Krush One Draw Away From Title, Nakamura Draws Wild Game With So

GM Irina Krush put herself within arms reach of back-to-back American Cup victories after dispatching FM Alice Lee in the first game of their final matchup on Friday.

Playing with the black pieces in a repeat of their 2022 final, Lee played a rare line against Krush’s English however things didn’t go as planned and the eight-time U.S. women’s champion capitalized on the unusual position and strode out to a one-point lead.

The first game between GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So ended in a draw that GM Yasser Seirawan described as a game that “will be remembered for a long time”, due to its remarkable complexity.

In another English Opening, Nakamura traded his queen for two rooks and tried to support his passed d-pawn but So was up to the task, of finding a queen sacrifice to secure a stalemate.

The 2023 American Cup finals will continue on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at 11 a.m. PT/20:00 CET.

Nakamura and So were at their brilliant best on Friday and despite drawing, their game was a high-level spectacle played in the Romantic style. 15 moves into the English Opening: Four Knights, Nimzowitsch Variation, the players diverted from a game played between Hungarian chess legends GMs Gyula Pap and Zoltan Medvegy, beginning a scuffle for control in the center of the board.

As the center opened up it became clear that fighting chess was on the minds of the combatants on Friday. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Never one to shy away from imbalance, Nakamura used his calculation abilities to force So to give up two rooks for his queen and tried to create a mating net with the aggressive 31.h4!!. Looking to neutralize Nakamura’s edge, So bounced his queen around and asked questions of his opponent, eventually provoking two inaccuracies that brought the evaluation back to equal.

A small window of opportunity presented itself on move 40 when Nakamura blundered with 40.Kh2?? but So didn’t enter the outlandish line which would’ve left Black with a near-decisive advantage. From then on, the position remained drawn until a stalemate was achieved.

Realization dawns on Nakamura that So can reach a stalemate. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Although disappointed by the draw, Nakamura would later state: “on the bright side, people should’ve enjoyed this game”. So also made the stunning admission that he “saw the winning move on move 40” but thought that 40.Qd4? was also winning!

As the tournament is a double-elimination knockout, a loss for Nakamura in the match would mean that he gets another shot at So on Sunday. Given that So already lost a match earlier in the tournament, tomorrow is a do-or-die situation for the world champion.

Lee has been almost unstoppable in the women’s event barring her semifinal match with Krush, who has been the bane of her tournament. After Friday’s mention of a need to change up her match strategy, Lee played an unusual move-four gambit against the English which Krush said: “really took her by surprise”. 

The creative 3.e4!?, which had only been played 143 times at master level (out of 12,329 games in this line, this is a tiny percentage) helped to drum up sufficient imbalance but the advantage fell in favor of Krush, who has consistently shown for her voracity for opposite-sided castling attacks.

The ultimate poker face. Krush has relished in positions where relative king safety is a key theme. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Lee had one opportunity to spend a tempo moving her king out of the way of Krush’s oncoming attack but missed the moment and Krush, using Black’s h-pawn as an umbrella for her own king, cut through on Lee’s queenside and acquired the full point.

Our Game of the Day between the U.S. women’s number one and two players has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

On the cup of elimination, Lee must play for the win with the white pieces in her second game against Krush and if their round one game is anything to go by, this encounter is primed to be a blockbuster full of surprises!

All Games

The American Cup is an over-the-board event in the U.S. capital of chess, St. Louis, featuring the country’s top grandmasters. Split into Open and Women’s categories, the players will compete in a double-elimination knockout bracket while competing for their share of the $300,000 prize fund.

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