After five rounds of the ACP Golden Classic in Bergamo, Italy, new American player GM Wesley So leads with 3 out of 4.
A bit of explanation is needed -- the tournament comprises seven players, so every round one player sits out. In addition, adjournments are possible, and in fact two are pending, so some of the players have officially only played 3 games out of 5 rounds.
This is So's first tournament since he announced his intention to change federations from the Philippines to the U.S., where he attends college. He will not play for the U.S. at next month's Olympiad, but he will serve as the coach of the open team.
GM Wesley So, the new American #2 (photo courtesy Antonio Milesi)
So won in rounds two and three to charge to the front. In round two, he won a long double-bishop ending against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. White's "hook" of pawns that spanned c3-c4-d5-e4 was successfully immobilized and destroyed.
The final position is lost for White since Black's light-squared bishop is finding a path to control g2, and the pawn will advance.
After the game, So explained that he was surprised starting at move 1:
"He was playing quickly...then he started to think," So said. "I think when I played ...h6 I got him out of preparation. I got a fine position out of the opening. His pawns on the kingside were a bit overextended. It became a weakness in the endgame."
So added that since the time control is longer (40 moves in 150 minutes, then 16 moves in 60 minutes, then SD/15 +30 seconds per move), and adjournments occur after move 50, playing quickly is not the best strategy.
GM Wesley So has now crossed 2750 on the live ratings to world #13 (photo courtesy Lennart Ootes).
The following round So won again, this time over 6th-seeded Italian GM Daniele Vocaturo in their first-ever meeting. Back in the early 1990s, GM Garry Kasparov began using the main line King's Indian Defense to annihilate top players, but So had yet to be born. That may help explain his fearlessness in taking up the White side and allowing a piece sacrifice.
Also in round three, GM Sabino Brunello mercilessly ripped open GM Emil Sutovsky's king and won in only 25 moves.
"I just remember the Ng5 idea, followed by f3 and g4," Brunello said after the game. "I couldn't remember much more. I believe the plan is quite correct for the position. He didn't know much more than me, in fact maybe less, which is quite surprising because he an expert in this opening."
As for the final position, with a wedge pawn on e6, queen bearing down on the h-file, rook on the g-file, and helper knight, you might compare it to a quite famous game. Ivanchuk-Yusupov, Brussels 1991, is nearly a carbon copy with colors reversed (that game was voted best of the first 64 issues of Informant from 1964-1995).
Also making a move is GM Baadur Jobava. After being beaten in 21 moves by Sutovsky in round two, he has now won two straight to get to 2.5/4, and only a half-point behind So.
GM Baadur Jobava (photo courtesy Lennart Ootes)
The first win was a creative effort against Nepomniachtchi.
The following round he won quickly with a well-timed exchange sacrifice in the endgame. As you can see, guessing Jobava's opening choice is usually an exercise in futility.
"Daniele missed some moves in the critical moments and I obtained a better position," Jobava said. "After that I kept the pressure in the endgame and I finally managed to win."
So drew GM Zoltan Almasi in round four.
In round five, it was So's turn to sit out. Two games ended in adjournments, including Jobava's game with Almasi. Chess fans that don't remember the days of adjournments may want to read this explanation.
Almasi and Jobava seal their moves to start the adjournment. They'll resume their game tomorrow.
In today's round six, the critical game is between the two leaders, So and Jobava. So is technically ahead by a half point, but with the consensus that Jobava is winning his adjourned game, So may actually be down a half point. However, Jobava is the only player yet to sit out (he won't play round seven), meaning So has an extra game to either pull further ahead, or catch up, depending on how you want to look at it!
So's face of concentration (photo courtesy Antonio Milesi)
UPDATE: So beat Jobava in round six to move to 4/5 and ended Jobava's chances to win the tournament. A draw in the last round will clinch first place for So.