Chess: Wesley So notches another title at world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen’s expense

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Feb 16 2021 12:04 AM

Grandmaster Wesley So downed Norwegian world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen via clinical 4.5-3.5 win Monday morning (Sunday in Europe and the US) to rule their 8-game series in the finals of the Opera Rapid tournament.

Deadlocked at 2 points after the first day Saturday, So scored a pivotal win with the white pieces in the first game and drew the remaining 3 matches, reprising his victory over his fancied foe in the Skilling Open finals last December.

“I would like to apologize for celebrating on camera,” said the Cavite-born So, who was caught on video pumping both his fists in the air after drawing the fourth and last game to seal the series win and pocket the top prize of $30,000 (approximately P1.43 million).

“I’m sorry for ruining Magnus’ Valentine’s Day. It's really unfortunate,” So said in his post-match interview with “The day was just unlucky for him. Beating Magnus in any match is a huge honor.

“It’s really a pleasure to do so, because just playing him already gives you a lot of experience. To beat him twice is unheard of, really.”

Carlsen, who remained winless in the Meltwater Champions Tour that he himself helped organize, replied: “Losing to Wesley is OK, but I felt I missed a lot of chances (in the series). It’s frustrating because at some points I didn’t trust my intuition. 

“Overall, there is no shame in losing to him, but we won’t certainly sleep that well.”

With his second tournament victory, So, the reigning US Open and who started playing for Uncle Sam in 2014, soared to the top of the Meltwater Champions Tour series with 108 points while boosting his earnings to $70,000 (P3.35 million).

Erstwhile leader Grandmaster Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan who lost 2.5-4.5 in the semis, was relegated to second place in the overall standings with the same number of points after salvaging third place in the competition with a 4.5-1.5 win over French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, So, who lives with foster parents — former PBA player Bambi Kabigting and actress Lotis Key — said that winning his opening game on Sunday was a turning point in the finals.

“The first game was easily a critical turning point. It puts pressure on your opponent. After that I just hold with the black pieces, although it is far from easy (against Carlsen),” he noted. “I think Magnus just messed up the opening.”

So said he felt he was vulnerable in the third game despite playing white, “which I could have easily lost. That would have been disastrous.”

While analysts noted his quality play, the low-key and soft-spoken chess player shrugged the compliment off, saying: “Actually our level of play in the finals was very low, and it seems we’ve been making a lot of mistakes and blunders.”

So said: “I wasn’t feeling well earlier. I had a cold, but I believe the same applies to Magnus as well.”

Carlsen brushed aside his rival’s self-deprecating comments and acknowledged that “in the tournament as a whole he (So) was better so he deserved to win.”

To keep himself mentally and physically sharp for the competition, So said he averaged around 10 to 11 hours of sleep, waking up around 7:30 to 8 a.m. before prepping for his match, which would usually start at 10 a.m. in his location. 

“I didn’t do so much chess work in the last few days. I just read my book then start to relax (before I play), and after my game I would watch a TV show or movie. I did my opening preparation before the tournament,” he said.

He said that he would take time off from chess before working his way back in preparing for the next leg of the Champions Tour, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, next month.

“I’ll forget about chess now for the time being. I’ll prepare for the next tournament for two weeks then rest for five days before the tournament.”