Wesley So Wins Inaugural FIDE Fischer Random Championship

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Wesley So lost in the online quarterfinals at chess.com, only to fight through the “losers bracket” to earn a seat in the semis in Norway. In a field with fellow qualifiers Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and de-facto (after a 2018 match win over Hikaru Nakamura) champion Magnus Carlsen, literally no one in an online poll run by Follow Chess expected him to win.

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(Yes, it is a small sample size.) But Wesley So defied all the odds, defeating Nepomniachtchi in the semi-finals and trouncing Carlsen in the finals, to become the first FIDE Fischer Random Chess (FRC) World Champion.

So’s victory on Saturday is the culmination of a six month long process to determine a FRC title holder. The first open qualifers were held in April and May on chess.com, while internationally titled players joined the pool of aspirants in June, July, and August. Six knockout groups were contested in August and September, all leading to the Quarterfinals, held online at chess.com from October 4th through 6th. Because Carlsen was seeded into the semifinal round, only three of the eight quarterfinalists could advance, forcing organizers to get creative with their event structure. What emerged was three sets of matches played over three days, incorporating a “Loser’s Bracket” to help whittle the field down. The organizers also created an innovative schedule and scoring system for the quarterfinals. Players faced off in three time controls – “slow rapid,” “fast rapid,” and blitz – with the slower time controls carrying more weight in the scoring.

  “Slow Rapid” “Fast Rapid” Blitz
Win value 3 2 1
Draw value 1.5 1 0.5

  So lost on Day 1 to Hikaru Nakamura, forcing him to win a survival match on Day 2 against Peter Svidler. The revived So then defeated Vladimir Fedoseev on Day 3 to take his place in the semifinals alongside Caruana and Nepomniachtchi. The four semifinalists convened on October 27th at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, an art museum located just outside of Oslo, where pairings for the semifinals were drawn.  And in a twist that perhaps dismayed the local organizers, a match that many assumed was destined for the finals – Carlsen against Caruana –  was set for the semis, leaving Nepomniachtchi to face So.

The semis were not without drama, especially on the third day when there was a bit of a kertuffle over castling rules in the first Nepomiachtchi-So rapid game.

Ultimately Carlsen dispatched Caruana 12.5-7.5, while So went one (half point) better, defeating Nepomniachtchi 13-5. This set up a Carlsen-So match for the Championship, while Caruana and Nepomniachtchi would play for third place. FINALS, Day 1 – Slow Rapid So 1.5, Carlsen 0.5 (So leads 4.5-1.5 in match points) Caruana 1, Nepomniachtchi 1 (Players tied 3-3 in match points)

Not all FRC positions are created alike. The position drawn for Day 1 of the Finals – number 294 for those keeping score at home – appears not to have been to Carlsen’s general liking:

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…while Caruana and So were not so perturbed.

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After a long draw in the first game of the day, one where Carlsen was understandably frustrated not to have prevailed, So took the lead in an absolute cracker of a win.

Wesley So (2767) Magnus Carlsen (2876) World FRC Finals (3.2), 31.10.2019 1.d4 b6 2.Ng3 Ba6 3.b3 e6 4.c4 d5 5.e3 Be7 6.Nc3 Ng6 7.Bd3 0–0 8.0–0 Nd7 9.cxd5 Bxd3 10.Rxd3 exd5 11.Nf5 Rfe8 12.Nxe7+ Rxe7 13.b4 Nf6 14.b5 c6 15.a4 h5 16.h3 Qc8 17.bxc6 Re6 18.f3 Rxc6 19.e4 dxe4 20.fxe4 Ne5 21.Re3 Nc4 22.Ref3 Rxd4 23.Nd5 Rxe4 24.Bh6 Ne8 25.Bxg7 Nd2 26.Rxf7 Nxf1 27.Rf8+ Kh7 28.Be5 Rc1 29.Rh8+ Kg6 30.Ne7+ Kf7 31.Rh7+ Ke6 32.Nxc8 Rxa1 33.Bxa1 Ng3 34.Rxa7 Nf5 35.Bh8 Re2 36.g4 hxg4 37.hxg4 Ne3 38.Re7+ Kd5 39.Rxe8 Rg2+ 40.Kh1 Rxg4 41.Rxe3 Rh4+ 42.Kg2 Rxh8 43.Nxb6+ Kc5 44.Rb3 Rh4 45.Rb5+ Kc6 46.Rb1 Rh5 47.Nc4 Rh4 48.Nb6 Rh5 49.Nc4 Rh4 50.Nb2 Kb6 51.Kg3 Rd4 52.Kf3 Ka5 53.Ke3 Rd8 54.Rh1 Rd5 55.Rh4 Rg5 56.Kd3 Rc5 57.Rc4 Rh5 58.Kc2 Rh3 59.Rc3 Rh6 60.Kb3 Rb6+ 61.Ka3 Rc6 62.Rc4 Rh6 63.Rc5+ Ka6 64.Kb4 Rh1 65.Rc6+ Ka7 66.Nc4 Kb7 67.Rb6+ Ka7 68.Rg6 Rb1+ 69.Ka5 Rh1 70.Rg7+ Kb8 71.Ka6 Rh5 72.Rg8+ 1–0 [Editor's note: Our pgn viewer decided it didn't appreciate Fischer Random Chess games, so we were forced to provide text-only versions in the story above. If you want to replay the games in your interface of choice, you can download all the games from the Semi-Finals and Finals in pgn format here. And look for upcoming CLO coverage of this historic event from GM Josh Friedel.] So talked with IMs Daniel Rensch and Sopiko Guramashvili after the game, and described the thought processes that led him to find 24. Bh6.

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In the third place playoff, Caruana and Nepomniachtchi traded wins, ending the day with an even score. FINALS, Day 2 – Slow Rapid So 2, Carlsen 0 (So leads 10.5-1.5 in match points) Nepomniachtchi 1.5, Caruana 0.5 (Nepomniachtchi leads 7.5-4.5 in match points)

The FRC random generator spat out position 729 for Day 2, after which the players had 15 minutes to devise their strategies with trainers or coaches. Presumably they noted the curiously long kingside castling motif in the position!

So dominated Carlsen on the second day of play, winning both games and sending fans to their databases to try and find a similar losing streak for the Classical World Champion. The fourth game was particularly striking, with Carlsen (perhaps slightly on tilt?) pushing his a-pawn to try and attack So’s king. Magnus Carlsen (2876) Wesley So (2767) World FRC Championship (3.4), 01.11.2019 1.a4 e5 2.a5 d5 3.a6 b6 4.d3 Nd6 5.e4 dxe4 6.dxe4 Nxe4 7.Qe2 f5 8.f3 Nd6 9.Qxe5 Bf6 10.Qf4 0–0–0 11.Nge2 g5 12.Qe3 Bxb2 13.Bc3 Bxc3 14.Nxc3 Qf6 15.h4 Nc4 16.hxg5 Nxe3 17.gxf6 Nxf6 18.Nd3 Rg8 19.Be2 Rxg2 20.Nf4 Rg8 21.Bd3 Rd4 22.Nce2 Rd6 23.Kb2 c5 24.Rae1 c4 25.Nc3 cxd3 26.Rxe3 dxc2 27.Rc1 Kb8 28.Rxc2 Bd7 29.Re7 b5 30.Rf7 Rxa6 31.Ncd5 Nxd5 32.Nxd5 Rd6 33.Ne7 Rh8 34.Rc5 a6 35.Nxf5 Bxf5 36.Rcxf5 h5 37.Re5 h4 38.Ree7 Rb6 39.Kc3 h3 40.Rh7 Rxh7 41.Rxh7 Rf6 42.Rxh3 Kb7 43.Kd4 Kb6 44.Ke5 Rf8 45.f4 b4 46.f5 a5 47.Rf3 a4 48.Kd4 Kb5 49.Kd3 Rc8 50.f6 b3 0–1 Nepomniachtchi took the lead in the third place match, winning with White against Caruana in the first game of the day. Note how differently Nepomniachtchi handles the opening than we saw in the Carlsen-So game above! Ian Nepomniachtchi (2776) Fabiano Caruana (2812) World FRC Third Place Match (3.3), 01.11.2019 1.e4 Nf6 2.d3 d5 3.e5 Nd7 4.f4 Ndb6 5.Nb3 e6 6.Nf3 c5 7.c4 d4 8.Nfd2 Na4 9.Ne4 a5 10.f5 Bc6 11.Nbd2 Ncb6 12.Bxa4 Nxa4 13.Bg3 Ra6 14.Kc2 Rb6 15.b3 Nc3 16.Nxc3 dxc3 17.Nb1 h5 18.h4 a4 19.Nxc3 Qe8 20.Qf2 Ra6 21.Rhe1 Ka8 22.Qxc5 Be7 23.Qf2 Bb4 24.Red1 Qd8 25.Rdb1 Qa5 26.Nxa4 Bxa4 27.bxa4 Bc5 28.Qf3 Qxa4+ 29.Kd2 Rb8 30.Rb5 Rb6 31.Qd1 Qxd1+ 32.Rxd1 Rxb5 33.cxb5 exf5 34.Rc1 b6 35.Rc4 Rd8 36.Kc3 Kb7 37.d4 Bf8 38.a4 Rd7 39.Bf4 Be7 40.g3 Bd8 41.Rc6 Bc7 42.Kc4 Rd8 43.d5 Ra8 44.Kb3 Re8 45.d6 Bd8 46.Kc4 Rg8 47.d7 Be7 48.e6 1–0 FINALS, Day 3 – Fast Rapid (Blitz not needed) So 1.5, Carlsen 0.5 (So wins match 13.5-2.5) Nepomniachtchi 2.5, Caruana 0.5 (Nepomniachtchi wins match 12.5-5.5)

Down nine points coming into the day, Carlsen had to find a way back into the match, and quickly. The problem, as Hikaru Nakamura pointed out on Twitter, is that it’s hard to unbalance the game without excessive risk.

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Wesley So, for his part, deemed the position “very interesting” but wondered (with a sly nod to the Nepomniachtchi castling brouhaha) about the mechanisms of king movement here in position 253.

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After a relatively short draw in round five, So defeated Carlsen in the sixth game of the match to become the first FIDE Fischer Random Chess Champion.

Wesley So (2767) Magnus Carlsen (2876) World FRC Championship (3.6), 02.11.2019 1.f4 Nb6 2.Nb3 d5 3.e4 dxe4 4.Qxe4 Nfd7 5.Ne3 c6 6.Bf2 Bc7 7.Nf5 e6 8.Nxg7 Qf8 9.Nh5 h6 10.Be2 Bh7 11.Qf3 Rg8 12.Bd3 Bg6 13.Bxg6 fxg6 14.Ng3 Bxf4 15.0–0 g5 16.Ne2 e5 17.g3 0–0–0 18.gxf4 exf4 19.Bxb6 axb6 20.Rbe1 Ne5 21.Qc3 Qd6 22.Ned4 g4 23.Nf5 Nf3+ 24.Kh1 Qd7 25.Ne7+ Kb8 26.Nxg8 Nxe1 27.Qe5+ Ka8 28.Nf6 Qf7 29.Rxf4 1–0

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Fabiano Caruana fought valiantly in the third place match, but Nepomniachtchi was too much for the American player on this day. After switching to a new position – number 381, for those keeping track – “Nepo” won the match in the seventh game, fending off Caruana’s attack and launching one of his own.

photo Maria Emelianova

Fabiano Caruana (2812) Ian Nepomniachtchi (2776) World FRC Third Place (3.7), 02.11.2019 1.f4 Nb6 2.Nb3 f6 3.e4 e5 4.f5 c6 5.g4 Bc7 6.d3 0–0–0 7.Bf3 Kb8 8.Nfd2 d5 9.exd5 Bxd5 10.Ne4 h5 11.h3 Nfd7 12.Be3 hxg4 13.hxg4 Bxb3 14.axb3 Nd5 15.Bd2 Qf8 16.0–0–0 Nc5 17.b4 Nxe4 18.Rxe4 a6 19.Rde1 Bb6 20.Qg2 Nc7 21.g5 Nb5 22.gxf6 gxf6 23.Rg4 Rd4 24.Be4 Red8 25.c3 R4d7 26.Rg6 Qf7 27.Bh6 Nd6 28.Kc2 Nxe4 29.dxe4 Qa2 30.Bc1 a5 31.bxa5 Bxa5 32.Qe2 Rd6 33.Rg3 c5 34.Qb5 Rb6 35.Qxc5 Qa4+ 36.Kb1 Rc8 37.Qd5 Bxc3 38.Re2 Bd4 39.Rg8 Rbc6 40.Rxc8+ Kxc8 41.Rg2 Kb8 42.Qg8+ Ka7 43.Re2 Qd1 44.Qa2+ Kb6 0–1 So takes home $125,000 for his Championship run, while Carlsen receives $75,000. Third place earns Nepomniachtchi $50,000, while Caruana receives $40,000 for fourth place.

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