So It Ends - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The final round of the 2021 U.S. Championship, being held at the world-renowned Saint Louis Chess Club, proved to be a tense affair, with the co-leaders Wesley So, Sam Sevian and Fabiano Caruana all drawing their games, although the latter fought to the bitter end against Sam Shankland to try to grind out a third successive win, for what would have been a fitting pre-Halloween back-from-the-dead title victory for the top seed following his disastrous start.

So, Sevian and Caruana finished in a three-way tie on 6½/11 and had to return on Tuesday to fight out a three-way raid tiebreak for the $50,000 first prize and the U.S. Championship title. But lady luck was on So side as the defending champion, hopelessly losing to Caruana in the first game of the playoff, was the one to come back from the dead for an unlikely win.

Although Caruana went on to beat Sevian in game two, So convincingly outplayed the latter in game three as he cruises to victory, winning not only the game but also the title with his unbeaten score of 2/2 in the playoff. A beaming So was overjoyed to have been given a double reprieve – Caruana not winning in the final round, and then failing to convert his huge advantage in their playoff game – to successfully defend his title.

“Very happy, it’s like giving me a new life,” said So in his post-victory interview. “I thought the tournament was pretty much over yesterday. Fabiano almost won three games in a row. It just gave me a new breath of life that this tournament might not be over, that I might still have some chances, and I’d like to thank Sam [Shankland] for saving that difficult game.”

So now joins Gata Kamsky in becoming the only two players in the 2009-2021 Rex Sinquefield/Saint Louis Chess Club era to have successfully defended their U.S. Championship title. This is also So’s third victory, having previously won the historic national title in 2017 and 2020.

Final standings:
1-3. W. So*, F. Caruana, S. Sevian, 6½/11; 4-6. L. Dominguez, A. Lenderman, R. Robson, 6; 7. S. Shankland 5½, 8-9. J. Burke, D. Swiercz, 5; 10-11. D. Naroditsky, J. Xiong, 4½; 12. L. Bruzon, 4.

GM Wesley So – GM Sam Sevian
2021 US Championship (Tiebreak), (3)
Modern Defence
1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nd7 5.e4 e5 Although a little risky, the Modern Defence makes for an ideal tiebreak weapon when you are in a ‘must-win’ scenario, as play can often become unclear, murky and complicated. 6.Be2 Ne7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1 h6 9.Bf1 f5 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.b4 Nc6 12.b5 Nd4 13.Ba3! So is in full control and expertly converts his advantage to not only gain the full point but also the title. 13…Rf7 14.c5 fxe4?! A better try was 14…Nf8 15.exf5 Rxf5 16.Nxd4 exd4 17.Ne4 Be6 18.Bd3 Bd5 19.Qg4! where although White has the advantage, Black at least has a position he can fight on with, so all hope is not lost. 15.Nxd4 exd4 16.Bc4! [see diagram] It’s the killer shot as all the tactics are clearly now favouring White. 16…Ne5 Forced, as 16…dxc3?? goes down in flames to 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18.Qd5+ Kf6 19.Rxe4 Bf8 20.Bb4! and the Black king snared. 17.Bxf7+ Nxf7 18.Nxe4 Be6 19.Bb2 Bc4 20.a4 a6 21.Nd2 axb5 22.axb5 Rxa1 23.Bxa1 Also good was 23.Qxa1 Bxb5 24.Nb3 and pile-on on the d4-pawn. 23…Bxb5 24.Nf3 d3 If Black can keep his dark-square bishop on the board, then all might not be lost – and realising this, So forces the bishop off to exploit the long diagonal. 25.Bxg7 Kxg7 26.Qa1+ Kg8 27.Nd4 Bc4 There’s just too many holes and weaknesses in the Black camp, and Sevian’s position quickly collapses. And if 27…d2 28.Rd1 the d-pawn quickly falls. 28.Qc3 b5 All is lost, as Sevian opts now to hang for the sheep as the lamb. 29.cxb6 Nd6 30.Nc6! Qg5 31.b7 There is no stopping the pawn without a further heavy loss of material. 31…Bd5 32.b8Q+ Kf7 33.Qxc7+ 1-0

 

 

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