Wesley So Wins First Champions Tour Event, Beats Magnus Carlsen in Finals

GM Wesley So
Image Caption
courtesy Champions Chess Tour

Grandmaster Wesley So did as he was told and stayed at home for Thanksgiving, and he won $30,000 for his good decisions. 

In lieu of the American holiday, the reigning U.S. Champion played and won the Skilling Open, the online super tournament hosted by World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen and featuring 16 world-elite GMs. Playing all rapid games, the 9-day tournament began last week with a 15-round robin first stage, producing 8 top players into a knockout bracket, then finishing with So besting the World Champion in the finals. 

There, So and Carlsen split an eight-game slugfest, forcing a two-game blitz overtime playoff that the American eventually won. All pawns and no hope, So won as white against Carlsen’s Karo-Cann with the Advanced variation in the first playoff game. The defense had brought the World Champion a win earlier in the finals, though failed here when So was able to sneak an outside passer through in the endgame. 

[pgn][Event "Skilling Open KO 2020"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2020.11.30"] [Round "3.31"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2862"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2020.11.25"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 h6 6. O-O Ne7 7. a4 a5 8. Nbd2 Nd7 9. Nb3 Bh7 10. Bd2 Qb6 11. h3 Ng6 12. Qe1 Bb4 13. Bxb4 Qxb4 14. Qxb4 axb4 15. Bd3 c5 16. Nxc5 Nxc5 17. dxc5 Ra5 18. Bb5+ Ke7 19. Rfe1 Rc8 20. c3 bxc3 21. b4 Raa8 22. Rac1 Nf4 23. Rxc3 Be4 24. a5 f6 25. h4 g5 26. g3 Ng6 27. exf6+ Kxf6 28. hxg5+ hxg5 29. Nh2 Ne5 30. Rce3 Rh8 31. f3 Rxh2 32. Kxh2 Nxf3+ 33. Rxf3+ Bxf3 34. c6 d4 35. Rf1 Rh8+ 36. Kg1 Rh1+ 37. Kf2 Rxf1+ 38. Bxf1 Bxc6 39. b5 Bd7 40. a6 bxa6 41. bxa6 d3 42. Bxd3 Ke5 43. a7 Bc6 44. Bf1 1-0 [/pgn]

GMs Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So in the Skilling Open Finals
Image Caption
The World Chess Champion and the US Chess Champion face off in the Skilling Open finals.

With first place on the line, the World Champion pressed in the second overtime blitz game, but So defended admirably in this Queen’s Gambit Accepted. Carlsen sought to unbalance the position with 18. Bxb5 but was never able to get his queenside passers moving as compensation, and So found his way through minor-piece liquidation for the match-winning draw. 

[pgn][Event "Skilling Open KO 2020"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2020.11.30"] [Round "3.32"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D40"] [WhiteElo "2862"] [BlackElo "2770"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2020.11.25"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c5 5. e3 dxc4 6. Bxc4 a6 7. O-O b5 8. Be2 Bb7 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Nd2 Ke7 12. Nb3 Nbd7 13. Na5 Rab8 14. Nxb7 Rxb7 15. Bd2 Rc7 16. Rfd1 Rhc8 17. Be1 Bd6 18. Bxb5 axb5 19. Nxb5 Rc6 20. Na7 Be5 21. Nxc8+ Rxc8 22. Rab1 Ra8 23. a3 Nd5 24. Rdc1 f5 25. h3 g5 26. Kf1 h5 27. Rc2 g4 28. Ke2 N7f6 29. Ra1 f4 30. hxg4 fxe3 31. fxe3 Nxg4 32. Bh4+ Kd6 33. e4 Nge3 34. Rcc1 Nxg2 35. Bf2 Ngf4+ 36. Kf3 Bxb2 37. Bc5+ Kd7 38. exd5 Bxc1 39. dxe6+ Nxe6 40. Rxc1 Nxc5 41. Rxc5 Rxa3+ 42. Kf4 h4 43. Kg4 h3 44. Rh5 Rb3 45. Rxh3 Rxh3 46. Kxh3 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

The blitz playoff only came after a two-day slugfest of a final between the U.S. and World Champion. The two played four Rapid games on both Sunday and Monday, trading six straight wins back and forth, before drawing the last two. On Sunday, all four games were won with the white pieces, including this fourth-round game where So constructs Alekhine’s Gun – sideways! -- along the fourth rank. 

[pgn][Event "Skilling Open KO 2020"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2020.11.29"] [Round "3.14"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B33"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2862"] [PlyCount "70"] [EventDate "2020.11.25"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Nd5 Nxd5 8. exd5 Nb8 9. Qf3 a6 10. Qa3 b6 11. Bg5 Be7 12. Bxe7 Kxe7 13. O-O-O Bb7 14. Nc3 Nd7 15. f4 Qc7 16. fxe5 Nxe5 17. Qb4 h5 18. Be2 Kf8 19. Rhf1 Re8 20. Rf5 h4 21. Rf4 Qd8 22. Kb1 Rh6 23. Rdd4 h3 24. g3 Bc8 25. a4 Kg8 26. Rde4 Qc7 27. Rh4 a5 28. Qd4 Rxh4 29. Rxh4 Bf5 30. Rh5 Qc8 31. Qxb6 Ng4 32. Ba6 Re1+ 33. Ka2 Qe8 34. Rxf5 Ne3 35. Bb5 Qe7 1-0 [/pgn]

Tied entering Monday, So and Carlsen traded wins as the black pieces to start the day, including success for the World Champion in the Advanced Caro-Kann, which caught the American off-guard in its first appearance. Here, Carlsen fights back after an incredibly clunky opening that included several retreats and repeats, before breaking through with some dazzling work by his center passed pawns. 

[pgn][Event "Skilling Open KO 2020"] [Site "chess24.com INT"] [Date "2020.11.30"] [Round "3.21"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2862"] [PlyCount "94"] [EventDate "2020.11.25"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nd2 e6 5. Nb3 Nd7 6. Nf3 h6 7. Be2 a5 8. a4 Bb4+ 9. c3 Bf8 10. O-O Ne7 11. h3 Bh7 12. Bd2 Qb6 13. Ne1 Nf5 14. Bd3 Be7 15. Qc2 Bg6 16. c4 dxc4 17. Qxc4 Nxd4 18. Qxd4 Qxb3 19. Bxg6 fxg6 20. Qe4 O-O 21. Bxh6 Rf5 22. Be3 Qd5 23. Qxd5 exd5 24. f4 g5 25. e6 Nc5 26. g4 gxf4 27. gxf5 fxe3 28. Rf4 Bf6 29. Nc2 e2 30. Rf2 d4 31. Rxe2 d3 32. Rd2 dxc2 33. Rxc2 Rd8 34. Re1 Nxa4 35. Ra1 Nxb2 36. Rxa5 Nd3 37. Kh2 Nb4 38. Rc1 Nd5 39. Ra7 Rb8 40. Kg3 Ne7 41. Kg4 b5 42. Rd1 b4 43. Rad7 b3 44. Rd8+ Rxd8 45. Rxd8+ Kh7 46. Rb8 b2 47. Kf4 Nd5+ 0-1 [/pgn]

The Skilling Open was the first event in a series of online super-tournaments called the Champions Chess Tour, organized by the Play Magnus Group. The Champions Tour promises 10 total events played over the next 10 months and plans to give out $1.5M in prizes; the Skilling Open was a “regular” event in the Tour and handed out $100,000, with So taking $30,000 for first place. 

The next event is set to begin the day after Christmas on December 26 and will be the tour’s first “Major” tournament, which awards $200,000 in prizes and the winner a guaranteed seat in the Tour’s final tournament next September. All Champions Tour events will feature the same rapid games, and 16-player round robin with subsequent knockout-bracket tournament format – though the faces will change. 

Also appearing in the Skilling Open was American GM Hikaru Nakamura, who won the round-robin stage with a 9/15 score, but was knocked out by So in the bracket's All-American semifinals. Their performance in the Skilling earned both Americans a large chunk of accumulating tour points, and guarantees both players spots in the Christmas event as one of the tour’s top-8 performers. The remaining 8 players in that event will be seated through invitation. 

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