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Reports Aug 9, 2021 | 7:32 AMby Colin McGourty

Wesley So triumphs in the Chessable Masters

US Chess Champion Wesley So came from behind on the final day of the Chessable Masters to defeat Liem Quang Le and claim a record 3rd title on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. “My goal is just to force Magnus to show up!” he said of his hopes of overhauling Magnus Carlsen in the overall tour standings during the next event. Meanwhile Vladislav Artemiev got revenge for his Goldmoney Asian Rapid final loss to Levon Aronian by snatching 3rd place.

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the Chessable Masters, the 8th event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions, using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.

And from Tania Sachdev and Danny King, who were joined for part of the show by Judit Polgar.

The final day of the Chessable Masters was over in the rapid games, with Vladislav Artemiev even managing to wrap up victory in the 3rd place match with a game to spare.

Wesley So claims his 3rd title

Wesley So was the early pacesetter in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, beating Magnus Carlsen in the finals to win the Skilling Open and the Opera Euro Rapid. Magnus then played catch up, winning back-to-back titles in the New in Chess Classic and the FTX Crypto Cup. The Chessable Masters, which Magnus skipped as he was still in action in the FIDE World Cup, was Wesley’s chance to take the lead in events won, and he grabbed the opportunity.

His victory in the Prelims (10 points) and the Knockout (40 points) meant he picked up the maximum possible 50 points.

That still leaves Wesley 34 points behind Magnus in overall tour points (the prize money gap is much narrower), but it’s a gap Wesley could make up in the last regular tour event. There are mainly bragging rights at stake, since both players will be in the Grand Final.

But let’s now look at how Wesley claimed his 3rd title, with the last day of the Chessable Masters getting off to a rocky start for the US Chess Champion. On the previous day going for the sharpest openings had worked out perfectly for Wesley, but this time he got burnt in a wild line where Black offers up the rook on h8.

Liem Quang Le accepted the sacrifice and the bishop remained on h8 for the next 11 moves, getting trapped there after Wesley played 15…f6. It was always just a matter of time until it was finally captured, but in fact when Wesley did pick up the bishop it was a losing move, since 25…Kxh8? was met by 26.Rxe7!

After 26…Bxe7 the simple 27.Rxe7 would leave Black defenceless against the white queen coming to h3 to deliver checkmate, while 26…Qa1+ 27.Kh2 g5 did nothing to solve Black’s issue. There was a chance for Wesley, however, since after 28.Qxc6 Rb8 29.Qc7 (29.Re3! was the clincher) 29…Qb1 30.Rd8 there was suddenly a draw on offer.

It turns out 30…Qf1! leaves Black unable to defend f2 and stop a draw by perpetual check. Wesley spent just 11 seconds, however, before playing the losing 30…Rxd8? and after 31.Qxd8 Kg8 32.Re8! it really was time to resign. 

That meant Liem was now on course to level the contest on Day 2 and force tiebreaks, but first he had to get through the next three games. It looked at first as though Wesley would hit back straight away, after he navigated a tricky opening to gain a completely winning position.

Just when out commentator’s were singing Wesley’s praises, however, he stumbled, with 42…Qxf2 here met by the unfortunate 43.Qf4? and suddenly after 43…Ng1+! 44.Kg4 Qe2+! 45.Kh4 Qxh2+ there was nothing better than a draw by repetition.

The white king can’t escape to g5 due to the Nh3+ fork of queen and king.

That was a tough blow for Wesley to take, but he didn’t let it affect him as we got another double-edged thriller in the next game. He explained that the overall match situation allowed him to take risks:

At some point I was ready to play the blitz. Like in the third game, I was playing with nothing to lose, so I was just going for an attack with Black.

Wesley was doing well early on before Liem took over, but both our commentators and Wesley felt Le made a strategic mistake on move 32.

Instead of keeping the potential power of the white passed pawns on the queenside, he played 32.b7!?, allowing the pawns to be stopped in their tracks by a bishop on a7. Five moves later it was already clear that things were going to go Wesley’s way, and he later admitted that he’d started to sing!

I realised I was going to win the game with Black. I was so happy because that means I only need a draw with the white game, and I almost never lose with white, but I almost did today, actually, so I was so happy to release the tension.

In the final position it’s the black pawns in the centre of the board that are unstoppable. Liem resigned, and Wesley’s celebration showed exactly what it meant to him. 

So Wesley now needed only a draw with White to clinch the title, but as he pointed out himself, he got into real trouble against his opponent’s Benko Gambit. Liem, who called this his best tournament since the pandemic, would later sum up:

Today I think I played a little bit better than yesterday and I’m relatively happy about my performance here, but there were so many missed opportunities today also. I was a little bit lucky in the second game, of course, but this last game I thought I had a good advantage at some point, but I took the pawn too quickly and I missed Nxd6, and after that the advantage is gone, so in general I’m happy with the result, but I feel like there was something that could have been better for me.

That key moment Liem pointed out came after 30…exd6?! (30…Nxd6! and it’s just a question of whether Liem can convert his extra pawn).

Wesley pounced with 31.Nxd6!, winning back the pawn, since 31…Nxd6? runs into 32.Qe5+! and Black is on the ropes. 

After that moment Wesley didn’t waver and went on to clinch the draw he needed to win the tournament, earning not just the $30,000 1st prize and a maximum 50 tour points, but a physical prize to add to the trophy cabinet behind him.  

Wesley went on to thank a variety of entities including the Lord Jesus and Chessable, and is now closer than ever to Magnus in the tour standings, even if a solid result in the final qualifying tournament should see Magnus hold on to 1st place.

For Liem it was a fantastic result that included defeating Alireza Firouzja and Levon Aronian in the knockout stages, while he’d also recovered from his terrible first day of the final to push Wesley all the way on the second.

Artemiev gets his revenge

It was a curiosity that the 3rd place match was the same as the final of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid, which meant Vladislav Artemiev had a chance to make up for his heavy loss to Levon Aronian in that event. At first that didn’t look on the cards on the final day of the Chessable Masters, since in the first game Levon traded into a much better ending and went about converting it confidently, with Black’s advantage steady all the way up until move 56.

Chess is cruel, and after 57.Ke5! there was suddenly no way for Black to win, with the white king and knight comfortably handling the black pawns. 

Vladislav used that escape as the springboard to victory, scoring a fine technical win in a rook ending in the next game. 

Suddenly it was Levon who needed to hit back, but Vladislav’s play was just as impressive in the next game, where he soon ensured he was playing for only two results. Levon cracked, and Vladislav clinched 3rd place.

It’s noteworthy that after playing just two events he’s climbed to 9th in the overall standings, just 12 points behind 8th place Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. 

There’s just one regular Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event now remaining, later this month, before the final in late September and early October.

First, though, some younger players will get another chance in the limelight, with the Kramnik Challenge, the latest event on the Challengers Chess Tour, starting on Thursday. More details soon!

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