Clutch Chess International QF: So grabs big lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/7/2020 – The “clutch chess” format returns a week after the four highest-rated players of the United States tried it out for the first time. With international players included now, the first pair of quarterfinal matches took place on Saturday. Six games were played in each confrontation, with the last two worth two points apiece. Wesley So grabbed a big lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while world champion Magnus Carlsen has a one-point advantage over Jeffery Xiong. | Photo: Justin Kellar

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Xiong gets key “clutch win” against Carlsen

Five months ago, when over-the-board chess was still a reality, Magnus Carlsen was on his way to breaking the record of most consecutive games undefeated at the Tata Steel Masters tournament. He managed, and the streak is still alive. But it was not all easy sailing for the Norwegian. One of the last hurdles he had to overcome came in round three of the Wijk aan Zee event, when 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong almost took him down with the black pieces. Xiong is now Carlsen's first rival at the Clutch Chess event.

The world champion is always the favourite, but in this case he has the added advantage of coming from playing at a number of online events — he is now used to compete from home, in front of a computer screen. While Xiong might not be as adapted to facing top opposition online in official events, he certainly grew up training in front of a screen. In addition, he is probably not as tired.

Tiredness seems to have been a key factor in their matchup, as Carlsen kicked off with three straight wins, which were followed by two draws and a loss, in the first of two “clutch games”. The score favours the world champion 4½:3½ after day one.

In the other confrontation of the day, the winner of last week's inaugural “Clutch Chess Champions Showdown”, Wesley So, clearly outplayed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, winning two games (including one of the two-pointers) and getting superior positions in most of the remaining draws. So goes into day two with a 5½:2½ lead.

The second set of quarterfinal matches will kick off on Sunday, with Leinier Dominguez facing world number two Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk playing against Levon Aronian. Carlsen v Xiong and So v Vachier-Lagrave will resume on Monday.

Clutch Chess International 2020

So 5½:2½ Vachier-Lagrave

In games one and two So got better positions which he could not convert into full points. Notably, in the first encounter, the Filipino-born grandmaster could not make the most of a position in which his queen was much stronger than his opponent's conglomerate of pieces on an open board:

 

White played 32.Qxb7, permitting 32...Nd6 forking queen and rook. So still had a better position after 33.Rxe5 Nxb7 34.Rxe8+, but a large portion of his advantage had gone away. In the diagrammed position, both 32.Nf4 and 32.Qe3 create threats that would have been difficult to deal with for Vachier-Lagrave. In the end, the Frenchman defended the endgame until getting a 70-move draw.

A short draw was seen in game three, while So's superior play throughout finally turned into full points in games four and five. A 57-move draw in yet another game that saw the American getting the upper hand put an end to the day's action.

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Wesley So ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½            
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½            
*Games 5 and 6 are worth two points each
** Games 11 and 12 are worth three points each
 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Carlsen 4½:3½ Xiong

Looking at the scoreboard, one might think Carlsen had an easy time at the outset of the match, but things could have easily turned out differently had Xiong not blundered his advantage away in game one:

 

The world champion was a piece down but had some compensation thanks to his far-advanced passer on the a-file. At this point, Xiong had a chance to box in the white queen with 33...Bd5, not fearing 34.Qb8+ as he had 34...Ne8 35.Nf4 Bb7, keeping things under control while maintaining his material edge. Xiong went for 33...Bg4 instead, and Carlsen did not miss his chance to recover his piece and get a superior position by force with 34.Qb8+ Qf8 35.Nf6+ Kg7 36.Qxf8 Kxf8 37.Nxg4. The Norwegian went on to get the win in 58 moves.

Two more wins by Carlsen made it look like this might turn into a one-sided match from start to finish. The world champion's victory in game three gained high praise from commentator Yasser Seirawan:

Xiong's resilience came to the fore in game four, as he managed to defend proficiently to get his first half point of the match. The youngster rode the wave of his strong showing in that game to get a key win in the first “clutch game” of the day. A draw in the final encounter left him only a point behind his famed opponent.

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Magnus Carlsen 1 1 1 ½ 0 ½            
Jeffery Xiong 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½            
*Games 5 and 6 are worth two points each
** Games 11 and 12 are worth three points each
 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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