Wesley So’s hopes of catching Magnus Carlsen in the Champions Chess Tour Finals took a severe blow today as he crashed to defeat in just three games.
The American suffered a painful 2.5-0.5 collapse against France’s top player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave that leaves his challenge teetering on the edge of a precipice.
So’s loss was made worse when Carlsen went on to come back twice against the dangerous Azerbaijani Shakrhiyar Mamedyarov before finally prevailing in tiebreaks.
It was an epic encounter that left the champ looking thoroughly exhausted afterwards. But Carlsen said he’d have no problems coming back with energy in Round 3 of the $300,000 event.
Carlsen had lost the opening game in just 20 minutes and then, after a masterful second game pulled him level, fell behind again.
But in a must-win situation for the Norwegian in game 4, Mamedyarov blundered and Carlsen converted.
The blitz tiebreaker saw Carlsen win the first game as Mamedyarov fell into a trap. Then, in the second, it was Carlsen who blundered to leave the score 1-1. Carlsen, however, was just too fast against his older opponent in the Armageddon decider.
It meant Carlsen banked two vital and hard-fought points that put him 6 ahead of So. With just seven rounds remaining, the American, now has a mountain to climb to overhaul Carlsen.
Asked if defeat had scuppered his chances of catching Carlsen, So said: “I just want to take it one round at the time, the tournament is very long.”
In the battle for placings, Poland’s World Cup winner Jan Krzysztof Duda bounced back from being humbled by Carlsen yesterday to beat Anish Giri 2.5-0.5.
Levon Aronian, playing from St Louis, also came back from a Round 1 defeat against MVL to overcome the Russian Vladislav Artemiev 2.5-0.5.
There was also a hint of controversy in the tie between Hikaru Nakamura and Teimour Radjabov as the pair played out four quick draws before settling the match in tiebreaks.
Grandmaster David Howell, who was commentating on the action from Play Magnus Group’s Oslo studio, said their safety-first tactics were “disrespectful” to chess fans.
Nakamura eventually prevailed in the Armageddon section to pick up 2 points, while Radjabov took 1.