Last year, in a bizarre incident, Wesley So had a crushing default at a crucial stage of the US Championship in St Louis, when he continually infringed the rules by writing notes to himself during play. But rather than being psychologically damaged by the incident, the 22-year-old former Filipino explained that the setback “motivated me to work harder.” And it looks to be working because, in the past year, there’s been a steady improvement in So’s play.
And now he could be on the cusp of his first ever super-tournament victory, as he moved into the sole lead going down the home straight of the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, after overnight leader Veselin Topalov pressed the self-destruct button in their clash in round six - a round that also turned out to be the most decisive of the tournament so far with three wins (the other two coming from Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who respectively beat Peter Svidler and Levon Aronian - there’s a 1min video recap on the day’s play from GM Maurice Ashley by clicking here).
So and Topalov played out a well-known opening that leads to equality. But, as So noted in his post-mortem interview, “fortunately, the opening is not the only part of the game.” So created some weaknesses just to keep the game going and to avoid the exchange of queens. Bizarrely, Topalov - perhaps the victim in polite society of a ‘brain freeze’ - made a very strange decision of gifting his opponent a very powerful protected passed pawn instead of capturing it. That error proved fateful, and So went on to easily win.
Clearly overjoyed with his win as he was interviewed by GM Maurice Ashley, So now leads the tournament by a half point and in the process now also leads the Grand Chess Tour standings - and if he goes on to a first super-tournament victory in St. Louis, it will be a major boost for his career. And his steady +2 performance in the Sinquefield Cup has also seen the US No.3 now climb to world No.7 in the unofficial live rating list and closing in rapidly on US No.2, Hikaru Nakamura.
All the action from the Sinquefield Cup is being streamed live daily on www.grandchesstour.org, featuring play-by-play and analysis from the world-renowned commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade.
1. Wesley So (USA) 4/6; 2-3. Vishy Anand (India), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 3.5; 4-8. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagarve (France), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Ding Liren (China) 3; 9. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 2.5; 10. Peter Svidler (Russia) 1.5.
GM Wesley So - GM Veselin Topalov
4th Sinquefield Cup, (6)
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 e5 German master Carl Carls' (1880-1958) system - named after his hometown of Bremen - basically leads to a Reversed Sicilian; invariably the Dragon, as White fianchettos his bishop. 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nc3 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.d3 0-0 9.a3 Be6 10.Be3 Nd5 11.Nxd5 Bxd5 12.Qa4 Re8 This is all standard play, and with care from both sides, we should emerge with a balanced position with equal chances. 13.Rac1 a6 14.Nd2 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 Nd4 16.Bxd4 exd4 17.Qb3 Rb8 18.e4 dxe3 19.fxe3 Rf8 20.Ne4 Qd7 21.Rf3 Rbd8 22.d4 c6 23.Rcf1 Qd5 24.Qc2 g6 25.g4 Rde8 26.h3 Bd8 27.Nc3 Qe6 28.Na4 b6 29.Rc1 c5 As ever, Topalov is looking for complications - but he follows up wrongly and allows So to consolidate his position and emerge with a game-winning passed pawn. Alternatively, Topalov had the safer option of 29...Qd5!? 30.Qxc6 Qg5 31.Kf2 Re6! and unless White settles with a repetition with 32.Qd7 Re7 33.Qc6 Re6 etc, White could be in trouble, as retreating the queen with 34.Qc3 allows 34...h5! and suddenly White has holes appearing around his king that will be difficult to defend against. 30.dxc5 b5 31.Nc3 Qc6! You could feel So being a bit stretched here, as Topalov's pawn sacrifice looks to be paying dividends, as he exploits the holes in So's position. 32.Qd2 Re5? But this is certainly a gamble for Topalov that backfires big-time. Topalov - rather than throwing the dice - had to recapture his pawn now with 32...Qxc5 33.Nd5 Qa7 34.Rc6 Qb7 35.Rd6 Bg5 36.Qc3 Re4 37.Nf6+ Bxf6 38.Rdxf6and, with White having pressure on the f-file, and Black's pressure on the e-file, both sides won't be able to make any progress. 33.b4! So is now a solid pawn up - and unlike the other notes above, Topalov is struggling to show anything for the pawn. I can only imagine that Topalov had to be looking at some sort of mirage at the board, as he has nothing here - not even the faintest whiff of any sort of compensation. 33...Bg5 34.Rd1 Bxe3 35.Qd7 Also strong was 35.Qd6, as it forces the exchange of queens and a winning endgame. 35...Qa8 36.Nd5 (See Diagram) Ultimately decisive, as it's very hard now to stop c6-c7 etc. 36...Bg5 37.c6 Bh4 38.Rd2 Simply covering any little awkwardness with a possible ...Re2+. 38...Re1 39.Rc2 Kg7 With f7 under attack, Topalov can't move his rook to cover the passed c-pawn. The end now comes swiftly. 40.Nb6 Qb8 41.Qd4+ 1-0 With the knight now covered, Topalov resigns as So will force home the win with c7-c8 etc.