Grandmaster Wesley So survived the upset axe from teenager Jeffrey Xiong with a 52-move victory of a Sicilian Defense to reclaim the solo lead after the ninth round of the US Chess Championships on Thursday (Wednesday in the US).
The win gave 27-year-old So back the lone grip of the top spot with eight points after sharing it with the 19-year-old Xiong entering the round.
If he could hang on to the lead with two rounds to go, So will emerge with his second US title after prevailing three years ago.
On top of that, he will pocket the top purse worth US$40,000 (P2 million) for his feat.
Xiong, who trained in 2014 to 2015 under US-based Filipino Grandmaster and University of Texas-Dallas coach Julio Catalino Sadorra, slipped back to a share of second with Ray Robson with seven points.
So almost blew this one as he attacked overzealously that gave Xiong some winning chances, but Xiong failed to cash in his advantage.
Xiong had a chance to salvage a draw but he blew that one too as he blundered in time pressure.
So could wrap it all up when he clashes with Robson, his former Webster University teammate, in the 10th and penultimate round and an off-form third seed Hikaru Nakamura in the final round Friday.
Prior to their duel, Xiong snared the share of the lead after beating Robson and Nakamura in the seventh and eighth rounds, while So drew with Sam Sevian and bested former Iran No. 1 Elshan Moradiabadi.
But Xiong’s nerves in his duel with So cost him his title chances.