Wesley So is the surprise leader after an incredible first day of the World Fischer Random Chess Championship finals versus Magnus Carlsen. The American takes a 3-point lead thanks to a game two win in the first slow rapid pair. The title match and bronze final continue on November 1-2 beginning at 9:30 a.m. Pacific (17:30 CET) on Twitch.tv/Chess and Chess.com/TV.
So first escaped a vicious attack from Carlsen and reached a drawn ending. In the second their roles were reversed, but the Norwegian eventually cracked on the verge of navigating truly mind-bending complications.
The bronze match between Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi was also a brutally violent affair, the two trading wins with the white pieces, but all eyes were transfixed by the title bout.
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One of the great things about Fischer Random chess, and its coverage on Norwegian TV, is that the variant doesn't just put an end to the curse of modern engine-enhanced theory, it makes this phase of the game an occasion and a conversation piece.
Caruana and Nepomniachtchi had similar reactions; both emphasized how much the position resembled a normal game. The other pair provided more entertainment. Carlsen was mistakenly introduced as Henrik, his father's name, and so jokingly said he wouldn't answer unless they got his name right next time. He is on the record, however, for disliking cornered queens.
So bubbles over whenever asked about the start position, and can't prevent himself from beginning to freestyle analyze. He also managed to squeeze in a joke about Nepomniachtchi bungling the castling protocols yesterday. "I heard Magnus said queen on the rim is very bad. Now we'll see if that is true. But also I like the rook on g1, because I can play e3, Be2 and castle by picking the rook first. I'll see if it works today."
Carlsen was not pleased at not following through on what was nearly an extremely fine game. On the other hand, if one thing has become clear en route to the final, it is that Wesley So is a very resourceful man. Magnus was not chatty afterwards:
The bronze final between Caruana and Nepomniachtchi came to an early climax, as the Russian GM went off on an over-optimistic misadventure, miscalculating and misjudging a not quite rational piece sacrifice. Watching this, I tweeted: "Nepo is playing like a man who is barely managing to keep the jets of angry steam from whistling out of his ears" and afterwards he admitted to Norwegian chess journalist Tarjei Svensen that he was indeed haunted by the Halloween spirits of opportunities missed against So.
After the game, Nepomniachtchi admitted that he was also having trouble fighting for bronze: "It’s easier to motivate yourself if you’re playing in the final and not on the board of shame."
The second round was even better than the first. Both games built towards white attacks despite quiet beginnings. Carlsen opted for an ambitious strategy of granting White a pawn center, with clear intentions of destroying it. The game reached ignition point when So decided to sacrifice first his center, then a rook, ventilating Black's king position and initiating immense complications. Carlsen lost his way in the bewildering maze of variations, and eventually stumbled into a lost endgame.
I wonder why we regularly see players plunging into this kind of chaos in less familiar settings, and at faster time controls. Is it the Fischer Random start, and if so, exactly how does this promote such excitement?
Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi was pulling himself together on 'the board of shame', and produced a more characteristic display of sustained aggression, and this time he finally kept his focus and overcame Caruana's dogged resistance.
I have no idea how the start position is assessed by our engine overlords, but today was the first time there was universal domination by the white pieces. There is a temptation to write that off to it being closer to a normal setup, but that isn't really convincing. Regular chess isn't so uneven, and the differences and lack of theory should surely have kept things ... random. Perhaps it is a sign that as experience increases, white will eventually regain some clear and steady superiority in results. But of course, we are still in the game's infancy and tomorrow will bring something completely different.
Wesley So, who clearly delights in toying with all the early possibilities in each start position, perhaps summed up the state of opening theory when asked by Chess.com TV commentator Sopiko Guramishvili what his favorite start position is. "That's a great question! ... The problem is I can't remember them."
The FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship continues on Nov. 1 at 17:30 CET, 9:30 a.m. Pacific, and can be watched live at www.Chess.com/TV and www.Twitch.tv/Chess. The day one finals broadcast can be seen here.