American Cup: Lee Defeats Krush in Blitz Playoff

14-year-old IM Alice Lee defeated GM Irina Krush 4–2 in the second set of their Grand Final match on the tenth and final day of the 2024 American Cup.


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Alice Lee poses with her family outside the Saint Louis Chess Club after her overtime victory (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


This is Lee's first American Cup victory, after losing to Krush in the finals in each of the two previous years. Krush seemed determined to keep the trend going in their Winners Bracket final, winning the match 2½–½ to send Lee to the Elimination Bracket. Krush had an advantage for most of the first game, but Lee did miss an incredibly concrete drawing line towards the end of the first game:



After drawing the first rapid game, Lee failed to get much of an advantage with the white pieces the next day in their classical rematch. She had to decide whether to pin all her hopes on winning a rapid game with the black pieces or play on, and Krush punished her ambitious (but not impractical) choice:



Just to force a winner-take-all "Grand Final 2," after losing Krush in the final of the Winners Bracket, Lee had to defeat WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova in the final of the Elimination Bracket. Then, she would need to win the first Grand Final match (consisting of two classical and two rapid games, one of each per day) against Krush.


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Krush was treated to three days of competition against Lee to end the cup (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


This would set up a four-game rapid match for the crown. Could Lee win the first Grand Final match to get there? Well, in her first classical game, she was happy to escape with a draw:



But she bounced back in the rapid, taking a lead into the second day when Krush was unable to find a defensive save in a tricky position:



From here, a convincing win with the white pieces set the stage for an extra day of chess. Krush chose to treat her classical game with the black pieces as a "must-win" scenario, playing the risky Czech Benoni rather than trying to draw and then win a rapid game with the white pieces. Despite the result, the gamble paid off, with Krush earning a promising position out of the opening:



With Aronian having already clinched his cup on Wednesday right before Lee finished the comeback, all eyes would be on Lee and Krush for Thursday's playoff.


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No matter how many times Krush led the match, Alice Lee was never far away from earning her first American Cup (courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC)


In an ending that underscored the suspense of the match, Krush rushed out to a lead in the first game of the rapid match, only for Lee to equalize in game two with a tactical breakthrough:



But Krush was not done yet, winning game three and only needing a draw to clinch her third consecutive cup. Repeating a familiar opening, Krush decided to improvise an improvement on her position, but this ended up being a costly strategic blunder that also wasted several precious minutes on her clock:



In a fitting conclusion to a match of equals, the tiebreak match of the Grand Final ended in a tie, forcing a blitz playoff. Here, Lee took control in the pair of three-minute games (with two-second increment), winning both. In the first game, Lee first won the battle of the clock then converted her time advantage into a considerable endgame advantage after Krush mistakenly allowed the queens to come off:



Needing only a draw with the white pieces (sound familiar?), Lee seemed to be holding her own despite Black's budding attack. But, at a key moment where she could have traded down into a drawish endgame (albeit with some tricky tactics), she instead let Krush gain a winning attack:



At the last moment, though, Krush failed to find one prophylactic resource, allowing Lee to claim a perpetual check with both players under ten seconds on the clock.

With her victory, Lee claimed the $49,000 first prize, while Krush won $30,000 for her efforts. 


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