Clutch Chess Day 2: Caruana, So Advance To The Finals
Wesley So will face Fabiano Caruana in the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown final. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Clutch Chess Day 2: Caruana, So Advance To The Finals

| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Wesley So won their respective matches in the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown on Wednesday. Caruana defeated GM Leinier Dominguez Perez with a 15-3 score, while So beat GM Hikaru Nakamura by a score of 9.5-8.5. Caruana and So have both advanced and will meet in the finals on Thursday.

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. 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.

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.

The So-Nakamura match was a bloodthirsty affair, with all four of the pre-clutch games being decisive. So started off day two laser-focused on a mission: stop Nakamura! He won the first three games of the day and regained the match lead.

Game eight of the match saw Nakamura play a quiet move in the English opening with 7.d3, and So equalized early and easily. Nakamura offered a queen exchange on a3, hoping that his bishop pair would give him enough compensation for the doubled a-pawns. It seemed like Nakamura underestimated So's 17...Nxf2 shot: 

Instead of accepting a position where he was simply down a strong passed c-pawn, Nakamura tried to bail out with a tactical sequence, but this didn't work as So shut down his counterplay and extricated his knight with 23...f5. After winning game nine, So extended his lead to 6.5-4.5. 

After losing the first three games of the day, Naka came back with a vengeance in game ten. Naka dismantled So's Grunfeld in a 21-move miniature! So erred with 13...cxd4, and Naka had a very pleasant position with a protected passed b-pawn. After the queens were exchanged, it was clear that Nakamura's pieces were more active, and So likely missed the final shot of the game with 21.Nxe6!

Wesley So
So won the first three games of the day and was leading by a point before the clutch games started. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Heading into the clutch games, So was leading 6.5-5.5. The clutch games played on Wednesday were worth triple points, with three points for a win (as well as an extra $3,000) and one and a half points for a draw. The first clutch game saw So playing the White side of an English where theory was followed for many moves. Nakamura equalized without much effort, and the game fizzled out to a dead equal position and eventually a draw. 

The draw in the first clutch game added one and a half points to each player's score, bringing the match score to 8-7 in So's favor heading into the final clutch game. The second clutch game saw Nakamura in a must-win situation with the white pieces. After a peaceful-looking queen's gambit declined, Nakamura showed some aggressive intentions with a quick Ne5 and f4. The tactics started with 13...Nxd4 and 14.Bxh7+

A few moves later So forced a queen trade that resulted in an interesting queenless middlegame. Nakamura tried to create some tactics, but So defended with a cool head and exchanged pieces until an opposite-colored bishop endgame occurred. Nakamura could not conjure up any magic in the final game, due to So's strong play, and a draw was agreed.

After the two clutch games, the final score was 9.5-8.5. So won the match and advances to the final on Thursday.

Hikaru Nakamura
Nakamura kept it interesting throughout the match.

In the other match, Caruana nursed his large advantage on the scoreboard versus Dominguez. Caruana stole the show on day one of the event by winning four games (including a clutch game worth double points).  Game seven was drawn, and game eight saw Fabiano escaping from a worse position with a win (due to time trouble for Dominguez)—extending his lead to 8-2. Dominguez fought back in game nine and won his first game of the match. 

Leinier Dominguez Perez
Dominguez could not get any momentum going against Caruana. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Game ten saw Caruana winning from a difficult position yet again, as Dominguez was pressing but blundered in serious time trouble. Caruana was leading 9-3 heading into the final two clutch games. Just like the other match, the final two clutch games of the day were worth triple points. This meant that Dominguez needed to win both clutch games to tie the match.

The first clutch game saw Caruana on the white side of a Nimzo-Indian defense. Caruana made a slight error with the natural-looking 17.Nc5, and Dominguez was working with a pleasant and equal position. After some exchanges, the game entered a rook and bishop ending where both sides had structural weaknesses, but Dominguez' queenside pawns were locked on light squares and became targets. 

Caruana methodically pressed in the ending with a passed h-pawn in his back pocket. After creating a passed a-pawn, Caruana pushed both of his passed pawns down the board to the seventh rank (mixed in with some mating ideas on f7) to take the win. This clutch win earned Caruana three points, moving the match score to 12-3 and officially ending Dominguez' chances.

The second clutch game saw Caruana playing a French defense. Dominguez had a promising position but missed 23.e6 and then traded a rook and bishop for Caruana's queen. In the materially imbalanced position, Caruana and Dominguez took turns with slight advantages before Caruana tricked Dominguez into a mating net.

After the two clutch games, the final score was 15-3 in Caruana's favor. Caruana has shown wondrous form, winning four games out of six on both day one and day two. He advances to the final where he will face So for the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown title.

Fabiano Caruana
Caruana cruised to the Clutch Chess Final. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

All games of day 2

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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