John Henderson
By John Henderson

In one of the most humbling defeats ever for Magnus Carlsen, it only took Wesley So a further two games to make a little bit of chess history, as the Filipino-American romped to victory with a resounding win over the top seed and hot favourite to capture the first World Fischer Random Chess Championship title at the Henei Onstad Art Center in Norway on Saturday.

Carlsen was left for dead after So stunned his opponent and the chess world by winning a trifecta of back-to-back games in the longer time control (that scored 3 points for a win) games – and it didn’t take long for the US #3 to put the dispirited Norwegian out of his misery in his homeland, needing just two of the scheduled eight rapid games to record his emphatic 13.5-2.5 victory to take the title and $125,000 first prize.

“I’m very happy! It’s my favourite type of chess, and it hasn’t been popular until the last couple of years,” a delighted So told NRK. “I usually win tournaments the first time and never again. Magnus had a bad couple of days; if it was regular chess, he would probably have beaten me easily. To me, mainly chess is art—that’s why I like Fischer Random a lot; there is a lot of creativity.”

So was just so good, playing with a supreme confidence we last witnessed during his golden period from mid 2016 through mid 2017, where he won virtually everything he played in: the Sinquefield Cup, Olympiad team and individual gold for the USA, London Chess Classic, Grand Chess Tour title, Tata Steel Masters and the US championship title.

This event also marks the first time that Fischer Random Chess was officially recognised by FIDE, the governing body of World Chess. The popular variant was developed and first popularised by former world champion Bobby Fischer – and fittingly, the first title-winner is now also American.

Despite the heavy loss, the Norwegian was magnanimous in defeat. “I just want to congratulate Wesley So; he played a lot better than me,” said Carlsen. “I played OK on day one but was a bit unlucky result-wise. After that I am just ashamed of the way I played, and I wish I could have another chance to do it.”

But on a somewhat amusing side-note for Carlsen, with his match finishing over half a day earlier than scheduled, he used his “unexpected” free time to turn out for his club team, Offerspill, in Div. 1 of the Norwegian league, where on top board he beat 17-year-old FM Andreas Tryggestad to extend his unbeaten streak in classical chess to 102 games, just eight short of equaling Sergei Tiviakov’s streak of 110 games.

The difference between So and Carlsen in the match could well be summed up in their handling of the FR position for games 3 and 4 – in game 3, So pragmatically saw the opportunity to have the game resemble a French Advance variation, whereas Carlsen, by now playing on tilt in game 4, completely bombed with his bizarre opening strategy of 1. a4 2. a5 and 3. a6.

World Fischer Random Ch. Final:
Carlsen 2.5 – 13.5 So

Third Place Playoff:
Caruana 5.5 – 12.5 Nepomniachtchi

Photo: Wesley So crushes Magnus Carlsen to win the inaugural World FR Championship title | © Maria Emelianova/FR Chess

GM Wesley So – GM Magnus Carlsen
World Fischer Random Ch. Final, (3)
(see diagram for start position)
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. dxc5! So is quick to spot that this just helps him complete his development 4…Qxc5 5. Nb3 Qc7 6. f4 Nb6 7. Be2 Ne7 8. Nf3 With little or no effort, So has kept the position within the realms of the French Advance variation for a more natural development of his pieces. 8…Nc4 9. Bd3 Parrying the threat of …Nc4-e3. 9…Nc8 10. a4 So aims at gaining a little space on the queenside with a5 nudging the knight, if it comes to b6. 10…N8b6 I think I would have instead opted for 10…a5 rather than head down the coming complications. 11. a5 Na4 12. Bxc4! This keeps the game simple and safer for So, as it forces the trade of queens, therefore lessens the chances of Carlsen injecting any dynamics into the position. 12…Qxc4 Forced, as 12…bxc4? is strongly met by 13. Bb4! 13. Qxc4 dxc4 14. Nbd4 Be7 15. Bh4 So keeps to his game-plan of keeping the position as simple as he can. Instead, 15. f5!? also looked good – but what So played deprives Carlsen of complicating the game with the bishop-pair. 15… Bxh4 16. Nxh4 0-0-0 17. Nhf3 So has a little space advantage, nothing more – but he makes good use of it to completely frustrate Carlsen. 17…Rd5 18. b3 True to form, So rigidly sticks to his game-plan of simplifying the position, and avoids the very interesting try of 18. c3!? Rxa5 19. Nd2 b5 20. Ne4 Kc7 21. h4 h5 22.Rf1! and it is hard for Black to untangle with the threat of f5 looming. 18…cxb3 19. cxb3 Nc5 20. Kc2 Bd7?! This is just painfully too slow from Carlsen – he should have played 20…f6! that not only undermines So’s strong e5 pawn, but also offers him excellent chances with his bishop redeployed on the more active g6-b1 diagonal. And this is something he soon comes to regret, as from here in, So consolidates and the Black position just gets more and more difficult. 21. b4 Na6 22. Kb3 Rd8 23. Rhc1+ Kb8 24. Rc4 Be8 25. Rac1 h6 26. h4 b5?! This just denies Carlsen’s pieces access to the all-important b5 square to free his game – and now he faces a very difficult task to save the game. Correct was 26…b6! 27. axb6 axb6 28. R1c2 Kb7 with equal chances. 27. R4c2! Kb7 28. Rd2 Nb8 All of Black’s pieces are just awkwardly placed, whereas the White pieces are well-developed, on excellent squares with good prospects. 29. Rcd1 Rc8 30. Ne2 Bc6?! Another error; Carlsen’s last chance was to try 30…Rxd2 31. Rxd2 Bc6 32. Nc3 a6 33. Nd4 and try his best to hang on in this difficult position. 31. Nfd4! g5 32. Nxc6 Rxd2 33. Rxd2 Nxc6 34. Nc3? With only 20-30 seconds left on his clock, So makes his only misstep of the game. It is hard to see how Carlsen survives after the stronger 34. Rd7+! Rc7 35. Rxc7+ Kxc7 36. fxg5 hxg5 37. h5! Nxe5 38. h6 Ng6 39. Nd4 a6 40. Kc3! with the clear winning plan of Nd4-b3-c5. 37…gxf4 35. Nxb5 Kb8 36. Rd7 a6 37. Nd6 Nd4+? The last chance to try to hold on for dear life was to try 37…Nxe5. 38. Ka4! Rg8 39. Nxf7 Quicker was 39. b5! – but the flag on So’s digital clock was metaphorically hanging at this stage. 39…Nf5 40. Nd6 Nxh4 41. Rb7+ Ka8 42. Rb6 Winning the a-pawn, and with it, the two queenside passers will be the game-winner. 42…Nxg2 43. Rxa6+ Kb8 44. Rb6+ Ka8 45. Ra6+ Kb8 46. Rb6+ Ka8 47. Nb5 Ne3 48. Ra6+ Kb8 49. Rb6+ Ka8 50. Nc7+ Ka7 51. Rxe6 f3 52. Rf6 Ng4 53. Nb5+ Kb8 54. Rxf3 Nxe5 55. Rf5 Rg5 56. Rf8+! The knight ending is a draw, but the rook ending is a win – and So wastes no time in finding the win. 56…Kb7 57. Nd6+ Kc6 58. Nf7 Nxf7 59. Rxf7 h5 60. b5+ 1-0 Carlsen resigns as there’s no way to stop one of the pawns quickly queening, and the alternative 60…Rxb5 61. Rf6+ Kc5 62. Rf5+ loses a rook.


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