Wesley So - First Official Fischer Random Chess World Champion!
November 3, 2019

Wesley So has won the first official World Fischer Random Chess Championship, sweeping aside Magnus Carlsen in the final. So needed only two fast rapid games to dispatch Carlsen and become the first official Fischer Random chess world champion.

Defending with black in the first game, So agreed to a repetition of moves from a position of strength, then crisply refuted Carlsen's desperate attack in the second game. 

In the bronze final, Ian Nepomniachtchi demonstrated a continued return to form with a convincing performance against Fabiano Caruana. His sparkling victory with black in the third fast rapid ended their contest, and the event.

What is Fischer Random Chess (Chess960)? Find out here! 

A grim Magnus Carlsen arriving at the Henie Onstad Art Center. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Chess.com.

The start position for the first fast rapid games.

There was a limited amount of reaction banter to today's unveiling of the initial position. Magnus just observed that the kings are well protected. As usual, Wesley was most enthused, and once again he worked in a castling remark. Wesley wondered if you had to touch the king first if castling 'queenside' since it was already on the target square, or if you could finally touch the rook first.

The daily setup reaction, and the daily castling wisecrack. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

This constant harping back to the semifinal incident with Nepomniachtchi, where their game was eventually replayed, reveals, I think, that Wesley may be an extremely modest and polite guy, but there is a core of steel there. He might not have complained then, but this running routine strongly indicates that having to replay that game must have irritated him greatly.

The crowds gathered for the final day were the biggest ever for the event, so big that museum staff was concerned about capacity. Whether this meant that local fans still believed in a miracle comeback by Carlsen and wanted to witness history, or if Fischer Random is again capturing the public imagination is hard to say. It might even be that So's regular compliments about Norway and its tasty salmon had charmed spectators in. 

The final day drew the biggest crowds. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The top duel was the first to finish in the opening round. NRK TV was focused on So's high pulse rate - though he tends to have the highest 'resting' rate during play - but the evidence indicated full control from the American. He played extremely quickly, again displaying his affinity for FR chess, coordinating with fluent ease. So's smooth pressure convinced Carlsen to bail out with a repetition that So didn't have to accept - but did.

This result meant that Carlsen had to win all remaining fast rapid games, and then score 3.5/4 just to force Armageddon. And he had to start this streak with the black pieces.

With So in such majestic form, Carlsen was soon reduced to a desperate sacrificial attack just to breathe the vaguest of hopes into the position, but the American smothered these with more of his clinical efficiency. The first FR chess world champion is crowned!

It's over - Carlsen resigns and congratulates Wesley So. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Chess.com.
Wesley So is mobbed by media and fans - he has quickly become a popular figure in Norway. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Back on what Ian Nepomniachtchi amusingly dubbed 'the board of shame', after being relegated to the bronze final, there were some sharp and arguably much meatier games being played. The Russian opened up a five-point lead by steadily building up pressure and then powering the point home, though there was a very odd double lapse with Caruana on the verge of defeat.

The second game was hugely entertaining, with Nepomniachtchi going on a sacrificial binge that was only good enough for a draw. The players were fascinated enough to remain at the board for a while and discuss the details, instead of prioritizing their limited break time between sets.

With the destination of the title decided, the battle for the bronze continued as the sole game on stage.

The start position for the second pair of fast rapid games.

Nepomniachtchi exhaled heavily to express his skepticism about this setup - and joked with NRK that perhaps there is someone lazy selecting these positions (of course they are chosen by machine) - there is only one change from the previous round, a switch of queen and rook. Both he and Caruana expected the games to be similar in feel. 

Nepomniachtchi was now within one fast rapid victory of clinching third, and he completed his return to top form with another powerful win. In what looked like a roughly balanced position he unleashed a sudden and prolonged ambush of the white king.

None of the live matches in Norway had been close enough to take the contest into blitz games. 

With the results in, it was time to for questions and quotes. Wesley So was characteristically modest in victory.

The victor put the favorites firmly in the shade. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"I'm very happy! It's my favorite type of chess, and it hasn't been popular until the last couple of years. I usually win tournaments the first time and never again. Magnus had a bad couple of days if it was regular chess he would probably have beaten me easily," the winner told NRK. "To me, mainly chess is art - that's why I like Fischer Random a lot, there is a lot of creativity." 

"People love chess here, thanks to Magnus. People here treat players well, and we love it here. I'm very happy to be the world champion but it doesn't change much. I think he was shaken in our game 2, and wasn't able to bounce back, but he congratulated me right after the match, he is a great sportsman," So added.

The winner also explained why he prefers Fischer Random to 'normal' chess. "I dont have to fear that I am running into some deeply prepared line. The trouble with real chess is that people can memorize up to move 40 sometimes more, sometimes less. In order to play good chess you have to be good at different things, working with computers. I don't like memorizing moves that I don't understand. Here in Fischer Random you get a game, literally from the beginning."

Magnus Carlsen was ready to comment after the prize-giving, and gave all credit to his opponent. "I just want to congratulate Wesley So, he played a lot better than me. I played OK on day one but was a bit unlucky result-wise. After that I am just ashamed of the way I played and I wish I could have another chance to do it," Carlsen said.

Wesley So bade Norway farewell with an explanation for why he would not be visibly celebrating here - he has an early flight to his next event, in Romania. 

Replay final day here.