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On Chess: Clutch Chess USA Tournament Results & Introducing Clutch Chess International

Screen shot of online chess game
St. Louis Chess Club
Fabiano Caruana playing Wesley So in the Clutch Chess USA Finals.

With over-the-board tournaments postponed indefinitely, online chess events are becoming more and more popular. The St. Louis Chess Club kicked off its series of online events with the first edition of Clutch Chess.

The small but star-studded field included the top American grandmasters who competed for a prize fund of $100,000. The four players were:

  • Number-two player in the world Fabiano Caruana
  • 2016 Grand Chess Tour winner Wesley So
  • Reigning U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura
  • Former World Blitz champion Leinier Dominguez

The nail-biting format kept the players, spectators and commentators on the edges of their seats because the final two games at the end of the day were worth one-third of the overall match points, thus allowing the trailing players to make a big comeback with a clutch win. As a nice bonus, each clutch victory came with additional prize money. The time control was a quick 10 minutes per game with a five-second increment, which added even more drama to the already scintillating games.
Clutch Chess kicked off with two semifinal matches: Caruana vs. Dominguez and So vs. Nakamura. While Caruana is a tremendous classical player, he has historically suffered in faster time controls. To add to his troubles, Dominguez thrives in rapid chess and sits at No. 7 in the world. Throwing predictions out the window, the chess world saw a new and improved Caruana. He always stayed ahead on the clock and showcased new ideas game after game. Dominguez never found his footing, losing the match with a score of 12-3. He ultimately earned $10,000 for his efforts.

Screen shot of online chess game
Credit St. Louis Chess Club
Hikaru Nakamura playing Wesley So in the Clutch Chess USA Semi-Finals.

The match between So and Nakamura was a much closer affair. Nakamura is known for his lightning-fast skills and has gained notoriety as a professional streamer, averaging 20,000 viewers on his Twitch channel. Nakamura, never one to shy away from a challenge, actually played two events at the same time! In addition to Clutch Chess, Nakamura had to face the World Champion himself in the first leg of the Magnus Carlsen Tour. Perhaps the reigning U.S. Champion overcommitted, as he met his match in Wesley So. After falling a point behind on the first day, So came back with vengeance on day two, winning the first three games. Nakamura lost the match 9.5-8.5 but won $14,000, including $4,000 in clutch bonus money.

The stage was set for an exciting battle between rivals and Olympiad teammates So and Caruana. After the first day, So had the upper hand with a point lead, yet Caruana seemed untroubled by the deficit in his post-game interview. As he predicted with commentator Maurice Ashley after the game, the match would be decided in the final two games. The two players were tied 6-6 going into the final two clutch games where each win was worth three points. So clinched the match with a win in the penultimate round, when he had the better tie breaks due to his victory in the critical clutch game in round six. On Friday, May 29 Wesley So was crowned the winner of the first Clutch Chess event, collecting $40,000, and Caruana took home $38,000, including $18,000 in clutch bonuses. To catch up on the Clutch Chess USA rounds and commentary visit the St. Louis Chess Club’s Youtube Channel.

The second installment of Clutch Chess will expand internationally and will feature World Champion Magnus Carlsen, top 10 players Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk as well as four of the top American players. The prize fund is set at a whopping $265,000 — the largest ever offered for an online event. Watch all the action live with world-class commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade from June 6-14, 2020, at uschesschamps.com.

Tatev started playing chess when she was 8 years old. She has competed in five Chess Olympiads, earning a bronze team medal for the United States in her first appearance. Tatev has also competed in multiple U.S. Women’s Chess Championship as well as Women’s World Chess Championship.

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