GM Wesley So Wins the Inaugural Clutch Chess Online Tournament

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The first edition of the Clutch Chess Champions Showdown, organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club, concluded on Friday. Four American Grandmasters Battled for a $100,000 Prize Fund. Wesley So became the winner on tiebreaks after he and Fabiano Caruana scored nine points each throughout the twelve games. The first criterion to break the tie was the number of wins in “clutch games”, with So getting two wins to Caruana’s one.

The Saint Louis Chess Club is thrilled to announce that Grandmaster Wesley So is the inaugural winner of Clutch Chess, a new online tournament that was created by Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club. As the grand prize winner, Wesley So has won a total of $40,000 during the tournament. 

“I am so happy right now to win the first ever Clutch Chess tournament. Today was up and down but I am so relieved on the final outcome as in a two-game blitz match anything can happen.  I’ve had the opportunity to play some of the strongest players, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, in this new tournament,” said So.

Grandmaster (GM) Fabiano Caruana (World number 2), GM Wesley So (World number 8), GM Leinier Dominguez (World number 6 in Rapid) and GM Hikaru Nakamura (World number 1 in Blitz) were the top four American chess superstars that battled online during Clutch Chess from Tuesday, May 26, 2020 through today, Friday, May 29, 2020. Expert commentary was given by Grandmaster’s Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade throughout the tournament.

The exciting knockout format led to unexpected and uncompromising play throughout the tournament, including: 

  • Nakamura demonstrated why he’s an incredibly rapid and online player when he went into what Maurice Ashley called “swindle mode.” While down three pawns, he caused enough complications to ultimately save a draw in the second game of his match against Wesley So.
  • Caruana was unstoppable in his first match, winning four out of the first six games. He was in the driver’s seat the entire time, winning another four games on day two to clinch the match. Caruana pocketed $10,000 in clutch prizes during the semifinals and went on to win a total of $38,000 by the tournament’s end. 
  • Dominguez, one of the highest-rated rapid players on earth, played with tenacious defense throughout the match, snagging several wins against Caruana. His ability to maintain a strong defense, combined with the unique scoring system, gave chances to the very end. In his postgame interview, Fabiano said “it still came down to the last two games. I realized if he wins the last two he can catch me. It was strange; I felt like after I won that Berlin endgame [game 10] I should win, the match should be over, but I realized there was still a lot to play for.” 
  • Wesley So ended the first day of the semifinals trailing Hikaru Nakamrua by one point; he took his revenge on day two, winning rounds 7, 8, and 9 and finally the match. The final match between Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana was a back-and-forth affair, with Wesley winning a crucial victory early on. That decisive win ultimately secured him the match victory and the 1st place prize. 
Semifinal Match A
PlacePlayerScoreClutch Points
1stWesley So9.54
2ndHikaru Nakamura8.56
Semifinal Match B
PlacePlayerScoreClutch Points
1stFabiano Caruana159
2ndLeinier Dominguez31
Final Match
PlacePlayerScoreClutch Points
1stWesley So96
2ndFabiano Caruana94

“Despite this unprecedented time and the inability to hold in-person tournaments, we’re passionate about continuing to innovate and bring new opportunities to the world of chess, not only to the players but also to the fans,” said Tony Rich, Executive Director of the Saint Louis Chess Club. “We’re thrilled with how the first Clutch Chess tournament went and are excited for the upcoming Clutch Chess International scheduled for June 6 – 14, 2020 and expanding to an international field with eight players.” 

Compared to other chess tournaments, Clutch Chess featured a different type of prize breakdown and scoring. Bonus money of $10,000 was awarded to players who delivered victories in the clutch games in each match, while drawn clutch games rolled the money into the end of the match. This new prize structure means the final two games could be worth as much as $30,000 for a victory – as much as the first place prize. 

PlaceNameTotal WinningsClutch Bonus
1GM Wesley So$40,000$10,000
2GM Fabiano Caruana$38,000$18,000
3-4GM Hikaru Nakamura$12,000$2,000
3-4GM Leinier Dominguez$10,000$0
Total Prizes$100,000

“We were extremely impressed by everyone’s enterprising and aggressive play throughout the Clutch Chess tournament,” said Ashley. “I was most definitely in awe of how Wesley So showed so much heart to come back and win after losing a devastating game eight.”

Source: uschesschamps.com

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