Reports Mar 23, 2023 | 11:04 AMby Colin McGourty

Nakamura and Krush win American Cup Champions brackets

Hikaru Nakamura defeated Wesley So 2:0 in blitz to pick up the $10,000 bonus for winning the Champions bracket of the American Cup. Wesley still has a chance to force a replay against Hikaru for the $50,000 top prize, but first he’ll need to beat Levon Aronian in the final of the Elimination bracket. 13-year-old Alice Lee missed a great chance to defeat Irina Krush in classical chess before losing 2:0 in rapid.

Hikaru Nakamura clinches victory after a tough match | photo: Lennart Ootes

Hikaru Nakamura taking on Wesley So in classical chess was a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and to no-one’s great surprise the second classical game of their match was also a quiet draw. The floodgates opened, however, when the time control speeded up for the playoff.

Hikaru played the Sicilian in the first 10+10 game and, up to a point, it backfired, as Wesley found himself on the brink of victory.

49.d6! is the way to start in this tricky position, and it turns out White is winning, since after 49…Nc4 50.Rxc4 b2 White has 51.d7! and is just in time.

Hikaru Nakamura's American Cup debut has gone like a dream so far | photo: Lennart Ootes

In the game after 49.Nxf7? Nc4! it no longer helps White to take the knight, and in fact after 50.Nh6+ Wesley should, in hindsight, have satisfied himself with a draw.

Instead he stumbled into a lost position, then extricated himself, then again blundered, this time on move 100.

No less than nine rook moves draw in this position, but not the “clarification” that Wesley went for with 100.Rxe6+? Just three moves later, he found himself resigning.

Wesley is famously solid with the black pieces, but in a must-win situation he rolled out the Modern Defence beginning 1.e4 g6 and, surprisingly, it worked like a dream. Wesley got some help from Hikaru’s decision to exchange off queens rather than play for an advantage.

8.dxe5?! dxe5 9.Qxd8 Rxd8 and Black was better developed, which proved enough to give Wesley a decisive advantage as early as move 20. He made no mistake, with a no doubt disgusted Hikaru Nakamura executing one of his trademark walking away resignations.

Wesley So had hit back on demand | photo: Lennart Ootes

That meant the match would be determined in blitz chess, and this time Hikaru was in his element. He’d already at least equalised with the black pieces in the first game when Wesley decided to ignore an X-ray attack by the e8-rook on his queen. 27.Re1? was asking for trouble.

Hikaru accepted the invitation to win a pawn with 27…Bxb4! and the game didn’t last long: 28.Qd3 Bc5 29.Kh1 Bxd4 30.Qxd4 Qc7 31.Qh4? Rxe1+ 32.Rxe1 Qxc3

Black is threatening both Qxe1+ and Qxf3+ and there’s no defence, so Wesley resigned.

That meant Wesley once again had to win with the black pieces, and once again he wheeled out the Modern Defence, but this time Hikaru was ready and built up a big advantage. He traded that edge for simplifications that made the draw he needed almost inevitable, before Wesley, trying to rustle up some action, instead simply allowed his knight to get trapped on the edge of the board.

That means that Hikaru has won the $10,000 bonus for winning the Champions bracket and is through to the Grand Final of the American Cup on Friday.

He may still face Wesley again, however, since the 3-time US Champion now drops down to the Elimination bracket where he’ll face Levon Aronian, who on Wednesday won the first game against Leinier Dominguez with a double attack.

Levon explained that his match strategy was, “trying to avoid what happened yesterday!”

He succeeded, since instead of the crazy rollercoaster match he won against Fabiano Caruana in Armageddon, he managed to score a comfortable draw in the 2nd game to wrap up a 1.5:0.5 victory over Dominguez — revenge for losing to the same opponent in the Champions bracket.

Alice Lee came incredibly close to beating Irina Krush | photo: Lennart Ootes

In terms of excitement the winners on Day 6 of the American Cup were arguably Irina Krush and Alice Lee, whose 2nd classical game turned into a thriller.

For most of the clash it was 13-year-old Alice Lee who looked to be on the ropes, but in a difficult position she traded down into a rook endgame and seemed to know exactly what she was doing. In fact she did her job so well that she was later actually winning.

58.Kb7! or 58.Kd7! and it turns out White is winning a tight race, but after 58.Kd6 f3! there was nothing better than the draw that Alice soon forced.

There was another hard-to-fathom endgame in the first rapid playoff game, with Alice choosing wrongly after 44…Nxg2.

Here it was necessary to hold onto the h4-pawn with 45.Kg3, though it’s worth noting that after 45…Nf4 the only move to stop mate-in-1 is 46.Bf2. Black could force a draw, but that would have been better than what happened to Alice in the game.

Instead after 45.Ra8 Nxh4+ Irina was able to pick up all the white kingside pawns and then advance her own pawns down the board for victory.

That meant Alice now had to win on demand with the black pieces, but instead she came under a powerful attack.

Here Irina correctly went for 24.h6!, when 26…Bxc3? allows mate-in-5 with 25.Bxh7+!

Alice tried to defend with 24…f5, but after 25.hxg7 Rf7 26.Rc2 Irina had things under control and went on to score a match-clinching win. Her reaction showed both how tough it had been and how much it meant.

That gave Irina a $5,000 bonus, but once again Alice can still return for a revenge match against Irina. To do that she now needs to beat Nazi Paikidze, who emerged a 2:0 winner over Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova.

Thursday is all about those final elimination matches, with Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush getting a rest day.

The American Cup continues each day from 19:30 CET (2:30pm ET, 0:00 IST). Watch all the American Cup games live here on chess24:

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