Wesley So is the first official World Fischer Random Chess Champion of the world — and he did this in the most impressive way possible, by defeating Magnus Carlsen, world champion in classical and blitz chess, also former world champion in rapid. In other words Carlsen is or was world champion in all time controls in chess and this Fischer Random version is the only form that eludes him. As Magnus puts it: “Whenever there are titles to be had, I wanna have them. That’s my general mindset (smiles).”
What is the difference between Fischer Random and Classical chess? Basically only two: the starting position and castling rules. Fischer Random, also called Chess960 (there are 960 possible starting positions in this form) employs the same board and pieces as standard chess but with the starting position of the pieces randomized, following certain rules, the most significant of which are:
– The bishops must be placed on opposite-color squares
– The king must be placed on a square between the rooks
Black pieces are placed equal-and-opposite to White’s pieces. For example, if the white king stands on g1, then the black king automatically goes on g8.
Pawns are placed in the players’ second ranks as in standard chess
Castling is allowed and, after castling, the final positions of the king and rook are exactly the same as in standard chess.
The net effect of all these special rules is that after a few moves the game starts looking like a regular game of chess, except that all opening theory has been eliminated.
The Chessbase website (www.chessbase.com) describes the format of the championship:
“The first FIDE-endorsed Fischer Random World Chess Championship started, in fact, a little over six months ago. A number of online qualifier events were set up, with events for non-titled participants kicking off the championship. A little later the titled players entered the scene, until the brackets for the six 16-player knockout qualifiers were completed.
Strong players like Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin or Jan-Krzysztof Duda were eliminated at the knockout stage, as six winners went through to the quarterfinals. While the knockout counted with twelve invited players, the quarterfinals included two starts that did not need to participate in any previous qualifier: Fabiano Caruana, as the last challenger for the world title in classical chess, and Hikaru Nakamura, as the former Fischer Random champion (Nakamura won the last Chess960 tournament held in Mainz, back in 2009).
The quarterfinals were organized in a way that only three players would go through. In the end, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi reached the semis that started this Sunday in Norway. The fourth semi-finalist is none other than world champion Magnus Carlsen, who defeated Nakamura in an unofficial match for the championship last year in Oslo.”
The semifinals and finals were held in the Henie Onstad Art Center in Havikodden, Norway, with a Norwegian TV crew broadcasting the event for the national and international audience. These matches were played across three different time controls:
Slow rapid. Four games with time control of 45 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, no increment. Winner gets three points — if game is drawn then both players get 1.5 points. So if someone wins all four games, for example, he gets 12 points against 0 for his opponent.
Fast rapid. Four games with time control of 15 minutes plus two-second increments. Each win is worth two points, draw one point.
Blitz. Four games with three minutes plus two-second increments. Each win is worth one point.
The winner of the match is anyone who first reaches 12.5 points in total.
In case the match ends 12-12 then there is an “Armageddon” tiebreaker: White gets five minutes for the whole game, Black gets four minutes. Black advances if game is drawn.
So vs. Nepomniachtchi, 13.0-5.0
Carlsen vs. Fabiano 12.5-7.5
So versus Carlsen, 13.5-2.5
The first day of his match with Magnus involved two games at “Slow Rapid,” i.e., 45 minutes for first 40 moves then 15 minutes play-to-finish. First game was drawn and Wesley won the second. At the end of the day score was 4.5-1.5
Second day was two more games of “Slow Rapid.” Wesley surprised everybody by winning both games and stretched his lead to 10.5-1.5. The last time anybody beat Magnus in three consecutive games is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, also achieved this year, in 2019: he defeated the world champion twice in the blitz section of the Ivory Coast Rapid/Blitz tournament and then won again in the opening blitz tournament of Stavanger. Those three games were, of course, in blitz, where lots of accidents happen. GM Wesley’s victories of Magnus Carlsen were in a longer time control format — definitely much harder to achieve!
Anyway, Wesley went into the final day of action with a nine-point lead, needing only two points to secure victory — a win in the first ‘fast rapid’ game would be sufficient. They drew the first and then Wesley won again to finally claim the Fischer Random chess title as well as the cash prize of $125,000 (about P6.3 million).
Here are the two games he won on the second day. Due to some software issues and the difficulty in implementing the castling rule I will start after both sides have castled:
So, Wesley (2767) — Carlsen, Magnus (2876)
World FRC Championship 2019 Oslo (2.3), 01.11.2019
17.Nhf3 Rd5 18.b3 cxb3 19.cxb3 Nc5 20.Kc2 Bd7?!
As in French positions Black should transform the advance White e5–pawn into a weakness with 20…f6! 21.b4 to remove the protection of the e6–pawn is met by 21…fxe5 22.fxe5 Bg6+ and Black is doing very well.
21.b4 Na6 22.Kb3 Rd8 23.Rhc1+ Kb8 24.Rc4 Be8 25.Rac1 h6 26.h4 b5?!
A bit inaccurate as the b5–pawn becomes a weakness. Better is 26…b6.
27.R4c2 Kb7 28.Rd2 Nb8 29.Rcd1 Rc8 30.Ne2 Bc6 31.Nfd4 g5! 32.Nxc6
[32.hxg5 hxg5 33.fxg5 Rxe5 Black is more than ok.]
32…Rxd2 33.Rxd2 Nxc6 34.Nc3 gxf4 35.Nxb5 Kb8 36.Rd7 a6 37.Nd6 Nd4+ 38.Ka4 Rg8 39.Nxf7 Nf5 40.Nd6 Nxh4
The obvious move is to take the g2–pawn, but after 40…Rxg2 41.Nxf5 exf5 42.Rf7 f3 43.Rxf5 f2 the black pawn on f2 looks scary, but White has it well-defended, and once his king centralizes to push the e5–pawn Black has no defense. Let me show you 44.Kb3 Kc7 45.Kc4 Kd7 46.Kd5 an easy win.
41.Rb7+ Ka8 42.Rb6 Nxg2 43.Rxa6+ Kb8 44.Rb6+ Ka8 45.Ra6+ Kb8 46.Rb6+ Ka8 47.Nb5 Ne3 48.Ra6+ Kb8 49.Rb6+ Ka8 50.Nc7+ Ka7 51.Rxe6 f3 52.Rf6 Ng4 53.Nb5+ Kb8 54.Rxf3 Nxe5 55.Rf5 Rg5 56.Rf8+ Kb7 57.Nd6+ Kc6 58.Nf7 Nxf7 59.Rxf7 h5 60.b5+ 1–0
After 60.b5+ the ending is quite simple. The White rook cuts off the black king from the queenside from the a-c files with 60…Kc5 61.Rc7+ Kd6 62.Rc6+ Kd5 63.a6 Rg1 64.Ka5 Black has to give up his rook for the White a-pawn.
The next game was an even more convincing win for Wesley So. Once again he got two isolated queenside pawns.
Carlsen, Magnus (2876) — So, Wesley (2767)
World FRC Championship 2019 Oslo (2.4), 01.11.2019
Already here by the 11th move Wesley’s pieces are better positioned for play in the center, and here Carlsen makes a big mistake:
11.Nge2? g5! 12.Qe3
Where else can the queen go?
12.Qb4 c5 13.Qb3 (13.Qd2 Nc4 the threat of mate on b2 finishes the game) 13…Bf7 14.Qa4 Bxb2! because if 15.Kxb2 then 15…b5 the queen is lost to …Nc4+; 12.Qd2 Bxb2!.
The Black bishop is too strong. If 13.Ra2 Bf6 14.Nc3 Bf7 the threat of …Nc4 and …Qb4+ will ruin white.
13…Bxc3 14.Nxc3 Qf6 15.h4
Most black players would do all they could to keep the queens on the board as he has attacking chances, but Wesley does not mind exchanging monarchs, as after that happens he is a pawn ahead in the endgame with a much better game and less chances for complications.
No choice — if he moves his queen then the c3–knight falls.
16…Nxe3 17.gxf6 Nxf6 18.Nd3 Rg8 19.Be2 Rxg2 20.Nf4 Rg8 21.Bd3 Rd4 22.Nce2 Rd6 23.Kb2 c5 24.Rae1 c4 25.Nc3 cxd3 26.Rxe3 dxc2 27.Rc1 Kb8 28.Rxc2 Bd7 29.Re7 b5 30.Rf7 Rxa6 31.Ncd5 Nxd5 32.Nxd5 Rd6 33.Ne7 Rh8 34.Rc5 a6 35.Nxf5 Bxf5 36.Rcxf5 h5 37.Re5 h4 38.Ree7 Rb6 39.Kc3 h3 40.Rh7 Rxh7 41.Rxh7 Rf6 42.Rxh3 Kb7
Once more Wesley has two connected passed pawns on the queenside and once again they are more than enough to win.
43.Kd4 Kb6 44.Ke5 Rf8 45.f4 b4 46.f5 a5 47.Rf3 a4 48.Kd4 Kb5 49.Kd3 Rc8
Don’t forget to cut off the king!
50.f6 b3 51.Kd4 0–1
Wesley So won four of the last five games against Magnus Carlsen in their FIDE Fischer Random Chess championship. If he had not agreed to a draw in a winning position on the 1st game of the last day, it would have meant a 4-game winning streak against Magnus, something nobody else had ever done.
Shortly after the match concluded Mr. Wilson Tan, the no. 2 man in SGV, texted me that he had stayed up all night to watch the finals, and that the result is “nakaka-proud.” Amen I say to that.
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.