2020 Clutch Chess International - Day 1 Recap

The second installment of Clutch Chess has expanded internationally, featuring eight of the world’s top players and a prize fund of $265,000. The quarterfinals of Clutch Chess International kicked off with two exciting matchups: World Champion Magnus Carlsen vs the 19 year old American phenom Jeffery Xiong and the winner of Clutch Chess USA Wesley So vs France’s number one player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. After four hours of scintillating battles, Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So took the lead in their respective matches. Their competition will resume on Monday, while tomorrow, World number two Fabiano Caruana will be facing America’s number three Leinier Dominguez, and Armenia’s number one Levon Aronian will be taking on former World Blitz World Champion Alexander Grischuk.

Quarterfinals matchups and results

 Magnus Carlsen vs Jeffery Xiong 4.5 - 3.5

The match started off difficult for the young American, who lost his first three games. In the first game, Xiong had the upper hand with an extra piece but blundered it away to a nice tactic using the weakness of the back rank. The second game was more even throughout, but Carlsen yet again demonstrated why he’s the best endgame player in the world, slowly outplaying his opponent. The third game was hailed a masterpiece by commentator Yasser Seirawan, as the World Champion completely demolished his opponent in a one-sided kingside attack. Xiong was able to stop the bleeding in round four even though he was on the ropes once again. The players proceeded to play the final two clutch games, where each win was worth 2 points. Xiong pulled off a big comeback in game five, winning a pawn out of the opening and ultimately converting it into a win in a bishop endgame. The young American also had the upper hand in the final game but his more experienced opponent escaped with a draw, ending the day with a point lead. Carlsen wasn’t satisfied with the level of his play and felt that he was getting tired towards the end while his opponent was playing better with each game. 

Grandmasters Magnus Carlsen and Jeffery Xiong before round one

Wesley So vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 5.5 - 2.5

The commentators assumed that the match between these two experienced players would be much closer, but Wesley So took a big lead with crucial victories. After reaching a winning position due to great home preparation, So blundered a simple fork and allowed his resilient opponent to escape. The second game saw another resourceful defense from the Frenchman, who used the well known Vancura defense in the rook and pawn endgame. The following game was a draw by repetition in what seemed like a home preparation by both players, as Vachier-Lagrave ended the game with more time on his clock than what he started with. So was in the driver’s seat throughout the match and was able to deliver in the next two games, scoring back to back wins in rounds four and five, thus scoring three points. The final game required another tough defense from the Frenchman, who escaped again from a much worse position. Even with a three point advantage, So believes that the match will be resolved in the final two games, where each win will be worth three points. 

Grandmasters Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So during their final game