The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, is among the mix of four players who advanced to the semifinals of the ‘Clutch Chess International’, where after ending the spirited challenge of rising young American star Jeffery Xiong, the Norwegian now takes on Armenian ace Levon Aronian in Thursday’s semifinal of the $265,000 pandemic lockdown online tournament organised by the ever-inventive Saint Louis Chess Club.
In the other side of the bracket, there’s the intriguing all-American clash between Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, the US numbers 1 & 2, after they respectively beat Leinier Dominguez and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The pandemic lockdown has seen a number of novel initiatives for online tournaments featuring the world’s top elite, that markets a more exciting brand of chess for the thousands of fans now tuning in to follow the live-action. The big twist in the Clutch Chess International – the “Jeopardy”-inspired brainchild from GM Maurice Ashley – adds more dramatic tension to the matches, as it ramps up the pressure in “clutch” games by using a unique scoring system.
Players compete in 12-game matches, with six games held over each of two days. The final two games of each day carry added weight. While most of each day’s matches use the traditional scoring system (with players earning a point for a win or a half-point for a draw), the points are doubled for games 5 and 6 and tripled in games 11 and 12.
Those clutch games also come with added bonus cash prizes of $2,000 per win on Day 1, and $3,000 per game on Day 2 – a format that guarantees drama at the end of every match. And the peril for the player in the lead is that every match isn’t really over until it is officially really over!
Magnus Carlsen 11½-6½ Jeffery Xiong
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 5-13 Wesley So
Alexander Grischuk 8-10 Levon Aronian
Leinier Dominguez 7½-10½ Fabiano Caruana
Magnus Carlsen vs Levon Aronian
Wesley So vs Fabiano Caruana
The semifinals will get underway on Thursday, 11 June starting at 13:00 local time (11:00 PST | 20:00 CET) with live expert commentary at uschesschamps.com featuring GM’s Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.
GM Leinier Dominguez – GM Fabiano Caruana
Clutch Chess International, (7.2)
Caro-Kann Defence, Advance variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Few opening lines are as assertive and aggressive as the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann. 3…Bf5 4.h4 This, along with 4.g4 falls into a category known as the “Caveman Caro-Kann” – but trailing in the match, Dominguez had no other option other than to go for the jugular with this aggressive option. 4…h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ 7.Nd2 e6 8.Ngf3 Nh6 9.0-0 Nf5 10.Nb3 Qb5 Caruana is looking to nix Dominguez’s attacking options by trying to trade queens – but refusing to do so, Black gets a free move in to steer the game into the territory he wants to.. 11.Qd1 c5 In essence, Black’s plan in the Advance Caro-Kann is to get a sort of French Defence pawn structure, but without the handicap in the French of what to do about the problematic light-squared bishop. 12.a4 Qb6 13.a5 Not a bad move per se – but in the grand scheme of things, with pieces coming off the board as we head into an endgame scenario, it runs the risk of the over-stretched a-pawn becoming a long-term weakness. 13…Qb5 14.dxc5 It was either this or face 14.c3 c4 15.Nbd2 Na6 and Black has excellent play on the queenside. 14…Bxc5 15.Re1 a6 16.Nbd4 Better was 16.Nxc5! Qxc5 17.Be3!? Qb5 (White is hoping for 17…Nxe3?! 18.Rxe3 and serious possibilities on the queenside with his rooks coming to c3 and/or b3.) 18.b3 Nc6 19.Bb6 where White has at least some attacking chances with the potential of Ra4 coming. 16…Nxd4 17.Nxd4 Bxd4 18.Qxd4 Nc6 And this becomes the theme for the rest of the game: Caruana just sits on White’s problems of those over-stretched pawns. 19.Qf4 Qb4! Objective achieved: Caruana successfully trades queens, and now White faces a difficult endgame struggle ahead. 20.c3 Qxf4 21.Bxf4 0-0-0 Also good was 21…0-0 with the plan of …Rfb8 and …b5. 22.Be3?! For reasons we’ll soon see, better was 22.Bg5 Rd7 and 23.Ra4 with equal chances. The difference being Black being denied the opportunity to double rooks on the d-file. 22…d4! It doesn’t win, but what it does do is make a big and easy target of a lot of White pawns that will have to be defended somehow – and with it, no hopes of Dominguez generating the activity needed to win to save the match. 23.cxd4 Rd5! Attacking a5 and also looking to play …Rhd8 to pile the pressure on the d-pawn. 24.Rec1 Kb8 25.Rc5 Rxc5 26.dxc5 Rd8 Taking the d-file and looking to play …Rd5. 27.Ra4 Kc8 Black is in no rush to recapture the pawn, as White can’t defend all of them. 28.Re4 There’s no other option. If 28.f4? Rd1+ 29.Kf2 Rb1 and when the b-pawn falls, White will be left with a hopeless endgame to defend. 28…Rd5 29.g4? It’s desperation time for Dominguez, who at least tries to see if he can make targets of Black’s kingside pawns – but it all backfires. The only way to stay in the game was with 29.b4 but after 29…Rxe5 30.Rf4 f6! Black is soon going to be playing …Rd5 followed by …Kd7 and …e5 with the better endgame prospects. 29…hxg4 30.Rxg4 g6 31.f4 Kd7 32.h5 gxh5 33.Rg8 Nxa5 And why not? And with …Nb3 a looming threat, how is White going to defend his remaining queenside pawns? 34.Rf8 Ke7 35.Rb8 Rd8! [see diagram] A nice strategic retreat that forces the trade of rooks to leave Caruana with the simple task of ganging-up on the c5-pawn with …Nb3 followed by …Kd8-c7-c6 etc. 36.Rxd8 Kxd8 0-1 Dominguez resigns, as the other point is that 37.b4 Nc4! 38.Bd4 Kd7 Black wins with the quick plan of …Kc6-b5 followed by …Na3-c2 to round up the b-pawn, and when that falls, next the c-pawn falls.