Winning On Demand, Carlsen Clinches Clutch Chess International
Carlsen back to shushing when sure of victory. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Winning On Demand, Carlsen Clinches Clutch Chess International

| 47 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen won the Clutch Chess International. In the second half of the final, played on Sunday, the Norwegian grandmaster was on the verge of defeat after losing the first clutch game to GM Fabiano Caruana but then delivered in the second.

Carlsen was back to shushing, holding an index finger in front of his mouth—a gesture made by many NBA players to demonstrate their dominance—when he was sure of victory in the last clutch game. Carlsen had shushed prematurely in a game against the same opponent in the 2018 Sinquefield Cup where he failed to convert a promising position and admitted his gesture "kind of backfired."

Almost two years later, Golden State Warrior fan Carlsen was sure this time and delivered. He won a must-win game. 

"I've been advocating doing the shush when you got a good chance to win because I feel like when you do it after you've won, you don't actually risk being humiliated," Carlsen said. "Why would you try and do this.... There should be some skin in the game. But this time I felt like it was an appropriate moment to do it. But I promise next time I'll do it when I have something to lose!"

The final saw an incredible run of the score. After two draws at the start, the next 10 games were all decisive except one! Carlsen used another basketball analogy: "There were no consecutive wins in the whole match, which is pretty sick, so it was really like both teams scoring on every possession."

The final day saw Carlsen starting with a good win, but he admitted that his opponent played better chess in the next four games. After a draw in game eight, Caruana leveled the score in game nine, but Carlsen took the lead again in game 10 (see the game viewer below).

We pick up the match with the first clutch game. From 6.5-5.5 down, Caruana jumped straight to 8.5-6.5. It was the first time he was leading, and his fourth(!) comeback in the match, after a game where he took full control in the early middlegame:

"That was an important game, and I also thought it was quite a good game," Caruana said.

Carlsen wasn't too stressed when this happened. "To be honest, I was fairly calm," he said. "I knew I would have one more chance, and the way game 11 had gone I had sort of reconciled with the fact that I was probably gonna lose that game for a while, so at that point I just relished the challenge."

The final game couldn't have gone better for him: "The way it went was a dream since everything worked just out very well, and I didn't really have to squeeze it out. I could go for the jugular at an early point, and that was it."

"I didn't believe I would lose the last game but yeah, something just went very wrong," said Caruana. "To be honest, I didn't expect him to repeat this. The first day I saw that 6...b5 is supposed to be a decent move, and I'd take it from there, which was probably a bit too casual because I obviously misplayed it. It wasn't a very good final game; I was blundering everything. I'm sure he played the game well, but from my side, it was just like I wasn't there in the last game."

Fabiano Caruana 2020 Clutch Chess International final
Fabiano Caruana. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Carlsen complimented his opponent and agreed with the commentators that Caruana's reputation of not being great at faster time controls is outdated: "I gotta say that Fabi has made incredible strides in rapid and blitz chess. Judging by the way we played today, he was as deserved a winner as I was. He deserves credit for a very good match." 

And what about that shushing? "At the very least I've given my opponents more ammunition, and I'm sure I'll see a lot of shushing when I lose games, not only by GM Anish Giri!"

Magnus Carlsen 2020 Clutch Chess International final
Magnus Carlsen. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Games final, day 2

Clutch Chess International final bracket
The Clutch Chess International Champions Showdown was an eight-player knockout event that ran on lichess June 6-14 in association with the Saint Louis Chess Club. The prize fund was $265,000 with a first prize of $50,000.

The time control was 10 minutes for all moves with a five-second increment after each move. Each match consisted of 12 games with six games played each day. The final two games of each day were "clutch" games that were worth double the points on day one and triple on day two, as well as a $2,000 bonus per game on day one and $3,000 on day two.

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