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Reports Nov 6, 2022 | 2:59 PMby Colin McGourty

Global Championship 4: Wesley So and Nihal Sarin reach final

Hikaru Nakamura had to satisfy himself with winning "only" $200,000 in a couple of weeks as Wesley So won the last two games to reach the final of the Global Championship. Anish Giri vs. Nihal Sarin went all the way to Armageddon, with 18-year-old Nihal managing to win a drawish endgame on demand to guarantee himself at least $100,000.

The final handshake as So beats Nakamura

For six games Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So didn’t give an inch, but the last stages, and especially the final game, were thrilling.

Day 2 began with Hikaru Nakamura varying by playing the Scotch. Wesley So would later comment:

Hikaru’s match strategy in the opening was basically the entire match putting me into time pressure and trying to beat me in the scrambles, and it probably would have worked most of the time, but shockingly today it didn’t happen.

Hikaru won a pawn and played on until move 116, but at no point did it look as though he’d get an advantage.

The next game saw Wesley get a promising edge in an Italian, but some fast and accurate moves by Hikaru saw the advantage fizzle out into a 31-move draw.

Hikaru wheeled out another 1.e4 opening, the Four Knights, in the 3rd game of the day, but Wesley came ready, quickly going for a pawn sacrifice line. It looked like he knew exactly what he was doing, but he later admitted he was worried, and at some point the compensation for the missing pawn had gone.

Shortly afterwards, however, the position was again equal, until Hikaru took a fateful decision. He could have played 40.Re4, which would have offered Wesley the chance to repeat moves for a draw — curiously that would mean that Hikaru had played 7 decisive games in the quarterfinals and 7 draws in the semi-final.

Instead, Hikaru went for the exchange sacrifice 40.Rxc5!?

The white knights have great outposts amid Black’s ruined pawn structure, and the idea looks to have been more or less sound, but Wesley handled the position brilliantly, finding a winning idea which Hikaru must have spotted too late.

Qh7 had to be played on the previous move, since now there’s no way to stop Wesley from exchanging off queens with Qh1+, when Black’s extra exchange becomes a huge asset.

It was still extremely complicated, but Wesley played flawlessly in what followed, until Hikaru somewhat surprised the commentators by resigning on move 74.

75.Ne4! a4 76.Nc5 threatens a fork, forcing 76…Ra8 and allowing White to get in front of Black’s passed pawn, though objectively the position is still completely winning for Black. There was no reason to assume Wesley wouldn’t have gone on to win.

That meant Hikaru had to win on demand with the black pieces to force Armageddon, and he took the traditional route of going for a g6/d6 system. Black takes huge risks to get a sharp position, but in this case things went a little too far!

After 9.Qe2! b6 it was already completely winning to play 10.e6!, with Ng5 to follow, but what Wesley did until move 24 couldn’t be faulted. He later explained:

The worst thing you want to do is to play openly for a draw… [At] the beginning of the game I was playing for a win, just trying to be aggressive, trying to play the best moves and take advantage of his mistakes, and it very nearly worked, because I didn’t want to think of the result, but at some point during the game I just couldn’t control myself.

Simply 26.Nc6+! or 26.f4! would have maintained an enormous positional advantage, but Wesley saw a way to win his opponent’s queen.

He must have assumed removing material from the board would help ensure he got at least the draw he needed, but after a tactical sequence where both players missed some details we reached a position where Hikaru struck with the brilliant 30…Bxe5!

Wesley explained that it wasn’t 31.Bxd5 Bf4! that he’d overlooked at first, but that 32.Qxf4 is met by what he called the “crazy” 32…Nd3+! Given what happened in the game, however, it’s worth noting that Wesley could have gone for that line and played e.g. 32.Kd2!, forcing Hikaru to enter what should be a drawn bishop vs. knight endgame.

Instead after 31.Qf3 Bf4+ we got a hair-raising position where it was a nightmare for White to try and dodge all the tactical tricks Hikaru kept setting up with his three pieces. Wesley admitted:

I very nearly lost this actually. At some point my clock was just ticking down. It went from four minutes to two minutes, then I had a few seconds left.

Nevertheless, Wesley managed to play incredibly well, not making a single significant mistake and then seizing the initiative when Hikaru briefly relaxed his grip.

Wesley missed one winning queen fork on move 82, but he found the second to win a rook and wrap up victory in 91 moves.

It meant Hikaru Nakamura’s hopes of winning $350,000 in the space of a couple of weeks had gone, but he added $50,000 to his $150,000 earnings in Reykjavik and could hardly complain.

Wesley So, meanwhile, has shrugged off a couple of poor events to reach a final where the winner gets $200,000 and the loser $100,000. He began his post-game interview with his traditional, “First of all I’d like to of course thank the Lord Jesus for this magnificent win.” It meant a lot to him to beat Hikaru:

Obviously I’m very happy. I played Hikaru in many matches in my life. I think maybe I beat him two out of 10 times. I have a win percentage of 20%, so going into the match I knew for sure that he was the favourite. He’s been playing very well recently, but I figured it also helped me that I came here just wanting to play my best chess and not to think about the results at all. Obviously there’s a lot of money at stake, but as I said before the tournament, thinking of money will just make you play worse.

Wesley’s opponent in the final will be 18-year-old Indian Nihal Sarin, who knocked out Anish Giri.

As you can see, the rapid games on Day 2 of their semi-final were a repeat of Day 1. Once again Anish got off to a brilliant start with the white pieces.

Nihal thought for 7 and a half minutes before going for a line where he had to give up his queen. He got some compensation, but Anish was ruthless as he went on to win what the commentating Fabiano Caruana described as a perfect game.

Just as on Day 1, however, Nihal Sarin hit back to win just as convincingly in the 2nd game, with Fabiano marvelling at how the youngster was able to get such positions out of the opening against a player he'd struggled with himself.

With the black king on f8, the rook on h5 and the queenside undeveloped, Anish was in deep trouble, with Nihal set up to attack down the g-file. Anish tried to offer an exchange to slow the attack and should perhaps later have given up his queen for some practical chances, but he resigned on move 29 as Nihal crashed through with a mating attack.

Once again, as on Day 1, the next two games were drawn, but this time without any clear-cut chances for either player. Most notable, perhaps, was the wall of pawns Anish managed to establish in Game 3 — played in the spirit of his 1.e4 Chessable course!

In the end, however, we got Armageddon, with Anish Giri for the second time in the event winning the bidding war. This time he offered to play with 12 minutes and 57 seconds against White's 15 minutes.

Anish only needed to draw, and at first it seemed like we were witnessing a repeat of Giri’s Armageddon against Teimour Radjabov — Anish was soon better.

This time, however, Nihal hit back, and was given a big helping hand by a choice on move 18.

Anish could simply have defended the b6-pawn and kept an edge, but decided to play more actively with 18…Rfc8!? If he’d followed up 19.Bxb6! with 19…Nf3+!, uncovering an attack by the bishop on c3, it might have worked out better, but after 19…Nc4 we eventually got a rook endgame with 5 white pawns against 4 black pawns on the same side of the board.

It was very drawish, and the draw felt it was getting closer as 5 vs. 4 became 4 vs. 3, then 3 vs. 2, then 2 vs. 1. It was still tricky, since Nihal had a passed pawn, but it was harsh on Anish that his fate was decided by the single real mistake he made in the 70+ moves of the endgame.

Instead of e.g. 99…Re1 he went for 99…Kg6?

That suddenly allowed Nihal to force a way into the black position with 100.Rh6+ Kf7 (100…Kf6 101.Rf6# is undesirable) 101.Rf6+ Ke7 (you have to hold onto the pawn) 102.Kg4 Rh1 and then the move to clinch the win, 103.f5!

After 103…exf5+ 104.Kxf5 Anish resigned, since the resulting position is one that every Russian, or in this case Indian, schoolboy knows.

Anish had come as close as you could get without reaching the final and, like Hikaru, takes home $50,000.

He’ll now be switching to the final event of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, where he’ll be joining Magnus Carlsen, Praggnanandhaa and Wesley So in San Francisco.

The big question is whether Wesley will make his 2022 Tour debut as the winner of the Global Championship. Wesley is playing from Toronto, while Nihal is in Belgrade.

Nihal Sarin had been somewhat eclipsed by other Indian prodigies in the last few years, but now he has a real chance to shine! | screenshot: Chesscom Youtube

Once again there are 8 regular games split over two days, though one twist is that for Nihal and European fans the games will start an hour later, at 18:00 CET, after the clocks went backwards in Canada on Saturday night.

Watch the Global Championship here on chess24.

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