Carlsen, Caruana Reach Clutch Chess Final
Caruana and So before starting their match. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Carlsen, Caruana Reach Clutch Chess Final

| 23 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Fabiano Caruana will play the final of the Clutch Chess International. Although Carlsen's win vs GM Levon Aronian was never really in doubt, Caruana made a big comeback vs. GM Wesley So on the second day of the semifinals.  

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.

The Caruana-So match saw two very different days. So, who had beaten his opponent the week before in the American-only Clutch event, had also dominated on Thursday. It was the complete opposite on Friday, with Caruana gaining more confidence after winning the first two games, and So seemingly losing his fighting spirit as he saw his lead in the match diminish.

It is always painful to lose a middlegame that should be very safe for White, such as the Slav in game seven. So unnecessarily dropped a pawn, and later missed a chance in the queen endgame:

Game eight (see the game viewer below) must have been tough as well, as So got outplayed in a Grunfeld without having a single chance to equalize. Caruana followed the very topical plan for White now to push the h-pawn to h6, and it worked wonderfully.

The score was now 6-4 and much more bearable for Caruana, especially taking into account that the clutch games were still to come. But then So punched back to reach 7-4, as Caruana erred in a rook endgame:

Wesley So Clutch
Wesley So. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Just when So had reason to be optimistic again, he lost another game and painfully quickly. The opening reminded this author of an old GM Bobby Fischer game—one he lost to Dutch grandmaster Jan Hein Donner.

With 7-5 on the scoreboard, six more points were on the line in the last two clutch games so anything could happen.

In game 11, So didn't play well in the opening, and he had to give an exchange to avoid other problems. He fought and fought, and at one point, he could have drawn this game but again missed both chances and was tricked himself:

In game 12, So allowed a move repetition, somewhat surprisingly as he needed to win. "I just realized that today he's playing much better than me," he said. "I just figured, enough is enough. It's also quite difficult to win this. But it was mostly the fact that I was disappointed that I had lost two white games.

"Obviously, I was running out of gas today, and also Fabi played much better today. He was the much better player. It was like a different player showed up, so he won a well-deserved victory."

Caruana: "I had one thought today, which is that I really had nothing to lose. It doesn't matter if I lose by one point or lose by eight points. I decided to take a break from chess last night, not check any chess, and just try to come to the games fresh. It seemed like he was a lot less confident today, that he was feeling the pressure."

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

The other match was a completely different story with Carlsen once again dominating and starting with two wins. The match was more or less decided, and it ended with four draws.

Aronian's loss of the first game of the day was painful as he was close to winning. "I think Magnus was just trying to give me a chance, but I'm really not in my best shape, not to win a position like this."

Carlsen: "When you win positions like that, obviously not very much can go wrong."

Magnus Carlsen clutch
Magnus Carlsen. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Carlsen's win in game two was impressive. Don't miss one of the annotations that is really pretty and shows a line discussed by the commentators:

Aronian said he enjoyed playing but that his chess is rusty. "I haven't played or trained chess for two months, so it's a process of getting back to the game."

Asked whether he had tips for Caruana in his match against Carlsen, he said: "In every position, try to think what kind of move Lev would do, and don't do it!"

Aronian Clutch
Levon Aronian. Image courtesy Saint Louis Chess Club.

Carlsen about the final, which reminds of the 2018 world championship: "I think he did incredible to come back in this match; that was massively impressive. As I always say, it's gonna be tough, but I'm optimistic."

Games semifinals, day 2

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.

Previous reports:

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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