Playing the match on his 25th birthday, Wesley So defeated Vidit Gujrathi with a 16.5-10.5 score. So’s next opponent in the Speed Chess Championship‘s semifinals will be Polish rising star Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
So’s win on Tuesday was expected, but the score was higher than the difference between the players, for most of the match. After 19 games, the margin was just two games in favor of So. Vidit made it competitive at the start of the bullet, but So pulled away in the final minutes.
The SmarterChess match prediction was just one point off.
Still in Batumi, where he played the Olympiad with the silver-winning USA team, So took an early lead in the match. After two draws, he won both games three and four.
Whereas the first win was a convincing one, Vidit should in fact have leveled the score after building up a winning position in a Catalan game. (This opening would be seen many more times in the match.)
So’s 33rd move, however, was a bolt from the blue. Noticed by commentator GM Eric Hansen a few seconds before it was played, Black took over the game with such a nasty move!
Playing from Pentala Harikrishna‘s house in Prague, Vidit won his first one in game six, the start of a series of four games all won by the white player. Continuing their theoretical Catalan battle, So did equalize quickly, only to blunder soon after:
Another little opening battle, played in three games in the match, was the Open Ruy Lopez. After scoring a draw in his first try, Vidit lost the next two in this opening and stopped playing it. Afterward he described it as “a bit too passive for blitz.”
In the second of these two, game seven of the match, a positional pawn sacrifice gave So a dominating middlegame position:
Remarkably, So then decided to repeat the first Catalan game for no fewer than 28 moves. It’s true that Black was still OK there, but not how So played it. This time, Vidit didn’t spoil his winning advantage.
After another win for So in an Open Ruy Lopez and a draw, the 5|1 segment was over. So was two points ahead, a margin Vidit would never manage to decrease in the remainder.
5|1 segment | Score
So kept things well under control in the 3|1 phase as he started with a win before five straight games ended in draws.
In that first one, So he switched to the Scotch. He didn’t get much as White (and would never play this opening again!) and was even a healthy pawn down in the endgame, but then Vidit allowed a simple double attack in the knight endgame and everything changed.
The 3|1 portion ended with both players getting a win. First, So increased his lead to 10.5-6.5 with an easy win in an Exchange Caro-Kann, a structure that was basically an Exchange Queen’s Gambit with colors reversed.
Just when So seemed to get an attack, Vidit could reach a holdable endgame but with little time, both sides made a few tactical errors—the last one by the Indian GM.
The match wasn’t decided yet as Vidit gained back some confidence with an excellent endgame grind from another Catalan game.
After only a small loss in the three-minute portion, Vidit was three games down going into the bullet. It was not over yet, especially as he took the first bullet game.
3|1 segment | Score
Vidit won that first bullet game as Black, from a Sicilian. So wouldn’t play 1.e4 anymore in the remainder, even though he got a promising position as White out of the opening, and was completely winning afterward.
The blunder, obviously with only a few seconds on the clock, went from +9 to -#4 in engine language, also known as allowing a mate in four instead of winning a queen. Or, as IM Danny Rensch put it, “Bananas finish!”
After a draw, So ended up winning five bullet games in the remainder, vs only one more for Vidit. The last three games all went to So, who thus ended up making the difference at the last moment.
With a score of 13.5-10.5 and only few minutes on the match clock, going crazy as Black in game 25 was not a bad idea for Vidit, but it just backfired.
1|1 segment | Score
“He always had this one- or two-point lead, which was quite annoying,” said Vidit. “I should have switched [openings] earlier and do some Sicilian or something trying to complicate as Black.”
About losing three games in the Catalan as Black, So said: “I was working in this line before with a German grandmaster [most probably Georg Meier —PD] so I was surprised Vidit went for the exact same line. I knew Black was slightly worse in this position but I was quite confident that I would hold it, so I kept repeating it.”
Vidit, who was under the weather the last few days: “This was the only line I managed to check. That was my preparation!”
He added that his good friend Anish Giri had given him some typical advice before the match, namely: “Don’t be yourself.” Vidit: “So I was trying not to be myself, but it didn’t work out!”
So revealed that having a chocolate lava birthday cake before the match was part of his preparation!
So moves on to the semis, where he meets Duda.
With his win, So earned $2,429.42 vs $596.08 for Vidit. The Twitch community donated $25.50 that was added to the original $3,000 prize pool.