Philippine-born Grandmaster Wesley So raised the curtains to his Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals campaign on a positive note after defeating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on Sunday (September 26, Manila time).
The Filipino-American So brushed aside an early draw before hitting his stride en route to a 3-1 win over the top-ranked Azerbaijan chess player.
"It's a very long tournament so one match at a time, but it's very good to beat someone of Shakhriyar's caliber," said So, a 27-year-old native of Cavite.
The triumphant start increased So's points to 15.5 to strengthen his hold of the second spot in the standings. This allows him to stay within striking distance of world champion Magnus Carlsen, who also had a rousing opener to his title-retention bid.
"Someone's got to catch Magnus! He is in a comfortable lead and he is the best player, but someone's got to try. So, I'll definitely, depending on my form, I just wanna play good chess," So expressed.
Norway's Carlsen stamped his class over Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland with two wins and a draw to remain perched atop the leaderboards with 19.5 points.
There are 3 points given for a win in rapid chess, and the points are split with winner awarded 2 points and 1 for the loser if the match is decided in a playoff.
Meanwhile, Armenian Levon Aronian preserved his third place in the standings with nine points despite a defeat against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France in Armageddon.
The opening day of the Tour Finals also saw a couple of matches that went to tiebreaks, one of which is the bout between Vladislav Artemiev and Teimour Radjabov where the two figured in four draws before the former carved out a win.
Anish Giri also needed a tiebreaker to edge out Hikaru Nakamura to close out the opening round of the competition.
The wins for Giri and Artemiev allowed them to overtake Radjabov and Nakamura in the standings, respectively.
The standings after the first round are: Carlsen, 19.5 pts; So, 15.5; Aronian, 9; Giri, 7.5; Radjabov, 7; Artemiev, 5.5; Nakamura, 5; Vachier-Lagrave, 4.5; Mamedyarov, 0.5; and Duda, 0.
The second round of the Tour Finals will commence on Monday with the following pairings: Mamedyarov-Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave-So, Artemiev-Aronian, Giri-Duda, and Nakamura-Radjabov.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
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