Wesley So dominates playoffs, wins 2021 US Championship

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/20/2021 – Wesley So beat both Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian in the playoffs of the 2021 US Championship to win the national title for a third time, since his transfer to the United States in 2014. A hard-fought tournament saw the three players sharing first place on 6½ points after 11 rounds. A round robin with a rapid time control took place on Tuesday to decide the winner of the national championship. | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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A third US title for So

Wesley SoWesley So defended his US Championship title on Tuesday, after beating both Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian in rapid playoffs. The Filipino-born grandmaster had won the 2020 event, which took place online, and a similar 12-player round robin back in 2017 — So also won that tournament in playoffs, as he beat Alexander Onischuk in a two-game rapid match that followed the two players tying for first place on 7/11 points in the classical event.

At 28, So is a force to be reckoned with at the very top of the chess elite. Currently ranked sixth in the world, he was one of two players to finish the tournament without a loss — Leinier Dominguez finished undefeated, in shared 4th-6th place, a half point behind the winners. The now 3-time national champion capped a typical sturdy performance with back-to-back wins in the playoffs, which were played with a 10-minute time control (and a 2-second delay).

In the post-game interview, So thanked Sam Shankland for saving a difficult draw against Caruana on Monday. Had Caruana won, he would have incredibly come back from a supbar early performance to win the event after scoring three consecutive victories — but it was not meant to be for the rating favourite.

Caruana also had a better position in the first playoff game against So. The eventual champion later confessed:

The thing in this game is that I was playing with no pressure. I didn’t expect this playoff, so I was just playing fast, playing chess — if chances come, good; if I lose, that’s fine too.

So emphasized how important winning the national championship is for him:

I remember 2017, I really wanted to win my first US Championship because it was getting more and more difficult. [...] Now this is my third title, and it’s huge. I feel that the US Championship is a tournament we have to play every single year, and winning the title is huge, it’s even more important than the money.

Playoffs

The rating favourites kicked off the three-player round robin, with Caruana getting the white pieces. The world number two got a positional advantage, and found the right way to break through on move 33.

 

The forcing line starting with 33.Nc6+ bxc6 34.bxc6 leaves Black struggling to deal with his opponent’s passer after 34...Bxc6 35.dxc6 Kd8

 

As the commentators noted, Caruana here needed to play actively to leave his opponent without counterplay or chances to fight in a technical endgame — thus, 36.Rb1 would have been the best alternative, while after 36.Nd5 Nxd5 37.exd5 White is still better, but will need to find precise moves to convert his advantage with little time on the clock.

 

So put up stiff resistance, and soon stabilized the position. Caruana could not switch gears and ended up losing the game.

Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So

Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So | Photo: Lennart Ootes

However, as he has proven repeatedly throughout the event, the Italo-American star is a fighter at heart. After that painful loss, Caruana beat Sevian, keeping his chances alive. Sevian needed to beat So to take the playoffs to the blitz section. The youngster had the black pieces, and opted for a King’s Indian Defence.

 

Sevian’s risky approach quickly backfired, though, as So played active, natural moves and got a clear edge early in the game. White was fully in control after 15.Nxd4 exd4 16.Bc4, creating deadly threats while Black’s queenside is seriously underdeveloped.

So scored a 33-move win to clinch his third US Championship title.

Carissa Yip, John Burke, Sam Sevian

It was nonetheless a great performance by Sam Sevian — here with Carissa Yip and John Burke | Photo: Lennart Ootes

All games - Playoffs

 

Final standings

 

All games

 

Links


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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niceforkinmove niceforkinmove 10/23/2021 05:42
If people like speed chess that's fine have a separate championship for that. But don't have it ruin classical chess for those of us that like classical chess.
czechpirc czechpirc 10/21/2021 07:48
Good news: Humble champ So takes it down
Bad news: St. Louis commentary team continues to stick to the comp instead of giving us insight into how GMs see the game and their process
Denix Denix 10/21/2021 07:41
Congratulations Wesley!
EL2400 EL2400 10/21/2021 07:20
I watched the games, and I'm most disappointed with the playoffs. The time that was given to the players is simply terrible. After two weeks of tough tournament and real chess, an unlikely playoff was scheduled. A Time Control of 10 minutes with no extra-increment but only 2 seconds in delay that has no meaning at all. Just laughter from the players and the audience. And so it turned out that there were actually 3 games that are 3 10-minute Armageddon games. It turned out that the 3 games together took less than 75 minutes in net time. The level of play has been severely affected. And what a wonder that in the decisive Armageddon game it ended in a loss of time! This is the way the organizers of the championship found to end the championship. This was non-chess.
Peter B Peter B 10/21/2021 05:11
Why is So not playing in the FIDE Grand Swiss?
gwrtheyrn gwrtheyrn 10/21/2021 12:37
So, an important national championship is decided by a three game speed-chess playoff. One hates to think what Botvinnik would have said about doing business this way.
Green22 Green22 10/20/2021 07:46
Awesome! I would love to see him make the next candidates. Need So in there.
michael bacon michael bacon 10/20/2021 05:00
I beg to differ. It was most definitely NOT a "great performance by Sam Sevian." He was a pawn up against the player who became Champion in the penultimate round and forced a draw after only playing 30 moves. His last round game ended after Naroditsky played his FOURTEENTH move! Sam Sevian had a chance to WIN the US championship without a playoff but decided, for whatever reason, to not attempt to win. Can you imagine Bobby Fischer playing that way? For you to call what Sam did "great" is a insult to Caissa.
mehmet17 mehmet17 10/20/2021 04:35
A deserved title. He is the best in his country and one of the 2-3 best in the world..
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 10/20/2021 03:44
Wesley can thank the Lord for His intervention in the tiebreak game against Fabiano.

Could not resist the facetious line. Victory still deserved - Wesley was able to be ahead on time in a short game, it probably was an important factor. And Wes also dropped one in the regular tournament, which he could have won without going into tiebreaks.
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