2021 U.S. Championship: Playoff Recap
GM Wesley So became the 2021 U.S. Champion after winning a three-way playoff tiebreak against GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Sam Sevian with a final score of 2.0/2.
So managed to defeat both Caruana and Sevian in the rapid round-robin, earning him the $50,000 first place prize and his third national title.
Check out the full replay of live coverage from the day here. The time control for the rapid tiebreak was 10 minutes per side with a two second delay, followed by blitz and potential armageddon in case of a tie.
2021 U.S. Championship - Final Standings
GAME 1: Caruana - So | 0-1, 46 moves
The first playoff game saw the players trade queens early on to reach a balanced endgame, where a mistake by So gave Caruana a chance to sacrifice a piece for a powerful initiative. Although So was forced to immediately give back the extra piece, he managed to keep the position playable and as Caruana got down into time-trouble, the game quickly turned in Black’s favor. In an already winning endgame for So, Caruana ran out of time and lost the game.
33.Nc6+! left Caruana with a winning position, but he soon misplayed things as his clock ran low. | 0-1, 46 moves
After winning the first game, So became a big favorite to win it all. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
GAME 2: Sevian - Caruana | 0-1, 49 moves
Having lost the first game, Caruana was in a must-win situation heading into the second round of the playoff. Playing Black against Sevian, Caruana gained a small edge on the board as he forced a queen trade to head into a pleasant endgame. After slowly building up the pressure, Caruana eventually found a winning tactical shot to decide the game.
44...Re2+! ended the game in style as 45.Nxe2 fxe2-+ would soon leave Black with an extra knight. | 0-1, 49 moves
Caruana plays the winning 44...Re2+! in Game 2. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
GAME 3: So - Sevian | 1-0, 33 moves
The third game saw Wesley just needing a draw to clinch the title, while Sevian would need to win to force another three-way tie and take the playoffs to blitz. Essaying the King’s Indian, Sevian played in an offbeat style to create some imbalance in the position, but at the cost of weakening his own kingside. This allowed So to exploit Black’s weaknesses to seize the initiative and win an exchange, giving him a decisive edge. Sevian tried to put up resistance and keep the game complicated, but Wesley remained calm and slowly converted his advantage, winning the playoff.
16.Bc4! was a killer shot, as 16...dxc3 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18.Qd5+ would leave White with a decisive attack. | 1-0, 33 moves
So was simply flawless in Game 3, earning him his third national title. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes