After each having won their first game in the Winners’ Brackets, GMs Fabiano Caruana and Irina Krush secured the victories in their matches respectively against GM Lenier Dominguez and FM Alice Lee.
Meanwhile, in the Elimination Brackets, GM Levon Aronian convincingly beat GM Ray Robson, while WGM Tatev Abrahamyan ousted WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova in the blitz tiebreaker.
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In the Championship brackets, there was plenty of money and prestige at stake as well as pressure on Dominguez and Lee, both of whom needed wins after having lost game 1 on Sunday.
However, the entertainment was largely supplied by the two pairings in the Elimination brackets, where the players fought with reckless abandon.
With Caruana having won game one, Dominguez had to win game two to even the match score and secure a rapid play tiebreaker. As usual, he showed up extremely well-prepared. In an Italian Game, Dominguez opted for the relatively rare 6.Re1, deviating from 6.h3 which had given him success against GM Wesley So in the first leg of the recently concluded Grand Prix series. Caruana, in return, countered with the aggressive 6…Ng4 followed by 8…f5, a line that contains a piece sacrifice, albeit one that White cannot safely accept.
The opening did not appear to offer White a concrete advantage but the imbalances on the board seemed sufficient enough to provide White with some practical chances, which was likely all that Dominguez could reasonably expect against the usually well-prepared Caruana.
In the ensuing middlegame, White had a small but clear advantage thanks to his better pawn structure—particularly Black’s isolated e-pawn was giving him headaches. However, after Black managed to push it all the way to e3, it was difficult for White to find the right way to cash in on that advantage. In the transition to a rook and knight endgame, the majority of the advantage slipped out of White’s hands, and Caruana confidently secured the needed draw to win the match a ticket to Wednesday’s showdown against the winner of the Elimination Bracket.
Precisely in that Elimination Bracket, Aronian was to face Robson for the second time, but this time in two rapid games, exactly the time limit he had used to secure the win in their first encounter.
In the first game, Aronian pulled another impressive idea out of his backpack of weaponized creativity. After the relatively mundane, 1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 d4, Aronian played 4.d3, and in response to the natural 4…c5, he opted for 5.e3, which had previously only been played in a couple of online games. But the real surprise came after 5…Nf6, when 6.f4!? was dumped on the board with the casualness of a tactical IED.
While the move looked bizarre at first glance, it was clear that it had several important ideas attached to it: 1) On the board, Robson had to grabble with some strategic ideas that were difficult to grasp and find good solutions for, and the related point 2) Robson’s problematic time management, which quickly manifested itself in him being far behind on the clock.
On the board, White got an advantage out of his enterprising opening play, although Aronian on a couple of occasions didn’t find the best choices, for instance, 18.Ne2! and 22.Ne2! would have secured White rather clear advantages.
However, with Robson increasingly struggling on the clock, this became less and less relevant because, with no time to find the best moves, Aronian just had to avoid Black any opportunity to balance the game. In the late middlegame, Aronian set up a trap that won the exchange, and shortly after, he cashed in his advantage for a game one victory.
Needing to win game two, Robson played the Ruy Lopez, but after Aronian’s Berlin, 3…Nf6, the players found their way via transposition into a line of the Italian Game that Aronian himself has played on several occasions, and knowing the opening as well as he does, he could not have been dissatisfied with this development.
Soon after departing from known theory, Robson started using a lot of time and making mistakes, allowing Black an advantage. While Aronian did not always follow up with the best moves, White was always on his heels and when Robson, once more, ended up in massive time trouble, the situation soon careened out of control for White, allowing Aronian to pick up another victory, securing a spot in the final of the Elimination bracket against Dominguez.
The winner of the Elimination Bracket will then face Caruana on Wednesday.
To say that Alice Lee was facing a tough task in today’s game was an understatement. Throughout this entire event, Krush had played convincingly only rarely facing any kind of real trouble on the board. With a victory in game 1, she had put herself in the perfect situation to secure a spot in the final match.
The players surprised each other with their opening choices right from the get-go. Lee chose to play the sharp 5.Bg5, inviting Black to tango in the sharp Anti-Meran or Anti-Moscow Gambits, but Krush wisely opted for the solid Cambridge Springs Variation, a line she has not used in a very long time but found suitable for her young opponent.
This seemed like a perfect choice as Black soon equalized and with an accurately calculated tactical sequence in the early middlegame, lots of material departed from the board, resulting in a position that was objectively balanced. To Lee’s credit, she managed to create some minor practical problems for Black, albeit nothing that overly concerned Krush who confidently warded off White’s attempts and, in the end, even had the advantage.
In the Elimination Bracket, Abrahamyan and Tokhirjonova delivered an action-packed and intense match.
In the first game, with Tokhirjonova with the white pieces, she secured a nagging advantage against Black’s Nimzo-Indian. After missing some good opportunities in the early middlegame, White let Black take control of the game. As the game progressed, Black’s advantage grew into an irresistible attack, but just as she was about to crown her efforts with a full point, Abrahamyan inexplicably chose to exchange queens to enter a rook ending. It still was much better for Black, but rook endings can be notoriously difficult to play, and with little time left, both players made their share of mistakes, most notably Black missed a clear win shortly before the conclusion.
The second game saw Abrahamyan secure an advantage after energetic play to meet some timid opening choices by Black, but rather than capitalizing on it with 25.Bxb3 followed by 26.Nf5, she seemed to have missed Black’s strong 26…Qb6!, allowing Black a comfortable position. In the ensuing endgame, White had to defend a slightly worse position but did so quite confidently and was never in any real trouble.
In the first Blitz game, the colors from game two were repeated, meaning Abrahamyan played the white pieces once again. The game was mostly balanced, until move 27 when White hung the exchange, which Black then missed. Black then followed up with another blunder on move 31, allowing White to decisively take over the game with her knights.
Needing to win with White, Tokhirjonova had no issues with repeating the Nimzo-Indian that gave a good position from the opening in game one. Once more, she secured an advantage, and once more, she let it slip out of her hands. In a heavy piece ending, Black was never in trouble, in fact, she had an advantage most of the time. In the end, White hung her queen in an even endgame.
All Games Day 6
The American Cup is an over-the-board event in St. Louis featuring some of the best grandmasters playing for the United States. Players compete in two distinct double-elimination events for a piece of the $300,000 prize fund.