Philippine-born Wesley So bolstered his title-retention bid with a crucial win over John Burke in the seventh round of the 2021 US Chess Championships on Thursday (October 14, Manila time) at the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri.
The defending champion So displayed composure as he picked apart Burke's Anti-Berlin 4.d3, whose risk-taking decision gave the Filipino-American an opening to seize full control in the endgame.
"Last night, I checked his openings. I was looking for a way to play for a win with the black pieces, but he knows his theory really well," shared the 28-year-old pride of Cavite, who came armed with deep preparation.
So then chimed in, "Big shoutout to him for not forcing to draw with the white pieces."
The victory proved all-important for So as it catapulted him towards a share of the lead in the classical event, where he holds 4.5 points, tied with Sam Sevian and Alex Lenderman.
Sevian, who was coming off a rousing victory over world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, subdued Lazaro Bruzon Batista to earn a piece of the top spot, while Lenderman called a truce with Jeffery Xiong to remain perched among the leaders.
In other matches, Caruana clinched his breakthrough win at the expense of Ray Robson; Daniel Naroditsky held Leinier Dominguez to a draw; and Sam Shankland agreed to a truce with Darius Swiercz.
Here are the tournament standings after the seventh round: Dominguez and Robson stand behind leaders So, Sevian and Lenderman with 4.0 points each; Caruana earns a solo spot with 3.5 points; Bruzon, Shankland, Swiercz and Naroditsky find themselves in a deadlock with 3.0 points apiece; while Burke accompanies Xiong at the bottom with 2.5 each.
The eight round of the US Chess Championships will commence on Friday (October 15, Manila time).
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.