The 2021 US Chess Championships heads into the playoffs to determine its winner as Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian ended the eleventh round with a three-way tie for first place on Tuesday (October 19, Manila time) at the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri.
Defending champion So agreed to a truce with Ray Robson and so did Caruana, the second-ranked player in the world, with Sam Shankland and Sevian with Daniel Naroditsky.
As a result, the three closed out the eleven-round stretch with 6.5 points apiece, setting up a rapid playoff on Wednesday (October 20, Manila time) to determine the champion.
So, who handled the white pieces while facing Robson, could have completed his title-retention bid in round eleven had he played his cards well.
However, the weary Filipino-American, who has been seeing continuous action in the competitive circuit for the past several months, failed to capitalize as he settled for a draw.
"I wasn't thinking of the points at all. I was just very fatigued, very tired. I think I've been playing non-stop for the last three months," the 28-year-old pride of Cavite, bared.
So continued, "Considering how badly I'm playing the tournament, I just want to finish it. I've been blundering left and right the last couple of games. I couldn't see the wins and all that. So, it's clear that something is wrong, so I need to work harder with my chess."
The moment So ended the match with Robson, Sevian had already called a truce with the upset-conscious Naroditsky, leaving Caruana with a golden shot to clinch the title outright.
But as fate would have it, Shankland held the fancied Caruana to a crucial draw that cemented the three-man deadlock at the top of the leaderboards.
Meanwhile, Alex Lenderman, who once shared the lead at several points in the classical event before Caruana sent him reeling in the tenth round, had an opening to create a four-man title race in the homestretch, but Lazaro Bruzon Batista dashed his hopes by forcing a draw.
Leinier Dominguez Perez and Darius Swiercz agree to a draw in their match, while John Burke subdued Jeffery Xiong to end his campaign on a positive note.
In Round 10 action, Carauna caught up with the leaders with a win over Lenderman while the rest of the matches ended in draws.
Here is the tournament standings after the eleventh round: Lenderman, Dominguez and Robson finish with 6.0 apiece, half-a-point behind leaders So, Sevian and Caruana; Shankland winds up at 5.5; Burke and Swiercz close out their respective bids at 5.0; Narodistky and Xiong settle for 4.5 to remain ahead of cellar-dweller Bruzon, who end up with 4.0 points.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.