Wesley So stopped Vishy Anand from claiming a 10th victory in the León Masters after winning their final match in blitz tiebreaks. The four rapid games before that had all finished in draws, but not without plenty of excitement, some beautiful moves and a couple of great escapes from Anand. You can replay the action with commentary from Jan Gustafsson.
When we last reported from the 4-player León tournament, Wesley So had won his semi-final against Jan-Krzysztof Duda despite blundering his queen in 17 moves in the 1st game. The assumption was that Vishy Anand would ease through his semi-final against local hero Jaime Santos on Saturday to set up a showdown with Wesley. Well, he did made it through, but it was anything but easy!
You can play through all the games from the tournament using the selector below (click on a result to go to the game with computer analysis):
The first game looked promising for Vishy when he planted a passed pawn on d7, but with the pawn about to fall he took a draw. Game 2 was a dream for the 21-year-old Spaniard from León, who not only beat the great Vishy Anand but outplayed him to reach a totally dominant final position:
Like Wesley before him, though, Vishy hit back with a vengeance:
The black queen is trapped, with Bg5 threatened next move. Jaime took drastic measures with 36…Bh6, but after 37.Rxe7 the weakness of the f7-square was fatal and resignation came three moves later.
The momentum was in Vishy’s favour, but he suffered in the fourth and final rapid game as Santos managed to trick his illustrious opponent in the opening. Anand held firm in a tough position, though, and took the match to blitz tiebreaks, where Santos finally collapsed. Santos blundered a key pawn in the first game and then got hit by a nice finale in the must-win second:
35…Rxf3! from Vishy ended the match, since 36.Kxf3 is met by 36…f5!
For the final match we had live commentary in English from the one and only Jan Gustafsson:
The first of the four 20-minute and 10-second increment rapid games saw Anand easily defend against So’s Anti-Berlin. In fact, Vishy was pushing with the black pieces, but took a draw in 39 moves.
The second was when the match really took off! Wesley So played the French and in the razor-sharp Winawer variation he managed to gain a clearly superior position. It was hard for either player to navigate at rapid speed, though, and the initiative swapped sides until Vishy got to play a beautiful move:
30.Qf6! The point is that after 30…Rxf6? 31.Nxf6 Kh8 Black is mated with 32.Rxh5#, but alas, Wesley had the prosaic reply 30…Qxf6. Soon afterwards he won a pawn and built up an absolutely dominant position:
It looked, and objectively was, completely hopeless, but in what followed we got to see one of Vishy Anand’s best sides. As Vladimir Kramnik once explained of the Tiger from Madras:
I always considered him to be a colossal talent, one of the greatest in the whole history of chess. Each champion has had some sort of speciality, and his is creating counterplay in any position out of absolutely nowhere. He’s got an amazing ability to constantly stretch himself so that even in some kind of Exchange Slav he nevertheless manages to attack something and create something. He also plays absolutely brilliantly with knights, even better than Morozevich – if his knights start to jump around, particularly towards the king, then that’s that, it’s impossible to play against and they’ll just sweep away everything in their path. I noticed it’s better to get rid of them when you’re playing against him.
In this case Vishy’s knight was given up for a single pawn, but he rustled up enough counterplay to draw in 64 moves, with Wesley not choosing to play on in a Rook + Knight vs. Rook ending.
Game 3 was similar to Game 1, with Anand managing to neutralise what looked like a dangerous attack from So and draw in 32 moves. Vishy might even have considered playing on at the end.
Game 4 was another classic, with Anand building up a big attack against Wesley’s Petroff Defence, but missing one trick until it was too late.
White needed to prepare a little more here with e.g. 20.Reg1, since the thematic 20.g4?! was hit by 20…Rae8!, when the saving idea Wesley had spotted was 21.gxh5 Bxc3!!
22.bxc3 runs into 22…Rxe3! 23.Rxe3 Qb6+!, forking the white king and the rook on e3. After exchanges White, with a crippled pawn structure, would be equal at best.
Vishy spotted that in time to sidestep with 21.Bd2, but couldn’t stop the game swinging in Wesley’s favour, with the black king and knight ready to exploit a dangerous pin on the d-file. Anand stayed alert, though, and 43…Rh8? was the chance he needed to get back into the game:
44.f4! turned the tables, since the white knight suddenly has the f3-square, and 44…Rxh4 would of course be met with 45.Nf3+. A few moves later and with 52.Rc3! White could even dream of delivering checkmate:
If Black does nothing Nd3+ and Ra3# will be curtains, while after 52…b5 53.cxb5 cxb5 (the computer still claims an edge for Black after 53…Kxb5) 54.Nd3+ Ka5 55.Rxc5 Rxh4 a draw was inevitable.
That meant the players had ended the rapid section tied at 2:2 and it was on to a blitz tiebreak, with 5 minutes per player and a 3-second increment per move. Suddenly, in the first blitz game, the thrust and parry balance of the final was destroyed by an opening disaster for Vishy Anand:
On the first day of the Leuven Grand Chess Tour Vishy had this position with Black against Anish Giri and chose the main move 5…Bg7. After 6.Qa4+ Bd7 7.Qb3 dxc4 8.Qxc4 Qb6 it was more or less equal and the game ended in a draw. In León, though, Vishy slipped with the serious inaccuracy 5…dxc4? and after 6.Qa4+ Bd7 7.Qxc4 Qb6 8.Nc3 Bg7 he found himself in exactly the same position as in Leuven except that the white knight was now already on c3. It might even have been worse, since after 7…Qb6 Wesley could also have exploited Vishy’s mistake immediately with 8.Ng5!, forcing concessions.
Vishy commented afterwards:
I forgot something and got the same variation a move down, which is ridiculous!
The realisation of what he’d done no doubt made life tough for Vishy, and the position on the board didn’t help. He was forced to ruin his own structure to defend against an attack on his king and in the final position after 23.Nd8 Black’s position is simply falling apart. "Sad", as a well-known US politician might tweet:
That meant Vishy now had to win the next blitz game to force Armageddon, but after a promising opening for White, Wesley managed to suck all the life out of the position and claim the León title on his first attempt.
Afterwards Wesley praised Vishy as “a very tough opponent and a really great player”, adding “he’ll have to wait one more year for the 10th!” He was clearly relieved that after a month that featured Altibox Norway Chess, the Paris and Leuven Grand Prix stages and now León, "it’s the end of my four consecutive tournaments and we’re going home!"
Vishy summed up, “Neither of us was dominant, but I only lost in blitz”, while both players also faced some general questions. Wesley was asked if he would return to León next year as World Champion:
I don’t think so… It’s very hard to say in chess you’re going to win this, you’re going to win that. It’s very hard to predict the future. Of course I want to be World Champion, and Vishy wants also a shot at the title, but there are very tough opponents on the way who will do their utmost to prevent it.
Asked for his opinion on Garry Kasparov playing in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz, where they’ll meet, Anand replied simply in Spanish, “muy interesante” ("very interesting"), drawing laughter from the crowd. Wesley had a different perspective:
I hope he does really well.
To try to prevent the professional players from gaining too many points!
Wesley So, like Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, has already played in both his rapid tournaments and will not be playing against Kasparov in St. Louis. Curiously Wesley talked about 2015 rather than his own encounter with Kasparov in St. Louis in 2016, adding, “he beat Nigel Short in a very bad way… I have a feeling he’ll do very well!”
Can Wesley start a winning run at León that might eventually match Vishy’s nine titles? Well, he pointed out it would be tough when asked about returning next year:
We really loved León and feel this is one of the nicest tournaments we’ve been to, and I’ll be very happy to try and defend my title, but the point is I have difficulties usually defending a tournament title, so I’ll have to prepare hard.
Wesley So's fans don't have to wait so long to see him back in action as he'll be joining Vishy in the Sinquefield Cup in three weeks' time. Talking of fans, just look at how many views this video has racked up in a few days!
So that’s all for the 2017 edition of the "Torneo Magistral de Ajedrez Ciudad de León". There’s constant chess action, as you’ll see on our Live Tournaments page, while we expect to have Jan Gustafsson back commentating live – with some star guests – for the Sparkassen Dortmund Chess Meeting from Saturday onwards. The top players are world no. 2 Vladimir Kramnik (can he catch Magnus Carlsen on the rating list?) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and the pairings are already known: