Speed Chess Championship: So Rallies, Eliminates Xiong


GM Wesley So beat GM Jeffery Xiong with a score of 18-14 in the 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event. In the quarterfinals, he will face the winner of the match between GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and GM Fabiano Caruana, which starts on Monday, November 29 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific / 19:00 Central European Time.

How to watch?

The games of the 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event are played on the Chess.com live server. They are also available on our platform for watching live games at Chess.com/events and on our apps under “Watch.” Expert commentary can be enjoyed at Chess.com/tv.

2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event

The live broadcast of the match.

As expert commentator GM Robert Hess aptly concluded: “Every match in the SCC has its own signature, its own character.” The match between So and Xiong was also unique as we saw one of the most memorable turnarounds in SCC history. The third-seeded player and one of the tournament favorites was down five points during the blitz portion of the match, but he managed to rally and show his class when it counted the most.

At the start of the 5+1 blitz segment, an elementary one-move pawn blunder by So was an early sign that something might be off with his game today. However, he quickly rebounded with two wins in a row. A winning combination from game four particularly stood out:

Xiong tied the score by winning a crazy game five, in which the evaluation bar kept going up and down probably as rapidly as the players’ heart rates. A considerably more peaceful game six ended in a draw, so after about an hour of 5+1 action, we had a 3-3 tie.

However, what followed was virtually impossible to predict: Xiong won four games in a row to finish the 5+1 portion of the match with a commanding 7-3 lead. The first one came after a tactical melee in which So missed a brilliant tactical resource.

It seemed like the psychological momentum had shifted to Xiong’s side after this game since he began scoring points in all sorts of positions. The culmination arrived in the final 5+1 game, in which So blundered a checkmate in two!

At the start of the 3+1 segment, it seemed like nothing had changed as Xiong soundly outplayed So in games 11 and 12, scoring 1.5/2 points, to extend his lead to 8.5-3.5. However, the rating favorite managed to pull himself together and score a nice technical win in the endgame, the first after what seemed like an eternity, to cut the lead to four for the 21-year old phenom.

And then, in game 14, So repeated the suspicious line from game 10 under the impression that it is fine for Black. Unbeknownst to him, Xiong checked this line during the break and found that 15.Nc3! was the right move, with a winning advantage for White. However, fortune was on So’s side as his opponent failed to punish the losing 15…b5 move, and even lost the game after some complications!

It felt like this loss took the wind out of Xiong’s sails, while simultaneously invigorating So. It was around this time in the match that So completely switched to 1.e4 as White and mounted a full comeback—he scored four consecutive victories with White, and the match was tied at 9.5-9.5 after the following instructive endgame win.

After two more draws, the score was tied at 10.5-10.5, meaning that the outcome of this exciting match would be decided in the final 30 minutes of 1+1 minute bullet. 

Xiong started strong, winning two nice attacking games and reclaiming a one-point lead. However, an elementary exchange blunder in the opening of game 26 seemed to have shaken him and also allowed So to tie the match again. In the next game, the world’s number eight player scored a lovely positional victory with white pieces to retake the long-awaited lead in the match.

After this game, So went on a rampage, winning another four bullet games, making it six in a row, to seal the deal and secure his spot in the quarterfinals.

In the post-match interview, the match-winner gave an objective assessment of his play and explained the adjustments that he made to turn things around: “Obviously, I was very fortunate to win the match. I feel like Jeffery could have won today. The start didn’t go very well and I think that it is because I didn’t prepare seriously enough for this match. However, at some point in the match, I figured that I should just stop losing, doesn’t matter if I had a good or bad position. I think that I was also getting more used to the flow and the tempo of the games.”

Wesley So on his chances to take down Hikaru Nakamura in the SCC: “Well, he’s getting older every year. I think that he will get slower one day.”

Xiong identified the turning point of the match where he let his big lead slip away: “I feel like the turning point was one 3-minute game in the Reti where I was winning and somehow managed to mess it up. After that, my level dropped significantly. And once he started cleaning up his play and got into a rhythm, it was very difficult for me to match his level.”

So showed impressive determination to turn the match on its head, but he also shared his plan B in case things didn’t go his way: “I wasn’t particularly worried when I was losing by five points. If I lose today, that’s fine, then I get to watch Jeffery play the next match and watch you guys on Twitch.”

Xiong earned $875.00 based on a score percentage, while So pocketed $2,000 for the victory plus $1,125.00 on percentage ($3,125.00 in total). He advances to the quarterfinals where he will play the winner of the match between Vachier-Lagrave and Caruana.

All Games

The 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the best grandmasters in the world who will play for a $100,000 prize fund. The tournament will run November 8-December 19, 2021 on Chess.com. Each individual match will feature 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess.

Find all information about the Speed Chess Championship here.

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