Chess: Wesley So wins US title unbeaten as Hikaru Nakamura’s run ends tamely


Wesley So is the 2020 US champion after four days and 11 rounds of combative play ended on Thursday. The 27-year-old world No 9 and former Filipino dominated the field in the $150,000 online tournament and finished unbeaten with seven wins and four draws.

So began with five straight wins, a feat unmatched in the event since Bobby Fischer’s unique 11/11 in 1963‑64. Over-the-board championships staged in St Louis have offered the Fischer Prize of $64.000 for anyone who could match the legend’s historic feat, but that award was not included this year. If it had been, So would surely have aimed for more than a quiet draw to consolidate his lead in round six.

So was chased all the way by Jeffery Xiong, who turns 20 on Friday, and was a point behind with the easier run-in when he took on So in the ninth round in what proved a title decider. So had claimed that his tournament preparation was just three-minute blitz and one-minute bullet games, but he unleashed an obscure Sveshnikov Sicilian 15 g2-g4!? advance which caused the teenager to burn clock time and miss an endgame drawing chance.

“Everything is going right “ So said after Xiong resigned. “I am trying to squeeze my games and somehow my opponents are making mistakes. It’s a dream tournament.”

The final round pairing So v Hikaru Nakamura proved an anti-climax. The defending champion and five-time winner, who had a poor tournament, went along with a speedy sequence which looked mutually prepared and gave So the half point margin he needed over Xiong.

Final scores were So 9/11, Xiong 8.5/11, Ray Robson 7.5/11, with Nakamura ninth on 5/11. Robson impressed with his powerful attacking play, as in his seventh-round game where at the end Black was faced with inevitable mate.

Earlier there were US title contests for girls, under-20s, over-50s, and women. Both the senior champion Joel Benjamin and the women’s champion Irina Krush had previously overcome bouts of Covid‑19. Benjamin already has a place in chess history for his role in helping to prepare Deep Blue for the machine’s 1997 victory over Garry Kasparov, and the 56-year-old is now in the record books again for becoming the first player to accomplish the trifecta of US junior, US national, and US senior.

Irina Krush has been the national No 1 for two decades and is the only US woman to hold a grandmaster title at men’s level. The New Yorker, 36, captured her eighth US women’s crown with a zestful attacking style, clinching the title with a checkmating finish.

What of Magnus Carlsen? The world champion will be back at the board on Monday at 5pm when he takes on Iran’s former junior world champion Parham Maghsoodloo in the opening round of the speed championship.

They will play for three hours using the popular format of 90 minutes of 5/1 blitz (five minutes for all moves plus one second increment per move), 60 minutes of 3/1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet.

3695: 1 Bd8! (threat 2 e7+ and 3 e8Q) Re3 2 Bf6! and a white pawn queens.

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