Clutch Chess International SF: Leading by four

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/12/2020 – Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So have both taken four-point leads going into day two of the semifinals in the Clutch Chess International Tournament. Levon Aronian missed a big chance to beat Carlsen in game 1 and could never quite recover as the world champion had better positions in almost all the remaining encounters, while Fabiano Caruana's strategy of using offbeat systems backfired against So. Nothing is yet decided though, as Friday's games 11 and 12 each grant three points! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Offbeat openings

World numbers one and two kicked off their semifinal matches with relatively similar strategies. Both Carlsen and Caruana tried to take the games away from the main theoretical lines so often seen in elite events. While Carlsen played the Alekhine Defence once with black, Caruana started the day trying to bluff his opponent by going 9.f3 with white, allowing an immediate 9...Qh4+ — the kind of sequence frequently seen in beginners' encounters. The Italian-American GM also played the Evans Gambit later in the match.

The strategy produced opposite results, as Carlsen and So finished the day with 6:2 leads. In fact, the results of individual games followed the exact same pattern in both matches, with wins in games 1, 2 and 5 for the half-time leaders.

Carlsen and So were satisfied not only with the result but also with their play, with the world champion explaining:

It's a bit of a mixed feeling obviously, since after the first game, to be fair, I could have basically won every game, so in that sense I feel I could have gotten more, but obviously the score is great and the play was also, I think, pretty good.

Aronian did not look particularly upset with his performance, as he promised to “go berserk” on Friday to make up for his lacklustre play during day one. During the interview with the Armenian, we found out the players can choose to see their rival on the webcam or not. When asked if he keeps an eye on Carlsen during the games, Aronian responded:

With some players it's useful, like with Grischuk it's useful — for us mortals it's useful. But for guys like Magnus, that never get nervous, it's not easy to take advantage of it...

The last six games of the semifinals will take place on Friday, with the last two games worth 3 points apiece. Unless a repeat of day one is seen in the second half, the players who reach game 11 in the lead will have draw odds at best, as it is always possible for those trailing to make a miracle comeback with back-to-back wins in the all-important clutch games! 

Clutch Chess International 2020

Carlsen 6:2 Aronian

This match was marked by Aronian's pair of blunders in game 1. Playing black, he had dominated his opponent positionally in the middlegame, until a couple of unfortunate queen moves not only gave away his advantage but also cost him the game:


With his rooks doubled on the second rank and control over the open a-file, Black can carefully convert his edge by grabbing the pawn on b3 and pushing a passer on the queenside. Instead, Aronian first allowed his opponent to get counterplay with 34...Qxe5 35.Re4 and then blundered the game away with 35...Qh4, allowing 36.Qf6 Qxh6 37.Rxe6 and resigns. A painful defeat, especially while facing world champion!

Carlsen never looked back, winning game 2 with black out of an Alekhine Defence and scoring another victory in one of the two clutch games of the day. The other three encounters finished drawn, although in all of them Carlsen had an advantage at some point in the game.

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Magnus Carlsen 6 1 1 ½ ½ 1 ½            
Levon Aronian 2 0 0 ½ ½ 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

So 6:2 Caruana

Game 1 of the other semifinal was also crucial for the general course of the match. Facing one of the most principled players of the elite, Caruana decided to mix things up early on:


White continued with 9.f3, challenging his opponent to show how to precisely ‘punish’ such a daring pawn push. So was up to the task: 9...Qh4+ 10.g3 Nxg3 11.hxg3 Qxh1 12.Qf2 Qh5 13.Bd5 and the move that consolidated Black's edge — 13...f6. So had been gifted a better position and did not let it go to waste, as he ended up scoring a convincing 32-move win.

Much like Aronian, Caruana found himself off balance after losing the inaugural game of the semis. In game 2, he overpressed in a materially-balanced endgame with rook and knight against rook and bishop (Caruana had the bishop) with two pawns per side — his ambitious attempt totally backfired and he added another zero to his scoreboard. 

Games 3 and 4 were drawn, while Caruana could have levelled the overall score in game 5, which was worth two points:


White has clearly a strong initiative, as he came from forcing Black to place his king on the awkward g6-square. From this point on, however, Caruana began to lose the thread. So defended accurately first, and later made the most of the chances given by his opponent to score what might end up being the crucial win of this whole semifinal match.

  Total G1 G2 G3 G4 G5* G6* G7 G8 G9 G10 G11** G12**
Wesley So 6 1 1 ½ ½ 1 ½            
Fabiano Caruana 2 0 0 ½ ½ 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


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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