After recently seeing his Fischer Random World Championship crown going to Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So got the perfect revenge over his fellow countryman with a semifinal victory in the first $1.1m Chess.com Global Championship staged at the luxury 1 Hotel in downtown Toronto, Canada – and he followed that up with an emphatic victory over Nihal Sarin in the final to take the title and the lion’s share of the $500,000 prize-purse on offer for the eight-player marquee KO event on Monday.
With six successive tough draws in the semifinal of the impressively-staged digital/hybrid event, the all-American clash looked inevitably to be heading towards a deciding playoff – but a costly slip by Nakamura in the penultimate game seven proved more than enough to dramatically swing the match in So’s direction.
This left Nakamura needing to win on demand (and with the black pieces) in the final game 8 of the two-day match. Despite trying to complicate matters, it all backfired on Nakamura with a second successive loss, as So went on to match-victory by a score of 5-3 to claim his place in the final.
Meanwhile Sarin confirmed the continued rise of Indian teenage talents by beating Dutch No.1 Anish in the Armageddon to meet So in the final – but after going behind early against the return-to-form American, Sarin, 18, first stumbled by missing his big chance to draw level in the match and then went on to walk into a checkmate.
For So it was a 3-1 dream start to the final, and with that commanding lead he majestically cruised to outright victory in the maiden event, needing only two games of the scheduled four to easily secure the 1.5-points needed to reach the magic number of 4.5 points as he claimed both the first Chess.com Global Championship title and the $200,000 grand prize, the largest of his career. Sarin’s incredible winning-run – beating Mamedov, Kramnik, Ding Liren, Sevian and Giri – was finally halted by So in the final, but at least he had the conciliation of claiming the sizeable $100,000 runner’s-up prize, also the biggest pay-day yet for the rapidly rising teenager.
Commenting on his return to form by beating Nakamura and taking a commanding lead at the end of day 1 of the final, a focused and relaxed So said: “Obviously at some point you get tired of losing too many games and you want to do better. Hopefully that’s what’s happening to me right now.”
Nakamura 3-5 So
Giri 4-5 Sarin
So 4.5-1.5 Sarin
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Wesley So
CGC KO 2022 semifinal, (7)
Spanish Four Knights
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 The Spanish Four Knights is not something you expect to see in praxis these days -especially at elite level. It was first popular in the period 1890 to the the 1920s, and associated with Lasker, Capablanca, Rubinstein and Spielmann. But it had a revival when Nigel Short adopted it in match-play in the 1990s with his unsuccessful title bid and that inspired a number of other English players to play it, notably John Nunn, Mickey Adams, Joe Gallagher and much later, Luke McShane. 4…Nd4 A good pawn sacrifice solution for Black that was developed and honed by Akiba Rubinstein a century ago. 5.Bc4 Black obtain’s easy equality after 5.Nxe5 Qe7 6.Nf3 Nxb5 7.Nxb5 Qxe4+ 8.Qe2 Qxe2+ 9.Kxe2 Nd5! 10.Re1 Be7 11.Kf1 a6 12.Nc3 Nb4 13.Re2 d5! etc. 5…Bc5 6.Nxe5 Qe7 7.Nf3 d5! This timely break usually guarantees Black a free and easy game. 8.Nxd5 Qxe4+ 9.Ne3 Bg4 10.Be2 White’s position is cramped, but he does have the extra pawn and a solid position. 10…Nxe2 11.Qxe2 0-0-0 12.d3 Qe7 Ambitious from So, as the easy call was 12…Bxf3 13.Qxf3 Qxf3 14.gxf3 Rhe8 15.0-0 Nd7! and Black active pieces and the doubled f-pawns is more than enough compensation for the pawn, especially as White still has some unraveling to develop his pieces. 13.Bd2 Rhe8 14.0-0-0 Nd5 15.Rhe1 Qd7 16.Qf1 The point behind So’s queen move is that if White plays 16.g3 to stop the …Nf4, then 16…f5! and White is in deep trouble. 16…Bh5 17.Kb1 f6 18.h3 b6 19.g4 Bf7 20.Nf5 Nb4 21.Bxb4 Bxb4 22.Rxe8 Rxe8 23.a3 Bf8 24.Nd2 h5 25.Re1 Rd8 26.Ne4 We now have an intriguing battle of the bishop-pair v the knight-pair – but So still has to recoup his sacrificed pawn. 26…Kb8 27.Nc3 It all begins to slip away from Nakamura around this point. The knights were ideally placed on f5 and e4, but Nakamura clearly was worried about an attack on his king. The engine, of course, shows no fears and wants to play 27.f4! hxg4 28.hxg4 Be6 (If 28…Qd5 29.Nc3 Qc6 30.Re4! and the decimal wisdom from Mr Engine is that 30…Bxa3 31.Nxg7 and White still has the advantage – but the human instinct will not feel comfortable with Black’s attack.) 29.Qh3 and White has a nice edge – but you start to worry about 29…b5!? being thrown into the mix. 27…Be6 This should be easy equality for So, as Nakamura has lost a bit of direction with his knights now having good outposts as the did on f5 and e4. And now he has to play with great care, because if Black regains the pawn it could well dramatically swing the pendulum in So’s favour. 28.Nd4 Bf7 29.Re4 Bg6 A shade better was just bringing both his bishops to life with 29…Bc5 30.Nf5 hxg4 31.hxg4 Be6 that more or less forces White into 32.Ne3 Bxe3 33.fxe3 Rh8! 34.Qf3 Qc6! and it is just not easy for White to make an anything with his extra pawn. 30.Rf4 hxg4 31.Qg2 Nakamura quickly pounces on the Nc6+ threat – but even better was 31.Qh1! as now the defence – as in the game – with 31…Be8 runs into 32.Re4 threatening Rxe8, where now 32…Bg6 33.Rxg4 Be8 34.Re4 with White retaining both the extra pawn AND has the attack! 31…Be8 32.hxg4 The difference between Qh1 and Qg2 is that 32.Re4 runs into the little snafu of 32…gxh3! and Black is in charge. 32…Bd6 33.Re4 Be5 34.Nce2 g5 35.Nf3 Bd6 36.Ned4 Bf7! So has only improved his position while Nakamura’s position has drifted somewhat. 37.Nf5 Bc5 38.Ne3 Bg6 39.Rc4 Bf7 40.Rxc5? Typically, Nakamura over-pushes the envelope rather than settling for a repetition with 40.Re4 Bg6 41.Rc4 Bf7 etc. Perhaps Nakamura saw something that just wasn’t there, but he soon comes to regret the mirage. 40…bxc5 41.Nd2 Bd5! And with one very good and accurate move, suddenly Nakamura is in a whole world of self-hurt. 42.Qh3 It may well be that Nakamura intended 42.Nxd5 Qxd5 43.Qe4 thinking that if the queens are traded his knight on e4 will be well-placed, only to realise late in the day that Black has 43…c4! 44.Qxc4 Qxc4 45.Nxc4 Rh8! and the knight is now too far away to protect the f-pawn. 42…Be6 43.Qf3 Qd4 44.b3? The last try to survive was 44.Ndc4! Bxc4 45.Nxc4 Qf4 46.Qc6! and it is hard to see how Black can realise his material advantage with the queen and knight dangerously combining against his king. 44…Bc8! The bishop takes control of the a8-h1 diagonal, and with it any survival chances for White goes out the window. 45.Ndc4 If 45.Nf5 Qe5 46.Nc4 Qd5 47.Qh3 Bxf5 48.gxf5 Re8 is good for Black. 45…Bb7 46.Qh3 Qf4 47.Na5 Qf3! Forcing the trade of queens, after which Black will have no problems converting his material advantage for an endgame win. 48.Qh7 Qh1+ 49.Qxh1 Bxh1 50.Kc1 Bf3! [see diagram] The bishop on the h1-a8 diagonal both defends against the Nc6+ threat and will soon pick off the vulnerable g4-pawn, or even the f-pawn (as happens in the game). But when either of the pawns does inevitably fall, White is in the resignation zone. 51.Nac4 Rd4 52.Nd2 Rf4 53.b4 Nakamura’s only chance of survival is to try and swap off as many pawns as possible, in the attempt of a Hail Mary save. 53…cxb4 54.axb4 Bxg4 55.Ne4 f5! 56.Nxg5 Nakamura is just lost, considering that the alternative was even worse with 56.Nd5 fxe4 57.Nxf4 gxf4 58.dxe4 Kb7 etc. 56…Rxf2 57.Nd5 f4 58.Ne4 Rf1+ 59.Kd2 c6 60.Ndf6 Rg1 The bottom-line is that the f-pawn can’t be stopped without a further loss of material for White – but a dangerous trick does lurk. 61.c4 Rg2+ 62.Kc3 Bf5 63.Kd4 Re2 The threat is now …f3, …Bxe4 and Rxe4! queening the f-pawn. 64.Ng5 Kc7 65.Nh5 Rg2 66.Nf3 Bg4 67.Nxf4 Nakamura never gives up without a fight, and he’s being creative and resourceful right to the end, because while 67…Bxf3?? 68.Nxg2 Bxg2 sees Black a whole piece up, after 69.b5! forcing the swapping off the c-pawn, White will just track-back with his king to a1 and it is just an easy technical draw as Black’s bishop doesn’t control the vital a1 queening square. 67…Rf2! Well, So is not falling for that one. No sir, not today! 68.Ne5 Rxf4+ 69.Ke3 Rf1 70.Nxg4 Rb1 Black’s a-pawn now can’t be stopped from running down the board. 71.Kd4 Rxb4 72.Kc3 Rb1 73.Kc2 Rb8 74.Nf2 a5 0-1