Wesley So in action

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Gibraltar Masters 2019
The Caleta Hotel,
Gibraltar, England
Jan. 22-31, 2019

Top Standings (5 of 10 rounds)

1-2. GM David Navara CZE 2738, GM Vladislav Artemiev RUS 2709, 4.5/5

3-20. GM Romain Edouard FRA 2643, GM Wesley So USA 2765, IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh IRI 2468, GM Arkadij Naiditsch AZE 2734, GM Nils Grandelius SWE 2682, GM Le Quang Liem VIE 2714, GM Michael Adams ENG 2701, GM Nikita Vitiugov RUS 2720, GM Ivan Saric CRO 2690, GM Levon Aronian ARM 2767, GM Gabor Papp HUN 2603, GM Nigel Short ENG 2648, GM Baskaran Adhiban IND 2689, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2780, GM Eduardo Iturrizaga VEN 2637, GM Hikaru NMakamura USA 2749, GM Mikhail Antipov RUS 2589, IM Lance Henderson ESP 2489, 4.0/5

Total of 252 participants

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, followed by 15 minutes for the rest of the game with 30 seconds added to your time after every move starting move 1

Gibraltar is a British Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and bordered to the north by Spain. It has an area of 6.7 sq.m. and home to around 32,000 people. Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services and cargo ship refueling. For chessplayers, we know the place as the site of one of the strongest chess opens in the world, now on its 17th edition.

There is the main event, called the Masters, as well as Challengers A, Challengers B, Amateurs A and Amateurs B depending on your rating or lack thereof. I always like to point to Gibraltar as a tournament with a decent prize fund (first prize for the main event is £25,000) but its strength is in its level of organization — they really take pains to ensure that the players enjoy their stay. It is for this reason that players, in the spirit of a giant festival, come in droves, bring their families, and have fun in their European vacation.

This concept is unknown to the Philippines. Maybe we should look into it.

Anyway, this year Wesley So wasn’t playing in the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee so he decided to check out the action in Gibraltar. In round 2 he played this very nice game where he gives up his queen for two pieces and a bind on the white squares. I think BW readers would be very much interested to see it too. After the game IM Jovanka Houska did an over-the-board interview with Wesley to discuss the game and I have integrated some of his remarks below.

So, Wesley (2765) — Sadzikowski, Daniel (2534) [B33]
Gibraltar Masters (2.3), 23.01.2019

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5

GM Wesley: “He played the Sveshnikov which I don’t think he’s played before. I was expecting the Najdorf but decided to follow Fabiano’s game against Magnus in the world championship match.”

6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Nb8 9.a4

GM Wesley: “Everybody plays 9.c4 here except for Fabiano, who prefers 9.a4. I was thinking that he played it twice in his world championship match against Magnus so it must be good.”

After 9.a4 White’s knight plans to go to c4 via a3. This would put pressure on d6 and perhaps tie Black’s dark-squared bishop to the defence of the pawn.

9…Be7 10.Be2 0–0 11.0–0 Nd7 12.Bd2 f5 13.a5 f4

This is an attempt to improve on 13…a6 14.Na3 e4 was the 8th game of the Caruana (White) vs. Carlsen world championship match. Caruana got the advantage after 15.Nc4 Ne5 16.Nb6 with this powerful knight on b6 holdings back Black’s queenside movements White is definitely ahead. By the way, do you know who annotated the world championship games involving the Sveshnikov for Chessbase? It was Wesley So! Caruana, F (2832)-Carlsen, M (2835) London 2018 1/2 (38).


A new move. White pursues a white-square strategy. You will see later on what a strong plan this is.

14…Nf6 15.Bd3!

Now e4 is under White’s control. He will follow-up with c2–c4– Nb5–c3–e4.


The d5–pawn is taboo: 15…Nxd5 16.Bc4 Be6 17.Qf3 Nc7 White has a pleasant choice between winning the exchange with: 18.Nxc7 (Or play for solid positional advantage with: 18.Bxe6+ Nxe6 19.Qd5 Rf6 20.Bb4) 18…Bxc4 19.Nxa8 Qxa8 20.b3;

But the text is not so good either. GM Wesley: “… definitely a mistake, maybe a decisive one. Black should play 15…Bg4 16.f3 and then 16…Bd7 with the idea g5, g4… When he played 15…f3 I was very happy because all his attack is gone.”


Black did not think this move was possible because of …

16…Ng4 17.Qe4 Bf5 <D>


Wesley has seen much farther than his opponent.


Not just a fancy sacrifice, it is an “only” move. If 18.Qe2 Bxd3 19.Qxd3 Bh4! 20.g3 Nxf2! 21.Qe2 Nh3+ 22.Kh1 and now Black can force a draw with 22…Nf2+ 23.Kg1 (23.Kg2 Qd7!) 23…Nh3+, etc, or go for more with 22…Rf2.

18…Rxf5 19.Bxf5

GM Wesley: a tactical point I had to see is that 19…Nxf2 20.Kxf2 Qf8 will not work because I have the in-between move 20.Be6+!

19…a6 20.Nxd6 Qxd6 21.Bxg4 Qxd5 22.Bc3 Bf6 23.Bf3 Qb5

Threatening …e5–e4.

24.Re4! Rd8 25.g3! Qc5 26.Raa4 Rd7

Because White is starting to target the b7–pawn.

27.Rac4 Qe7 28.Rc8+ Rd8

[28…Kf7 does not work. White has 29.Bb4! Qe6! 30.Bh5+ (taking away the g6–square from the king) 30…g6 31.Bg4 Qd5 32.Re3 Rd3 will be devastating]


And now 29…Rxc8 is answered by 30.Bd5+


Desperation. If 29…Qd7 30.Rxd8+ Bxd8 31.Rb4 the rook will invade the 7th rank on b7.

30.Bxe4 Bxc3 31.Rxc3 g6

Once again, 31…Rxc8 is met by 32.Bd5+!

32.Bxb7 Qe1+ 33.Kg2 Rxc8 34.Rxc8+ Kg7 35.c3 Qe2 36.b4 h5 37.Rc7+ Kh6 38.h4 g5 39.Bf3 Qb5 40.Rc5 1–0

When was the last time Wesley gave up his queen for a rook and bishop? I am glad you asked.

So, Wesley (2760) — Ding, Liren (2782) [E99]
Grand Slam Final 8th Bilbao (1), 26.10.2015

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.Rc1 Ng6 14.c5 Nxc5 15.b4 Na6 16.Nd3 h5 17.Nb5 b6 18.Be1 Rf7 19.Bd2

[19.Nf2!? is a more common alternative, holding up Black’s intended …g4 lunge for as long as possible.]

19…Bf6 20.Nf2 Qe8 21.Qa4 Bd8 22.Qa3 g4!

[22…Nb8? 23.Nxd6!]

23.fxg4 hxg4 24.Nc3

Now the a6–knight is attacked


You see here Ding’s feel for the initiative. Rather than the passive knight retreat to b8 he gives it up for the pawn on b4 so that he can have enough time to push …f4–f3 and get a dangerous attack on the white king.

25.Qxb4 f3! 26.Bb5 Qe7 27.g3 Rh7 28.Qc4 Rh8 29.Qc6 Qh7 30.h3 Rb8 31.Ncd1 a6?!

Ding misses Wesley’s queen sacrifice. Otherwise he would have realized the seriousness of his situation and thrown everything at the white king, for example 31…Nf4!, although Wesley also has his own resources. 32.gxf4 Qh4! 33.Kh1! Qg3 34.Qe8+ (34.Ne3 Rxh3+ 35.Nxh3 Qxh3+ 36.Kg1 Qg3+ draw) 34…Kg7 35.Qxh8+! Kxh8 36.Rg1 Qh4 37.Kh2 White has more than enough for the queen.

32.Qe8+ Kg7 33.Qxd8! Rxd8 34.Rxc7+ Bd7 35.Rxd7+ Rxd7 36.Bxd7

By giving up his queen Wesley has stopped Black’s kingside initiative.

36…gxh3 37.Kh2 Rb7 38.Be6 Nf8 39.Bf5 Qh5 40.Ng4 Nd7 41.Bh6+ Kh8 42.Nde3 Rc7 43.Bxd7 Rxd7 44.Rxf3 Rf7 45.Rf5 Rxf5 46.exf5 Qf7 47.Bg5 b5 48.Nh6 Qf8 49.f6 Kh7 50.Nef5 Kg6 51.Bh4 e4 52.f7 e3 53.Be7 e2

[53…Qxf7 54.Nxf7 e2 55.Nh4+! followed by Nf3]

54.Nh4+ Kh7

[54…Kxh6 55.Bxf8+ Kh5 56.Nf3]

55.Bxf8 e1Q 56.Bxd6 Qf2+ 57.Kxh3 Qf1+ 58.Kg4 Qc4+ 59.Bf4 Qe2+ 60.Nf3 1–0

After 60.Nf3 White will either get a new queen or the black king is mated, to wit: 60…Qe7 61.d6 Qf6 62.d7 Kg6 63.Ne5+ Kh7 64.Nf5 followed by Bf4–h6 and then the f-pawn queens.


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 for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.