Carlsen-Caruana Tied Halfway Clutch Chess Final
It's 4-4 after the first day of play. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Carlsen-Caruana Tied Halfway Clutch Chess Final

| 32 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Fabiano Caruana both won one regular games and then both won one clutch game to tie their Clutch Chess International halfway. Caruana came back twice after a loss. The second half of the match is played on Sunday.

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/20:00 Central European time each day.

Just like in November 2018, Caruana is proving himself to be a worthy opponent for the world champion. And whereas he tied their 12-game match in classical chess before suffering in the rapid portion, this time he is still on equal grounds in that time control with six games to go.

If anyone could or perhaps should have been leading, it was Carlsen. He missed a win in the first win as well as in the last game. 

The match started with two draws. As said, Caruana was in trouble in the first but survived, and then the second one was a fairly quiet game. But then "it started to get extremely crazy," as the American put it.

Carlsen took a one-point lead with a win in game three, where he swiftly punished an unfortunate combination of moves from his opponent.

Game four saw another example of an early push of the h-pawn, that o-so trendy idea that existed much earlier but got a lot of attention when AlphaZero played it.

Caruana's novelty 7.h4 made quite the impression, especially because he had just castled kingside. We have seen Carlsen adopting concepts from DeepMind's neural network engine in his games, but he is not the only top player doing so!

The game remained complicated and was only decided much later when Carlsen missed some ways to win back a pawn he had lost.

The next game, the first clutch, was a Petroff. For a while the players followed one of their games from the 2018 title match.

Caruana ended up in a slightly worse queen ending but noted that it should have been a draw: "Once you get low on time it does get kind of difficult because White always has a safety net and Black always has to be careful each move." 

Caruana then made his second comeback by winning the next clutch game, a highly important result. This time Carlsen was prepared for his 7.h4 move and got a winning position, but then things went horribly wrong for him in time trouble.

Magnus Carlsen Clutch Chess International
A frustrated Magnus Carlsen afterward. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

"I am sure I was lost at some point," Caruana admitted. "Magnus just got low on time. I was happy that I found 21.Ne4. At least the onus is on him to find an accurate way to win."

Carlsen, about his time trouble: "It becomes a problem when you encounter something that you haven't foreseen and then you have no time to figure it out. That's obviously what happened in the last game. I thought I did everything right and I thought I was just completely winning. Then he goes 24.f6, a move that I hadn't seen at all, and all of a sudden I have no time to figure out what to do in a position that's absolutely irrational and very difficult to figure out. All in all it's just really frustrating but that's the way it is sometimes." 

"Pretty frustrating, especially considering the last game," Carlsen said, looking back at the first day of the final. "We certainly fought well but not being up is not something I'm happy about obviously."

Caruana: "Considering I was never really in the lead today and I was sort of playing catch up it's good to be on equal footing with him now. To lose a clutch game and then to win a clutch game in return... especially if I had lost this, the match position would have been hopeless. Not to lose this game and especially to win it is really huge for me."

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

Games final, day 1

Asked how he looks forward to the last day of play, Carlsen said: "I think I am a better chess player and I also think I am playing better most of the time. I felt like in the last game he didn't really understand the essence of the position at all and I got a winning position without any effort whatsoever. But I gotta convert. Obviously he's a strong player who fights incredibly well. Obviously I would love to play faster but if I'm going to play faster I would have to play a lot less complicated chess but I think it will also be less fun for the spectators."

Clutch Chess International 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. 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.

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