Reigning champion Wesley So placed a premium on safety as he settled for a draw in the marquee clash with world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana in the fourth round of the 2021 US Chess Championships on Sunday (October 10, Manila time) at the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri.
The Filipino-American So, who was celebrating his 28th birthday, seized control for most of the match and even had a slim opening down the stretch to thwart Caruana's kingside attack.
However, So decided to take a much safer route in the end, allowing the Italian-American Grandmaster to escape with a perpetual check.
"I mean the last thing I want to do is play chess on my birthday," the pride of Bacoor, Cavite said moments after the match.
"I'm very glad tomorrow is a rest day, and it's also one of the reasons why I decided to play a bit safe today because the last thing you want is to lose on your birthday."
Both So and Caruana shared the spoils to wind up with identical 2.5 points at the end of the fourth round, where Ray Robson vaulted atop the standings with his 3.0 points after earning his second win at the expense of hapless Jeffery Xiong, who suffered his third consecutive defeat.
Meanwhile, Leinier Dominguez and Alex Lenderman clinched a breakthrough in the classical event with respective victories over Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky.
In other results, John Burke and Lazaro Bruzon called a truce while Sam Sevian held Darius Swiercz to a draw.
Here are the tournament standings after round four: Robson perched atop with 3.0 points; So and Caruana remain entangled in second place with 2.5 points, tied with Dominguez, Sevian and Lenderman; Bruzon and Burke with 2.0 points; Shankland and Swiercz with 1.5 points; Naroditsky with 1.0; and Xiong at the bottom with 0.5.
The US Chess Championships will have a rest day before action resumes on Tuesday (October 12, Manila time) for the fifth round.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.