Clutch Chess: Caruana and So move on to the finals

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/28/2020 – In matches of different nature, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So advanced to the finals of the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club. Caruana won eight of twelve games to beat Leinier Dominguez by a landslide, while So scored three consecutive wins at the start of day two to take down Hikaru Nakamura. The finals will be played on Thursday and Friday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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With everyone locked down at home and a number of online chess tournaments going on, a unique opportunity has come up for some members of the elite: to play more than one tournament at a time! Both Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So signed up to participate both at the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge and the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown, which have some of their dates overlapping.

So was knocked out from the Lindores Abbey event on Tuesday, some hours prior to the start of the Clutch Chess tournament, while Nakamura secured his spot in the semifinals of Lindores Abbey on Monday, a day before the all-American event kicked off. ‘Naka’ was then eliminated by So, a day before his much-anticipated match-up against Magnus Carlsen begins — in fact, had he beaten So, he would have faced world numbers one and two, Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, one after another, for two days in a row! 

As it happened, So and Caruana won the semifinals of the Clutch Chess event.

So 9½:8½ Nakamura

Nakamura had a one-point lead after day one, when the players drew four times and won a game apiece — Nakamura had, however, won one of the "clutch games", getting two points for that victory. 

The tables turned starting on Wednesday, as So kicked off the day with three straight wins. He finished off his opponent in style in game 7:


21.Rd7 is a good-looking tactical shot. Black cannot capture with 21...Bxd7 due to 22.h7+ with mate-in-two. Nakamura played three more moves before conceding defeat.

After So's streak of victories, Nakamura bounced back with a 21-move win in game 10. Going into the final two clutch games — which granted three points and $3,000 each — So had merely a one-point lead. However, the Filipino-born grandmaster showed great nerves and obtained his pass to the finals by drawing both of the deciding encounters.

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Hikaru Nakamura ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 0 0 0 1 ½ ½
Wesley So ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 1 1 1 0 ½ 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

Meanwhile, Caruana got a massive overall victory over Leinier Dominguez. Just by looking at the scoreboard, however, we do not get a full picture of how the match developed. In fact, Caruana's domination was markedly clearer on day, as Dominguez got plenty of good positions in games 7 to 12.

It was the time management what did Dominguez in, as all first five games of the day lasted more than 60 moves, and almost always it was Caruana who had more time on his clock when things got complicated in the endgame. This is, after all, rapid chess (10 minutes for the game plus 5-second increments), and handling the clock skilfully is key. 

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Fabiano Caruana 15 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 0 1 1 1
Leinier Domínguez 3 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 0 0 0
*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


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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