Wesley So won the low-key Fide Grand Prix final in Berlin on Monday, but the US world number 7 missed out on what mattered most to him, qualifying for June’s world title contenders in Madrid.
So and Hikaru Nakamura, who was already sure of an overall Grand Prix victory and a Candidate place, made little effort in their two classic matches. The second ended after just a few minutes of play with what has become the tacitly agreed-upon quick draw sequence for the top chess grandmaster, one Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense. leading to a triple repetition.
In the quick tiebreaker games that followed, Nakamura blundered a piece and that was it. The five-time American champion turned streamer with over a million followers was probably more interested in the chess.com Arena Kings, Titled Tuesday and Rapid Chess Championship.
The Rapid, held every weekend, has within weeks become one of the biggest online events, rivaling the Meltwater Champions Tour which features on the rival website. chess24.com. It’s open to the world’s top 100 grandmasters, as well as juniors and wildcards, and is backed by Coinbase with a prize fund of $625,000 (£478,000). Its format is a Swiss on Saturday with a time limit of 10+0, then a KO on Sunday.
After seven weeks of play, three of the four leaders are Americans – Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian and Nakamura – but six of the top nine are Russians, all playing without a flag.
After winning in Berlin, So admitted he hadn’t played well enough to qualify for Madrid, adding: “I’m only 28, and I hope in the next two years , I will have the chance to play in the Candidates… If you qualify, you must be ready to fight for the first place.
The moment that ruined So’s chances came during the speed tiebreakers at the first stage of the Grand Prix in Berlin, when So surprisingly lost to world number 13 Leinier Dominguez. If he had won this mini-game, he would have at least been tied with the Hungarian Richárd Rapport. for a candidate place.
International openings with large entrances were popular before the pandemic and are now being revived. The European Championship in Terme Catez, Slovenia, ended on Wednesday, the same day the Reykjavik Open began in Iceland, half a century after Bobby Fischer’s iconic match against Boris Spassky.
It was the occasion of a rare double for the English juniors. Shreyas Royal, 13, who missed an international master standard by just half a point at his previous tournament in Ilkley, Yorkshire in February, maintained his high by scoring 5.5/11 against opponents including four GMs and three IMs with a tournament performance of 2358, within 50 points of the IM level.
In his entertaining first-round match against Georgia No. 1 and former world top-20 GM Baadur Jobava, Royal had a winning material advantage before he slipped in a draw.
In Reykjavik’s first round on Wednesday, 12-year-old Sohum Lohia fared better against Danish GM Mats Andersen when he accepted a draw offer on move 37. Lohia showed promise in openings in Spain before the pandemic, and has clearly matured since then.
England’s youngest chess hopefuls Kushal Jakhria and Bodhana Sivanandan, whose achievements were discussed in this column last month, will face their next test when they take part in the European Under-7 Championships from 20 April and in the world of rapid and blitz under-eights which begin on May 1. The title contests are staged on the island of Rhodes.
The English duo both celebrated their seventh birthdays in March but are still among the under-sevens for international competition. As the only Fide-rated players in the under-seven bracket, they will be among the favourites, although there will be entries from Azerbaijan, who are traditionally strong in junior chess. The World Under-Eight Rapid and Blitz will be more competitive and feature Russian children, playing under a neutral Fide flag.
There is a wider meaning for English chess in these promising results. For more than 20 years, since Gawain Jones and David Howell emerged in the late 1990s and went on to become elite-level grandmasters ranked at over 2650, there has been a ceiling of 2500 achievements that new talent haven’t made it through, in part because they get involved. too late in major competitions.
The model has been for players to reach expert/master level 2200 in early or mid-teens, to reach international master standards (2400-2450) in late teens and to only compete for grandmaster titles for about 20 years, by which time college, work, and family commitments take over.
Now, for the first time this century, it looks like at least four talents are able to break the 2500 barrier. Way too early for cheers yet, but enough for a brief preview.
3810 1…f2+! 2 Kf1 Re1+! 3 Kxf2 Rf1+! 4 Kxf1, draw by pat. After 1…Tg2+? 2 Kf1! or 1…Re1+? 2 Kf2 Re2+ 3 Kf1! (3 Kxf3 Rf2+! draws) White will eventually capture the f-pawn and win with the v queen rook. Victory can be laborious and take more than 30 moves, but is confirmed by end game tables.