Philippine-born Wesley So set his title-retention bid in the 2021 US Chess Championships in motion with a draw against Jeffery Xiong on Thursday (October 7, Manila time) at the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri.
The reigning champion So faced tough resistance from last year's runner up Xiong, who utilized the white pieces to push the fancied Filipino-American against the wall.
However, So, the fourth placer in the recently-concluded Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, displayed composure as he warded off every advancement from Xiong, steering the match to a threefold repetition at the end.
Both So and Xiong shared the spoils with 0.5 points to close out the first round, where only two matches reached a decisive conclusion while the rest ended with draws.
One of the victors on opening day was Ray Robson, who dispatched Daniel Naroditsky in convincing manner. Joining Robson on top of the standings is the 20-year-old John Burke, the youngest competitor in the event, who defeated Dariusz Swiercz.
World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana and Leinier Dominguez were also held to draws by Lazaro Bruzon and Alex Lenderman, respectively.
Here is the tournament standings after round one: Robson and Burke share first place with 1.0 points apiece; Caruana, So, Xiong and Dominguez find themselves in an eight-man logjam with Bruzon, Lenderman, Sam Shankland and Sam Sevian with 0.5 points each; while Swiercz and Naroditsky settle at the bottom of the pack without a point.
The US Chess Championships will swing into its second round on Friday (October 8, 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.