Wesley So is the first player to qualify for the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship final. The American grandmaster defeated Russia’s Vladislav Artemiev 17.5-11.5 in their semifinal on Thursday.
Before the match So was modest about his chances. Asked how he would beat the Russian player, he replied: “Beat him?”
But the 26-year-old American GM from Minnetonka, Minnesota (U.S.), dominated the match, as he won all three segments against the 21-year-old GM from Omsk, Russia.
In fact, Artemiev could never enjoy a lead in this match, and So even achieved a better score than SmarterChess had predicted.
So started the match with two wins, and in between three draws Artemiev then won two games as well. He evened the score by game seven, but So won again after that and then never gave his opponent the chance to tie again.
After having blundered a full piece in the starting game, Artemiev got confused in the second game’s very tactical middlegame position. Look at all the pieces that are hanging.
In game four, on the other hand, the tactics clearly worked in Artemiev’s favor. He won a nice endgame:
Going “full Hikaru,” as the commentators called it, Artemiev opened with 1.b3 in game seven and, when everything seemed to be rather quiet, he suddenly sacrificed a rook for a winning attack:
A big part of Artemiev’s loss in this match is related to one-move blunders. Much more than his opponent, he made inexplicable mistakes, especially for a player of his caliber.
In the following endgame, what could be more natural than putting the king on g7?
5+1 games | Score
So’s lead after the five-minute portion was two points, and when the three-minute segment was over, it had increased to five points.
The middle part did start with a win for Artemiev, but that was due to a “premove mouse slip” by So, who later said he had expected the white rook to go to g4:
Recovering well from this howler, So played a good game for White in the English Attack. Black could definitely have defended better, but So’s finish was nice:
But most of the time So just outplayed Artemiev in the long run. In game 19, the last one before the bullet, Artemiev managed to self-trap his rook:
3+1 games | Score
Here’s the first bullet game, a crushing win for So:
And let’s also look at one more win by Artemiev, who got a strong and then winning attack, faced tenacious defending by his opponent but prevailed in the end:
1+1 games | Score
“I think my opponent played better than me today, so it’s logical that I lost. I would like to congratulate my opponent,” said Artemiev [quotation edited for clarity—PD]. “I tried to play as normal, but it was very difficult today. I think that in the last part of our match I was nervous and not stable.”
The players agreed with commentator Robert Hess that winning the 10th game, the last in the five-minute segment, was the turning point.
“I was playing badly at that point, and I was worried that I might do a tilt, which is very popular these days,” said So. “When the score was even, I wasn’t playing very well at that stage, and I think Vladislav could have taken advantage of that fact, but I managed to pull myself together, make some draws and avoid losing games.”
Artemiev earned $1,190 based on win percentage. So won $3,000 for the victory plus $1,810 on percentage for a total of $4,180.
So will now play the winner of the other semifinal between Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi. The date and time for that match is not known yet but will be announced soon.
Replay the commentary with GMs Eric Hansen and Robert Hess.
All match games for replay and download: