The inaugural American Cup crowned its first champions when GM Fabiano Caruana defeated GM Levon Aronian in the final game of the event, and GM Irina Krush confidently drew her game against the sensation of the tournament, FM Alice Lee.
Both winners went through the match play of the event undefeated, never needing rapid play tiebreakers. Rather than the customary trophies, the winners were presented with silver bracelets. A big congratulation from this side to the two well-deserving winners.
How to watch?
After the narrow escape in game one, Caruana sought a more controlled game when playing the white pieces. For that purpose, he chose the English Opening, 1.c4.
Aronian, for his part, needed to win today, if not in this game, then in the playoff to secure another two-game match—this time in rapid play—that he would also need to win to be crowned champion. A lot of winning, but obviously, the foundation needed to be laid in this game. For that purpose, he opted for the 1…e5 Four Knights Variation, followed by GM Viktor Korchnoi‘s 4…Nd4!?, which was first introduced in 1972.
Aronian had previously played this line both as Black and White, but in all cases, a rather long time ago. Nevertheless, the line, despite its provocative appearance, is rather solid. It allows Black to equalize after Aronian’s novelty 8…a5, incidentally varying from the main line 8…h6 as seen in one of Aronian’s own games as White against GM Wang Hao.
Caruana continued in patient fashion and was rewarded when Aronian made a serious miscalculation of the consequences of 20…Qb6, offering the exchange of the queens, which turned the tide of the game.
Slowly but surely, Caruana took over control of the game, forcing Black to make concessions. First, Aronian had to accept a doubled e-pawn to limit the scope and strength of White’s bishop pair. Later he sacrificed a pawn in an attempt to control White’s initiative, but neither achieved the objective when he got stuck in a rook-and-bishop vs. rook-and-knight ending, where the bishop dominated the knight.
Once Aronian was on the hook, Caruana never let him escape. Gradually and safely, the winner converted the endgame advantage without ever offering Black the slightest semblance of counterplay. At move 53, Aronian threw the towel in the ring and congratulated Caruana on winning the event.
While Wednesday saw Caruana struggling to survive against a well-playing Aronian, on Thursday Caruana showed his best side, controlling the game with poise and excellent technique.
Lee once again found herself in the unenviable position to have to beat Krush in game two to keep playing, after having been thoroughly trounced in the previous game.
Like Aronian, Lee would have to win this match to secure another match, in rapid play, which she would also need to win to complete the triumph of her sensational run in this event.
Krush, on the other hand, was not willing to consider giving Lee those options.
Against Lee’s 1.d4, Krush, via a Slav Defense, transposed to a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, which later transposed into something that resembled the Karpov Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense. This decision of opening variation proved to be another strong choice by Krush who seemed almost infallible throughout the event.
Apparently unfamiliar with the right set of plans for White, Lee quickly started to play hesitantly and gave Krush a comfortable position, even with the option of playing for a win if she so desired.
Krush, however, did not allow herself to get ambitious and take any unnecessary chances. She purposefully exchanged pieces when it made sense for her to do so, while consistently pushing her opponent toward an unwinnable endgame. It was another brilliant effort by Krush who under a different set of circumstances could have played more ambitiously to make use of her advantage, but when, as here, not needing another win, she did not once leave the game out of her control.
All Games Day 9
The American Cup was an over-the-board event in St. Louis featuring some of the best grandmasters playing for the United States. Players competed in two distinct double-elimination events for a piece of the $300,000 prize fund.