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HomeChessTeam Wesley So & Alice Lee Kill With Kindness And Strong Chess

Team Wesley So & Alice Lee Kill With Kindness And Strong Chess

GM Wesley So and IM Alice Lee advance to the Semifinals of the 2024 Team Chess Battle. On Thursday, they defeated GM Peter Leko and GM Pia Cramling 2-0, following up on yesterday’s sweep with another.

Even the seeds of trash talk bloomed into compliments in what might be the most wholesome match chess has ever seen. So and Lee let their moves do the talking instead, and the result wasn’t in doubt except for a few moments in the second game. 

The third quarterfinal match will be GM Peter Svidler and GM Jan Gustafsson vs. GM Daniel Naroditsky and GM Robert Hess. That starts on Monday, February 26, at 3:00 p.m. EST / 21:00 CET / 23:30 IST.

Pre-Match Banter: Attempts At Trash Talk End In Compliments

Although they’re all sharks at the board, one would be hard-pressed to find four kinder souls in the chess world. Hess tried to tease out some trash talk but, in his attempts, only managed to extract more compliments. 

Leko and Cramling, being their usual class-act selves, didn’t even try. So sort of attempted:

A moment later, he pointed out that Leko was a legend and was just one draw away from becoming a world champion, against GM Vladimir Kramnik in 2004.

So also dished out a semi-threat to Cramling: “Pia, if you don’t play well, maybe we’ll play against your daughter instead.”

Pia, if you don’t play well, maybe we’ll play against your daughter instead.

—Wesley So

He then wished her luck in Stavanger, Norway, where she’ll be playing in the inaugural Norway Chess Women’s Tournament.

With smiles all around and a few shy laughs, they dove right into the chess. Let’s do the same!

So & Lee 2-0 Leko & Cramling 

The opening phase was key in the first game. Although Leko was able to recall exact games from a decade ago in the same line, his team mixed something up. He concluded that the game was a warmup: “We lost in the opening battle, this is not chess!”

Leko and Cramling’s polite nature stung them in this game. Both players tried to play an opening that suited their partner rather than themselves—but as early as move seven, Cramling pointed out that neither of them was happy with the opening outcome. The American team went on to win a pawn and converted ruthlessly.

Time trouble haunted the veteran team in both games as they talked at a more-or-less leisurely pace—until it was too late. So attributed his team’s success to more experience playing online, saying:

We’re playing against, you know, two living legends who are some of the best players to ever play the game. But back in their era. I’m not sure when’s the first year Peter started using a laptop.

Leko retorted: “It was 1992!” And So offered that he got his first laptop in 2003, six years before Lee was even born.

The second game featured an interesting opening move 7.Qf3!? by Leko and Cramling, followed by “caveman chess,” pushing the h-pawn. Although the American team handled the opening well and got a winning position, they started to drift. 

Defending a lost position, Leko and Cramling suddenly got several chances to win—but only about 10 seconds per move by this point. One of the more findable tactics, if you do have time, is the one below. Can you find it? White to move and win material.

Despite giving a few chances, So and Lee played the more convincing game—which took some extra seconds to end as Cramling needed help finding the resign button. This battle is our Game of the Day, which GM Rafael Leitao goes over below.

All four players were eager to analyze the full game from beginning to end, which took up most of the interview time. “I feel like we were very close, just we ran out of time,” said Leko before they dove into a deep analysis.

I feel like we were very close, just we ran out of time.

—Peter Leko

If you have 15 minutes to spare, it’s well worth your time to listen to the players’ thoughts. The clip below starts at that point:

The analysis ended with more compliments to each other from the well-mannered players. Leko and Cramling end their run with $2,000 apiece.

Our first semifinal match is set. So and Lee will battle against Team C-Squared (at a date to be announced). So explained that this is one of the toughest pairings possible in the tournament and added: “We can tell Cristian [GM Cristian Chirila] that if they beat us we’re never going to join his podcast!”

We can tell Cristian [Chirila] that if they beat us we’re never going to join his podcast!

—Wesley So

Team Chess Battle is an event where two-player teams can freely communicate while facing other teams in a series of rapid chess games. Eight teams of two players each compete in a single-elimination bracket. Matches consist of two games (the Final is a four-game match) with a 10+10 time control. The event starts on February 21 and features a $25,000 prize fund.

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