Reports Oct 30, 2020 | 3:13 PMby Colin McGourty

Wesley So wins US Championship with Fischeresque 9 out of 11

Wesley So cruised to a 2nd US Championship title after two quick draws on the final day. Ray Robson could have caught him with a win in their penultimate round game, but had no tricks up his sleeve against the Berlin Defence. Wesley then thanked Hikaru Nakamura for “gentlemanship and sportsmanship” in playing out a 5-minute draw that was almost a carbon copy of a game they played two years earlier. Jeffery Xiong was runner-up, just half a point behind, and earned a $25,000 present on the eve of his 20th birthday.

You can replay all the games from the 2020 US Chess Championship using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley.

Round 10: The Berlin Wall stands firm

“I think Ray Robson played almost the tournament of his life,” said Wesley So, and Ray had a chance to blow the race wide open if he could have beaten Wesley with the white pieces in the penultimate round. That’s easier said than done, however, when Wesley has a full point lead and is happy to make a draw with the Berlin Defence. Ray commented:

It’s tough against Wesley. He’s playing the most sound opening in chess history and he knows every single line, so you have a choice: either you have to come up with something really new, which obviously people who are better than me have already tried to do that and usually failed, or you hope he maybe doesn’t know something in the opening or forgets something. Or you can just try to avoid theory and just play an equal position and just try to outplay him, but the problem with that is that when he gets a comfortable position I think that’s where he really excels.

Ray tried an Anti-Berlin line he doesn’t usually play, but he was unable to stop Wesley vacuuming pieces off the board to make a comfortable 30-move draw. In fact all the other games were drawn as well, with Jeffery Xiong missing the chance to put real pressure on Wesley. If he’d beaten Alex Lenderman he’d have moved within half a point, but 19.h3? (19.Bxa6!) allowed a brilliant shot:

19…Bg5!! “I just understood that probably I had ruined the position,” lamented Jeffery. We got to see the point of the move in the game, since there was nothing better than 20.hxg4 Rxd4! 21.exd4 Bxc1 22.Rxc1 Bd5! and there was no way to keep the extra material.

Round 11: Wesley So is crowned champion

Wesley now knew he would be champion if he could just make a draw with the white pieces against Hikaru Nakamura. The reigning US Champion was having a disastrous event by his standards, and playing 1.b4!? against Dariusz Swiercz in the previous round had brought him closer to a loss than a win. Would he try at least to upset Wesley’s path to the title? No! As Wesley put it:

I’d like to thank Hikaru for his gentlemanship and sportsmanship in the last game. Obviously he could still have spoiled my tournament. I was very nervous actually, today. I knew that two draws were probably going to cut it, but I thought Hikaru would go for the crazy stuff like the Dutch or the King’s Indian.

Instead we got a 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian that in fact, with two minor variations, followed exactly the draw the same two players had made in the final round of the 2018 US Championship. The longest think Hikaru took on a move was 18 seconds, and by move 30, less than 5 minutes into the round, a draw was reached and Wesley So was the 2020 US Champion. “I’d just like to thank him for allowing me to celebrate early!” said Wesley.

So the final day had been an anti-climax, but Wesley’s unbeaten 9/11 winning score was stunning!

In the modern, Saint Louis, era, Shankland (2018), Caruana (2016) and Nakamura (2012) had scored 8.5/11, but 9/11 was reminiscent of Bobby Fischer, who played and won 8 US Championships between 1957 and 1967. 

Bobby’s best scores were 11/11 (!) in 1963/4, 10.5/13, aged 14, in 1957/8 and 9.5/11 in 1966/7, while in 1959/60 and 1960/61 he matched Wesley’s 9/11. Wesley was wary of the comparison:

I don’t think you can really compare anyone to Fischer and I have high respect for him - he’s one of the greatest chess players who ever lived!

So was delighted to have won a second US title:

It feels really great, this really means a lot to me. Having the title of US Champion is so big. When I first won in 2017, I really wanted to win the first time, but then after that I had a bit of a slump, my rating has gone down and I thought it’s really difficult to win it a 2nd time and I was having already some doubts whether I was going to.    

Fortunately the final round was a lot livelier elsewhere, with four decisive games and the only other draw, Shankland-Sevian, being a game that the Sam with the white pieces was very close to winning. 

Ray Robson was put to the sword by Aleksandr Lenderman, so that Jeffery Xiong only needed a draw to clinch second place. He did better than that, after Alejandro Ramirez blundered last with 38.Kd3? in a topsy-turvy game. 38...g5! was winning a piece, leaving Alejandro regretting his life choices...

Jeffery’s 8.5/11 was, as we’ve seen, a brilliant score, but he was somewhat disappointed to have finished second in both the US Junior and now the overall US Championship.

It’s definitely a bit disappointing to come up short in both events, but nonetheless I’m really happy with the way I fought in both tournaments, and played a lot of great games, but just a few decisions that I might like to have back.

The final scores and prizes looked as follows:

A wrap-up closing ceremony for all five separate US Championship events was held – online of course – and you can watch it below:

The highlight was an appearance by 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov, whose address was almost like that of the Pope:

This year virtual congratulations will have to be enough, and each of you will celebrate or drown your sorrows as you see fit, but it’s important to have come together in this way, to be together in spirit, to be together in chess, because that has always been the greatest strength of our beloved game. It’s a community, connected across the world like a mighty chain of pawns. Chess goes back centuries, from oriental palaces to European coffee houses, and now to Zoom and Netflix. The game adapts, because the players adapt, the sponsors adapt, and chess keeps growing. Its beauty is innate, eternal, even as the environment changes around it.  

He thanked Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield for making it all possible, though the hope all round is that in a year’s time the players will again be able to converge on Saint Louis.

Meanwhile for this Halloween weekend we have a special blitz event featuring 16 masked players! You can follow the action from 18:00 CET here on chess24

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