US star Wesley So inflicted a heartbreaking defeat on World Champion Magnus Carlsen to win the Opera Euro Rapid on Valentine's Day. So became the first player to take two Meltwater Champions Chess Tour titles as he moved into a slender lead in the year-long series.
The 27-year-old, who plays from his home in Minnetonka, MN, has toppled Carlsen in both finals and appears to have moved up a gear in online rapid chess. He can now stake a strong claim to have usurped Carlsen and be considered the world's best in this format.
Having saved a late draw in the first set yesterday, So struck early in the first game today after Carlsen launched a risky attack that went badly wrong. Two draws followed before a thrilling final game that could have gone either way ended with a third draw that handed victory overall in the tournament to So.
The Filpino-born star defended brilliantly against Carlsen's increasingly desperate attacks. Try as he might, Carlsen just couldn't breakthrough. Carlsen blamed himself for not trusting his intuition and failing to make accurate moves. He also praised So for putting him under pressure.
So's win was a repeat of his impressive triumph over Carlsen in the Skilling Open, the first event of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. The new Opera Euro Rapid champion had gone into today's decider having only just saved a 2-2 draw in the first set.
It suggested today's final set would be tight. But any thoughts that it would turn into a battle of attrition were dashed almost immediately.
In the first game Carlsen, believing an opportunity was there, rolled the dice with a speculative bishop sacrifice. Was it genius or bluff? Carlsen said earlier that he wanted to take the match into more dangerous waters - and he did. But So cooly kept Carlsen at bay and the Norwegian was soon left regretting his decision. It was 1-0 to So after just 28 moves, and already Carlsen was left needing a comeback.
Pressure mounted in the second game as Carlsen let an advantage slip. So defended and it ended in a draw. Carlsen now was up against it, needing to win in one of the last two games to take the match to a tiebreak. So, however, just needed a win or to avoid defeat.
Again in the third Carlsen pushed and had opportunities, but the champion's form has been up and down in this tournament and he did not take them. The game ended in another draw meaning Carlsen was left under immense pressure to win the final game of the set to level the score.
So was never going to play safe and the two-time US champ launched a gutsy attack that left his king wide open. Carlsen, meanwhile, countered to set up a full-blooded battle between the two. Carlsen had momentum and went for it, but was somehow missing his killer instinct. The champion had lost the thread and his attack fizzled out as So defended brilliantly yet again.
Carlsen said: "I'm a bit frustrated again today. Losing to Wesley is OK, he clearly had the most convincing tournament coming into today. But I do feel like I missed a lot of chances, that's the frustrating part."
Carlsen added that he should have trusted his intuition more and taken his chances.
"Overall no shame in losing to him," Carlsen said. "But I feel like I could have done a whole lot better and it's not going to sit well with me tonight."
In the battle for third-place, Teimour Radjabov - who led the Tour before this event - beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in two straight games.
Radjabov put his win down exhaustion on MVL's part that contributed to a major blunder as the nine-day tournament came to an end. Opera is the official browser of the Tour and title partner of the event which carries a $100,000 prize pot.
The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, organized by the Play Magnus Group, is the first full season of top-level online chess events.
It comprises nine Regular and Major tournaments culminating in a $300,000 Final which starts in September.
All matches are played in a rapid chess format with blitz and “armageddon” tie-breaks if needed.
For further information, please contact:
Leon Watson, PR for Champions Chess Tour
+44 7786 078 770