So Narrowly Misses Threepeat, Falls to Carlsen in FTX Crypto Armageddon

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FTX Crypto Cup Knockout Bracket

 

Two outta three ain’t bad. 

Grandmaster Wesley So clashed once again with the World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the endgame of a Champions Chess Tour event, though this time things didn’t go the American’s way. The reigning US Chess champion fought to the bitter end of the FTX Crypto Cup over the weekend, splitting two sets of Rapid games with the Norwegian, then a pair of Blitz overtime games, then finally succumbing with the Black pieces in an Armageddon tiebreaker. 

Finished Monday, the FTX marked the third time the two super GMs have met at the end of a Champions Tour event, though the first time Carlsen was able to wrestle a title from So. The Minnesota star beat the World Champion in the finals of the Skilling Open and again in the Opera Euro Rapid earlier in the tour, a $1.5 million, 10-event circuit that began last November and plays on a near-monthly schedule across 2021.  

 

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Wesley So: "I almost had it in the bag!"

 

As the sixth tour event, the Crypto Cup victory makes it two-in-a-row for Carlsen, who had just broken a frustrating winless streak in the series produced by his own Play Magnus Group, by winning the New In Chess Classic in early May. Monday’s win was for particular choice for the World Champion, however: the FTX was the third-of-three “Major” events in the Champions series, awarding its winners a guaranteed spot in the $300,000 Tour finale scheduled for September in San Francisco. Each of the weighted Majors also featured prize funds doubled to $220,000, and the FTX Crypto Cup awarded its players an additional $100,000 bonus equivalent in Bitcoin -- though the volatile cryptocurrency lost nearly 20% of its value over the course of the nine-day event. 

Though So might have preferred three in a row over the World Champion, the result still works decently in his favor. The US Champion pocketed $40,000 for second place, bringing his total tour winnings to $130,000 (and .40 Bitcoin) and placing him second on the overall tour rankings with 203 points. The accumulated tour points will be used to determine seats in the September finale, though Carlsen (1st - 271 points), Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov (3rd - 133 points) and Dutch GM Anish Giri (4th - 121 points) are all winners of Major events and have already earned their spots in San Francisco. With three regular events remaining in the tour, So’s participation in the finale appears to be a lock, and also bodes well for U.S. teammate GM Hikaru Nakamura, ranking sixth with 85 points. 

 

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Champions Chess Tour standings after six events
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After six events, the Champions Chess Tour overall standings will be used for the finale event scheduled for September in San Francisco. // courtesy Champions Chess Tour

 

Not to be overlooked is So’s performance in this particular event, which began as one of the strongest in history seeing the participation of all of the World’s top-10 Grandmasters. Entering as World No. 9, the balanced So was the only GM without a loss in the tournament’s 15-round robin preliminary over the first three days. His plus-three, 9/15 score earned him the fifth seed in the secondary 8-player knockout bracket, where the American extended his unbeaten streak through a quarterfinal win over French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and a semifinal win over World Champion Candidate GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. 

So’s first loss in the stacked FTX did not come until the first game of the final with Carlsen, who broke through a Giuoco Piano with some heavy lifting by the major pieces down the f-file. So struck back in Game 3, however, adjusting in another Italian Game and finding victory after loading the f-file himself. The two traded wins as White in the second set, and after nine days of Rapid games, So and Carlsen moved to settle their score with a pair of Blitz playoff games. 

There, So missed a golden opportunity after winning the first game with the Black pieces. Carlsen, for the third time in the Crypto Cup, played the stunner 1. b4! but, after sneaking away with draws in his first two attempts, lost the novelty of surprise against So. The American’s 27. … Rc6 caught the World Champion overlooking a threat on the back rank and left Carlsen admitting to “kicking and screaming in disgust.” 

[pgn][Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.05.31"] [Round "3.31"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [WhiteElo "2847"] [BlackElo "2770"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (2s)"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] {[%evp 9,78,-10,0,-7,0,-16,-8,-16,-2,-16,-19,-8,-21,-20,-10,-30,25,16,17,13,14, 15,19,13,18,9,36,1,0,0,1,0,7,4,18,10,10,11,16,0,-2,-18,-14,-15,-12,-528,-532, -660,-659,-659,-657,-659,-633,-640,-509,-677,-653,-825,-800,-878,-862,-855, -837,-1751,-1746,-1696,-1675,-1620,-1556,-1511,-1480]} 1. b4 d5 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. e3 Bg4 4. Be2 Bxe2 5. Qxe2 Nbd7 6. Nf3 {A00: Irregular Openings.} e6 7. a3 c6 8. c4 {The position is equal.} Bd6 9. d3 a5 $146 ({Predecessor:} 9... O-O 10. e4 e5 11. Nbd2 Nh5 12. g3 f5 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. exd5 Rc8 15. Nc4 Bb8 {1-0 (38) Teichmann,E (2365)-Levi,E (2270) Melbourne 1998}) 10. c5 Bc7 11. O-O O-O 12. Nbd2 b6 13. cxb6 Bxb6 14. Rfc1 axb4 15. axb4 Qe7 16. Rab1 Rfc8 17. Bxf6 Nxf6 18. d4 Bc7 19. Ne1 Bd6 20. Nd3 Rcb8 21. Nf3 Rb6 22. Nfe5 Qb7 23. Qc2 {[%cal Re5c6]} Bxe5 24. dxe5 Nd7 25. Rb3 c5 26. Nxc5 Nxc5 27. Qxc5 {[%mdl 8192] [#] White does not recover from this.} (27. Rc3 $11 {and White is okay.}) 27... Rc6 $1 $19 {[%cal Rc6c5][%mdl 576] Pin. Black is clearly winning.} 28. Rbc3 (28. Rbb1 Rxc5) 28... Rxc5 29. Rxc5 h5 30. b5 Ra5 31. h3 g6 32. Rb1 Kg7 33. h4 Qb8 34. g3 Qxe5 35. Rcc1 Ra2 36. b6 Qf5 37. Rf1 {[#]} Rxf2 $3 {[%mdl 512]} 38. b7 ( 38. Rbe1 Rxf1+) 38... Rxf1+ 39. Rxf1 Qe5 $1 {[%csl LRe3,LRg3][%mdl 64] Double Attack. Weighted Error Value: White=0.45/Black=0.11} 0-1 [/pgn]

Needing just a draw to win his third Champions Tour event, however, So couldn’t put Carlsen away in the second Blitz game, with the World Champion winning on demand with the black pieces in a Sicilian. 

[pgn][Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.05.31"] [Round "3.32"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B51"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2847"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (2s)"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] {[%evp 13,72,25,57,69,68,-27,-27,-32,-44,-22,-16,-30,12,-15,10,-29,-23,-25,-20, -20,0,0,0,-43,-47,-41,-12,-52,0,0,0,0,0,-48,-52,-75,-62,-220,-203,-213,-170, -198,-201,-246,-93,-312,-227,-216,-213,-211,-232,-425,-428,-438,-434,-540,-534, -597,-591,-790,-786]} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. O-O Ngf6 5. Re1 a6 6. Bf1 b6 7. c4 {is now debated instead of 7.d4.} Bb7 8. Nc3 {B51: Sicilian: Moscow Variation (3 Bb5+) without 3...Bd7.} Ne5 9. Nxe5 (9. Be2 $14) 9... dxe5 $11 10. d3 {Black has an edge.} e6 11. a3 Be7 12. b4 O-O 13. Rb1 Nd7 14. Be3 Qc7 15. Rb2 $146 ({Predecessor:} 15. Qb3 Rab8 16. Qa2 Rfc8 17. Rec1 Qd8 18. Rb3 Ba8 19. Rcb1 h6 20. f3 cxb4 21. axb4 {0-1 (43) Arancibia Guzman,E (2409) -Soltanici,R (2323) Turin 2006}) 15... cxb4 16. axb4 a5 17. bxa5 bxa5 18. Nb5 Qd8 19. Qc2 Bc6 20. Ra1 h6 21. Na7 Qc7 22. Nb5 Qc8 23. h3 Nc5 24. Rba2 a4 25. Qc3 $2 (25. Bxc5 $15 Bxc5 26. Rxa4) 25... Nb3 $19 {Threatens to win with ... Bxb5.} 26. Na7 Qd7 27. Nxc6 Qxc6 28. Rb1 Nd4 $2 (28... Qc7 $19 29. Be2 Rfb8) 29. f4 $2 (29. Bxd4 $17 exd4 30. Qxd4) 29... f6 30. Bxd4 exd4 31. Qc2 a3 32. c5 $2 (32. Rb5 {was necessary.} Qc7 33. g3) 32... Qxc5 {Black is clearly winning.} 33. Qxc5 Bxc5 34. Be2 Rfb8 35. Rc1 {[#]} Rb2 $1 36. Bg4 {[#]} (36. Rca1 Rxa2) 36... f5 $1 {Weighted Error Value: White=0.58/Black=0.21} 0-1 [/pgn]

That brought Armageddon as a tiebreaker, with So selecting the black pieces with draw odds, though he was outplayed from the opening of another Giuoco Piano and never saw advantage in the game. He resigned in a lost position after 44 moves. 

[pgn][Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.05.31"] [Round "3.31"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [WhiteElo "2847"] [BlackElo "2770"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (2s)"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] {[%evp 9,78,-10,0,-7,0,-16,-8,-16,-2,-16,-19,-8,-21,-20,-10,-30,25,16,17,13,14, 15,19,13,18,9,36,1,0,0,1,0,7,4,18,10,10,11,16,0,-2,-18,-14,-15,-12,-528,-532, -660,-659,-659,-657,-659,-633,-640,-509,-677,-653,-825,-800,-878,-862,-855, -837,-1751,-1746,-1696,-1675,-1620,-1556,-1511,-1480]} 1. b4 d5 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. e3 Bg4 4. Be2 Bxe2 5. Qxe2 Nbd7 6. Nf3 {A00: Irregular Openings.} e6 7. a3 c6 8. c4 {The position is equal.} Bd6 9. d3 a5 $146 ({Predecessor:} 9... O-O 10. e4 e5 11. Nbd2 Nh5 12. g3 f5 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. exd5 Rc8 15. Nc4 Bb8 {1-0 (38) Teichmann,E (2365)-Levi,E (2270) Melbourne 1998}) 10. c5 Bc7 11. O-O O-O 12. Nbd2 b6 13. cxb6 Bxb6 14. Rfc1 axb4 15. axb4 Qe7 16. Rab1 Rfc8 17. Bxf6 Nxf6 18. d4 Bc7 19. Ne1 Bd6 20. Nd3 Rcb8 21. Nf3 Rb6 22. Nfe5 Qb7 23. Qc2 {[%cal Re5c6]} Bxe5 24. dxe5 Nd7 25. Rb3 c5 26. Nxc5 Nxc5 27. Qxc5 {[%mdl 8192] [#] White does not recover from this.} (27. Rc3 $11 {and White is okay.}) 27... Rc6 $1 $19 {[%cal Rc6c5][%mdl 576] Pin. Black is clearly winning.} 28. Rbc3 (28. Rbb1 Rxc5) 28... Rxc5 29. Rxc5 h5 30. b5 Ra5 31. h3 g6 32. Rb1 Kg7 33. h4 Qb8 34. g3 Qxe5 35. Rcc1 Ra2 36. b6 Qf5 37. Rf1 {[#]} Rxf2 $3 {[%mdl 512]} 38. b7 ( 38. Rbe1 Rxf1+) 38... Rxf1+ 39. Rxf1 Qe5 $1 {[%csl LRe3,LRg3][%mdl 64] Double Attack. Weighted Error Value: White=0.45/Black=0.11} 0-1 [Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.05.31"] [Round "3.33"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2847"] [BlackElo "2770"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (2s)"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] {[%evp 17,87,29,33,1,68,66,75,57,119,97,153,130,122,134,165,168,171,148,156, 158,177,150,300,304,297,290,339,310,299,310,397,363,358,360,397,354,381,370, 471,461,463,351,353,320,296,125,428,281,500,473,449,453,591,287,530,514,538, 339,460,436,622,633,612,619,619,588,579,570,851,850,916,852]} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. O-O h6 6. c3 O-O 7. b4 Bb6 8. a4 a6 9. Nbd2 { 9.Re1 is more fashionable.} d6 10. Re1 {C54: Giuoco Piano: 4 c3 Nf6, main lines with 5 d4 and 5 d3.} Ne7 (10... Ng4 $11 11. Re2 Nf6) 11. d4 $14 exd4 $146 ({Predecessor:} 11... Ng6 12. Bb2 Nf4 13. Bf1 Re8 14. Qc2 Ba7 15. h3 Nh7 16. Kh2 Ng5 17. Re3 Qf6 {1/2-1/2 (30) Polatel,A (2243)-Vivante Sowter,J (2257) ICCF email 2017}) 12. cxd4 {White is better.} d5 {[#]} ({Black should play} 12... Bg4 $14) 13. e5 $1 $16 {[%cal Re5f6]} Nh5 (13... Ne4 $142 14. Bd3 Nxd2 15. Qxd2 Bg4) 14. Bf1 Nf4 15. Nb3 $36 {[%mdl 2048] White is in control.} Neg6 16. a5 Ba7 17. Bxf4 Nxf4 18. Qd2 Ng6 19. Nc5 f6 (19... Bg4 $16) 20. Bd3 $18 f5 21. Bc2 Re8 22. g3 Bxc5 23. bxc5 ({Not} 23. dxc5 Qd7 $16) 23... Be6 24. Rab1 Rb8 25. Re3 Ne7 26. Reb3 Qc8 27. Nh4 Rf8 28. Ng2 Bd7 29. h4 Ba4 30. R3b2 Bxc2 31. Qxc2 (31. Rxc2 $18 {is the precise move to win.} Re8 32. Rcb2) 31... Nc6 $2 {[%mdl 8192]} (31... f4 $16 {is a better chance.}) 32. Qc3 g5 (32... f4) 33. hxg5 hxg5 34. f4 Kg7 35. Kf2 (35. fxg5 $142 f4 36. Nxf4) 35... Rh8 $2 (35... g4 {was called for.} 36. Rh1 Rh8 37. Rxh8 Qxh8) 36. fxg5 Rh2 {Now ...f4 and Black clings on.} 37. Qf3 Nxd4 38. Qxd5 {[%mdl 64] Double Attack. White is clearly winning.} Nc6 (38... Ne6 $142 39. c6 Nxg5 40. cxb7 Qg8 41. Qxg8+ Kxg8) 39. e6 Qd8 40. Qd7+ Qxd7 41. exd7 Rd8 42. Rd2 Ne5 {Black hopes to continue with ... Ng4+.} 43. Rxb7 Kg6 44. Rxc7 {Black got outplayed after the opening. Weighted Error Value: White=0.36/Black=0.70} 1-0 [/pgn]

Nepomniachtchi topped Radjabov in the FTX’s third-place match. For advancing into the 8-player knockout bracket, all players earned a spot in the next Champions Tour event, scheduled to begin June 24. Nakamura and GM Fabiano Caruana have also earned spots. 

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