Aronian, Caruana Reach Clutch Chess Semifinals
Aronian defeated Grischuk in the last clutch game. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Aronian, Caruana Reach Clutch Chess Semifinals

| 9 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Levon Aronian will be playing GM Magnus Carlsen in the Clutch Chess semifinals as he defeated GM Alexander Grischuk 10-8 on Tuesday. The other match will be GM Wesley So vs. GM Fabiano Caruana, who beat GM Leinier Dominguez 10.5-7.5.

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.

"Sasha and I are big fans of the NBA," Aronian started his post-match interview, having just won the last game on demand. "It was like one of those later Celtics encounters, game seven. Something we live for; I guess he enjoys it too and I enjoy it too and we broke each other's heart many, many times by winning some clutch games in our career."

Although it wasn't the best chess they played against each other in their career, it was definitely an exciting battle. Grischuk said he played better than in the first half, but generally wasn't impressed about the level of play:

"We played OK, but not more than that. I think we both played much better in lost positions! In almost all the games someone was much worse and then this person played much better than the other so that's why there was such a fight."

Alexander Grischuk Clutch Chess
Grischuk: "We both played much better in lost positions." Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

The first four games saw two draws and a win each (see below in the game viewer). As Grischuk pointed out, they hardly mattered. With three points on the line in each of the last two games, those were the critical ones. It's the downside of GM Maurice Ashley's idea of clutch games: if the emphasis is put on the end of the match, the start can be less exciting.

Grischuk took a one-point lead by winning the first clutch after getting a winning advantage out of the opening:

This meant that Aronian had to win the last game to win the match; a draw was not enough. The opening was non-theoretical and Grischuk was the one sharpening things up early.

"I think I analyzed the move 6...d5, that's why I played it, but maybe it was in a different position," the Russian GM said. "Of course, if I didn't know this move I would never play 6...d5; it looks terrible. I think I had a good position but it was very complicated and very dangerous."

Black was actually OK, and his big mistake turned out the be the classic problem of choosing the wrong rook (on move 22). Aronian found the tactic that was suddenly there, and won.

Asked about the feeling of delivering when you need to, Aronian provided a memorable answer:

"It's a great feeling. It's like falling in love. You don't get to experience it many times in your life, when you get this extreme rush of blood and you don't have anything else going through your mind. It's a beautiful feeling, and I know you guys have felt it yourself. And that's what we play chess for, I guess."

Levon Aronian Clutch Chess
Aronian on winning on demand: "It's like falling in love." Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

The other match was less of an equal fight, even though the score was. Caruana wasn't as dominating as on the first day—in fact, the first four games were all won by Black, followed by two draws—but his match victory never seemed in danger.

A key game was the fourth. Dominguez had his chances but couldn't find his way in the tactical jungle:

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

"It's nice when you lose some, but you win some as well. At least I was keeping my chances," said Dominguez.

Caruana: "I don't feel like I played very well today. It was a very shaky day for both of us I think."

All games of day 4

Wednesday is a rest day. The semifinals, starting on Thursday, will see the clashes Aronian-Carlsen and Caruana-So, a repeat of the Clutch Chess USA final last week.

Caruana, who also beat Dominguez first before facing So in the previous tournament: "It does feel kind of strange to play consecutive matches against the exact same opponents. These are long matches, 12 games, and very often we keep playing the same openings. It's a funny feeling, playing the same openings and the same types of positions game after game."

Aronian: "I like playing against Magnus, I like playing against Grischuk. These are players that challenge you because they are not just playing. They are creating things. I like that. They are also finding out about the game of chess while they are playing you. I like that challenge, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to have that challenge because today could have gone either way. I could have easily lost today; it was a tough match."

Clutch Chess 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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