Clutch Chess International QF: Aronian and Caruana start strong

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/8/2020 – The international edition of the “Clutch Chess Champions Showdown” had its second day of action on Sunday. The second pair of quarterfinal matches saw Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana getting ahead on the scoreboard. Aronian is leading his matchup against Alexander Grischuk 5:3, while Caruana has a 5½:2½ lead over Leinier Dominguez. These confrontations are set to continue on Tuesday. | Photo: Cyrstal Fuller

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Playing at late hours

Participating in elite events from home has pros and cons. On the one hand, not needing to travel saves plenty of energy, and having everything set up at one's place avoids unforeseen issues that might come up in a hotel. On the other, when the event is international, time-zone differences make it impossible for all participants to play at decent hours. Organizers can do little about this, with strong players hailing from different continents.

While the Magnus Carlsen Tour is played according to European times, the “Clutch Chess” events, organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club, caters to American audiences. This means the four international participants — all of them European — have to face their opponents at late hours. On day two of the competition, for example, Levon Aronian finished playing at around 2:30 a.m., while for his rival, Alexander Grischuk, it was only one hour earlier.

Aronian and Grischuk played an interesting first half of their match, with plenty of fighting spirit and no lack of mistakes. The balance tipped in the Armenian's favour only in the last encounter of the day — a “clutch game” worth two points — when he first failed to convert from a clearly better position, then was winning again, and finally got the full point after his opponent missed a chance to save the draw.  

Fabiano Caruana, in the meantime, got a three-point lead over Leinier Dominguez. They faced each other in the all-American first instalment of “Clutch Chess”, with Caruana getting a clear victory. This time around, Dominguez kicked off with a win, but three straight losses in games three to five left him in a dire situation. The Cuban-born grandmaster will get a chance to bounce back on Tuesday, when each of the two “clutch games” played at the end will grant 3 points to the winner.

Before that, the second half of Magnus Carlsen v Jeffery Xiong and Wesley So v Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will be played on Monday.

Clutch Chess International 2020

Aronian 5:3 Grischuk

Two of the most creative members of the chess elite battled it out from start to finish in the first six games of their matchup. Grischuk started with a win, after Aronian overestimated his chances and tried to push without having the adequate resources. A draw in game two was followed by Aronian bouncing back with a win. The next two draws saw both players missing chances, while the highlight of the day was the rook endgame from game six:

 

Black should win without much hassle after an immediate 68...c4, while Aronian's 68...Kc4 gave White a key tempo — the rook starts to give checks while preventing Black's pawns to advance: 69.Ra8 Kb3 70.Rb8+ Kc3 71.Ra8.

Some moves later, however, Grischuk returned the favour by wrongly calculating that promoting his g-pawn would keep the balance. Aronian seemed to be en route to victory once again, until he blundered again on move 89:

 

89...Kd3, planning to approach the rook is the way to go, as White's sole major piece cannot stop both pawns once the checks stop. The Armenian's 89...Kf3, on the other hand, allows 90.Re1 c2 91.Ke6 Kf2, and at this point it was Grischuk who made the last mistake:

 

In order to save the draw, White needed to play 92.Ra1, keep the rook there, maintain the opposition and eventually reach a stalemate position with Black's king on a1, Black's pawn on a2 and White's king on c2. Instead, Grischuk went for 92.Rh1, and after 92...Ke3 93.Kd5 Kd2 94.Ra1 c1Q 95.Rxa2 Aronian eventually converted the pure queen v rook endgame.

Rook endgames are tough!

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Levon Aronian 5 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1            
Alexander Grischuk 3 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 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

Caruana 5½:2½ Dominguez

Coming from a painful 15:3 defeat a little over a week ago against the same opponent, Dominguez kicked off the matchup with a win. After a lengthy draw in game two, Caruana levelled the score by taking advantage of his rival's blunder:

 

42.dxe5+ is losing due to 42...Rxe5+ 43.Kf2 Rxe2+ 44.Kxe2 Bg4+ 45.Kd2 Bxd1 and White resigned. Caruana is not one to miss this kind of tactics.

The world number two went on to also win games four and five, getting a comfortable edge prior to the second half of the match. As pointed out by commentators and participants alike, though, the fact that games eleven and twelve are worth three points each makes it all but impossible to name clear favourites with only the first half of each match completed.

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

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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.