MANILA, Philippines – The newest United States chess champion hails from the Philippines.
Wesley So, a Cavite-born chesser who now lives in Minnetonka, added the US Championship plum to his growing collection of trophies as he bested Alexander Onischuk in the deciding two-game playoff, 1.5-.5, in St. Louis, Missouri on Tuesday.
The Cavite-born So, 23, won the first showdown in 31 moves of an English Opening and then eked out a marathon 62-move draw in the second of a King's Indian Attack to secure the win and his very first US crown while denying Onischuk, the 2006 winner, his second triumph.
The World No. 2's US triumph was actually not as tough and strong as the other super tournaments he won including the Tata Steel Masters where he won over reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen early in the year and the Sinquefield Cup last year.
But So made it known he wanted to win the event participated by the US' top 12 players and won by legendary players, including the late great former world champion Bobby Fisher.
"I really wanted to win this one this year, because it’s the strongest national competition in the world, So told the US' Star Tribune.
"All the great (US) players have won this one," he added.
So and Onishchuk both ended up on top with seven points apiece after the 11-round tournament and needed a pair of rapid games using 25-minute time control to break the tie.
It was all So, who came to US from the Philippines on a Webster University scholarship five years ago before deciding to change affiliations a few years later, needed to dispatch Onischuk, who 18 years older.
In their first game, So pounced on a two-pawn sacrifice that allowed Onischuk to seize the initiative a dangerous queenside attack.
But Onishchuk failed to find the correct continuation in deep time trouble, giving So a chance to neutralize it by providing a rook for a bishop for an unstoppable passed pawn on the center.
In the second, Onischuk gained the early upperhand when he managed to emerge with a dangerous pair of bishops against So's two galloping knights but the former threw away his advantage to allow So to escape with the title-sealing standoff.