With a nearly perfect score, the world’s No. 2-ranked player has powered his team into the final weekend of the worldwide league.
This weekend, the inaugural season of the PRO League competition comes to a close. This rapidplay event (15 minutes per player for the entire game, plus a two-second increment after every move) has featured teams from around the globe, and many of the world’s best have participated. This includes five of the world’s top six players: Magnus Carlsen of Norway (No. 1), Wesley So of the United States (No. 2), Fabiano Caruana of the United States (No. 3), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France (No. 5), and Hikaru Nakamura, also of the United States (No. 6).
The individual MVP of the league must be So, whose score in the event is an almost unbelievable 26-2. (By contrast, Carlsen’s score is “only” 20½-3½, while Nakamura went 3½-3½, losing twice.) Not every game has been against a fellow grandmaster, let alone a super-grandmaster, but many were. Against grandmasters his score thus far is 12 out of 14. He lost one game, to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, but has defeated Vachier-Lagrave, Etienne Bacrot, another strong French grandmaster, and Alexey Dreev of Russia (twice), to name just his best-known victims.
The following two victories by So were from the quarter-finals, which finished last week. His 4-0 score saved his team, the St. Louis Arch Bishops, against the Webster Windmills (the name comes Webster University in St. Louis, which has the top-ranked college team in the United States). The match finished in an 8-8 tie, resulting in St. Louis advancing to the semifinals because of its superior record during the regular season. So’s first win was against a much lower-rated opponent, but his next three games were all against grandmasters. Here’s his second game, a miniature won with Black against Vasif Durarbayli, an Azeri grandmaster.
Durarbayli, Vasif vs. So, Wesley
PRO League KO Stage 2017 |chess.com INT |Round 3 |15 Mar 2017 |0-1
1. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. c3While this, the Ponziani, isn't a dangerous opening
for Black, to put it mildly, it's an interesting practical decision against a
super-prepared opponent like Wesley So. 3... d5
( 3... Nf6is a more solid, more
drawish alternative. So chooses the most ambitious approach instead. )
( 4. Bb5has scored terribly in recent years; Black has done brilliantly well
after 4... dxe45. Nxe5Qd56. Qa4Ne77. f4exf38. Nxf3a6 )
( 4. d3is an
utterly unambitious choice aiming for a sort of reversed Philidor. (The player
using it may be ambitious, but he or she is doing so only in order to avoid
mainstream theory; the position is already slightly in Black's favor.) )
4... f65. Bb5Lately White has preferred
( 5. d3, which,
like 4.d3, aims to avoid theory and leave Black to his own resources. )
5... Ne76. exd5Qxd57. O-O
( 7. d4is the other main line. Now Black has several
good options to choose from, like 7... Bg4, ... )
( 7... e4is also popular and has a better score in the
database. White typically opts between 8.Ne1 and 8.c4. This is the move I
would recommend - Black seems to have an edge here, albeit a very slight one. )
8. d4a6A rare move. Home cooking, or was So out of book and on his own
here? In five previous games in the database, White scored 4.5 points, though
none of the games involve top players. (Two involved future GMs, but they were
not at that level when their games were played.)
( 8... exd4and to a
lesser extent, )
( 8... e4are the established moves here. )
( 9... Qf710. d5Nb811. Bxd7+Nxd712. Nc3Nf513. b4occurred in three of the
aforementioned games, and White (who scored 2.5 points from here) does indeed
enjoy a slight advantage. )
10. dxe5fxe511. Rd1
( 11. Nc3!promises White
an advantage, provided he manages to find a series of subtle moves. 11... Rc812. Ne4Qe613. Nc5!axb514. cxb5Qg415. b4!Qxb416. bxc6Nxc617. Qxb4Nxb418. Nxd7Kxd719. Nxe5+White enjoys an advantage here thanks to Black's overexposed king.
There won't be a mate or anything close to it, but Black must lose some time
preserving the king's well-being. )
11... Qe612. Nc3Rc813. Ng5?White understandably wants to avoid
( 13. Bxc6Bxc6, but oddly enough White
is okay after 14. Qb3Bxf315. gxf3Nc616. Be3The more creative option )
( 13. Re1!?puts more pressure on Black, who can maintain equality with 13... Qf5!14. Bxc6Bxc615. Qb3!Bxf316. gxf3b617. Ne4Ng6The play is very sharp, even
if the computer finds one line where White can bail out with a draw: 18. c5!bxc519. Qa4+c620. Qc4h621. Ng3Qh322. Bf4!Nh423. Rxe5+Be724. Rxe7+!Kxe725. Re1+Kf6!26. Qc3+Kg627. Qd3+Kf728. Qb3+Kf629. Qc3+Kf7 )
13... Qg4Suddenly White is in serious trouble. The bishop is still hanging,
and it can't exchange itself on c6 as 14...Bxc6 would threaten both the queen
and 15...Qxg2#. The rook on d1 is a little loose and ditto the knight on g5,
but the main problem is of course the bishop on b5. 14. h3?In an already
bad position White commits another error.
( 14. Rxd7!?axb515. Rxe7+Bxe716. cxb5Qxa417. Nxa4Nd4/-+ White's prospects for survival are small
( 14. f4!?exf4!15. Nf3g516. Re1The last couple of moves
resemble a King's Gambit. Black's king is somewhat exposed, but there doesn't
seem to be any clear way for White to make progress. 16... Qf5 )
14... axb5!15. Qxb5Qf516. Qxb7Nd4Although White has two pawns for the piece and
Black's king is caught in the center, it is Black's pieces that are especially
dangerous. In particular, the simple attacking thrusts ...h6 and ...Bc6
constitute a serious menace to White's well-being. 17. Nb5
( 17. Qe4is
"better", but with queens off the board White has no hope of saving the game. )
17... Bc618. Qa6?
( 18. Nxd4exd419. Qb3was better, if still more or less
hopeless after 19... h620. Nf3Bxf321. gxf3White will not even have swindling
chances with queens off the board: ...c5and it's hard to see how White can even pretend to have compensation here.
Black will continue with ...Nc6 and ...Kf7, with a completely winning position
and a pending attack against White's king. )
18... Nxb519. cxb5Ra8Painful.
White can resign here, but kicks on for two more moves. 20. g4Qc221. Rd2Qg6
So followed up by beating Jayaram Ashwin, and Indian grandmaster, and then, in his last game, took on and defeated Aleksandr Shimanov, a Russian grandmaster who is well-known for his sharp play. Shimanov played the King’s Indian Defense, aiming for a complicated battle, but So kept full control throughout and won a positional masterpiece.
So, Wesley vs. Shimanov, Aleksandr
PRO League KO Stage 2017 |chess.com INT |Round 3 |15 Mar 2017 |1-0
1. Nf3Nf62. c4g63. Nc3Bg74. e4d65. d4O-O6. Be2e57. O-ONa6One of the main options, though it lags in popularity behind the ultimate
King's Indian main line move
( 7... Nc6, when generations of players have
tried to fathom the complications arising after 8. d5Ne79. Ne1Nd7Here White plays 10.Be3, 10.Nd3,
or 10.f3 followed by one of the two preceding moves, while Black plays ...f5
and starts throwing everything at White's king. Some of the most beautiful
games in chess history have been in this variation, including So's spectacular
loss to Hikaru Nakamura in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup: 10. f3f511. Be3f412. Bf2g513. Nd3Ng614. c5Nf615. Rc1Rf716. Kh1h517. cxd6cxd618. Nb5a619. Na3b520. Rc6g421. Qc2Qf822. Rc1Bd723. Rc7Bh624. Be1h425. fxg4f326. gxf3Nxe427. Rd1Rxf328. Rxd7Rf1+29. Kg2Be330. Bg3hxg331. Rxf1Nh4+32. Kh3Qh633. g5Nxg5+34. Kg4Nhf335. Nf2Qh4+36. Kf5Rf8+37. Kg6Rf6+38. Kxf6Ne4+39. Kg6Qg5#0-1 (39) So,W (2779)-Nakamura,H (2814) Saint
Louis 2015 )
( 8... Ng49. Bg5Qe8is an even more well-traveled
9. d5Ng410. Bg5f611. Bh4c512. Ne1
( 12. a3is an
important alternative preferred by the engine. Kramnik won a short game with
this back in 2010: 12... Bd713. Ne1Nh614. f3Nf715. Nd3Qe716. b4Rfc817. Qb3b618. Bf2f519. a4cxb420. Nxb4Nc521. Qb1Nd822. a5bxa523. Rxa5Ndb724. Ra2Qf825. Na6Nxa626. Qxb7Nc727. Bxa7Bh628. Kh1Qd829. c5dxc530. d6Be631. Bb61-0 (31) Kramnik,V (2790)-Radjabov,T (2740) Baku 2010 (rapid) )
12... Nh6The preliminary
( 12... h5is another important move, used by
Shimanov a couple of years ago as well as a young (but still 2800+) Magnus
Carlsen. 13. h3Nh614. Nd3Bd715. a3Nf716. b4Bh617. Kh1Kg718. bxc5Nxc519. Nxc5dxc520. Qd3Qc821. Bg3Bf422. h4Qe823. Bh2Bxh224. Kxh2Nd625. Qg3Rh826. a4Qe727. Bd3Rac828. Nb5Bxb529. axb5b630. Qe3Rc731. g3Re832. Rfe1Qf733. Ra2Rce734. f3f535. Qg5fxe436. fxe4Qf637. Rea1Qxg538. hxg5Ra839. Ra6Rb740. Kh3Nf741. Kh4Nd642. g4hxg443. Kxg4Nf744. R1a2Nd645. Ra1Nf746. R1a21/2-1/2 (46) Bukavshin,I (2647)-Shimanov,A
(2606) Kaliningrad 2015 )
( 13. Nd3 )
13... Nf714. Rb1Rare.
( 14. Nd3is usual. )
14... h515. Nd3Technically a novelty, but it transposes to some
of the games where White had already played Nd3. 15... Bh616. Bf2Bd7
idea is to create some real damage to Black's queenside with a5, which only
makes sense as long as there's a pawn on b6 to undermine.
( 19. Nxc5bxc520. Rb7 )
19... a5?!Now White has pressure on the b-file, and even if he
takes on c5 and Black recaptures with the b-pawn, White may yet have pressure
against a5 and enjoy permanent possession of the b5 square.
( 19... Nb7looks a little weird, but it's the best reaction to White's a4-a5 plan. In
reply, White's best is to reinforce his control over the a5 square, e.g. with 20. Nc1followed by Nb3, with a small plus. )
20. Qc2Ra621. Rfd1Straightforward doubling starting with
( 21. Rb2looks good. )
( 21... f5 )
( 22. Rb2! )
22... bxc523. Rb7Ra8
( 23... Rb6is
worth considering, trying to reduce White's stock of rooks. Still, White's
advantage remains substantial after either 24. Rb1, ... )
( 24. Rdb1 )
24... Qc825. Rc7Qd826. Rb7Qc827. Ra7Rxa728. Nxa7Qa629. Nb5Black has achieved something positive by forcing a
pair of rooks off the board. Nevertheless, White still dominates the
proceedings. Black's kingside play won't go anywhere, and with weaknesses on
a5 and d6 and no way into White's position Black is destined to suffer. White
maneuvers around for a while, waiting for a clear opportunity to arise. (This
is a reasonable strategy, given the time control and his likely fatigue, as
this was his fourth game of the evening.) 29... Rc830. Qc3Nd831. Rb1
( 31. Bh4! )
( 31. f4!?Bxf432. Rf1gives White strong play on the f-file. Black's
position is creaky at best. )
31... Nb732. Bd1Qb633. Qd3Qa634. Bc2Kf735. Be1Ke736. Qb3Nd837. Qc3Nb738. Na3Ra839. Qb3Nd840. Qb6Qxb641. Rxb6Black's king is safer with the queens off, but White too gets a freer hand to
dedicate all his resources to Black's weakened queenside; he doesn't have to
worry about his either. 41... Nf742. Nb5Bf843. Rb7Kd844. Ra7
( 44. Na7! )
44... Rxa745. Nxa7Winning a pawn, but not yet the game. 45... Kc746. Bxa5+Kb747. Nb5Be748. Kf2f5?!This might end up helping White break through.
( 48... Ka6 )
49. exf5gxf550. g3!Bg551. Ke2
( 51. h4! )
( 51... h4was the best Black could do, though there's not much ground for
optimism on his behalf. Still, it's better than the text, which lets White's
light-squared bishop wreak havoc on Black's half of the board. )
52. Bg6Too many Black units are hanging: the knight, the h-pawn, and once the knight
moves, the d-pawn. 52... Bxb553. cxb5Nh654. Be1!A nice move, clearing the
way for the a-pawn while keeping a sharp lookout on the kingside. 54... Kb655. Be8
( 55. h4Bd856. gxf4exf457. Kd3is even more convincing, when White can win
in any sector of the board he sees fit. )
55... fxg356. a5+Kb757. hxg3Nf558. Bc6+Ka759. Kd3Nd460. Ke4Bc161. g4hxg462. fxg4c463. Bb4Bb264. Bxd6c365. b6+Ka666. b7Nxc667. dxc6Excellent technique by So, and aside
from the blunder on move 51, which came in a position that was already lost or
very nearly so, Shimanov's mistakes were far from obvious. So is playing great
chess these days, and seems to be getting stronger in every single event he
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
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After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players