 9

Robson beat Nakamura after converting an endgame with rook and two pawns against two minor pieces (with the queens still on the board), while So had a dangerous passer against Xiong in a rook and bishop endgame:

 

Xiong’s 44...Rxb6 was an inaccuracy. As pointed out later by So — a player who has reached the elite of the chess world by showing marvellous endgame technique — 44...Be2 was the way to go here, as after the text White had 45.d6 Rxb7 46.d7 Rxd7 47.Rxd7 when winning the ending an exchange up is not trivial, but defending with the bishop is a tough task. 

A key factor in this game was time management, as So had a large advantage on the clock in the critical ending. In fact, Black could have defended more stubbornly, but, with Xiong playing on increments and So having more than a minute at his disposal, Black allowed his opponent to give up the exchange and trade down into a won pawn endgame:

 

White is totally winning now — 52.Rxf5 is coming and the pawn endgame is lost for Black.

Surprisingly, after such a remarkable effort in the first 9 rounds, So still has to overcome major obstacles on Thursday to secure first place, as he will play Robson (one of the chasers) and Nakamura in the last two rounds of the event.

 

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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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