Wesley So is Player of the Year

Chess Piece
Bobby Ang

Posted on January 24, 2017

The world’s leading chess Web site ChessBase has declared GM Wesley So as the Player of the Year 2016.” There were a total of 10 nominees -- aside from Wesley the other strong candidates are:

Magnus Carlsen. He is the world champion so of course he is always in the running for Player of the Year.

Sergey Karjakin (Russia). Won the Candidates tournament in March to earn the right to challenge for the world title last November. He came close to upsetting Magnus Carlsen.

Fabiano Caruana (USA). Second highest-rated player in the world behind Magnus. Won the US Championship ahead of Wesley and Nakamura, played successfully for the USA in the Baku Olympiad and won the strong Isle of Man Open together with Pavel Eljanov.

Vladimir Kramnik (Russia). Former world champion and currently 3rd highest rated player in the world. Won the gold medal for best individual performance on board 2 in the Baku Chess Olympiad.

Wesley So had a 2900+ performance in the Baku Chess Olympiad and won gold medal as the top performer on board 3. He passed the ELO 2800 mark during the year and won the two strongest tournaments in 2016, the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic. These two victories plus a 3rd and 2nd place in the Grand Tour events in Paris and Leuven catapulted him to the top place in the 2016 Grand Chess Tour ahead of chess legends Anand, Kramnik, Topalov and other elite players like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Anish Giri, etc. Apparently the way Wesley dominated the chess scene in the 2nd half of the year got him the nod as Top Player of the Year.

There were some grumblings about Wesley So’s style. The Chess24 Web site put together some not-so-fawning remarks:

Levon Aronian said that he preferred “more aggressive players” and “more blood on the board.”

Caruana: He doesn’t make any mistakes at all, and even the mistakes he makes aren’t so significant... I don’t see anything terrifying in his play as well. What he’s doing, avoiding mistakes, is not something that’s impossible to overcome.

Giri: I wonder where he stole that idea [of playing solidly and picking up points] from. He’s playing very risk-free and very, very good. I only wonder how he will create chances if the opponents also play the same way as him, but this way it worked very well.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Wesley is playing risk-free chess. His style is more of precision chess, playing what is asked for by the position. And if that is what it takes to succeed and crash the world elite, then I’m all for it. One thing though, Wesley has always impressed me for his continuous improvement -- he advances rapidly for a while, plateaus for a bit, and then when you think he has become stagnant there comes another quantum leap to the next level. I do not think that we have seen the best of Wesley So yet -- it is still to come!

Game of the Year: Carlsen vs Tomashevsky, Tata Steel Tournament, Wijk aan Zee 2016

The current world champion Magnus Carlsen is notorious for his slow starts, and it was the same story in the Tata Steel 2016 tournament. Four straight draws followed by a fighting win over Loek Van Wely in a game marked by changing fortunes. His creative juices having been stirred up Magnus then won four of his next six games and settled the issue on whether or not he will tie the record of Viswanathan Anand for total number of tournament wins in Wijk aan Zee (five).

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Carlsen, Magnus (2844) -- Tomashevsky, Evgeny (2728) [D02]
Tata Steel-A 78th Wijk aan Zee (6), 22.01.2016

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4!?

In recent years the London System with 1.d4, 2.Nf3 and 3.Bf4 has become very popular, not the least of which is because of its adoption by Kramnik and Grischuk. There is a minimal clash of forces in the opening stages and, at the same time, a minimum exchange of pieces the effect of which is to postpone the battle to later in the game.

3...b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.h3 Be7 6.Bd3 0 -- 0 7.0 -- 0 c5 8.c3 Nc6 9.Nbd2 d5 10.Qe2 Bd6 11.Rfe1 Ne7

Tomashevsky was already taking a long time with his moves here. The online commentator Peter Svidler had just finished saying that “there are some situations where players go Ne7, but this isn’t one of them,” when Tomashevsky played exactly that move on the board. The next move he brings the knight to g6 and GM Hammer on Norwegian TV remarked that Magnus will never ever take on g6. It’s not going to happen. Immediately after that Magnus took on g6.These guys must know something we don’t.

12.Rad1 Ng6

I believe Tomashevsky was still looking around for a plan and unwittingly commits a mistake here. We will see why this is so after a few moves.

13.Bxg6! hxg6 14.Bxd6 Qxd6 15.Ne5!

Black’s bishop has become bad and the knight on e5 quite powerful.


Tomashevsky wants to play 15...Nd7 to force off the knight on e5 but then White has 16.f4!, so first he prevents the f2 -- f4 move.

16.f4!? gxf4 <D>



Totally unexpected. The knight on e5 splits the board into two and Magnus Carlsen does not waste any time to bring up his forces to attack the enemy king.


Played after some thought. Tomashevsky saw that 17...fxe3!? 18.Rxf6! gxf6? 19.Qg4+ Kh7 (19...Kh8 Richard Palliser 20.Rf1! exd2 21.Rf4 leads to a forced mate) 20.Rf1! is forced mate. There can follow 20...fxe5 21.Rf6 exd2 22.Qh5+ Kg7 23.Qg5+ Kh7 24.Rh6# checkmate!

But there is a way out of the mess. After 17...fxe3 18.Rxf6 Black can refuse to take the rook and play 18...exd2. After the best move 19.Rf4! (Threatens Qh5 and Rh4. The more obvious 19.Qh5?! doesn’t work: 19...gxf6 20.Qg4+ Kh8 21.Qh5+ Kg7 White has to take the draw by perpetual) 19...f6 (19...g6? 20.Rdf1 Qe7 21.Qxd2 planning Rf6 and Nxg6 is hard to meet) 20.Ng6 Rfe8 21.Qh5 e5! 22.dxe5 Rxe5 (22...fxe5?? 23.Qh8#) 23.Nxe5 Qxe5 24.Qxe5 fxe5 25.Rf5 e4 26.Rxd2 White has an edge but it is still a game.


[18.Nxd7 Qxd7 19.Rxf4 is also good, restoring material parity and continuing with the attack]

18...Nf6 19.Qh4 Qd8

Trying to swap off the queens.

20.Rxf4 Ne4?

A mistake. He should have swapped pawns on d4 first before playing the knight to e4. You will see soon enough why this was mandatory.

21.Nxe4 Qxh4

Not 21...dxe4? 22.Qh5! followed by Rh4.

22.Rxh4 dxe4 23.dxc5!

The point why Black had to exchange on d4 first. Now White’s rook joins in on the action.

23...bxc5 24.Rd7 Rab8 25.b3!

Tomashevsky now cannot play ...f7 -- f6 because of Ng6. His f-rook has to defend f7, his b-rook the bishop, and the bishop cannot move because the a-pawn will fall. A very unpleasant situation for Black.

25...a5 26.Rc7 a4 27.bxa4 Ba8 28.a5 Rb7 29.Rxc5 Ra7 30.Nc4 1 -- 0

Tomashevsky resigned after Carlsen played 30.Nc4. There are some quarters who feel that this is premature resignation but I don’t think so. Not only is he two pawns down but he has no counterplay as well. He didn’t want to give Magnus Carlsen too much fun!

If you ever wondered what Magnus Carlsen’s chess style is, this game is a good example of it. Quiet opening, develop pressure by exploiting all the hidden nuances of the position, then keep piling it up. By the time they reach the endgame Tomashevsky had lost all taste for battle.

By the way, I should mention that the following game was also a strong candidate for “Best Game of the Year.” It is really very hard to resist a queen sacrifice. We had just very recently annotated this game, so I give only the bare score now.

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Caruana, Fabiano (2823) -- Nakamura, Hikaru (2779) [B96]
8th London Chess Classic 2016 London (6.3), 15.12.2016

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.a3 Be7 10.Bf2 Qc7 11.Qf3 Nbd7 12.0 -- 0 -- 0 b5 13.g4 g5 14.h4 gxf4 15.Be2 b4 16.axb4 Ne5 17.Qxf4 Nexg4 18.Bxg4 e5 19.Qxf6 Bxf6 20.Nd5 Qd8 21.Nf5 Rb8 22.Nxf6+ Qxf6 23.Rxd6 Be6 24.Rhd1 0 -- 0 25.h5 Qg5+ 26.Be3 Qf6 27.Nxh6+ Kh8 28.Bf5 Qe7 29.b5 Qe8 30.Nxf7+ Rxf7 31.Rxe6 Qxb5 32.Rh6+ 1 -- 0

Endgame of the Year: Carlsen vs Kramnik, Norway Chess Tournament, Stavanger 2016

This was the runaway choice for best endgame and it is really good. I had already featured this game very recently. Here is the bare score.

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Carlsen, Magnus (2851) -- Kramnik, Vladimir (2801) [D35]
Altibox Norway Chess 2016 Stavanger (7), 27.04.2016

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qf3 Bg6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.Qxf6 gxf6 10.Nf3 Nd7 11.Nh4 Be7 12.Ne2 Nb6 13.Ng3 Bb4+ 14.Kd1 Na4 15.Ngf5 Kd7 16.Rb1 Ke6 17.Bd3 Rhc8 18.Ke2 Bf8 19.g4 c5 20.Ng2 cxd4 21.exd4 Bd6 22.h4 h5 23.Ng7+ Ke7 24.gxh5 Bxd3+ 25.Kxd3 Kd7 26.Ne3 Nb6 27.Ng4 Rh8 28.Rhe1 Be7 29.Nf5 Bd8 30.h6 Rc8 31.b3 Rc6 32.Nge3 Bc7 33.Rbc1 Rxc1 34.Rxc1 Bf4 35.Rc5 Ke6 36.Ng7+ Kd6 37.Ng4 Nd7 38.Rc2 f5 39.Nxf5+ Ke6 40.Ng7+ Kd6 41.Re2 Kc6 42.Re8 Rxe8 43.Nxe8 Nf8 44.Ne5+ Bxe5 45.dxe5 Kd7 46.Nf6+ Ke6 47.h5 Kxe5 48.Nd7+ Nxd7 49.h7 Nc5+ 50.Ke2 1 -- 0

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.