Jeffery Xiong, 19 years old, 2nd in the world under 20, has confirmed his enormous talent by putting Magnus Carlsen in trouble and going back from an initial 0-3 on the first day of the Thermostat Chess tournament (some games from each duel score double or triple) . The young American will face the second half of the duel on Monday with a minimal disadvantage (3.5-4.5). More difficult is the French Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 2nd seed, who loses 2.5-5.5 to another American, Wesley So. The quarterfinals continue this Sunday with the Caruana-Leinier Domínguez and Aronián meetings- Grischuk.

“The last three games have been bullshit.” That’s how angry Carlsen was just minutes after saving himself from a second consecutive loss in the 6th, which, like the 5th, is worth two points. Xiong also squeezed the world champion a lot in the first two, but he loosened both under pressure from the clock, due to the enormous complexity in one and because technical precision is not yet among his best weapons, in the other.

The 3rd is an attack masterpiece by Carlsen, who gave the American of Chinese parents no choice. The Scandinavian certainly had reason to be very angry afterwards, because he wasted a big lead in the 4th, and played much worse than Xiong in the 5th, who lost. It was there that, for the first time since the hectic inaugural assault, the Norwegian sat up fully in his chair, denoting concern. And only a brilliant defensive resource allowed him to save the 6th when he was on the brink of defeat, which would have put him at a disadvantage on the scoreboard until Monday.

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Wesley So, during the 2019 Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis (Missouri, USA) Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

As it was, it is likely that the champion was overconfident after the initial 3-0. But it is no less true that his rival made him sweat, which very few achieve against Carlsen. “It is clear that he is much better than me when we play with a few seconds each. On Monday I will do my best to avoid those situations. Apart from that problem, I am reasonably happy because, except in the 3rd, I have achieved advantageous or balanced positions in all of them ”, summarized Xiong after his partial defeat.

The other duel was much more technical, less spectacular, and reconfirmed that So is as strong as he is irregular, and gray at times. Vachier-Lagrave, 2nd in the world list of fast games, was the favorite, but has clearly been surpassed by the American, especially in terms of opening preparation.

However, as So himself has stressed, “three points of advantage are not many with this format, because games 11 and 12 will be worth three points each, and Maxime will have great hope in them to come back”. In the other duel, the facts indicate that Carlsen will have to use himself very thoroughly and not lose concentration at any time because Xiong shows great self-confidence and no fear, as was seen in the World Cup last year. In addition, the young American talent is very clear that the best -almost the only- way to win the champion is to complicate the games as much as possible, to the greatest delight of the fans.

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