Wesley So is 2020 US Chess Champion After Crushing Performance

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2020 US Chess Champion GM Wesley So

 

Grandmaster Wesley So is the new 2020 US Chess Champion, with exclamation.  

So earned his new title as America’s player-to-beat from his bedroom in Minnesota, after playing in the national championship event organized online by the Saint Louis Chess Club. This year’s crown tournament, which collected 12 of the best U.S. players, was adjusted because of COVID restrictions and featured all games with a rapid G/25+5 time control. The round-robin event was played over four days in October, running three games per day.   

And while So may have been one of the safer bets to win the 2020 American crown, this wasn’t just a top seed winning another tournament. The absence of GM Fabiano Caruana, the top American and World No. 2 who experienced a schedule conflict with the now-postponed FIDE Candidates Tournament, may have looked fortuitous for So at the tournament’s start. But by the end, perhaps it was Caruana who was lucky.  

 

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Wesley So (photo Lennart Ootes)

So, the world’s No. 9 player – or only No. 21, according to the global rapid rankings – completely dominated America’s best players in a performance not frequently seen before. So kicked off the title event with five consecutive wins and never looked back, finishing undefeated plus-7 with an astounding 9/11 score. That high-mark result has only been topped twice in U.S. Championship history, both times by Robert James Fischer.   

So entered the event with a top-seed rating of 2770 yet played to a total performance rating of 2919. And surprisingly, that lofty performance was completely necessary as – not one – but two players stayed within one point of So and chased him into the very last round. Finishing just a half-point behind was GM Jeffery Xiong with 8.5/11, and GM Ray Robson in third with 7.5/11, both championship scores in many other years.  

 

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2020 US Chess Championship Final Standings
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courtesy SLCC / uschesschamps.com

The three-player race sucked all the air out of the standings, breaking away from the rest of the field halfway through the event. All three met each other in the final rounds, first seeing Xiong knock down Robson in the eighth, then So taking them both on in back-to-back rounds. The Minnesota GM first handed Xiong his only loss of the tournament, then when Robson came in the tenth – in full-blown desperation, must-win mode – So gave him absolutely nothing to work with in a Berlin that fizzled to a 30-move repetition.  

While all eyes were on the pack-of-three for most of the event, there were highlights to the 2020 U.S. Championship made by several other players. GM Leinier Dominguez started the event winless with a dismal 1/4 score, but turned things around and scored five points over the last seven rounds to finish in clear fourth place. And 17-year-old GM Awonder Liang, in his third U.S. Championship appearance, shook off his own 0-3 start to finish even at 5.5/11, in a tie for fifth. Besides the front three, Liang was the only other player to outperform his rating.    

And GM Aleksandr Lenderman played a surprising role as spoiler in the tournament finale, directly affecting the fate of both Xiong and Robson in the final two rounds. Down a full point after losing to So in the ninth, Xiong’s only remaining strategy was to finish with two last wins himself and hope for the best. But Lenderman turned in a fantastic 10th round effort in his otherwise rough event, not bending to Xiong desperation and keeping the desirable half point out of the Dallas GM’s hands. In this Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Lenderman simply ignored Xiong’s straightforward attack and found a 19. … Bg5! brilliancy that brought a quickly liquidated end.  

 

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2020 US Chess Championship Xiong vs. Lenderman
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courtesy SLCC / uschesschamps.com

 

[pgn][Event "2020 U.S. Championship"] [Site "https://lichess.org/78VSpWvr"] [Date "2020.10.29"] [Round "10.5"] [White "Jeffery Xiong"] [Black "Alex Lenderman"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D26"] [WhiteElo "2750"] [BlackElo "2686"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/broadcaster"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "1500+5"] [WhiteClock "0:04:16"] [BlackClock "0:07:13"] 1. d4 {[%emt 0:00:05]} d5 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. c4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} dxc4 { [%emt 0:00:00]} 3. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:06]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 4. e3 {[%emt 0:00: 01]} e6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 5. Bxc4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} c5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 6. O-O { [%emt 0:00:01]} Nc6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 7. a3 {[%emt 0:01:21]} a6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 8. dxc5 {[%emt 0:00:07]} Qxd1 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 9. Rxd1 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Bxc5 { [%emt 0:00:01]} 10. b4 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Be7 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 11. Bb2 {[%emt 0: 00:09]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:15]} 12. Nbd2 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Rd8 {[%emt 0:00:31]} 13. Nb3 {[%emt 0:01:20]} Bd7 {[%emt 0:00:20]} 14. Rdc1 {[%emt 0:00:50]} Rac8 { [%emt 0:02:14]} 15. Nfd4 {[%emt 0:00:11]} Ne4 {[%emt 0:02:23]} 16. Nxc6 { [%emt 0:07:51]} Bxc6 {[%emt 0:00:34]} 17. Na5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nxf2 $2 { [%emt 0:04:29] Mistake. Nd6 was best.} (17... Nd6 18. Nxc6) 18. Bd4 $6 { [%emt 0:00:03] Inaccuracy. Bxa6 was best.} (18. Bxa6) 18... Ng4 {[%emt 0:01:45] } 19. h3 {[%emt 0:01:59]} Bg5 {[%emt 0:06:06]} 20. hxg4 {[%emt 0:06:17]} Rxd4 { [%emt 0:00:03]} 21. exd4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Bxc1 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 22. Rxc1 { [%emt 0:00:00]} Bd5 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 23. Rc2 {[%emt 0:01:23]} b6 {[%emt 0:00: 04]} 24. Bd3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Rxc2 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 25. Bxc2 {[%emt 0:00:00]} bxa5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 26. bxa5 {[%emt 0:00:00]} h6 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 27. Bd3 { [%emt 0:00:03]} Bb7 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 28. Kf2 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Kf8 {[%emt 0:00: 04]} 29. g3 {[%emt 0:01:12]} Ke7 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 30. Ke3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kd6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 31. Be2 {[%emt 0:00:12]} f6 {[%emt 0:00:18]} 32. Bd3 {[%emt 0: 00:01]} Ke7 {[%emt 0:00:47]} 33. Kd2 {[%emt 0:00:09]} Kd6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 34. Ke3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Ke7 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 35. Kd2 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kd6 { [%emt 0:00:01]} 36. Ke3 {[%emt 0:00:01] Normal} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Lenderman did even worse things to Robson in the final round. While So and Nakamura blitzed and traded to a grandmaster draw, officially passing the U.S. Champion crown, Lenderman slowly delivered his best tournament performance in the end. He drew early blood by snacking on a pawn at 13. Nc7, but allowed a sequence that left his pawn structure in shambles. He shored up his position, however, delivering a discovery with 25. Bxc6 that sucked up all of Robson’s clock, then pressing in a tricky rook-and-pawn endgame to win the full point.  

[pgn][Event "2020 U.S. Championship"] [Site "https://lichess.org/H4Qe879z"] [Date "2020.10.29"] [Round "11.2"] [White "Alex Lenderman"] [Black "Ray Robson"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E62"] [WhiteElo "2686"] [BlackElo "2711"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/broadcaster"] [PlyCount "117"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "1500+5"] [WhiteClock "0:02:33"] [BlackClock "0:00:12"] 1. d4 {[%emt 0:00:05]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. c4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} g6 {[%emt 0: 00:04]} 3. g3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Bg7 {[%emt 0:00:18]} 4. Bg2 {[%emt 0:00:02]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:27]} 5. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:07]} d6 {[%emt 0:00:32]} 6. Nf3 {[%emt 0: 00:05]} Nc6 {[%emt 0:00:29]} 7. O-O {[%emt 0:00:03]} e5 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 8. dxe5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} dxe5 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 9. Bg5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} h6 { [%emt 0:00:08]} 10. Qxd8 {[%emt 0:00:20]} Rxd8 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 11. Bxf6 { [%emt 0:00:02]} Bxf6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 12. Nd5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kg7 {[%emt 0:00: 02]} 13. Nxc7 {[%emt 0:00:35]} Rb8 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 14. Nd5 $6 {[%emt 0:01:20] Inaccuracy. e4 was best.} (14. e4 Bg4) 14... e4 {[%emt 0:00:09]} 15. Nd2 { [%emt 0:00:04]} e3 {[%emt 0:00:08]} 16. fxe3 $6 {[%emt 0:00:23] Inaccuracy. Nxf6 was best.} (16. Nxf6) 16... Bxb2 {[%emt 0:00:17]} 17. Rab1 {[%emt 0:00:09] } Ba3 {[%emt 0:00:36]} 18. Rb3 {[%emt 0:02:11]} Bf8 {[%emt 0:00:39]} 19. Nf3 { [%emt 0:01:31]} Bc5 $6 {[%emt 0:02:31] Inaccuracy. b6 was best.} (19... b6 20. Nd4 Bb7 21. Rc3 Ne5 22. Rd1 Rdc8 23. Rdc1 Bc5 24. Nb3 Ba3 25. R1c2 Ba6 26. Nd4) 20. Ne1 {[%emt 0:00:10]} Bg4 {[%emt 0:04:39]} 21. Nd3 {[%emt 0:00:43]} Bf8 { [%emt 0:00:19]} 22. Bf3 $6 {[%emt 0:00:58] Inaccuracy. N5f4 was best.} (22. N5f4) 22... Be6 $6 {[%emt 0:02:22] Inaccuracy. Bxf3 was best.} (22... Bxf3) 23. Rc3 {[%emt 0:01:43]} g5 {[%emt 0:05:24]} 24. Nf6 {[%emt 0:02:01]} Kxf6 { [%emt 0:04:53]} 25. Bxc6+ {[%emt 0:00:03]} Kg7 {[%emt 0:01:07]} 26. Bd5 { [%emt 0:00:03]} Bxd5 $6 {[%emt 0:00:29] Inaccuracy. Re8 was best.} (26... Re8 27. e4) 27. cxd5 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Rbc8 $2 {[%emt 0:00:01] Mistake. Rd7 was best.} (27... Rd7 28. Rc4) 28. Rxc8 {[%emt 0:02:41]} Rxc8 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 29. e4 {[%emt 0:00:10]} f6 {[%emt 0:00:32]} 30. Kf2 $6 {[%emt 0:01:45] Inaccuracy. Rb1 was best.} (30. Rb1 b6 31. Rc1 Rxc1+ 32. Nxc1 Bc5+ 33. Kg2 b5 34. Kf3 Kf7 35. Nd3 Bd6 36. Ke3 Bc7) 30... Bd6 $6 {[%emt 0:00:26] Inaccuracy. Ba3 was best. } (30... Ba3 31. Ke3 Rc4 32. Rd1 Ra4 33. Rd2 Bd6 34. Rc2 Kf7 35. Rc8 Rxa2 36. Rd8 Ke7 37. Rh8) 31. Rc1 {[%emt 0:00:34]} Re8 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 32. Rc4 { [%emt 0:02:13]} Kg6 {[%emt 0:00:16]} 33. Kf3 {[%emt 0:00:15]} h5 {[%emt 0:00: 04]} 34. h3 {[%emt 0:00:07]} a6 $6 {[%emt 0:00:19] Inaccuracy. a5 was best.} ( 34... a5 35. a4) 35. a4 {[%emt 0:00:06]} Kg7 $6 {[%emt 0:00:06] Inaccuracy. Kf7 was best.} (35... Kf7 36. Nf2) 36. a5 {[%emt 0:00:20]} Kg6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 37. e3 {[%emt 0:00:14]} Kf7 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 38. Nc5 {[%emt 0:00:41]} Bxc5 $4 { [%emt 0:00:08] Blunder. Rb8 was best.} (38... Rb8 39. Ne6) 39. Rxc5 {[%emt 0: 00:02]} Re7 $6 {[%emt 0:00:06] Inaccuracy. Kg6 was best.} (39... Kg6 40. Rc7) 40. h4 {[%emt 0:00:23]} Kg6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 41. Rc8 {[%emt 0:00:39]} Rd7 { [%emt 0:00:05]} 42. hxg5 {[%emt 0:00:47]} fxg5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 43. Rg8+ { [%emt 0:00:07]} Kf6 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 44. Re8 {[%emt 0:00:30]} Kf7 $6 {[%emt 0: 00:06] Inaccuracy. Kg7 was best.} (44... Kg7 45. Re5 Kg6 46. Re6+ Kg7 47. d6 Kf7 48. Rh6 Kg7 49. Rxh5 Rxd6 50. Rxg5+ Kf8 51. Rd5) 45. Re6 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Kg7 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 46. d6 {[%emt 0:01:18]} Kf7 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 47. Rh6 { [%emt 0:00:02]} Kg7 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 48. Rxh5 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Kg6 $6 {[%emt 0: 00:07] Inaccuracy. Rxd6 was best.} (48... Rxd6 49. Rxg5+) 49. Kg4 {[%emt 0:00: 02]} Rxd6 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 50. Rxg5+ {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kf7 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 51. Rd5 {[%emt 0:00:40]} Rg6+ {[%emt 0:00:04]} 52. Kf5 {[%emt 0:00:15]} Rf6+ { [%emt 0:00:11]} 53. Ke5 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Re6+ {[%emt 0:00:04]} 54. Kd4 { [%emt 0:00:02]} b6 $6 {[%emt 0:00:04] Inaccuracy. b5 was best.} (54... b5 55. Rd7+ Ke8 56. Rg7 Rd6+ 57. Kc5 Rd3 58. Rg6 Rxe3 59. Rxa6 Rxg3 60. Rh6 Kd7 61. a6 ) 55. Rf5+ {[%emt 0:00:26]} Kg6 $4 {[%emt 0:00:11] Blunder. Ke7 was best.} ( 55... Ke7 56. Re5) 56. Kd5 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Re8 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 57. axb6 { [%emt 0:00:01]} a5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 58. b7 {[%emt 0:00:04]} a4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 59. Rf1 {[%emt 0:00:03] Normal} 1-0 [/pgn]

The 2020 US Chess Championship was the last event in a series of five major American title tournaments held online by the Saint Louis Chess Club over the month of October. Also winning 2020 titles were IM Carissa Yip, the U.S. Junior Girl champion; GM John Burke, the U.S. Junior champion; GM Joel Benjamin, the U.S. Senior champion; and GM Irina Krush, the U.S. Women’s champion. More than $300,000 in prizes were given away over the five championship events by the SLCC and its benefactors Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield. 

So won $40,000 along with his second title as US Chess Champion, his first time in 2017. 

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