The second American Cup, a $200,000 event at St Louis for the top US grandmasters, ended suddenly on Sunday evening after Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So had each won a match and were deadlocked at 1.5 points each in the decider after three cautious draws.

Then, in an equal position  in the fourth game, So abruptly grabbed a poisoned pawn, and two moves later his queen was trapped and lost deep in hostile territory. The entire game took only 19 moves and 10 minutes. It was a moment of aberration which cost him $15,000, the difference between first and second prizes.

This classic blunder was reminiscent of historic poisoned pawn captures like Rudolf  Spielmann’s against Mikhail Botvinnik at Moscow 1935, although in that case the mistake was the more familiar Qxb2.

The result is another remarkable comeback success for Nakamura, 35, the five-time US champion who withdrew from classical chess for several years to concentrate on his career as a popular streamer with more than a million followers. Returning, he got within a game of qualifying for a world title match, which he could have secured by drawing his final round Candidates game against China’s Ding Liren. Then he came close to defeating world No1 Magnus Carlsen in the final of the online Airthings Masters, and now he has taken another valuable prize.

In the last decade St Louis has become the world’s most important chess centre, thanks to generous investment by FT reader Rex Sinquefield. The club is open seven days a week, has more than 1,000 members, and is fronted by a 20ft king, formerly the world’s largest chess piece but recently overtaken by a 20.6ft creation in Sautron, near Nantes, France.

The Cup is a new event, now in its second year. Its format is a double elimination knockout featuring the eight top ranked US grandmasters led by Fabiano Caruana, who won in 2022,  Nakamura,and So, who all rank in the world top 10. The prize fund was $200,000, with another $100,000 for the American Women’s Cup.

In a double elimination knockout, losers of a single match get a second chance in a losers bracket, and are finally eliminated only after losing two matches. That rule affected this year’s results significantly. Nakamura defeated So in the champions final bracket, but So then qualified from the losers bracket to meet him again and this time was successful. With one match defeat each, they met again for the third and final time on Sunday.

Irina Krush, the US No1 and eight-time champion, retained her American Women’s Cup title but only after two hard fought finals against the rising talent Alice Lee, 13.

St Louis is also the organisational centre for the Grand Chess Tour, a mix of classical, rapid and blitz tournaments staged mostly in Europe but returning to Missouri for its final event, the traditional Sinquefield Cup, where world No1 Magnus Carlsen often competes.  

However, the first 2023 Grand Tour event at Bucharest, Romania, in early May is likely to be unusually interesting this year. Both participants, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren in next month’s world title match, are scheduled to compete, as are the world No4, Alireza Firouzja, 19, and the Nos 6, 7, and 8, Anish Giri, Caruana and So. The organisers will also name a wild card entrant, and it is believed that this will be Carlsen.

If they all turn up, then with only Nakamura missing out of the world top eight, Bucharest will be one of the very strongest tournaments of chess history, rivalling even the legendary Avro 1938 where the world top eight competed.

Puzzle 2513

Michael Coenen v Philipp Lamby, Bundesliga 2022. Black to move and win.

Click here for solution

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