Wesley So Beats World Champion Again to Win Opera Euro Rapid

GM Wesley So Wins the Opera Euro Rapid
Image Caption
courtesy Champions Chess Tour

US Chess Champion Wesley So won the Opera Euro Rapid and earned its $30,000 first prize after defeating World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the online super-tournament finals. 

In the third leg of the Champions Chess Tour, a series of 10 high-level online events organized by the world champion throughout 2021, So was the last super-GM standing from an original field of 16, whittled down over nine days of games using a rapid time control. Beginning Feb. 6, the international field featured three other U.S. players, though So was the only American to advance out of a round-robin preliminary and into an 8-player knockout bracket, where he met Carlsen at the end. 

The win in the Opera Euro marks the second time So has spoiled the World Champion in his own event finals, repeating the result of the Skilling Open, the Champions Tour kickoff tournament last November. 

“It’s big and totally unexpected, to beat Magnus in any match is a huge honor,” said the humble So. “Just playing him already gives you a lot of experience and a lot of honor. To beat him twice in a match is just unheard of, really.” 

So has now collected $70,000 in prizes from the $1.5 million event series, and leads the overall tour according to performance points that accumulate toward a $300,000 finale event in September. So’s victories in both the Opera Euro and the Skilling have come in “regular” events, with prize funds of $100,000, and the American also earned $10,000 for reaching the quarterfinals of the Airthings Masters last December. The Airthings was one of three “major” events in the tour, doubling the prize fund of a regular event and also awarding its winner an automatic invitation to the September final. 

The Magnus Carlsen Invitational, the Champion Tour’s fourth event scheduled to begin March 13, is another major event. 

“Right after the pandemic hit last year, I was very badly motivated and wasn’t working on chess,” So admitted. “But now thanks to the Champions Chess Tour, it gives players hope and gives them motivation to study. I guess the secret to playing chess well is not thinking about the results or not thinking about points or prizes, but just to play well and just to have fun.” 


Champions Chess Tour standings after three events
Image Caption
Champions Chess Tour standings after three events. // courtesy Champions Chess Tour

So continues his hot stride through a pandemic featuring the arrival of online rapid play, calling it his favorite time control that blends classical and blitz chess. Last summer, the Minnesota GM helped the St. Louis Arch Bishops win the 2020 PRO Chess League, then followed with a convincing national title win in the 2020 US Chess Championship in October. He beat Carlsen in the Skilling over Thanksgiving, taking the World Champion all the way down through a blitz playoff and finally Armageddon, though the American’s performance across the Opera Euro might have been his best rapid performance yet. 

So opened the Opera Euro preliminary with a first-round win over Carlsen and went on to score plus-five with 9/15 to earn the bracket’s third seed. He closed his quarterfinal match against Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda with four straight wins, and then topped the stout Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov in the semis to earn a second date with Carlsen in the finals over Valentine’s weekend. 

In the two-day, two-set match, So was forced into comeback mode after dropping the match's second game with the white pieces. So was on the attack early against Two Knights in an Italian, resulting in slow opening development and a suffering endgame to Carlsen’s outside passer. 

[pgn][Event "Opera Euro Rapid KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.02.13"] [Round "3.12"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C58"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2862"] [PlyCount "110"] [EventDate "2021.02.09"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8. Bd3 Nd5 9. Nf3 Bd6 10. O-O O-O 11. Re1 f5 12. Nxe5 Qf6 13. Nf3 g5 14. c4 Nf4 15. Bf1 g4 16. d4 gxf3 17. Qxf3 Ne6 18. Qc3 Nb7 19. c5 Bc7 20. b4 a5 21. b5 Qxd4 22. Qxd4 Nxd4 23. Bc4+ Be6 24. Bxe6+ Nxe6 25. Rxe6 Nxc5 26. Re2 Rfe8 27. Nc3 cxb5 28. Be3 Be5 29. Bxc5 Bxc3 30. Rxe8+ Rxe8 31. Rb1 b4 32. Kf1 Re5 33. Be3 a4 34. Rc1 a3 35. g3 Rb5 36. Rc2 b3 37. axb3 Rxb3 38. Kg2 Kf7 39. Bd2 Be5 40. Bf4 Bxf4 41. gxf4 Rb7 42. Ra2 Ra7 43. Kg3 Ra4 44. Kh4 Kg6 45. Kg3 Kf6 46. h3 h5 47. Kh4 Kg6 48. Kg3 Kg7 49. Kf3 h4 50. Ke2 Kf6 51. Kd1 Ke6 52. Kc1 Kd5 53. Kb1 Ke4 54. Rd2 Kf3 55. Ka2 Kg2 0-1 [/pgn]

Pressed to the wall, So came up clutch in the fourth game, needing a win with the white pieces and answering on demand. This time in a Classical Italian game, So pushed a strong pawn center to his advantage, forcing a sacrifice exchange out of Carlsen, and then a faulty 33. .. Rxd5 that allowed the American’s winning attack. 

[pgn][Event "Opera Euro Rapid KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.02.13"] [Round "3.14"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C53"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2862"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2021.02.09"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. e5 d5 7. Bb5 Ne4 8. cxd4 Bb6 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Be3 Bg4 11. h3 Bh5 12. Qc2 Bg6 13. Qb3 Ne7 14. O-O c6 15. Bd3 Nf5 16. Qc2 Nxc3 17. bxc3 Nxe3 18. fxe3 Bxd3 19. Qxd3 f6 20. c4 Bc7 21. cxd5 Qxd5 22. exf6 gxf6 23. e4 Qd7 24. Rad1 Rad8 25. Nh4 Kh8 26. Nf5 c5 27. d5 Be5 28. Rb1 b6 29. Qc4 Rfe8 30. Kh1 Bd4 31. Rf4 Rxe4 32. Rxe4 Qxf5 33. Rbe1 Rxd5 34. Rg4 h5 35. Re8+ Kh7 36. Re7+ Kh8 37. Qc1 1-0 [/pgn]

The comeback win sealed Saturday’s four-game set as a draw, and So notched the only victory in Sunday’s set, scoring in first game of the day and then holding on for draws to win the match. In a Rossolimo attack against the Sicilian, So had again found himself with a strong pawn center when Carlsen attempted to shake things up with an unsound sacrifice at 14. .. Bxh4. Though it exposed the white king, there was no follow-up for Carlsen and soon liquidation was headed toward a result.  

[pgn][Event "Opera Euro Rapid KO 2021"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2021.02.14"] [Round "3.21"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B30"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2862"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2021.02.09"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 e6 4. O-O Nge7 5. c3 a6 6. Ba4 b5 7. Bc2 Bb7 8. Re1 Rc8 9. a4 b4 10. d4 cxd4 11. cxd4 Ng6 12. Nbd2 Na5 13. g3 Be7 14. h4 Bxh4 15. gxh4 Nxh4 16. Nxh4 Qxh4 17. Re3 f5 18. Rg3 O-O 19. Nf3 Qh5 20. Ne5 Qxd1+ 21. Bxd1 d6 22. Nd3 fxe4 23. Nxb4 Nc4 24. a5 d5 25. Bg4 Rf6 26. Bg5 Rg6 27. Bh5 Rxg5 28. Rxg5 1-0 [/pgn]