Clutch Chess Day 1: Caruana, Nakamura Lead
Caruana dominated his match against Dominguez on day one of Clutch Chess. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Clutch Chess Day 1: Caruana, Nakamura Lead

ColinStapczynski
ColinStapczynski
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19 | Chess Event Coverage

The Clutch Chess Champions Showdown began on Tuesday with the top four American grandmasters participating in this knockout event with a twist: the last two games of each day are worth more points. GM Fabiano Caruana leads his match against GM Leinier Dominguez Perez with a 6.5-1.5 score, while GM Hikaru Nakamura is ahead of GM Wesley So by 4.5-3.5.

Each match consists of 12 games with six games played each day. The final two games of each day are "clutch" games that are 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. This unique format was created by GM Maurice Ashley. 

How to watch?
The games of the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown can be found here, and the Saint Louis Chess Club live coverage can be found here. GM Robert Hess is providing daily commentary on his Twitch channel. The games start at 1 p.m. Pacific time/9 p.m. Central European time each day.


Caruana, the top American player and world number-two, took the early lead against Dominguez and never let go. Caruana won three games in a row, starting the streak by capitalizing on an endgame error by Dominguez in time trouble in game two.

In game three, Caruana displayed an early piece sacrifice that led to a wild and unbalanced position. Dominguez navigated the position well and gave back material to simplify into a very pleasant endgame where he had two minor pieces for a rook and pawn.

Unfortunately for Dominguez, time trouble reared its ugly head again, and Caruana created two dangerous passed pawns that earned him the full point.

Fabiano Caruana
Caruana was in fantastic form on Tuesday. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Caruana continued by winning game four in a convincing fashion and went into the clutch games leading 3.5/4. The first clutch game ended in a draw, although Caruana was pressing for an extended time in this 104-move marathon game. Dominguez defended with a cool head while under constant time pressure.

The second clutch game was comparatively quiet and eventually led to a queen and minor piece endgame where each side had a passed pawn. After a couple of missteps by Dominguez (who again found himself in time trouble), Caruana won Dominguez's passed d-pawn and cruised to another victory. 

By winning the second clutch game, Caruana increased his lead to 6.5-1.5. Dominguez will look to bounce back in the second half of the match tomorrow, but Caruana's lead looks almost insurmountable at the halfway point.

Leinier Dominguez Perez
Dominguez will look to bounce back on Wednesday but will likely need to win both "clutch" games. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the other match, So and Nakamura started with three draws without a lot of fireworks—both super-GMs had played matches in the Lindores Abbey Rapid tournament on Tuesday before the Clutch Chess event began. Nakamura had a promising position in game one, but So defended strongly. In game three, So missed a chance to win a pawn in a heavy-piece endgame.

So drew first blood by winning game four. After a relatively quiet Catalan Opening, Nakamura started a tactical sequence on move 18 that quickly led to a very difficult heavy-piece endgame for Nakamura. So picked up a pawn on move 23 and created a passed b-pawn a few moves later. Nakamura was not given any chances for counterplay, and So picked up the win.

Wesley So
So took the lead against Nakamura in game four before the clutch games started. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Heading into the clutch games, So was leading 2.5-1.5. The first clutch game was drawn, although it looked scary for Nakamura at points. So tried a Maroczy Bind against his opponent's Sicilian Kan in the second clutch game, where Naka went for a risky line out of the gate by accepting a gambit pawn but falling far behind in development. So turned his developmental lead into a direct kingside attack, but his piece sacrifice on move 22 proved unsound.

Nakamura defended accurately after accepting the piece, and So resigned quickly. Because this sixth game was a clutch one, Nakamura earned two points for the win—flipping the score to 4.5-3.5 in his favor. It is fair to say that the super-GM and streaming celebrity put up a clutch performance in this game. So will look to regain the lead tomorrow.

Hikaru Nakamura
Nakamura won the second clutch game in his match to take the lead against So. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

All games of day 1

The Clutch Chess Champions Showdown is a four-player knockout event that runs on lichess from May 26-29 in association with the Saint Louis Chess Club. The prize fund is $100,000 with a first prize of $30,000. The time control is 10 minutes for all moves with a five-second increment after each move. The four competitors are the four highest-rated American players: GMs Caruana, So, Dominguez and Nakamura.

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