Wesley joins 2800 club

Chess Piece
Bobby Ang

Posted on December 15, 2016

8th London Chess Classic
London, England
Dec. 9-19, 2016

Current Standings (4 of 9 rounds)

1. Wesley So USA 2794, 3.0/4

2-5. Levon Aronian ARM 2785, Fabiano Caruana USA 2823, Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2809, Hikaru Nakamura USA 2779, 2.5/4

6-7. Anish Giri NED 2771, Viswanathan Anand IND 2779, 2.0/4

8. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2804, 1.5/4

9. Michael Adams ENG 2748, 1.0/4

10. Veselin Topalov BUL 2760, 0.5/4

Ave Rating 2785 Category 22

Time Control: 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 60 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added after every move starting move 41.

Before we start, let’s have a bit of a disclaimer.

Chess ratings are relative to your other opponents and to the particular rating period -- for example the peak rating of Bobby Fischer was 2785 in the July 1972 FIDE rating list. You cannot compare him with Magnus Carlsen’s current rating of 2840 and argue that the Norwegian is a stronger player than Fischer -- the figures are not from the same period. What you can do though is note that in July 1972 Fischer’s rating was 125 points above World No. 2 Spassky’s rating of 2660, and that in July 1972 Fischer was head and shoulders above any other player at that time.

I make this clarification because after the 2nd round of this London Chess Classic we saw a historic moment -- Wesley So breached the 2800 FIDE Rating. He started the tournament at 2794 (that is the rating given in the table above) and gained nine points by defeating Nakamura and Michael Adams in the first two rounds, bringing his rating up to 2803. We are of course not saying he is a stronger player than Fischer (neither are we saying he is not). We are just pointing out that the 2800 rating plateau had seemed so unattainable several years back, and now Wesley has exceeded it.

This makes me so happy that I’d like to throw some more numbers at you:

In the long history of chess only 11 players have previously gone over 2800. These are (numbers given opposite their name refers to the highest rating they have attained): (1) Magnus Carlsen NOR 2889, (2) Garry Kasparov RUS 2857, (3) Fabiano Caruana USA 2851, (4) Levon Aronian ARM 2836, (5) Veselin Topalov BUL 2827, (6) Viswanathan Anand IND 2821, (7) Maxime Vachier-agrave FRA 2819, (8) Hikaru Nakamura USA 2819, (9) Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2818, (10) Alexander Grischuk RUS 2814, and (11) Anish Giri NED 2803. You will note that 8 of the players in this list are playing in London!

Based on the Live Chess Ratings the new Top Ten in the World are: (1) Magnus Carlsen 2840, (2) Fabiano Caruana 2826, (3) Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2813, (4) Wesley So 2803, (5) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2798, (6) Levon Aronian 2790, (7) Viswanathan Anand 2786, (8) Sergey Karjakin 2786, (9) Hikaru Nakamura 2774, and (10) Anish Giri 2772. Wesley is now ranked no. 4 in the world.

Let us now take a look at those two wins of his.

* * *
Nakamura, Hikaru (2779) -- So, Wesley (2794) [D85]
8th London Classic 2016 London (1), 09.12.2016

Magnus Carlsen’s birthday was on Nov. 30 and that was the day he won the rapid tie breaks to retain the world title against the challenger Sergey Karjakin.

Hikaru Nakamura’s 29th birthday is on Dec. 9, the day of the first round of the London Classic. Unfortunately he lasted only 29 moves against Wesley So. This led to some light ribbing from the other players. Giri in particular tweeted that “having a birthday is not an excuse to play badly. That excuse is gone. Hikaru will have to come up with another one!”

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 0 -- 0 9.Qd2 e5!?

A sideline. 9...Qa5 10.Nf3 Rd8 is the usual.

10.d5 Nd7 11.c4 f5

None of White’s kingside pieces have been developed so Wesley naturally tries to open the position.

12.Bg5 Nf6 13.Ne2?

A blunder. Nakamura took 25 seconds to make the move and perhaps realized that something was amiss when Wesley took 16 minutes over his reply.

On the other hand Wesley thought that 13.Ne2 was a prepared move. “He played it relatively quickly,” So said. “I thought it was part of his preparation, but obviously Black is just fine after the queen exchange... I didn’t know how much better I really was. I just knew I didn’t have any problems.”

Perhaps Nakamura intended Bd3 followed by Ne2 and mixed up his move orders? After 13.Bd3 fxe4 14.Bb1 he can develop normally and sooner or later will win back his e4 -- pawn.

13...Nxe4! 14.Bxd8 Nxd2 15.Be7

White regains his pawn but in exchange for that Wesley gets to develop all his pieces and pressure the center with his two bishops.

15...Rf7 16.Bxc5 Nxf1 17.Rxf1 b6! 18.Bb4 Ba6 19.f4 Rc8 20.fxe5

Trying to get rid of his weak c-pawn with 20.c5 almost by force leads to a lost endgame: 20...bxc5 21.Rxc5 (21.Bxc5?? Rfc7) 21...Rxc5 22.Bxc5 Rc7 23.Be3 Rc2 24.Rf2 Rxa2 etc

20...Bxe5 21.Rf3 Bxc4 22.Re3 Bg7 23.Nf4 Rd7 24.a4 Bh6 25.g3 Bxf4 26.gxf4 Rxd5 27.Re7 Rd4 28.Bd2 Kf8 29.Bb4 Re8! 0 -- 1

Wesley emerged from the opening with a huge advantage and accurately brought home the point. In the next game the opening play was quite even and neither player had much of an advantage. Then the Philippine-American Grandmaster slowly built up his position and took over -- I would characterize his play as in the style of the 2nd World Champion Emanuel Lasker -- simple and clear chess with a drop of poison.

You will appreciate this “drop of poison” in the following game.

* * *
So, Wesley (2794) -- Adams, Michael (2748) [E05]
8th London Classic 2016 London (2.3), 10.12.2016

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0 -- 0 6.0 -- 0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bg5 a5 11.Nc3 Ra6

This rook swing to b6 is a favorite maneuver of Levon Aronian. The game now revolves around White’ attempts to play e2 -- e4 and secure his pawn center.

12.Qd3 Rb6 13.Qc2 h6 14.Bd2 Bb4 15.Rfe1 Bxf3 16.Bxf3 Nc6 17.e3

There was too much pressure on d4.

17...e5 18.Bxc6 exd4

18...Rxc6 simply loses a pawn to 19.dxe5 Nd5 20.f4.

19.Bf3 dxc3 20.bxc3 Bc5 21.Rab1 Rd6 22.Red1 b6 23.c4 Qe7 24.Bc3 Rfd8 25.Bb2 Qe6 26.Rxd6 Rxd6 27.Rd1 Rxd1+ 28.Qxd1 Bd6

The pawn is not palatable: 28...Qxc4? 29.Bxf6 gxf6 30.Bd5 Qb4 31.Qh5 attacking f7 and h6. There is only one defense. 31...Qb1+ 32.Kg2 Qh7 (32...Qg6?? 33.Qxg6+) 33.Qg4+ Kf8 34.Qc8+ Kg7 35.Qxc7 White is better -- the opposite colored bishops favor the attacking side.

29.Qd4 Qe8

Time to shake hands? No, Wesley has the two bishops and he is not yet done trying to win this game. By the way, Michael Adams was a top 5 player a few years back and also a world championship candidate. He is known as a natural player with a fine positional sense. It is really impressive to see Wesley outplay him at his own game.

30.Bd1 Qc6

An inaccuracy which is exploited to the hilt by Wesley. The correct move here was 30...Qe4!


White now gets a strong grip on e4, something he would not have been able to get had Black played 30...Qe4.

31...Kf8 32.e4 Bc5 33.Qd8+ Ne8 34.Qd5 Qg6

[34...Qxd5 35.cxd5 connects White’s pawns.]

35.Kg2 Ke7 36.f4 c6

Adams did not like 36...Nf6 37.Qe5+ Kd7 38.h3 and decides to get his knight back into the action via c7. This whole idea turns out to be a mistake, as Wesley demonstrates.

37.Qd3 Nc7? <D>


Can you see why this move is a mistake?

38.f5! Qg5

The alternatives are not so attractive either.

38...Qd6 leaves the g7 pawn free after 39.Qxd6+ Bxd6 40.Bxg7;

38...Qh7 39.f6+! Ke8 (39...gxf6 40.Bxf6+! and Black cannot capture the bishop because of e4 -- e5+ with a discovered attack on his queen) 40.fxg7 with a winning position.


Attacking the knight and also threatening to trap the black queen in a few moves starting with 40.Bf4.

39...Ne6 40.fxe6 1 -- 0

Adams lost on time here but could have resigned, since capturing the bishop on e5 leads to mate in four after 41.Qd7+.

Last August, Wesley played in the Sinquefield Cup, the 3rd leg of the Grand Chess Tour. He defeated Hikaru Nakamura in the first round and hung on with a further win in the sixth round over Veselin Topalov to score the biggest tournament victory of his career. Now, here in London, the culminating event of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour, Wesley has once again started with a win over Nakamura. I hope that is a good omen.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.