Carlsen, So Lead Clutch Chess Matches
Carlsen and Xiong. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Carlsen, So Lead Clutch Chess Matches

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen leads his Clutch Chess match vs GM Jeffery Xiong 4.5-3.5 after the first day of play. In the other half of the bracket, GM Wesley So scored 5.5-2.5 vs. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

A week after the first Clutch Chess event, an Americans-only affair that was won by So, the Saint Louis Chess Club is already doing a new event of double the size. Eight top grandmasters compete for an impressive $265,000 prize fund playing 10+5 games in a knockout format.

Clutch Chess International Champions Showdown

The format is the same as last week. 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 idea being the clutch games is that even if someone takes a big lead, the match can be exciting till the very end because the opponent can make a big comeback in just one game. And that's exactly what happened in the clash between Carlsen and Xiong.

The world champion got off to a great start and took a 3-0 lead vs the American youngster. Carlsen was then also winning in game four but let it slip away. After this draw, Xiong won the sixth game, a clutch that was awarded double points, to set a 3.5-2.5 score at halftime.

Especially game three was a great one by Carlsen, who executed a splendid kingside attack starting with pushing his h- and g-pawns while holding together his queenside with tactical means.

Holding the draw from a lost position (see below in the game viewer) was highly important for Xiong, who said: "Game four was extremely critical because I was on the ropes again, and usually he converts these 90 percent of the time so had I lost that, it would be a question of whether or not it would be a whitewash."

Xiong's win was the result of another great fight. The quick analysis done by this author revealed some hidden ideas which mean that Carlsen might have missed several chances to draw in the bishop endgame:

Carlsen: "I was getting a bit tired towards the end, and he was playing a lot better than he was before, so yeah, credit to him for stepping up his game. I gotta be a lot better the next half of the match, and then it should be fine."

Xiong: "The result is definitely quite decent for me. I'll hope to play more games like I did in the second half."

Whereas Carlsen beat Xiong three times in a row, So and Vachier-Lagrave actually started with three draws. It was So who had the better chances there, and then he struck in game four—another instructive endgame with bishops, this time with opposite colors:

So and Vachier-Lagrave. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.
So and Vachier-Lagrave. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

So increased his lead to three points by winning the first clutch game, before finishing the day with a draw. It was further proof that this was not Vachier-Lagrave's day when he sac'ed an exchange and got close to a positional draw, only to spoil it with a wrong maneuver with his bishop:

"I've been playing quite badly. My play was very, very shaky today," said Vachier-Lagrave. "I think I didn't get used to this 10+5 time control."

So, who seems to be picking up where he left off: "Things went better than expected." 

All games of day 1

Carlsen, Xiong, MVL, and So will be in action again on Monday for the second half of their matches. On Sunday we'll see the first half of the matches GM Alexander Grischuk vs. GM Levon Aronian and GM Leinier Dominguez vs. GM Fabiano Caruana.

Clutch Chess Champions Showdown International 2020 bracket

The Clutch Chess International Champions Showdown is an eight-player knockout event that runs on lichess June 6-14 in association with the Saint Louis Chess Club. The prize fund is $265,000 with a first prize of $50,000. The time control is 10 minutes for all moves with a five-second increment after each move.

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