There’s just no shortage of top-flight chess available these days, what with all the online action and now the return of live over-the-board action plus rivalling Tours. And largely overshadowed by the final stages of the FIDE World Cup, last week Wesley So continued to impress with a very comfortably the Chessable Masters, the penultimate event on the $1.9m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group.
So topped the prelims stage and despite a shock 19-move loss to new Dutch star Jorden van Foreest – the surprise dark horse winner of the Tata Steel Masters in January – in the quarterfinals, he rallied to easily beat the Dutchman before going on to beat Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev, and then the Vietnamese GM Liem Quang Le to take the $30,000 top prize and his third Tour title.
And with Magnus Carlsen otherwise pre-occupied in Sochi, the victory for So sees the in-form US champion hot on the heels of the Tour leader, now just 34 points behind the Norwegian in the overall standings with just one tournament to go before the season finale in San Francisco in September. For full Tour standings, click here.
GM Wesley So – GM Liem Quang Le
Chessable Masters Final, (1.1)
Ruy Lopez, Martinez Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 The modest but solid ‘Martinez Variation’ has become increasingly more popular at the top-level, having the advantage of cutting off most of the big opening theory associated with the Lopez – so no need to worry about the Marshall Attack, Chigorin, Zaitsev or the Breyer. 6…b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a4 Bd7 9.c3 0-0 10.Bc2 Re8 11.Re1 h6 12.Nbd2 Bf8 13.Nf1 The alternative is also popular, with 13.h3 Rb8 14.b4 Ne7 15.axb5 axb5 16.d4 seen last month on the Tour, in Carlsen-Ding, Goldmoney Asian Rapid 2021, which led to a quick victory for the world champion. 13…b4 A logical approach from Le, who at the very least avoids the queenside expansion that worked well for Carlsen in the above-noted game. 14.Ng3 bxc3 15.bxc3 d5 16.exd5 Nxd5 17.Bd2 Rb8 18.a5 Not only fixing Black’s potential pawn weakness on a6, but also creating some space for White’s pieces. 18…Nf6 19.Ba4 Bd6 20.h3N A novelty over the all-Polish battle of 20.Qc2 Na7 21.Bb3 Be6 22.Bxe6 Rxe6 23.d4 Nc6 24.Rad1 exd4 25.Rxe6 fxe6 26.cxd4 with White having pressure, as witnessed in Duda-Wojtaszek, Prague Masters 2021. 20…Na7 In view of the coming kingside “happening”, Le may well have been safer with 20…Ne7 which has the benefit of keeping the knight more strategically placed. Also note that White can’t snatch the pawn with 21.Nxe5 as 21…Bxa4 22.Qxa4 Bxe5 23.Rxe5 Qxd3 and Black is fine. 21.Bc2 Nb5 22.Qc1! So now begins to unleashes his attack with a clear signal he’s going to sac on h6. 22…Bc6 23.Nh4 With a knight on f5, the sac on h6 will be a certainty – and if Le doesn’t act quickly, he’s going to be steam-rolled on the kingside. 23…Bf8 It defends against any immediate plans to sac on h6 – but Le missed a potentially better option with the stronger 23…e4!. For example: 24.Ngf5 (Better than 24.Nhf5?! Bxg3 25.Nxg3 exd3 and Black’s on top.) 24…exd3 25.Bxd3 Bf8 26.Rxe8 Nxe8 27.Be2 Be4 28.c4 and chances for both sides. 24.Nhf5 Qd5 This is what Le was banking on, as it divert So’s pieces from the kingside attack. 25.Ne3 Qc5 Le’s queen is active here, but So finds an imaginative way to force the queen back. 26.Ra4!? Nd6 Of course not 26…Nxc3? 27.Rc4! winning a piece and the game. 27.d4 Qa7! Stronger than 27…exd4 28.cxd4 Qa7 29.Bh7+ Kxh7 30.Qxc6 Qb7 and equality. 28.Ra1 Job done, the rook retreats – but now comes the big battle for the initiative. 28…Qa8 Le begins to blink, believing that snatching the pawn is dangerous – but it isn’t. After 28…exd4 29.cxd4 Qxd4 30.Bc3 Qh4! (perhaps Le missed this?) 31.Nef5 Nxf5 32.Nxf5 Rxe1+ 33.Bxe1 Qg5 and Black has consolidated with practical winning chances in the coming endgame. 29.f3 Better to be safe than sorry, but the more practical solution was 29.Rb1!? with equality. 29…exd4 30.cxd4 Nb5 It is the obvious move – but the knight was ideally placed where it was was to defend f5. The solution was 30…Qa7! 31.Ne2 Bb5 and Black has no worries. 31.Nef5 Bd7 32.Re5 So begins to take charge, ignoring the immediate sac on h6 with 32.Rxe8 Rxe8 33.Bxh6 which can be defend against, after 33…Bxf5! 34.Nxf5 gxh6 35.Nxh6+ Bxh6 36.Qxh6 which seems to force a mutual perpetual bail-out with 36…Re6! (Definitely not 36…Qc6?? 37.Bh7+! that wins on-the-spot.) 37.Bf5 Qd5! 38.Bxe6 Qxd4+ 39.Kh2 Qxa1 40.Qg6+ Kh8 41.Qh6+ Nh7 42.Bxf7 Qe5+ 43.f4 Qg7 44.Qxa6 Qxf7 45.Qxb5 Qxf4+ etc.] 32…Qa7! Le is also being equally creative in offering a fighting comeback with his own threats. 33.Be3 c5? Le rushes into it, believing he might well be on top – but he’s clearly missed So’s clever tactical counter. Instead, after 33…Bxf5! 34.Nxf5 g6! we still have an intriguing battle for who is on top. 34.Nxh6+!! [see diagram] A stunning blow from So, and suddenly Le realises his pieces are all offside to stop the mating attack on his king. 34…gxh6 35.Bxh6 So’s crashing attack is building up a head of steam now. 35…Rxe5 It removes So’s rook from the fray, but the temp from the pawn attacking the knight now proves decisive. 36.dxe5 c4+ 37.Kh2 Nh7 38.Bxf8! Removing a key defender from the board, and with it the White tsunami comes crashing in. 38…Nxf8 The alternative fared no better. After 38…Rxf8 39.Bxh7+ Kxh7 40.Qg5 there’s easy way to stop Ng3-h5 winning, and 40…Rg8 only delays the inevitable by a move, with 41.Qh4+ Kg7 42.Nh5+ Kf8 43.Qd8+ Be8 44.Nf6 with 44…Qe7 being answered by 45.Nh7+ picking off the queen. 39.Qg5+ Ng6 40.Nh5 Qd4 41.Bxg6! The rook is surplus to requirments for the mate! 41…Qxa1 42.Bxf7+ Kxf7 43.Qf6+ 1-0