Wesley So Wins the Opera Euro Rapid!

Filipino-American Grandmaster Wesley So coolly sailed to victory in the recently completed Opera Euro Rapid, the latest tournament in the online Champions Chess Tour.

The event ran from February 6 to 14 online, and featured sixteen of the top players in the world, the top eight of whom advanced to the final rounds.

The time controls for the games were 15+10, with 5+3 the time control in tiebreak games where needed. The events start with a three-day, 15-round preliminary round robin, after which the top eight players advance to a series of two-leg knock-out battles (each leg a best of four, with rapid tiebreaks to follow if needed.)

Wesley So was the only of four Americans to make it to the finals. Leinier Dominguez, Sam Shankland and Hikaru Nakamura were eliminated in the preliminaries. Nakamura’s defeat was particularly heartbreaking. In the final preliminary round, Nakamura lost a wild game to Shankland and finished in 9th place, with Daniil Dubov edging him out on the tiebreak.

After the three-day 15-round preliminary round robin, the final eight players were Anish Giri, Magnus Carlsen (each with 9.5/15), Wesley So (9/15), Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (both 8.5/15), Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Teimour Radjabov (8/15) and Daniil Dubov (7.5/15).

Aside from Nakamura, other surprise eliminations were Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk and #3 ranked Ding Liren, who finished last in the round robin, with a final score of 5/15 and a performance rating some 200 points below his actual rating of 2836. Some speculate that the time difference, which meant that the tournament rounds started at midnight Beijing time, seriously affected Ding’s quality of play.

Magnus Carlsen got some good revenge in the finals, defeating Dubov in the quarterfinal round (with a dramatic armageddon game) and MVL in the semifinals. In previous tournaments in the Tour he had lost to Dubov in the quarters and MVL in the semis, so poetic justice seemed to be on his side.

With Carlsen’s defeat of MVL, MVL went on to face Teimour Radjabov for the third place match. Radjabov won easily, winning the first leg 2.5/1.5 and winning the first two games of the second leg.

Wesley So had played very solid, dominant chess throughout this event. While the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds that Carlsen played went to 5+3 rapid playoffs, So played so effectively that he didn’t even need to play four games in the second leg of either knockout round.

In the final, So and Carlsen tied 2-2 in the first leg. In the second leg, on Valentine’s Day, So played to a convincing victory in the first game, which was conceded on the 28th move with So up an entire rook! The next three games were drawn.

So played very solid chess throughout the tournament and simply did not allow Carlsen, or anyone else, many winning tactical shots. In this, I was reminded a bit of the famous quote about the positional master Anatoly Karpov: “When you play Karpov, nothing happens, and then you lose.”

Here’s game one of the final round of the Opera Euro.