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Saturday, 02 Nov 2019 23:11
Wesley So is the first Fischer Random World Champion

America's third-ranked player wins the first official world championship for this variant over classical world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

2-11-2019, OSLO, NORWAY: Wesley So took down Magnus Carlsen by 13,5 to 2,5. The final, played in Oslo, was a historical event in which for the first time the International Chess Federation recognized a new variety of chess.

At the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter art museum located close to Oslo, Norway, GM Wesley So became the first World Champion in Fischer Random Chess. So defeated GM Magnus Carlsen by the dominant score of 13.5 to 2.5 in the event that started on October 27 and ended on November 2. Wesley’s victory, with four wins and only two draws, was so crushing that he clinched the title with six rounds to spare. In fact, the American cruised through the whole final stage of the event without suffering a single loss, showing his supremacy in this recently developed chess variant.

The match’s fate was decided after Wesley won the second through fourth games. Magnus Carlsen, who hasn't lost a game of classical chess since July 2018 and accumulates a streak of 101 games unbeaten, bit the dust three times in a row before his home crowd, who gathered in big numbers at the Henie Onstad Art Center in Bærum, Norway. The Norwegian has been the classical world champion since 2013 and the world-number-one since 2011 and has also been considered the unofficial Fischer Random champion, having won a match in 2018 against GM Hikaru Nakamura. “I just want to congratulate Wesley So, he played a lot better than me,” said the champion after his defeat.

Wesley So, who reached the number two spot in the FIDE world ranking back in 2017, achieves his first official world title in individual competition—filling a hole in an already brilliant career, with numerous victories in top-level events.

The event was organized by Dund AS, with Chess.com as a technological partner. “With FIDE’s support for Fischer Radom Chess, we are happy to invite you to join the quest to become the first, ever, FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Champion,” said Arne Horvei, Founding Partner in Dund AS. “Anyone can participate online, and we are excited to see if there are any diamonds in the ruff out there that could excel in this format of chess”.

"From the moment we were presented with the vision for this incredible event many months ago, we immediately recognized the potential milestone that an official World Fischer Random Chess Championship would represent for the chess world. Chess.com is proud to have organized the first truly open online qualification process which saw over 10,000 games played and became the foundation for crowning a worthy champion like Wesley So. We believe this is a first step on the path towards a prosperous and exciting future for chess through online and over-the-board harmonization."




Chess, rebooted

There have been many proposals over the long history of chess to revolutionize the game by introducing new pieces or changing the initial arrangement of these. However, none of these attempts succeeded until the former World Champion Bobby Fischer came up with his own idea. The American genius suggested that the pieces should be shuffled, but only following certain restrictions: the bishops must be placed on opposite-color squares, and the king must be placed on a square between the rooks. 

The result is a modality in which we have 960 unique possible starting positions, but the rules of chess remain the same. Thus, the tactics, and for the most part, the principles and basic strategies of the game, are still valid. The fact that both players keep the right to castle also contributed to the starting positions having some kind of "harmony" and balance, characteristical of standard chess.

Fischer Random tackles a problem in modern chess: since the starting position was always the same, the possibilities in the "opening" phase of the game has been methodically analyzed. Even the beginners have their favorite opening lines - the systems that they employ to start the game, develop their pieces, and place them in the most favorable positions.

At the top level, and since the irruption of the computers in the game towards the end of the nineties, chess openings have been exhaustively analyzed. Top players spend most of their time analyzing the lines used by their opponent and improving their own arsenal - the best way to respond to their opponent's usual defenses. This implies memorizing an enormous amount of information. As a result, standard chess games between elite players often follow a line that has been played before, and a "novelty", or a move that has never been used before, doesn't show up on the board until as late as the 20th or 25th move. Many games are not decided by a move found over the board, but early on, during the preparation for the game.

The random setup that Fischer Random implies makes gaining an advantage through the memorization of openings impracticable. Instead, players must rely on their skill, talent, and creativity, facing a completely fresh position over the board. All the opening theory that they have learned so far becomes useless - it is like rebooting chess, and giving it a fresh start.

"It is probably for this reason that Fischer Random chess has won the favor of the chess community, including the top players and the World Champion himself", stated the FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich earlier this year. "We couldn't be oblivious to that: it was time to embrace and incorporate this modality of chess."

Who is Wesley So?

Wesley Barbasa So was born on October 9, 1993, in Bacoor (Philippines). He learned chess at the age of 7 or 8 on the streets of Cavite, a suburb in the outskirts of Manila: "Chess is very popular in the Philippines because in third-world countries, chess is the poor man’s game. Rich people play tennis, polo, and golf, while poor people play chess because you don’t need anything - no uniform, no field or courts", explained Wesley in an interview with David Cox of Chess.com.

Wesley was nine years old when he began competing in junior tournaments: at that age, he couldn't afford proper training and had to rely on his sheer talent, and probably that's the reason why he never achieved a medal at any of the World Youth Championships. However, as soon as he had the chance to compete in the international arena against more experienced players, he grasped the opportunity and his play took off. So much so, that he became one of the most precocious players to achieve the Grandmaster title -at fourteen years old. In 2008, when he had just turned 15, he became the youngest player ever* to reach a 2600 rating, breaking the record previously held by Magnus Carlsen, and making it into the top 100.

"Chess was a way out for me"

Born in a poor country and estranged from his biological family, Wesley So drifted for a few years in his country until he got an offer from Webster University to move to the U.S. on a scholarship. Out of gratitude and with the possibility of getting a degree in sight, Wesley took his studies very seriously and for some time he even considered giving up his chess career, pursuing a job in banking. But the successes at the board kept coming: it was obvious to everyone that Wesley So was called to achieve big things at the chessboard. 

He won the Millionaire Chess Tournament held in Las Vegas in October 2014, and also got the first prize at the 2015 Bilbao Chess Masters, the 2016 Grand Chess Tour, Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic, and the 2017 Tata Steel Masters. In early 2013, So passed the 2700 mark in the world rankings, and in January 2017 he became the 11th player to join the exclusive "2800 club". On the March 2017 FIDE rating list, he was ranked number two in the world and reached a peak Elo rating of 2822, making him the fifth-highest rated player in the history of chess.

His transfer to the U.S. was completed in 2014, and he was part of the American team that achieved a Gold Medal at the Baku Chess Olympiad (2016), and Silver at the Batumi Chess Olympiad (2018). 

Very humble, Wesley So has always referred to Magnus Carlsen as his favorite player in history, and on a number of occasions, he stated that Fischer Random was his favorite variant of chess. Now, Wesley So has been crowned as the world champion of the specialty, defeating no other than the one he considers the greatest: Magnus Carlsen.

*This record has since been broken by another American: John M. Burke

Text: David Llada

Photos: Lennart Ootes and Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

About FIDE
The International Chess Federation (FIDE) is the governing body of international chess competition. Founded in 1924, it was one of the first institutions of its kind and it is now one of the largest, with a total of 190 affiliated national chess federations.

Contact: Chief Marketing & Communications Officer David Llada 
press@fide.com
+34 623 021 120

About Dund AS
Dund AS organized the 2018 unofficial Fischer Random (FR) world title match between Classical chess champion Magnus Carlsen and recognized FR ace Hikaru Nakamura, who won the final Mainz tournament in the discipline in 2009. The enormous interest generated by the event, which stole nearly 2 million Norwegian television viewers away from the national obsession of the Winter Olympics, showed that the world was ready for more FR Chess. 

Contact: Founding Partner Arne Horvei
Arne@frchess.com
+47 90662249

About Chess.com
Chess.com is the world’s largest chess site, with a community of more than 27 million members from around the world playing millions of games every day. Launched in 2009, Chess.com is the leader in chess news, lessons, events and live entertainment. Visit Chess.com to play, learn and connect with chess—the world’s most popular game.
Contact: Director of Business Development Nick Barton 
nick@chess.com