June 24, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

US Champion Wesley So

USA Championship 2017
Saint Louis, Missouri
March 29-April 11, 2017


Final Standings
(all participants are GMs)

1-2 Wesley So 2822, Alexander Onischuk 2667, 7.0/11

3-5 Varuzhan Akobian 2645, Hikaru Nakamura 2793, Fabiano Caruana 2817, 6.5/11

6 Yaroslav Zherebukh 2605, 5.5/11

7-9 Daniel Naroditsky 2646, Samuel L Shankland 2666, Gata Kamsky 2659, 5.0/11

10 Ray Robson 2668, 4.5/11

11 Jeffery Xiong 2674, 4.0/11

12 Alexander Shabalov 2556, 3.5/11

Average Rating 2685 -- Category 18

Time Control: 90 minutes for the 1st 40 moves, then 30 minutes for the rest of the game with 30 seconds added after every move starting move 1

Tie-Break Match
(25 minutes play to finish with five seconds added after every move)
GM Wesley So vs GM Alexander Onischuk, Wesley won 1.5-0.5.

All I can say is WOW. Team USA won the 2016 World Chess Olympiad in September of last year, crowning itself as the world’s strongest chess nation, and now Wesley So wins the USA Chess Championship, meaning he is the champion of the world champion.

Look at what he has accomplished in the past nine months:

August 2016 -- 4th Sinquefield Cup (ELO average of 2778, category 22), solo first with two wins (over Topalov and Nakamura) and seven draws. Tied for second half a point behind him were Anand, Aronian, Caruana and Topalov. Performance rating of 2857.

September 2016 -- 42nd Olympiad, Baku, Azerbaijan. He scored seven wins (in the process stopping cold the winning streaks of Ian Nempomniachtchi 2740 and Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2669) and three draws, winning the gold medal on board 3 with a performance rating of 2901.

October 2016 -- Isle of Man Open 2016. Fourth place with 6.5/9 behind Pavel Eljanov 2741, Fabiano Caruana 2813 and Arkadij Naiditsch. Four wins (FM Marian Brunello, FM Alan Merry, GM Julio Granda Zuniga and GM Salem AR Saleh) and five draws.

December 2016 -- 8th London Classic (Elo averge of 2785, category 22), solo first with three wins (Nakamura, Adams, Topalov) and six draws. It was here where his FIDE rating broke the 2800 barrier and he rose to third in the world rankings (behind Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana).

In January 2016, the top chess Web site of the world ChessBase named Wesley So as the “Player of the Year 2016” for his successive tournament victories in the second half of 2016. Wesley was not yet done though.

January 2017 -- 79th Tata Steel Group A (ELO average of 2751, category 21), solo first with five wins (Harikrishna, Wojtaszek, Nepomniachtchi, Rapport and Van Wely) and eight draws. This is the first time that he finished ahead of World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a tournament. After Tata Wesley rose to 2nd place in the world rankings.

And, in case you have forgotten, he is only 23 years old.

The following is the decisive game from the two-game tie break match held at rapid time controls -- 25 minutes for the entire game with a 10-second increment after every move. Alexander Onischuk is a former US Champion (2006). He is 41 years old, originally from Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine, who emigrated to the USA in 2001. He has played for the US Olympiad team six times from 2004-2014.

So, Wesley (2822) -- Onischuk, Alexander (2667) [A18]
US Championships Men 2017 -- TB Saint Louis (1.1), 10.04.2017

1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e4!?

The Flohr-Mikenas Attack in the English Opening. Wesley plays this with either color. This opening is not something you flash out the first 20 moves of and then settle in for a long session of strategic, positional chess. This is an opening with an early clash of ideas where you have to be alert to sudden tactical twists. In other words the ideal weapon to use against an older player who might not be up-to-date with all the latest theory.

Having said that, Onischuk is the coach of the Texas Tech University chess team, one of the powerhouses of US collegiate play, and so by necessity knows all the main lines.

But that is what Wesley is counting on. Onischuk knows all the main lines, but does he know all the sidelines?]

3...d5

In the Bunratty Open (Ireland) two years ago Wesley’s opponent did not survive the opening. After 3...d6 4.d4 Be7 5.Nf3 0 -- 0 6.Bd3 c5 7.dxc5 dxc5 8.e5 Nfd7 9.Qc2 h6 10.Bh7+ Kh8 11.Be4 Nc6 12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.h4 Qc7 14.Bf4 f5 15.exf6 Qxf4 16.fxe7 Re8 17.Qe4 Qxe4+ 18.Nxe4 Rxe7 19.0 -- 0 -- 0 a5 20.Rd6 Ba6 21.Rhd1 Ra7 22.b3 Rc7 23.h5 Bc8 24.Nh4 Kg8 25.Ng6 Re8 26.f4 e5 27.f5 Kf7 28.R6d2 Black’s pieces were so tied up he just resigned here. 1 -- 0 So, W. (2788)-Van der Zwet, B. (2118) Bunratty 2015.

4.cxd5

White follows the same path he took against Nakamura last year. The main line here is 4.e5 d4 5.exf6 dxc3 6.bxc3 Qxf6 7.d4 when White will try to make use of his pawn center against Black’s piece play.

4...exd5 5.e5 Ne4 6.Nf3 Bf5 7.Be2

Against Nakamura in Leuven last year Wesley got a better end game after 7.d4 Bb4 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 0 -- 0 10.Be2 Nd7 11.0 -- 0 c5 12.dxc5 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Nxc5 14.Rc1 Rc8 15.Nd4 Bd7 16.c4 dxc4 17.Bxc4 Qe7 18.Re1 Kh8 19.Qf3 Be6 20.Nxe6 Nxe6 21.Bxe6 fxe6 22.Rxc8 Rxc8 23.h3 b5 24.Rd1. White’s advantage is not much but he managed to simplify to a pawn-up rook-and-pawn end game which probably should have been drawn but he managed to win. So, W. (2770)-Nakamura, H. (2787) Leuven 2016 1 -- 0 (71).

On this occasion though with faster time controls Wesley wants to maintain the tension and force his opponent to think.

7...Be7?!

This is new -- the usual move here is 7...Nc6. I do not believe this is opening preparation, more likely Onischuk could not recall or did not want to take the time to figure out Black’s theory and decided to just play a simple, developing move.

8.0 -- 0 0 -- 0 9.Qb3!

Double attack on b7 and d5.

9...Nc6!

After a 10-minute think, Black decides not to go into the complexities of 9...d4 10.Qxb7 dxc3 11.Qxa8 cxd2 12.Nxd2 Nxd2 13.Rd1 Bg5 which is probably better for White anyway.

10.Nxd5!

Better than 10.Qxb7 Nb4 11.d3 Rb8 12.Qxa7 Nc5 when White’s queen is in danger.

10...Bc5 11.Ne3

Where should the knight go?

11.Nc3 Nd4 12.Nxd4 Bxd4 13.Qxb7? Rb8 14.Qa6 Rb6 Black’s rook swings to the kingside and White is in trouble; 11.Nf4 g5! doesn’t look good at all for White.

11...Bg6 12.Qxb7!

Wesley snatches a second pawn. He has got to be careful here for if Black gets the tempo to activate his rook via Ra8 -- b8 -- b6 and move over to the kingside this could prove to be very troublesome for him.

12...Nd4 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.d3 Nc5 15.Qb5 Rb8 16.Qc4 Ne6

[16...Rb6? 17.Nd5 attacking the b6 -- rook and d4 -- bishop.]

17.f4 Bxb2 18.Rb1 Qd4 19.Rxb2 Rxb2

Fully expecting 20.Bxb2 Qxe3+ after which Black seems to have equalized. <D>

POSITION AFTER 19...RXB2

20.Bg4!


An unpleasant surprise for Black especially with time running out. He has to disentangle his rook.

20...Rb4?

The text is a mistake. Best play (although not so easy to find) is 20...Qb6! so that after 21.Bxb2 Qxe3+ 22.Rf2 Qe1+ 23.Rf1 Qe3+ 24.Kh1 Bxd3 25.Qc3 Qe4 26.Rd1 Nxf4 Black seems to have survived the worst.

21.Qxd4 Rxd4 22.f5

Ensuring that he emerges from the complications with at least two pieces for the rook.

22...Nf4 23.Nc2 Ra4 24.Bxf4 h5 25.Bd1 Bh7

[25...Bxf5? 26.Ne3]

26.Ne3 Rxa2 27.e6 fxe6 28.Bb3

It is now a rout.

28...Re2 29.fxe6 Re8 30.e7+ Kh8 31.Bg5 1 -- 0

White’s next move will be Rf8.

GM Wesley So is currently in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, where the fourth Gashimov Memorial Tournament starts today, April 20. He is the top seed in a tournament studded with stars -- Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Michael Adams, Penteala Harikrishna, Pavel Eljanov, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Veselin Topalov, and Teimour Radjabov. Let us all pray that once again he will do us all proud.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.

bobby@cpamd.net