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On Chess: Wesley So Wins Historic 2020 U.S. Chess Championship, Capping off ‘Championship October’

Wesley So dominated the 2020 U.S. Chess Championship, winning the crown for a second time.
Lennart Ootes
St. Louis Chess Club
Wesley So dominated the 2020 U.S. Chess Championship, winning the crown for a second time.

Grandmaster Wesley So displayed both incredible skill and speed on his route to winning the 2020 U.S. Chess Championship, an intense online competition that featured 12 of the nation’s top players battling it out over the course of four days. This was So’s second U.S. Championship victory, earning him a first-place prize of $40,000 and rounding off a historic month of five national title events dubbed “Championship October.”

Like many chess tournaments this year, the 2020 U.S. Chess Championships had to be moved online due to safety concerns around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time that the national championship was held in a virtual format, and to further spice things up, the St. Louis Chess Club decided to use a much faster than usual “rapid” time control, with players having just 25 minutes for the game instead of their typical three-plus hours in classical over-the-board play. This allowed St. Louis to organize all five of the major closed events back-to-back from Oct. 8-29, starting with the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, followed by the U.S. Junior; U.S. Senior; U.S. Women’s and U.S. Chess Championships, featuring a combined prize fund of $330,900.

The winners of the nation’s top five chess events are:

  • Wesley So, 2020 U.S. champion
  • Irina Krush, 2020 U.S. women’s champion
  • Joel Benjamin; 2020 U.S. senior champion
  • John Burke; 2020 U.S. junior champion
  • Carissa Yip; 2020 U.S. girls’ junior champion

With an undefeated score of seven wins and four draws, So dominated the event from start to finish, getting off to a blistering start with five straight wins before ending with a remarkable 9.0/11 points. The only player to ever score higher in a 12-round championship was legendary World Champion Bobby Fischer, who famously swept the field 11-0 in the 1963-64 U.S Championship.

Earning second place with a brilliant performance of his own was 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong, who finished with 8.5/11, while fellow U.S. Olympiad teammate and former U.S. Championship runner-up Ray Robson scored 7.5/11 to take third place.

Entering the second half, the tournament was mainly a three-horse race among So, Xiong and Robson, with So maintaining the lead throughout the event while Xiong and Robson tried to stay within striking distance. A critical matchup in Round 9 effectively decided the tournament, when So managed to trick Xiong deep in the endgame, winning a crucial game and ultimately securing his second national title.

Irina Krush left no chance for her fellow competitors of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Championship as she won both of her games on the fourth and final day to clinch first place with 8.5/11. This 2020 win marks her eighth national title victory. Chasing Irina until the very last moment was the recently crowned U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion, Carissa Yip, who also won both of her final games to finish in a clear second place. The biggest surprise of the event was 11th-seed Dorsa Derakhshani, who scored 7.5/11 points on her way to earning third place.

Daily round recaps and results from the 2020 U.S. Chess Championships can be found online at www.uschesschamps.com, and the video highlights and full commentary can be watched on the St. Louis Chess Club's YouTube and Twitch.tv channels.

Kostya Kavutskiy is professional chess player, writer and streamer residing in Mountain View, California.