By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Wesley So crushed Ivan Saric of Croatia in the 11th round and crept closer to the top of the standings of the Tata Steel chess super-tournament in Wijk ann Zee, the Netherlands.
The 21-year-old So took out the Croatian grandmaster in only 26 moves of a Ruy Lopez to grab solo second with 7.5 points, only half a point behind the tournament leader, world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
“Anything is possible,” said the Bacoor, Cavite-born So, now playing under the U.S. flag, in a post game interview. “Having the opportunity to win the tournament is simply amazing. It’s something I could not envision before the tournament.”
It was So’s fourth win against seven draws to remain as the only player in the 14-man tournament without a loss.
The victory also pushed up So’s live rating – daily updates of the chess ratings of top world chess players, usually updated within a game in a top tournament, and based on official FIDE ratings – to 2788 points.
That also pushed So as the top U.S. player, 12 points better than the erstwhile highest-rated player, Hikaru Nakamura.
Although no official records are kept, close followers of So’s career said it was the 54th straight game, dating back to the fourth round of the 2014 Bill Wright Saint Louis Open that So has not lost a traditional chess game.
Carlsen drew with Maxine Vachier-Lagrave of France in the 11th round and two more players are within striking distance going into the last two rounds of the tournament.
That draw with Carlsen also gave Vachier-Lagrave seven points, promising an exciting finish to the tournament, one of the most prestigious in chess.
Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Liren Ding of China have also seven points each after both prevailed over their 11th round opponents.
Giri is one of two opponents So will face in his last two matches. The other is Loek Van Wely, also of the Netherlands, the “Dutch national team,” So jokingly described.
He plays black against Giri and white against Van Wely.
Carlsen meets Ding in the 12th round with the result also likely to bear in the final standings.
Playing white against Saric, So choose some sharp lines of one of the game’s oldest openings, demanding precise moves from both players.
In the 23rd move, however, Saric lost a piece in what game analysts said was a blunder in a mistaken effort to win a rook.
Three moves after that, the Croatian was forced to resign with a piece down and So mounting a kingside attack.
“There are still mountains to climb,” So said when asked how he felt about his climb in the live ratings.