Wesley So wins Clutch Chess Champions Showdown

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/30/2020 – The first edition of the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown, organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club, concluded on Friday. Wesley So became the winner on tiebreaks after he and Fabiano Caruana scored nine points each throughout the twelve games. The first criterion to break the tie was the number of wins in "clutch games", with So getting two wins to Caruana's one. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Chess players do not read contracts

A curious incident was seen at the end of the first online Clutch Chess event. After ten games, each of the finalists had collected six points, which meant the last two encounters, each worth three points, would decide the winner. By then, the commentators noted, though, that drawing both games would favour Wesley So, who had won a "clutch game" on day one — the number of wins in "clutch games" was the first tiebreaker. 

So went on to win the eleventh game, securing tournament victory right there and then as, even if Fabiano Caruana won the last encounter, he had the best tiebreak score. Curiously, however, the main talking point of the commentators was whether the players were aware of this fact or not. Since Caruana obtained a clear victory in game twelve, it seemed like So knew he had won the event and relaxed in the last encounter. But this was not the case.

The fact that Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley suspected that the players did not know the tournament winner had already been decided was not based on a simple hunch — they knew that elite chess players seldom read the tournament regulations in detail. For example, back in 2015, Magnus Carlsen lost his first-round game at the Norway Chess Tournament on time because he assumed 15 minutes would be added to the clocks after move 60, when the rules stipulated otherwise!

During the post-game interviews, Ashley posed the question: did they know the tournament winner was decided in game eleven? Surprisingly, not even So was aware of the fact that he had secured first place before the last game. In fact, Caruana was a little disappointed that there would not be blitz tiebreakers. They were solely focused on their moves and their openings, not on technical details!

Clutch Chess 2020

Caruana started the day a point down and quickly turned the tables, winning the first two games on Friday. First, he took down So's Berlin Defence, and then he survived a losing position before taking advantage of his opponent's oversight on move 42:

 

White's 42.Qd3 was a blunder, as it allowed 42...Nf2+, when capturing the knight with 43.Rxf2 ran into 43...Re3 and White has nothing better than to give up the queen with 44.Qxe3 — after, for example, 44.Qf5 Black gives mate starting with 44...Qxh4+ 45.Kg1 Qg3+. So continued trying to defend, but eventually had to concede defeat.

A draw followed, so Caruana had a one-point lead with three games to go. So levelled the score in game ten and went on to secure tournament victory in the first "clutch game" of the day. The Filipino-born grandmaster outplayed Caruana positionally and got to place both his rooks on the second rank. He finished the game in style:

 

40...Rxf2 41.Rxf2 and Caruana resigned due to 41...Ra1+ 42.Rf1 Rxf1 43.Kxf1 b2. 

Thinking that he could still win the tournament on a hypothetical blitz tiebreaker, Caruana scored a convincing win in game twelve, only to find out later that his opponent had already secured tournament victory. Nevertheless, he received $3,000 extra for his "clutch win" — not a bad consolation prize!

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Fabiano Caruana 9 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ 0 0 1
Wesley So (*) 9 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 0 ½ 1 1 0
*Games 5 and 6 are worth two points each
** Games 11 and 12 are worth three points each
(*) Wins the tournament on tiebreaks — more points in clutch 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.