“I am living a dream,” exclaimed Wesley So after winning the 2016 Sinquefield Cup, the strongest chess tournament of his life and one of this year’s best. With this victory he took the lead in the Grand Chess Tour, a series of four Grand Prix tournaments.
Born in the Philippines, where his talent was compared to that of Bobby Fischer, So moved to the United States a few years ago and will represent his adopted country at the Chess Olympiad in Baku in September for the first time.
So, 22, has won strong tournaments before, but his victory last Sunday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis was special. Only two grandmasters from the absolute top, the world champion Magnus Carlsen and the former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, were missing. Last year he was the wild card in the Sinquefield Cup and finished last; he sure turned things around this year.
So finished undefeated. A pack of his rivals followed him closely and he had to wait for the final outcome of the game between the former world champion Veselin Topalov and Armenia’s leading grandmaster Levon Aronian. It was an emotional battle lasting 81 moves.
At one point the former world champion Garry Kasparov joined the commentating team and explained how Topalov could have played better and what all he missed. Despite these inaccuracies, the Bulgarian grandmaster was still winning, but he struggled to close the deal.
Around that time the great Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was explaining to NBC’s Bob Costas why he wants to win three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Rio before he retires. This golden trifecta – 100m, 200m and 4x100m – would be his third in the last three Olympic games. If he failed just once, people would say: “Yes, you are great, but you didn’t close it well.”
Kasparov knows the feeling. He retired from his illustrious professional career in Linares, Spain, in 2005, just one month shy of his 42nd birthday, losing his last game to Topalov. It was painful, but in Saint Louis Kasparov gave Topalov credit: “He always fights.” Later in the evening Topalov squandered his advantage and drew against Aronian. Bolt won the first race in Rio and So won in Saint Louis. A memorable day.
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Wesley So received the first prize of US $75,000 from Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield. Around 2007 the Sinquefields decided to support chess and professional players began to flock to Missouri in search of employment. High level U.S. championships and strong international tournaments were organized there and Saint Louis officially became the U.S. Chess Capital.
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Four grandmasters shared the second place. The oldest participants, Vishy Anand, 46, and Topalov, 41, could still play with the boys. Aronian, 33, is almost always around the leaders. The current U.S. champion Fabiano Caruana had another solid result before going to Baku.
Tournament victories can sometimes take shape already in the first round. So gained confidence after he defeated Hikaru Nakamura. In a sharp Catalan opening Hikaru tried to unbalance the game with an exchange sacrifice, but So just needed one tiny inaccuracy to score his first win