Wesley So Wins Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour
Sponsor Jan Callewaert and Wesley So holding his trophy. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Wesley So Wins Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour

| 74 | Chess Event Coverage

Wesley So won the $37,500 first prize at the Your Next Move tournament in Leuven, Belgium. He was the only player to score 22/27 after a thrilling final round in which all key contestants lost.

So started the day with a 1.5-point lead over Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin, and the latter was his opponent in today's first round. With 1.b3, recently named as a great opening for blitz by specialist GM Maxim Dlugy, Karjakin outplayed his opponent in great style. The bishop pair!

Karjakin vs So Leuven 2018

Karjakin started with a win against leader So. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Aronian, the other player on second place, drew an exciting game with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to fall half a point behind.

Levon Aronian lens

Aronian sitting down just before the start today and finding a lens of photographer David Llada; a good friend of his. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So drew his next game with Aronian, which gave Sergey Karjakin, only half a point behind, a chance to catch him in first place. He played a long and quiet game against Hikaru Nakamura, finally won pawn, reached a winning rook endgame but then let it slip away. Nakamura defended the technical phase flawlessly, playing all moves without thinking and hitting the clock just a bit louder than before. 

Karjakin-Nakamura, Leuven 2018

Karjakin offers the draw, with So watching. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So drew his next game with Anand, and two of his main rivals, Karjakin and Aronian, drew each other. MVL caught Aronian in third place (one point behind So and half a point behind Karjakin) with a black win against Nakamura:


Nakamura giving a last look at the final position. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So drew another game, this time with Grischuk, and now finally Karjakin did manage to catch him with a win against Anand. The Russian GM is so good in blitz in these technical endgames!

Spectators chess mini set

Some spectators brought a mini chess set. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Remarkably, the tournament saw a lot of Closed Sicilians. That was also the case in Caruana vs Vachier-Lagrave, where the latter was very inspired and sacrificed an exchange while hardly spending any time on that decision. His attack was strong indeed, and continued in the endgame.

It was blunders galore in Aronian-Nakamura, where first the American GM lost a piece, but then, with 11 seconds (plus three seconds delay per move) left on the clock, Aronian returned the favor and even lost.

Nigel Short in Leuven

Meanwhile, Nigel Short was giving commentary on the ground floor using a pointer. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there. Just when he finally tied with So, Karjakin suffered his first blitz loss in Leuven to his compatriot Grischuk. Somehow he got a horrible backward pawn on c6, and White could attack it with all his pieces. Instead of suffering longer, Karjakin "decided" to blunder a full exchange.

Grischuk-Karjakin, Leuven 2018

Grischuk didn't exactly help his compatriot. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Another person who went from "hot" to "not" was MVL. He was trailing the leaders by only half a point, but then suffered his first loss of the day, to Mamedyarov, who keeps enjoying his 3...g6 Ruy Lopez from time to time.

This 23rd round was great one for So, who beat Giri to finally score a win again. He had won only one blitz game this far, yesterday against the same opponent. With this win, So took back the sole lead, by a full point.

Although it always looked pleasant for Black, it only really started to go downhill for Giri in the endgame.

Nakamura was really having a topsy-turvy tournament. Against Caruana, in a better position, he blundered a full piece.

Nakamura-Caruana, Leuven 2018

Nakamura resigns after a huge blunder. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In the next round MVL and So drew a quick game, which gave Karjakin the chance to catch up again. With his easy win over wild card Giri he got back to half a point behind So, with three rounds to go.

Anand vs Nakamura was a wild game starting from a Modern Defense, where the Indian GM went all in on the kingside. His attack shouldn't have worked, then it actually worked, and then failed again in what was a typical blitz scrimmage:


Aronian won an exciting Sicilian vs Grischuk to keep slim chances of tournament victory. He was 1.5 points behind So, together with MVL.

Garry Kasparov Leuven 2018

Garry Kasparov visited the tournament today. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The 25th round was another excellent one for So, who won his game and saw Karjakin blundering heavily in a bishop ending vs MVL. The Russian player, who usually is very difficult to read at the board, shook his head a few times before resigning.

So's win vs Caruana had a sidestory. The endgame with queen vs two rooks and two pawns each should, of course, have ended in a draw but after a lot of shuffling from both sides, Caruana suddenly blundered terribly. 

Afterward he went to deputy arbiter Tony Rich to complain about his opponent, who indeed was banging the clock quite heavily during that endgame, so much that it could definitely have been distracting. That, together with So clearing his throat a lot during his games (also in classical chess), makes him a difficult opponent to play against.

So-Caruana, Leuven 2018

Karjakin watching So-Caruana. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

For Giri the tournament has been mostly suffering. Against Aronian, one careless intermediate move cost him the game as Black could just give up his queen and his remaining pieces got extremely active.

The tournament could have been decided in the penultimate round, but it wasn't. So lost to Mamedyarov. Just like in Norway, and yesterday, So seems to be losing energy at some point, or it's nerves, or both. The rook endgame was holdable perhaps but very unpleasant from the start.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Leuven

Thanks to Mamedyarov, the tournament was exciting till the very last round. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Both Karjakin and MVL narrowed the gap with the leader to half a point. The latter beat Aronian in yet another Closed Sicilian:

Anything could happen in the final round, but nobody would have predicted what actually happened. So played Nakamura as Black; a tough pairing when even a draw might not be enough. In case of a three-way tie, only the top two finishers would have played a playoff and the first tiebreak wasn't good for So.

Nakamura won a pawn in the opening, built up a winning position but then let it slip away. For a while it was a draw, and during that phase the arbiters interrupted the game for a moment, because both players were banging the clock too loudly!

Luc Cornet, Tony Rich, Nakamura, So

Arbiters Luc Cornet (left) and Tony Rich telling the players to calm it down. Image: Video still/

Shortly after the players had resumed the game, So was even winning one moment, but eventually Naka's passed pawn decided.

To his great relief, So then saw that both his rivals had also lost! This way, the round reminded of the end of the 2013 London Candidates' tournament.

Two good friends, Mamedyarov and Karjakin, were not friends at the board this time:


Mamedyarov finished with 2/2 and influenced the final standings quite a bit. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Afterward So was especially grateful to Anand ("we should take him to dinner!"), because the Indian won as Black. That was after MVL missed a devilish trick with which he could have forced a draw and a playoff:

Incredibly relieved and happy, So was hugging arbiters, photographers and his stepmom Lotis Key backstage, and thanked the Lord in his interviews afterward.

Wesley So wins in Leuven

A relieved and happy Wesley So backstage. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Tomorrow the players and organizers will take a train to Paris, where the Grand Chess Tour resumes on June 20.

Leuven 2018 chess final standings

Grand Chess Tour standings Leuven 2018

Games via TWIC.

Earlier posts:

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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