Americans Clash in Skilling Open Knockout Stage, Winner Heads to Finals Sunday

Image Caption
Wesley So vs. Hikaru Nakamura. Photo courtesy of Lennart Ootes.

American super Grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So will square off on Friday in the Semifinal of the Skilling Open, the first event of a series of online super tournaments dubbed the Champions Chess Tour.  

Beginning at noon eastern, the U.S. stars will go head-to-head in a two-day match that features four rapid games on both Friday and Saturday. The winner will advance to the tournament finals on Sunday, set to face the winner of the other semifinal between Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen.    

The knockout stage of the Skilling Open began after a three-day, round-robin preliminary between 16 of the world’s top super GMs, which kicked off last Sunday. Both Americans proved to be in fine form, with Nakamura tying Carlsen for first place through the round robin at 9/15 each, and So just behind with 8.5/15. The top eight finishers from the round robin then advanced to a knockout bracket, with Namakura and So earning the second and third seeds, respectively.  

Both Americans mounted come-from-behind wins in the tournament quarterfinals. After the first day Wednesday, Nakamura saw himself behind 1-3 to French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and So in an even bigger hole after losing 2.5-0.5 to Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov. But the U.S. stars found what was needed in the quarterfinal’s second day on Thursday, both tying their respective matches up and forcing a two-game blitz playoff. The Americans each split those blitz games with their opponents, then produced draws with the black pieces in a deciding Armageddon game, advancing them to the semifinals.  

[pgn][Event "Skilling Open KO 2020"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2020.11.26"] [Round "1.31"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2736"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2020.11.25"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. c3 h6 7. Re1 O-O 8. Nbd2 a5 9. Nf1 Be6 10. Bb5 Ne7 11. d4 exd4 12. cxd4 Bb6 13. Ng3 d5 14. e5 Ne4 15. Bd3 Nxg3 16. hxg3 Bg4 17. Bc2 c5 18. dxc5 Bxc5 19. Be3 Rc8 20. Bxc5 Rxc5 21. Qd2 Qc7 22. Bd3 Bxf3 23. gxf3 Nc6 24. f4 Nb4 25. Rad1 Nxd3 26. Qxd3 Qb6 27. Qe3 Qc6 28. f5 Rc2 29. f6 Rxb2 30. Qf3 Re8 31. fxg7 Rxa2 32. Rd4 Rc2 33. Re3 Rc4 34. Rxd5 a4 35. Kh2 b5 36. Qf6 Rc1 37. Rf3 Rh1+ 38. Kxh1 Qxd5 39. Qxh6 Qxf3+ 40. Kg1 f6 41. Qh8+ Kf7 42. e6+ Ke7 43. Qxe8+ Kxe8 44. g8=Q+ Ke7 45. Qf7+ Kd6 46. Qd7+ Kc5 47. e7 1-0 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "Skilling Open KO 2020"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2020.11.26"] [Round "1.22"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Radjabov, Teimour"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2765"] [PlyCount "117"] [EventDate "2020.11.25"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. c3 d6 7. Re1 h6 8. Nbd2 a6 9. Nf1 Re8 10. Ng3 Ba7 11. Bb3 Be6 12. Bc2 d5 13. exd5 Qxd5 14. h3 Rad8 15. Qe2 Bc5 16. b4 Bf8 17. Bb2 Qd7 18. Qf1 Bd5 19. Re3 b5 20. a3 Re6 21. Rae1 e4 22. Nxe4 Nxe4 23. c4 Ng5 24. Nxg5 Rxe3 25. fxe3 hxg5 26. cxd5 Qxd5 27. d4 a5 28. Qd3 g6 29. Bb3 Ne5 30. Qc3 axb4 31. axb4 Nc4 32. e4 Qd6 33. Bxc4 bxc4 34. d5 f6 35. Qxf6 Qxf6 36. Bxf6 Rb8 37. Bxg5 Bxb4 38. Rc1 c3 39. Bf6 Re8 40. Bxc3 Bc5+ 41. Kh1 Rxe4 42. Ba5 Bb6 43. Bxb6 cxb6 44. Rc6 Kf7 45. Rxb6 Rd4 46. d6 Ke6 47. Kh2 Kf5 48. Kg3 g5 49. Kf3 Rd3+ 50. Ke2 Rd4 51. Ke3 Rd1 52. d7 Rxd7 53. g4+ Ke5 54. Rg6 Rh7 55. Rxg5+ Kf6 56. Rf5+ Kg6 57. Rf3 Kg5 58. Kf2 Kh4 59. Rf5 1-0 [/pgn]

The Champions Chess Tour is a series of 10 online super-tournaments organized by the Play Magnus Group, featuring the World Champion along with a rotating assortment of the world’s top GMs. The Champions Tour plans to deal out $1.5M in total prizes, with the Skilling Open handing out $100,000. The prize for Nakamura and So is increasing with each advance, with the loser of the American semifinal match set to earn $7,500 as consolation. Sunday’s final of the Skilling Open will award $30,000 to the winner, and $15,000 for the tournament’s runner-up.   

Even more valuable are overall tour points, which are performance based and accumulate for invitations to upcoming tour events. Nakamura earned 8 tour points and So 6 based on their second- and third-seeds after the round robin preliminary. Now advancing to the semifinals has earned both players an additional 10 tour points, with more promised in the finals – the Skilling Open winner will earn 40 tour points. The top 8 players by tour points are guaranteed invitations to the next event, thus ensuring that both Americans will have seats in the Tour’s second event scheduled for just after Christmas.    

Nakamura and So’s semifinal match begins Friday and finishes Saturday, with games on both days beginning at 12:00 noon eastern. The tournament may be viewed at the official Champions Tour website