All Tension and No Rest as So and Lee Win Elimination Bracket Finals


A defining characteristic of the American Cup that distinguishes it from a normal knockout tournament is its double elimination format, where players who are knocked out from the champion’s bracket receive another chance to vie for a spot in the finals in a second “elimination bracket.” Compared to the classical time control of the champion’s bracket, each elimination match consisted of only two games of rapid played with 25 minutes for the entire game and only ten seconds of increment.



 If these two games weren’t enough to decide a winner, the match would move to blitz and finally Armageddon, where the winner of the five-minute versus four-minute game (with draw odds for Black) would move on and the loser eliminated from the tournament. Though rare, it is always a treat to watch an Armageddon game, especially after the rising tension from all the previous games, and this year’s game between Caruana and Aronian game was no exception as a blazing 28-move fight at the end of a tied 3-3 match. 


Aronian Caruana
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Aronian and Caruana traded blows throughout their elimination match (courtesy SLCC)


After Caruana aggressively pushed his kingside pawns forward, the game veered towards a sharp position, with both kings unsafe on the kingside, but just one inaccuracy with the queen from Caruana and a few precise strokes from Aronian was enough to decide the game in five more moves. 



The elimination bracket was no less intense than the main bracket, with matches often lasting more than four games. Shankland prevailed over Robson in round one, but was sent home by Dominguez in round two. It was even possible for the same pair of players to play in the champion’s bracket and the elimination bracket, making for lots of interesting side stories!


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Shankland was a tough competitor in the elimination bracket, but met his match (courtesy SLCC)


After Dominguez prevailed over Aronian in their first-round champions bracket game, Aronian caught fire; after dispatching Sevian and Caruana in his first two matches, he took his revenge on Dominguez in their semifinals game of the elimination bracket, sending Dominguez home. The Armenian grandmaster was on track to complete a perfect 4-0 comeback in the elimination bracket until he met So, who came out on top after a four-game match and secured a spot in the finals. Their decisive third game started out as a Berlin defense but quickly went bad for White after So’s knight gobbled up white’s entire queenside pawn force. 



With that win and three other draws, So was able to advance to the finals and earn a rematch with Nakamaura. 


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Plotting her revenge? Lee earned her way back to a second straight grand final against Krush (courtesy SLCC)


A similar scene to the open section happened in the women’s section, where after losing the first match against Krush, Lee bounced back with a win over Paikidze to earn a ticket to the finals and rematch with Krush. Her second rapid game was a short but sharp exchange, where a tenacious standoff in the center was cut short by a sudden tactical blow by Lee. 



One of the biggest fears of a chess player is seeing (or hearing!) the clock tick down during time trouble, but time trouble also made the path to the elimination bracket finals exciting to follow. In her first elimination match, Abrahamyan prevailed over Nemcova with two sudden blows in two sharp endgames, while Pourkashiyan won her match against Zatonskih, after her pressure on the kingside led to a decisive attack with the rooks. Nemcova and Abrahamyan’s first game was a thriller, ending with an incredibly sharp queen endgame and winning chances for both sides. 



Then, Paikidze eliminated Abrahamyan after her queen and knight broke through on the kingside, and Tokhirjonova triumphed over Pourkashiyan in a slow endgame squeeze in the first game and a fiery queenside attack in the second. Round three saw Paikidze emerge victorious against Tokhirjonova after finding two tactical blows in two games, both in the final few moves, earning her match in the elimination bracket finals against Lee.


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Paikidze made it to the elimination final against Lee, but saw her match get cut short after a devastating tactic (courtesy SLCC)


Read our previous articles for day-by-day coverage on the champions brackets and stay tuned for tomorrow’s article about the finals!