After intense rapid and blitz play action in the Elimination Brackets on Tuesday, the sanity of the Championship Brackets returned on Wednesday with GMs Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian meeting in Group A while Group B saw a repeat of GM Irina Krush vs. FM Alice Lee.
In a complicated battle, Aronian had the decidedly better side of the draw, when letting Caruana escape with a draw by repetition of moves at move 52.
In Group B, on the other hand, Krush delivered a very one-sided victory against Lee, who never found her footing in the game.
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While Caruana had the pleasure of a day off from playing, Aronian battled intensely against GM Leinier Dominguez in the Elimination Bracket’s finale. But once play started, it did not seem apparent who was rested and who was not.
In an Italian game that has become so fashionable in recent years, the players followed previous praxis for the first 13 moves, and then Aronian opted for the surprising 14.Bb3. The novelty, however, did not have the same explosive quality as some of his previous ideas in this tournament, and that allowed Caruana to equalize. However, Caruana’s first impression after the game was that White always had something.
In the middlegame, despite having the space advantage on the queenside, Caruana tried to create some counterplay on the kingside and sacrificed a pawn, but it never materialized into anything concrete, leaving White with an advantage.
However, you don’t reach this level by giving up when you are worse, so Caruana kept coming up with creative counterplay even when he was objectively lost, which certainly was the case after 43.Rf3!.
But with a multitude of options, Aronian chose one that he thought was winning. However, he then did not see a clear win, panicked, and all of a sudden, when Caruana played the brilliant 48…g6, Black was off the hook, leaving White with nothing better than to accept the draw by repetition.
As a relieved Caruana said after the game: “The position was so dead, and I was down on time too. But that wasn’t the biggest of my issues. He was winning but allowed what I thought was my only trick.” He added: “I felt he outplayed me the majority of the game.”
I felt he outplayed me the majority of the game.
—GM Fabiano Caruana
A few days earlier, Krush had convincingly expedited Lee out of the Championship Bracket in two games. But after proving her survival skills in the Elimination Bracket against WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, the 12-year-old Lee was back for more.
Whether it was the previous day’s intensive battle that included both blitz and armageddon playoffs, Lee definitely seemed off her usual level of play.
In a Reti Opening that turned into a type of reversed Modern Benoni, Krush was allowed a handful of bonus tempi by Lee and even in an opening such as this—that is a lot.
The middlegame saw Krush thoroughly outplay Lee who was left with poorly-placed pieces and structural weaknesses everywhere. The game lasted until move 39, but it was over long before then.
After another powerful display by Krush, it is hard to see how Lee will come back after such a shellacking by her highly-motivated opponent, but one thing is certain, Lee will definitely give it a shot.
All Games Day 8
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.