Wesley So on becoming the first Fischer Random World Champion

by Sagar Shah
1/1/2020 – Magnus Carlsen is now the reigning World Champion in classical, rapid and blitz chess. But there's one official World Championship that eluded him in 2019: the newly codified Fischer Random World Championship. Wesley So, the 26-year-old Filipino-American Grandmaster created a sensation by beating the mighty Norwegian in the finals of a knockout tournament with a sweeping score of 13½-2½! How did he do it? IM SAGAR SHAH spent some time with So at the Tata Steel Chess India tournament.

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.


An interview

The Fischer random chess or Chess960 is hailed to be a game of pure wits where elements of theory and extensive home preparation are rendered practically useless and the players are demanded to rely more on their intuition and over-the-board creativity. It therefore came as a surprise to many chess fans in November when Magnus Carlsen, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest natural talents that the game of chess has ever seen, was sheerly dominated by Wesley So in the World Fischer Random Championship 2019.

The final score between in the Fischer Random World Championship | Photo: Official site

Sagar Shah (SS): Wesley, you became first Official Fischer Random World Champion few days ago, how has life been since then?

Wesley So (WS): Well, it is very good to win against Magnus and also to win the first Fischer Random World Championship. It's a very new event. Hopefully it will continue. I am actually quite surprised with the amount of news coverage it got, not only in the chess world or Norway but also in the Philippines. It seems that they thought that I am number two in the World now (laughs). I guess the title of World Champion in any type of chess is huge!

SS: You know, it's said that if you are good at Fischer Random it means that you are good at hardcore chess. There is no theory in it, there is no opening. So, many people were surprised that you could beat Magnus so easily because if you talk about chess skills everyone felt that there's no one superior to Magnus. How do you explain this result?

WS: Well, first of all, it is only one match and [secondly] the format is much different than the [classical] chess World Championship. We also play in different time controls, we have different scoring system, and we also play only three days. So there is not enough evidence, there is not enough info to claim that one player is better than the other. Maybe in the future when we start to have more Fischer Random tournaments, we start to see more games, then we will have more info, and then we can have a Fischer Random rating also. But right now it is too early to say who is the best player.

Wesley So en route his Fischer Random title | Photo: Lennart Ootes

SS: Well, this is typical Wesley! Always very modest, always very humble. Well, we will not get into asking you too many out of chess questions and straight away get into the chess games. This was the second game against Magnus and you were shown the initial position fifteen minutes before the game actually began. What did you do in those fifteen minutes?

WS: I prepared a little bit with my laptop in chess960 engine. It is surprising because, the qualifiers that I played before didn't allow you to use the computer or any electronics whatsoever but for this over-the-board tournament the players were allowed to use an engine. Obviously I ran the first position.


SS: But fifteen minutes is just too little right?

WS: Yes, it is not enough. It probably is just good for the first three or four moves so that you don't blunder a pawn or just so that you don't get a worse position with white. This is actually the second game, in the first game Magnus got a very pleasant position out of the opening. He was white, and I was fortunate to save it. In the second game I believe the computer was saying 1.c4/d4 was the best move. But he actually surprised me with 2...a6?! which is probably a bad move but over-the-board it is not so easy to refute it.


SS: And also you would assume that he had prepared something in those fifteen minutes he might have thought of this idea...

WS: Yeah I am not sure if he prepared something because usually in between games he takes fresh air, he takes walks. I am not exactly sure how deep he prepared or if at all he prepared. I wasn't sure also if he had any seconds with him, but probably not.

SS: But when you played this game, you already had one hour before game one and two right? So there you can prepare a bit more.

WS: Yes, a bit longer but that was also our dinner break. Also I didn't want to overtire myself by looking at the computer screen too long, so probably I prepared only for about ten or fifteen minutes.

There was hardly any time to prepare between the games | Photo: Lennart Ootes

SS: Once the position clarifies like after few moves, it all makes sense but I guess in the first few moves it's very difficult to understand everything.

WS: Yes, the first position is always very interesting. For instance, here in the first position the queen on a1 is very badly placed and there is a real chance that it could get out of play.

SS: So why don't you start here with something like b3? It doesn't make sense to begin like this?

WS: Yeah I guess b3 is fine but the thing is now white also has to spend another tempo to activate the dark square bishop with ♗b2. Yeah, b3 makes sense also. Probably 1.b3 is not the best move. Maybe black can play 1...d5 2.♗b2 c5 and then ♞c6. Somehow ♞c6 and ♞g6 controlling the e5 square and I don't have a ♘f3 to counter it. Maybe if the knight was on g1 and black knight on g8, it would make sense.  


SS: Yeah these are some very valuable points you are making because you are trying to understand a completely new position. We are getting to see how you analyse such a position. Because it's quite difficult to make sense of it after years have been spent in this initial position with rooks on the two sides followed by knights and bishops!

WS: That's what I like about Chess960, every position has a little imbalance and a little bit of difference in each.

Download Game 2 with annotations and replay it

Magnus really had his back to the wall in this match | Photo: Lennart Ootes

SS: This was a good confidence boosting win for you and then you move to the second day of the finals. So when you are going to get the new position the next day, do you think about what the position could be? Because there are 960 positions and it would be sort of crazy to look at everything.

WS: No I don't look at all. I just practice my tactics here and there. Also I try to remember how Magnus plays.


SS: In this game you had once again the white pieces. What about this position? The queen is much better placed on f1, not on the side of the board, but bishops are in the centre. How do you like this?

WS: Well, it is a very complicated position because actually it is not the white queen that is badly placed but the white king that is badly placed because it's so far away from the queen and there are so many pieces blocking its way to be able to castle kingside.

SS: But if you can move just two pieces (on the queenside) you can easily castle long right?

WS: Yes, but  then your options are limited. You don't want to be forced to just be able to castle long. You want to have both castling possibilities ready, because if you castle too early on one side then black can prepare his plan of attack accordingly. So it makes sense to have both options ready.

Yeah, actually as I said, during tournament 1.e4 was the critical move here.

Download Game 3 with annotations and replay it

Wesley proved to be the superior Fischer Random player in the match | Photo: Lennart Ootes

SS: That was already two games you had won. So you were already looking at the championship now or was it too soon?

WS: These games are worth three points each. Well I was surprised to be leading by six (points). But after I won the fourth game I was like 95% sure that I could.


SS: This was your third win in the match and this sort of same position. But this time Magnus went 1.a4 e5 2.a5 d5 3.a6, was it surprising for you?

WS: Yeah, it was surprising when he first played 1.a4. It is actually not a bad move but it made me realize that he probably spent his time between the games walking outside than preparing. Because clearly 1.e4 is the best move and it is the one that fights for advantage. When he played 1.a4 I realized that he probably just wants to avoid my preparation, and he also wants to get a game. 

Download Game 4 with annotations and replay it

SS: I love how you are trying to make sense of a position that is completely new!

WS: Well, I like Chess960 because basically the pieces and pawns are all the same. It is still 100% chess to me.

Wesley So's and mother/manager Lotis Key | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Watch the complete interview and analysis of the games

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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Masquer Masquer 1/4/2020 10:33
The big thing about chess960 is that the starting position can be any of the 960 available positions. If you reveal it a few minutes beforehand is one thing, but also allowing computer usage kinda defeats the whole point of Fischerandom (playing with no specific prior preparation and no memorized book).
Nordlandia Nordlandia 1/4/2020 02:42
saturn23: apparently because for vast majority they're perfectly content with chess as it is. And discussion about different way of playing chess is simply not taken into consideration because of stubbornness. It's also likely they're afraid of a challenge or stepping outside of comfort zone.

It's a pity at chess players don't consider other forms of chess OTB, beside Chess960 and Crazyhouse/Bughouse.
Aighearach Aighearach 1/4/2020 02:11
In a regular chess tournament players are certainly allowed to use computers before the round starts. It might be good here to not allow it, but I'm not sure why anybody would be surprised by it.
saturn23 saturn23 1/3/2020 09:38
bbrodinsky, how can you say that "So took the competition more seriously than Carlsen"? Fischer Random is serious chess. The tournament took place in Norway and Carlsen wanted to win it, as always.

Computers should not be allowed. The time control should be longer so that players don't need extra time before the game.

I don't understand why people are afraid of change. Fischer Random is a better version of chess because it eliminates memorization and the games are more interesting and exciting. It also reduces the advantage that some players have thanks to better resources (teams that work for them, powerful computers, etc).
englishplayer englishplayer 1/3/2020 03:54
Not sure why the players know the set up in advance. Perhaps, give them 5 minutes at the board before the start and no accesss to computers?
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 1/3/2020 03:35
Make the time control longer and don't allow access to engines.
Masquer Masquer 1/3/2020 12:44
WS: I prepared a little bit with my laptop in chess960 engine. It is surprising because, the qualifiers that I played before didn't allow you to use the computer or any electronics whatsoever but for this over-the-board tournament the players were allowed to use an engine. Obviously I ran the first position.

What?? Computers were allowed? What kind of farce was this?
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 1/1/2020 02:05
It's clear that a good part of the explanation is that So took the competition more seriously than Carlsen. Look out for the next time, Carlsen doesn't like losing anything. He'll be more prepared, and will take this tournament seriously. Still, So is a great player, and a greater human being. Wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if he somehow became classical world champion!
PhishMaster PhishMaster 1/1/2020 01:29
@turok, Or, it just means that So was on his game those few days, and Carlsen was not. Play at a different time, and things can change since players always have ups and downs.
PurpDriv2 PurpDriv2 1/1/2020 09:46
@turok So prepared the games with a computer, Carlsen just hang around. That are not the same and made a huge difference.
Rambus Rambus 1/1/2020 05:46
Classical chess, rapid, blitz, bullet, Fischer Random, etc. are all different serotypes and allow for different champions. Test cricket, ODI & T20 specialties have different champions, although they are all different forms of cricket.
Jayarama Iyer Jayarama Iyer 1/1/2020 05:28
Winning Fischer Random, away from all prepared lines, positions, and openings: this means that Wesley So, along with Magnus Carlsen is the most talented chess player in the world.
Who do you folks think?
bychamp_II bychamp_II 1/1/2020 03:39
Why this mode? People don't conform to traditional chess, can't win to Carlsen. In this way, they keep inventing another modality. Traditional chess is already very difficult to assimilate the concepts. This is the work of the failed!
turok turok 1/1/2020 02:43
well although I did not agree with just handing it to the Gas I think this shows a LOT!!!!

Magnus may be a talent but it obviously shows he is a champion based on theory-yes still has to find his own stuff at times but it shows in RF that he is sort of lost and not even close to be as strong without those lines of theory and thus why Bobby wanted this to take over regular chess-I agree