Wesley So dominates playoffs and wins 2021 US Championship

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A third US title for So

Wesley So defended his United States league title on Tuesday, having beaten Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian in the quick playoffs. The Philippines-born grandmaster won the 2020 event, which took place online, and a similar 12-player round robin in 2017 – so he also won this tournament in the playoffs, beating Alexander Onischuk in a quick two-game match that followed. the two players tied for first place with 7/11 points in the classic event.

At 28, So is a force to be reckoned with at the top of the chess elite. Currently ranked sixth in the world, he was one of two players to finish the tournament unbeaten – Leinier Dominguez finished undefeated, in 4th and 6th place, half a point behind the winner. The now three-time national champion capped a typical strong performance with back-to-back playoff wins, which were played with a 10-minute time check (and a 2-second delay).

In the post-match interview, thanked Sam Shankland for saving a difficult draw against Caruana on Monday. If Caruana had won, he would have incredibly come back from an earlier performance to win the event after scoring three straight wins – but it wasn’t meant to be for the favorite.

Caruana also had a better position in Game 1 of the playoffs against So. The future champion later confessed:

The thing about this game is that I was playing without pressure. I wasn’t expecting these playoffs, so I was just playing fast, chess – if the odds present, so much the better; if I lose, that’s fine too.

So he stressed how important winning the national championship is to him:

I remember 2017, I really wanted to win my first American Championship because it was getting harder and harder. […] Now this is my third title, and it’s huge. I think the US Championship is a tournament that we have to play every year, and winning the title is huge, even more important than the money.

Playoffs

The favorites in the standings kicked off the three-player round robin, with Caruana getting the white coins. The world number two gained a position advantage and found the right way to break through on the 33rd move.

The override line starting with 33.Nc6 + bxc6 34.bxc6 lets Black have a hard time facing his opponent’s passer after 34 … Bxc6 35.dxc6 Rd8

As commentators noted, Caruana here had to actively play to leave his opponent with no counterplay or a chance to fight in a technical endgame – thus, 36.Rb1 would have been the better alternative, whereas afterwards 36.xd5 Nxd5 37.exd5 White is even better, but will have to find precise moves to convert their advantage with little time on the clock.

So put up a strong resistance, and soon stabilized the position. Caruana couldn’t change gears and ended up losing the game.

Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So

Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Yet, as he’s proven time and time again throughout the event, the Italian-American star is a fighter at heart. After this painful loss, Caruana beat Sevian, keeping his chances alive. Sevian needed to beat So to bring the playoffs into the blitz section. The young had the black pieces and opted for an Indian defense of the king.

Sevian’s risky approach quickly backfired, however, as So played active and natural moves and got a clear advantage early in the match. White was totally in control after 15.Nxd4 exd4 16.Bc4, creating deadly threats as the Black Queen’s Wing is seriously underdeveloped.

So he scored a 33-stroke victory to clinch his third United States league title.

Carissa Yip, John Burke, Sam Sevian

It was nevertheless a fine performance by Sam Sevian – here with Carissa Yip and John Burke | Photo: Lennart Ootes

All Matches – Playoffs

Final ranking

All the games

Connections


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