So Hot Right Now: US Chess Champ Wins in Paris, Leads GCT

Grandmaster Wesley So Wins the Paris Rapid and Blitz event Grand Chess Tour
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GM Wesley So won the 2021 Grand Chess Tour's Paris Rapid & Blitz event. // photo Lennart Ootes, GCT


Grandmaster Wesley So has been crushing in all forms and nearly all comers through the month of June. After a pandemic-induced digital offseason, the reigning US Chess Champion has made a most-successful return to the physical board in the Grand Chess Tour, the international $1M five-tournament summer series that he now leads after two events.  

Technically a showcase of dominance across three different time controls, So began the month with a retest of his skills under the classical clock, notching a second-place finish in the GCT’s opening Superbet Chess Classic in Romania. Immediately following, he kicked things up a notch by winning outright in the Paris Rapid & Blitz, the first of three GCT speed events, which finished on June 23. Across a total of 36 games played over the board in the month – 9 classical, 9 rapid and 18 blitz – So has lost just one single blitz game in his return. 

So led in Paris through the event’s five-day entirety, beginning with nine rounds using the rapid clock – which he declared over the pandemic break as his newfound favorite time control, responsible for delivering him not only the 2020 US Chess Champion title, but also several big wins over World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the online finals of his monthly Champions Chess Tour. 

With each rapid game weighted double in the GCT Paris scoring format, the steady So notched three victories at two points apiece, including two wins on the third and final day of the time control to separate him from the pack. The day began with a statement game, winning with the black pieces in a sharp Berlin against World No. 2 compatriot GM Fabiano Caruana.  

[pgn][Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2021"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2021.06.20"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2820"] [BlackElo "2770"] [ECO "C67"] [Opening "Ruy Lopez"] [Variation "Berlin defence, open variation"] [WhiteFideId "2020009"] [BlackFideId "5202213"] [EventDate "2021.06.18"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. Nc3 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Bxd4 13. Bf4 Ne8 14. Nd5 d6 15. Bg5 f6 16. Bh4 g5 17. Qe4 Bxb2 18. Rb1 Be5 19. f4 gxh4 20. fxe5 dxe5 21. Bc4 Be6 22. Rxb7 Kh8 23. Bd3 Bg8 24. Nxc7 Nd6 25. Qxh4 Nxb7 26. Nxa8 Nc5 27. Bf5 e4 28. h3 Qd4+ 29. Kh1 Qa1+ 0-1 [/pgn]

Caruana,was on the opposite trajectory of teammate So through the month of June. After a forgettable seventh-place finish in his reliable classical time control in Romania, Caruana was even less-effective with the clocks sped up in Paris. He scored 4/9 through the rapid game section and 8.5/18 in the blitz, finishing eighth place in the second event and now likely out of the running for any significant GCT overall prize. 

So, however, looked business as usual under the blitz clock, scoring 12.5/18 in the format and finishing the final day 1.5 points ahead of the pack to cushion his lead. His only loss of the month came to GM Levon Aronian in a surprisingly straightforward game, though the blip was left immediately behind as So put an end to surging GM Alireeza Firouzja in the following round. The Iranian-born speed-specialist, who turned 18 during the Paris event, was winless through the rapid section but came with something extra during the blitz portion, tallying six wins on the first day alone – until So stopped him flat in a Trompowsky Attack. 

[pgn][Event "GCT Blitz Paris 2021"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2021.06.21"] [Round "7.5"] [White "Firouzja, Alireza"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2759"] [BlackElo "2770"] [ECO "A45"] [Opening "Trompovsky attack (Ruth, Opovcensky opening)"] [WhiteFideId "12573981"] [BlackFideId "5202213"] [EventDate "2021.06.21"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 d5 3. e3 c5 4. Bxf6 gxf6 5. dxc5 Nc6 6. Bb5 e6 7. c4 dxc4 8. Nd2 Bxc5 9. Ngf3 c3 10. bxc3 O-O 11. O-O f5 12. Nd4 Bd7 13. Rb1 Rc8 14. Qh5 Qf6 15. Rfd1 Qg6 16. Qe2 Rfd8 17. N2f3 Qf6 18. e4 Bb6 19. exf5 Nxd4 20. cxd4 Qxf5 21. Bd3 Qf6 22. Qe4 h6 23. Qg4+ Qg7 24. Qh4 Ba4 25. Re1 Bxd4 26. Re4 Bf6 27. Qh3 Rxd3 28. Rg4 Bg5 29. Rxa4 Qb2 30. Rf1 Rc1 31. g4 Rxf1+ 32. Kxf1 Qb5 0-1 [/pgn]


Grandmasters Wesley So and Alireeza Firouzja Paris Rapid Blitz Grand Chess Tour
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Grandmasters Wesley So and Alireeza Firouzja play in the 2021 Paris Rapid & Blitz event in June. // photo Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour


So led a two-horse race with Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi entering the final blitz day in Paris, both enjoying a four-point cushion in the standings as top finishers in the weighted rapid format. The event appeared to be headed for a final-round, dream-scenario pairing between So and Nepo with the tournament title up for stakes, though the Russian didn’t hold up his half of the bargain, losing to Firouzja in the penultimate round and falling out of pace. Despite the lack of mathematical chances, the World Champion Candidate went hard at So with a Nimzo-Larsen Attack in the final round -- though the attempt produced no fruit. 

[pgn][Event "GCT Blitz Paris 2021"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2021.06.22"] [Round "18.5"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2792"] [BlackElo "2770"] [ECO "A01"] [Opening "Nimzovich-Larsen attack"] [Variation "classical variation"] [WhiteFideId "4168119"] [BlackFideId "5202213"] [EventDate "2021.06.21"] 1. b3 d5 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. c4 c6 6. Nc3 Nbd7 7. d4 Ne4 8. a3 Bd6 9. Bd3 Nxc3 10. Bxc3 Bxd3 11. Qxd3 Qe7 12. O-O a5 13. e4 O-O 14. Bb2 dxe4 15. Qxe4 Nf6 16. Qh4 b5 17. Bc1 bxc4 18. bxc4 c5 19. a4 Rfc8 20. Be3 cxd4 21. Bxd4 Rab8 22. Bc3 Bb4 23. Be5 Bd6 24. Rfd1 Bxe5 25. Nxe5 Qc7 26. Qg5 Qc5 27. Qf4 Rb7 28. h3 h6 29. Rd3 Rcb8 30. Kh2 Rb2 31. Rf3 Qc7 32. Re1 Ra2 33. Qg3 Kh7 34. Qh4 Rbb2 35. Ree3 Re2 36. Qd4 Rxf2 37. Rxf2 Rxf2 38. c5 Nd5 39. Rg3 Rf4 40. Qb2 Rf5 41. Nf3 Nf6 42. Qb6 Rxc5 43. Qb1+ Kg8 44. Nd4 Nh5 45. Ne2 Nxg3 0-1 [/pgn]


Grand Chess Tour Paris Rapid Blitz Final Standings
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Final Standings of the 2021 Paris Rapid & Blitz // courtesy Grand Chess Tour


After two events, So now leads the Grand Chess Tour with 21.3 points and $82,500 in prize money. As a full-tour participant, he will play in one of the remaining two speed events, scheduled next in Zagreb, Croatia on July 5 and again in St. Louis, MO on August 9; as well as the classical Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis on August 16.