Wesley So Wins 2021 US Chess Championship
Wesley So is the 2021 US Chess Champion.

Wesley So Wins 2021 US Chess Championship

| 68 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Wesley So won the playoff tiebreaks and is the 2021 U.S. Chess Champion. After 11 rounds of play in the 2021 U.S. Chess Championship, three GMs shared first place: So, Fabiano Caruana, and Sam Sevian. These three played a rapid playoff to determine the winner.

Three rapid games were enough to break the tie, as So won both of his games to become the U.S. Champion. He won $50,000 for first place, while Caruana and Sevian both earned $30,000.

How to watch?
The games of the U.S. Chess Championship can be found here: Open | Women.
2021 US Chess Championships

The format for the playoffs was straightforward: first, the players would have a round-robin tournament with a time control of 10 minutes with a 2-second delay. If no winner would be determined, the remaining ties would be broken by blitz games with a time control of 3 minutes and a 2-second delay. Finally, if it became necessary, the outcome would be decided by Armageddon games.

The first game of the day was between Caruana and So. Caruana had the White pieces and he had a lot of success in the English Opening in this tournament and overall, which to a large extent must be explained by the tremendous amount of experience he got in these positions while playing them in his 2018 World Championship match versus GM Magnus Carlsen. Of course, these positions are nearly identical to the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian, therefore, they are often referred to as the Reversed Rossolimo.

As a result, Caruana decided to open with 1.c4 and went for the 4.e4 variation of the English opening, the line that had been heavily popularized by Carlsen himself. Black has a few decent setups, but instead of forcing variations, So went for a quiet positional setup. 

Black obtained a position where he did not have much space, but White had a very restricted light-squared bishop and a somewhat dodgy pawn structure. So was slightly better for a while, but the queen exchange on move 22 handed Caruana the initiative. On move 33, Caruana found a brilliant piece sacrifice and was winning, but severe time trouble started to kick in, which resulted in multiple mistakes. So managed to bail out, and then White made a few more inaccurate decisions and found himself in a lost position. He ended up losing on time while trying to make his 46th move.

The next game was between Sevian and Caruana. Sevian had the white pieces, and these two players had already played with the same colors in round six of the classical segment of the tournament. That game ended in a sensational win for Sevian, as the top seed played a tad too ambitiously. 

This game was important not just for the two players, but also for So because if that game was drawn it would be enough for him to draw Sevian with White to become the 2021 U.S. Chess Champion. Interestingly, a draw would be a great result for Sevian as well, because then So would want to draw him which would enable Sevian to win second place. Of course, if he wanted more than that then he needed to play for a win.

Instead of going for a drawish variation, Sevian chose the Bishop's opening and got a reasonably complex position. Soon enough, several pieces got traded, but Caruana had a plan of grabbing space on the kingside, which his opponent failed to meet adequately. Shortly after, Black grabbed a lot of space and developed a considerable amount of pressure. This resulted in Sevian losing a piece and the game—somewhat restoring the intriugue. 

In game two of tie-breaks, Caruana beat Sevian with Black to restore the intrigue. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Now, if Sevian were to beat So, there would be another tie; if not, then So would be the champion and there would be a fight for the second place, but most importantly, Sevian now had to play for a win in the last round.

Unfortunately for him, giving up all the space and trying to open up the game too fast resulted in So tearing Black's position apart and becoming the next US Champion. Let's see how that happened:

While commenting on his victory in the interview with GM Maurice Ashley, So acted very humble, and said the following: "I thought the tournament was pretty much over by yesterday, Fabiano almost won three games in a row. It just gave me a new breath of life that the tournament was not yet over, that I might still have some chances. I just wanted to play fast today and make some good moves. Fabi plays for a win with both colors, soon I found myself in a very difficult position. Probably, in the endgame, he missed a win somewhere. I was playing with no pressure: I did not expect this playoff, so I was just playing chess: if chances come, good; if I lose, that's fine."

It just gave me a new breath of life that the tournament was not over yet. I just wanted to play fast today and make some good moves. If chances come, good; if I lose, that's fine. 
—Wesley So

2021 US CHampions Wesly So
The Saint Louis Chess Club promptly congratulated So on his victory. Image: Twitter.

 U.S. Championship Tiebreak Games

The 2021 U.S. Chess Championships take place October 5-19, 2021 in St. Louis to determine the next chess champions of the United States. The 2021 U.S. Women's Championship is being held concurrently. Both events have the same format: 12 players, 11-round tournament with a $194,000 prize fund for the U.S. Championship and $100,000 for the U.S. Women’s Championship.

Earlier reports:

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