No sur­prise: So sets pace in early rounds of U.S. ti­tle fight

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@wash­ing­ton­ DAVID R. SANDS

So young. So tal­ented. So suc­cess­ful. That pretty much sums up the re­cent record of the 23-year-old Filipino-born U.S. GM Wes­ley So, who has been per­haps the world’s most suc­cess­ful tour­na­ment player of the past year. He’s look­ing to ex­tend that run — and an un­beaten streak that has now reached nearly 60 games — at the 2017 U.S. cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment at the Chess Club and Scholas­tic Cen­ter of St. Louis. With two early wins, So, now ranked sec­ond in the world be­hind only world champ Mag­nus Carlsen, was once again set­ting the pace in St. Louis with a 3½-1½ start through Sun­day’s Round 5, though his main chal­lengers — world No. 2 and 2016 champ Fabi­ano Caru­ana and world No. 6 and four-time U.S. champ Hikaru Naka­mura — lurk right be­hind.

So has em­ployed a tried-and-true method for tour­na­ment suc­cess, draw­ing against his peers and beat­ing up on the play­ers lower down the score­board. He opened the tour­na­ment with an im­pres­sive crush of vet­eran Pittsburgh GM Alex Sha­balov, a four-time for­mer champ him­self but a player not con­sid­ered a prime con­tender in this year’s tour­ney.

With a broad open­ing reper­toire, So can be hard to pre­pare for. Here in a clas­sic QGD Slav, White gets a small but nag­ging ini­tia­tive af­ter 13. Qg4 a6 (GM Alex Yer­molin­sky sug­gested here 13...Nb6 14. c5 [cxd5 is also an op­tion] Nd7 15. b4 b6, with bal­anced play) 14. 0-0-0 dxc4 15. Bxc4 c5 16. dxc5 Bxc5 17. Be2!, keep­ing his pow­der dry for the com­ing clash.

Things go down­hill for Black af­ter 18. Kb1 Qb6?! (Black’s de­vel­op­ment is clunky and his king isn’t safe on ei­ther wing, but this move does noth­ing to help; on 18...Rc8, 19. Qa4 keeps the pres­sure on) 19. Na4 (even stronger might be 19. e5! Nd6 [Nd4 20. Be3 e5 21. Nd5 Qd6 22. Bxd4 exd4 23. Rxd4] 20. Be3 Qc6 21. Bd4 and the bish­ops dom­i­nate the board) Qc7 20. Rc1 Qd6 21. Ba5!, with 22. Rhd1 al­ready an awk­ward threat for Black to meet.

Sha­balov is no pushover, so it’s strik­ing how White’s pieces seem to grav­i­tate to pow­er­ful squares while Black’s game gets uglier and uglier. Des­per­a­tion is al­ready set­ting in for Black af­ter 22. Qe4 (with the nasty threat of 23. Bc7) Nc6 23. Rhd1! Rxh4 (Black’s back-rank woes are al­ready ev­i­dent in 23...Qe5 24. Qxe5 Nxe5 25. Bc7 Nc6 26. Nb6 Ra7 27. Bb8!, win­ning ma­te­rial as 27...Nxb8?? 28. Rc8+ Bd8 29. Rcxd8+ Ke7 30. Nc8 is mate) 24. f4 (mak­ing the rook on h4 look fool­ish) Qb8 (Nxa5 25. Rxd6 Bxd6 26. Nb6 Rd8 27. Qa4+ Nc6 28. Bxa6! is great for White) 25. Nb6 Nd6 26. Qa4 Ra7 27. Bf3, when all of White’s pieces are poised for the de­noue­ment.

It’s not a long wait: 27...Nb5 28. Qc2 Qc7 (on 28...Nd8 [Nxa5 29. Qc8+ Qxc8 30. Rxc8+ Bd8 31. Rcxd8+ Ke7 32. Nc8 is once again mate], White has the sneaky 29. Rh1 Rxh1 30. Rxh1 Bf8 31. Rh8 Nd6 32. Rxf8+! Kxf8 33. Nd7+ and wins) 29. Rd7 — Black is busted in lines like 29...Qb8 30. Bxc6 bxc6 31. Qxc6 Kf8 32. Qc8+ Bd8 33. Rxd8+ Ke7 34. Re8+ Kd6 35. Bb4 mate.

In the con­cur­rent U.S. Women’s Cham­pi­onship in St. Louis, the big early news is be­ing made by young Vir­ginia WM Jen­nifer Yu, who beat two for­mer women’s champs — vet­er­ans GM Irina Krush and NM Anna Za­ton­skih — in a most un­ex­pected way, in long end­ings where tech­nique and ex­pe­ri­ence tend to mat­ter most.

We pick up Yu’s Round 5 game against af­ter Krush as Black has just played 41...h7-h5 to lock up the king­side. White pro­ceeds to go badly astray with 42. Ke3 h5 43. Be6?! (giv­ing Black a valu­able tempo to im­prove her game) Ke7 44. Bd5 Bh3 45. Kd3 Bf5+ 46. Be4?? (throw­ing away the draw; White had to try 46. Kc4 Be6 47. Bxc5+ bxc5 48. Kxc5 Bxd5 49. Kxb4 Bxa2 50. Kxa4 and hope) Bxd4! 47. Bxf5 (Kxd4 b3 wins for Black) b3 48. axb3 a3!, and shock­ingly, White has to re­sign as the pawn can’t be stopped.

So-Sha­balov, U.S. Cham­pi­onship, St. Louis, March 2017

1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. e3 Nf6 4. d4 Bg4

5. h3 Bf5 6. Nc3 e6 7. g4 Bg6 8. Ne5 Nbd7 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. g5 Ng8 11. h4 Ne7

12. Bd2 Nf5 13. Qg4 a6 14. O-O-O dxc4 15. Bxc4 c5 16. dxc5 Bxc5 17. Be2 Be7

18. Kb1 Qb6 19. Na4 Qc7 20. Rc1 Qd6 21. Ba5 Ne5 22. Qe4 Nc6 23. Rhd1 Rxh4 24. f4 Qb8 25. Nb6 Nd6 26. Qa4 Ra7 27. Bf3 Nb5 28. Qc2 Qc7

29. Rd7 Black re­signs

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