Speed Chess Championship 2023 (Semifinals): Carlsen Wins With 22-7 Score Vs. Wesley So, Tees Up For Final

Speed Chess Championship 2023 (Semifinals): Carlsen Wins With 22-7 Score Vs. Wesley So, Tees Up For Final


GM Magnus Carlsen is the first finalist in the 2023 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship presented by Coinbase. He defeated GM Wesley So by a score of 22-7. 

The reigning world blitz chess champion won all three segments, with the most dominant performance being in the 3+1 portion, where he won seven games in a row. So won one blitz game and one bullet game in the entire match.

Carlsen will play the winner of the other semifinal match between GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. That match takes place on Wednesday, September 20, at 12:00 p.m. ET / 18:00 CEST / 9:30 p.m. IST.

Carlsen 22-7 So | Semifinals

It was the heavyweight clash between the two-time SCC champion and the three-time runner-up. Most startling was their bullet head-to-head record. In their previous bullet games on Chess.com, Carlsen won 22 times and never lost, with two draws.

The former world champion is a favorite against virtually anyone, and SmarterChess predicted a victory in all three segments. Complimenting their bullet head-to-head score, it predicted the final segment would be Carlsen’s strongest.

However, the victory and the final score were much more pronounced than anticipated.  

5+1: Carlsen 6.5-2.5 So

Carlsen won nearly every game before the first break, dropping just one draw (from a winning position) in game two. He lost one game in the segment and finished with a +4 score.

The first game saw Carlsen jump out to an early lead—one he would never let go. It was vintage Carlsen, squeezing a slight endgame advantage with good knight vs. bad bishop. This lesson in positional play is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Leitao describes Carlsen’s strength which has sometimes been called magic: “It’s impressive how he knows which types of endgames are equal, but difficult to defend.”

Game three was another nice one as, after sacrificing a pawn earlier, Carlsen played the innocent-looking 21.a3!?. This move created luft for the king, but it also had a devious trap in mind—one that Rensch immediately called and that played out in the game. 

It took just two moves for Black to stumble into a lost position.

Winning won positions is only half the formula for greatness in the SCC. What Carlsen—and, similarly, Nakamura—excels at is saving full points, not only drawing lost positions but often even winning them. Game eight was a perfect illustration of Carlsen’s skill in this respect.

With a draw in the last game, Carlsen ended the 5+1 segment with a four-point lead.

3+1: Carlsen 8-1 So 

There were nine games and Carlsen won the first seven. The last two games ended in draws, leaving Carlsen with an 11-point lead.

Hopes for a So comeback were dampened in the very first game. After a one-move blunder on move 21, he resigned a move later.

The Norwegian grandmaster won game two with an acrobatic king who castled by hand (15.Kd2!?) and then, to win the queen endgame, traveled up the board like a salmon swimming upstream. A beautiful demonstration of using the king as an active piece:

So lost the third game on time. And then lost the next four games in a row.

“Down on the board, down on the clock. How many times have we said that?” said Naroditsky during the eighth game, just before Carlsen blundered into a lost position. Even still, it ended in a draw. The next game ended in a draw, and the segment concluded, strangely, with both players looking disappointed.

1+1: Carlsen 7.5-3.5 So 

Carlsen started the bullet portion of the match with an 11-point lead, one that would be extended to 15 over the half hour. It wasn’t exactly a question of who would win anymore; then again, that ceased to be a question somewhere in the 3+1 segment.

“This is redonkerbonker,” said Rensch as Carlsen crashed through with 16.Nxf7! and a raging attack in the first game. 

After winning game two, Carlsen blundered a full piece in game three. He went on to draw—after even missing a win for one move.

He won the next game. For a few seconds, both commentators stopped talking, and Naroditsky chimed in, “Not much to say. It’s a blowout!”

In game nine of the bullet portion, So earned his second victory of the match. It was also his first time ever beating Carlsen in a bullet game on Chess.com. The last two games ended in draws, and that was that. Carlsen won the match.

Carlsen joined for a post-match interview. He regarded Nakamura to be a favorite against Vachier-Lagrave but qualified by saying it was going to be a fight. “Maxime’s chances [lie] in putting pressure with the white pieces, I think…. There were many reasons why he beat me [in 2020], but one key reason was that he was actually putting a lot of pressure on me with the white pieces.”

About a possible rematch with Nakamura: “To be honest, I was pretty sure I was gonna beat him in the final last time” he said, with the smile you see in this article’s thumbnail.

Carlsen, who is his own biggest critic, ended with saying with a big grin: “I am happy with my play today, I will give you that.” He earns $13,189.66 for winning the match and So makes $1,810.34 by win percentage.


All Games | Carlsen vs. So | Semifinals

The main event of the 2023 Speed Chess Championship Presented by Coinbase takes place September 4-22. It is the strongest online speed chess contest in the world, with 16 players—12 invited and four qualifiers—vying for a share of the $150,000 prize fund along with one of the most prestigious titles in online chess. 

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