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Can So Upset Carlsen, The Speed Chess Champ?
GM Wesley So vs. GM Magnus Carlsen in Leuven, 2017. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Can So Upset Carlsen, The Speed Chess Champ?

So-so won't be good enough for GM Wesley So.

On Saturday, November 18, he will face the world champion and reigning Speed Chess Champion GM Magnus Carlsen for the final spot in the quarterfinals.

The underdog won't just need to score his first-ever blitz win against Carlsen -- he'll need to score many of them.

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While they are both world top-10 blitz players, the list of So's disadvantages has more bullets than a rural road sign.

  • So has never defeated Carlsen in classical chess.
  • In faster time controls, Carlsen is ahead +8-2=4, but even both of those wins for So came in rapid, not blitz.
  • Carlsen is rated nearly 3000 in the official blitz ratings.
  • While So just barely clinched his Champions Showdown match against GM Leinier Dominguez in the 29th game; Carlsen won his match in game 17 against GM Ding Liren.
  • Carlsen's Chess.com blitz rating is a whopping 3034 (#1). While So is sixth, he's more than 150 points behind (2866).
  • So admitted to Chess.com recently that he barely ever plays internet blitz, while it's no big deal for Carlsen to randomly play a long series, like his recent three-hour shellacking of GM Eric Hansen on Chess.com (+29-4=2).

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Unlike the Arkansans shooting up this sign, GM Wesley So's aim will need to be perfect this Saturday. Photo: Thomas Machnitsky, Wikipedia.

When So spoke with Chess.com about his upcoming three-hour tilt with Carlsen, So didn't disagree with most of the analysis.

"I wouldn’t rate my chances that highly," he said. "I don’t consider myself to be a blitz or a bullet player by all means. I play chess online very minimal. I only play when I have to."

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Since So's complete catalogue of fast-time-control wins over Carlsen consists of only two games, and one was on time in a losing position, it's easy to pick a game to feature. However, this effort may just resemble how So can compete with the Norwegian -- use his insatiable desire to win against him. Can So make Carlsen over-press too often?

Further complicating matters for him, So expressed his disdain for the time controls changing on him seemingly every event lately.

"This year almost all my tournaments have a different time control," So said. "Some tournaments don’t have increment until move 60, some don’t have increment starting at move one. Some start at move 40. Some don’t have increment at all. Some have delay.

"It’s like if you play basketball in the NBA and they change the shot clock from 24 to 30 to 12, it’s a completely different ballgame."

Bad news for So -- not only will the 5+2, 3+2, and 1+1 offer three more unique disciplines, he will have to adjust to them mid-match and with only a three-minute break between segments. At least at the Champions Showdown he got a full night to adjust!

Carlsen's event in St. Louis began two days after So's match, but the world champion didn't sit idle. Somehow while commuting from an event in Germany, Carlsen found time to scout So's opening choices against Dominguez.

"I’m trying to see what he’s doing," Carlsen told Chess.com. "I’ve been looking at his games. There have been a bunch of Berlins...I’m sure he’ll be mixing it up in our match as well. I’m certainly keeping an extra eye on his games."

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With his Champions Showdown match clinched with a day to spare, GM Magnus Carlsen had a dozen extra warmup games to play experimental openings. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Carlsen's record against So in blitz time controls (mostly Grand Chess Tour events) is astounding: six wins and three draws against no losses. Here's their most recent blitz game from this summer's Your Next Move event in Belgium:

So won't just be relying on his 30 rapid and blitz games this past weekend as his warmup.

"I’ll be doing some practice on Chess.com," he said. "There’s some tough opponents there."

Of course, Carlsen is one of those "tough opponents." He won the most recent Titled Tuesday.

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There will be no blood on the clock for So in this one, but maybe blood on the mouse? | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Chess.com's live server is about the one arena So has more experience with -- the American has played 506 games on this site, more than four times Carlsen's history. Of course, even that silver lining comes with a caveat. In their one mutual game on Chess.com, So lost as White in a hugely important game. Here's their PRO Chess League Finals bout:

"I won’t give up," So said. "I’ll do my best and fight hard in every game. Who knows? No one really knows the future."

The future will be here on Saturday, November 18 at 10 a.m. Pacific (1 p.m. New York, 7 p.m. Paris, 9 p.m. Moscow). Live coverage and commentary from IM Danny Rensch and GM Eric Hansen can be found at Twitch.tv/Chess or Chess.com/tv.

What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments!

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