Wesley So and the Question of Pragmatism over Glory

Wesley So

Today was an interesting day in the chess world when Wesley So decided on a pragmatic course of action when he had an opportunity for glorious victory. It was a complicated decision with a number of factors but I thought it was the correct choice; I am interested in what other people think. Let me explain.

There is a chess event called the Grand Chess Tour in which the top players in the world compete in a series of individual tournaments. The top four point getters in all the tournaments advance to a big money final. Each of the tournaments themselves have significant prizes for finishing in the top spots. Wesley So was invited to participate even though he had a relatively subpar chess season the previous year. He is considered one of the weakest players in the event. Weak being relative, he is a fantastic chess player by any standard.

In the first stop of the tour he did reasonably well, fourth out of ten players, and is having an excellent tournament in the second stop, this is where he made his pragmatic decision.

The current stop on the Grand Chess Tour, Croatia, has more points available to get into the finals than other events because of the format. It also has a somewhat different structure than other tournaments in that the players play eleven games in twelve days with only a single rest day after the sixth game.

Wesley So is doing exceptionally well. Going into the penultimate round he was in clear second place behind only World Champion Magnus Carlsen who is playing some of the best chess of his career. He was also a full point ahead of several players who were tied for third place. In a chess game you get half a point for a draw, 1 point for a win, and 0 points for a loss.

This situation means if he drew the game against Carlsen it almost certainly guaranteed Wesley So would finish the tournament in second place. This finish would gain him significantly more money and points than finishing tied for third or worse, a distinct possibility if he lost the game against Carlsen.

Wesley So was playing with the white pieces which is considered an advantage and generally speaking the player with white is the aggressor and the player with black is trying to draw the game, although this is certainly not absolute.

I know I’ve spent considerable time setting up the question but I think it’s important that we weigh all the factors, overall Grand Chess Tour position, individual event position, general fatigue, the state of Carlsen’s play, etc.

In any case, Wesley So played a relatively passive game and quickly settled for a draw with Carlsen. This almost guaranteed him second place in the tournament and also allowed him to rest up for the final round of a tournament in which fatigue certainly plays a role.

Many people are being critical of this decision, they think he had a chance to win the tournament and he should have gone all out, even though doing so against an in-form Carlsen was extremely dangerous. Wesley So weighed the benefits of drawing against the negative potential of losing and decided the former was the wiser course of action. I happen to agree with him but I can see the other point of view.

So, what do you think?

Should Wesley So have gone for Glory or was a Pragmatic Draw the right decision?

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Tom Liberman

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