GMs Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez, and Wesley So all managed to win their matches on Saturday in The 2023 American Cup in their second rapid playoff games to progress to the semifinals of the winner’s bracket. Caruana struggled to crack open stalwart defender GM Ray Robson until the second rapid game where he used a handy piece of preparation in the Catalan to dispatch his opponent.
So pulled out all the punches to win against GM Sam Shankland after the latter nearly toppled him in the first rapid game, while Dominguez pounced on an uncharacteristic blunder from Aronian that saw him take his match.
The winner’s bracket semifinals at The American Cup will commence on March 19, 2023, at 11.00 a.m. PT/20:00 CET.
How to watch?
The excitement on day two primarily took place in the rapid playoffs as only one match was decided in this portion, courtesy of four draws. Yesterday’s sole winner, Nakamura, was able to book his spot in the next round (where he will play Dominguez) after squashing Sevian’s attempts to muddy the waters.
After drawing their classical game in a relatively uneventful Berlin Defense, Shankland found himself in a winning position in his first rapid playoff against So. As the game played out and pieces flew off the board in another drawish Berlin it looked as though the players were headed for a draw, however, some ambitious play from Shankland saw him enter a winning endgame with a rook, bishop, and pawn against a rook and bishop.
With time dwindling, the Olympiad representative missed the crucial 96.Ra7! and had to settle for a draw. Rubbing salt in the wounds, So had few problems defeating a shaken Shankland in the following game after a series of middlegame blunders.
Having barely put a foot wrong in their first three encounters, Caruana stunned Robson with a Catalan Opening sideline that finally made the opening theoretician squirm. The line, which the reigning U.S. champion later admitted “regretting” not playing in their classical encounter, left Robson with undeveloped pieces and little counterplay.
The deciding game, which was our Game of the Day, has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.
The final matchup in the open section provided plenty of action as the event’s oldest players, Dominguez and GM Levon Aronian, duked it out over two rapid games, the first of which was drawn with both players performing at 98.5% accuracy!
In the second rapid game, Dominguez eventually prevailed after Aronian erroneously declined a queen trade, leaving the opportunity open for Dominguez’s rooks to infiltrate. Six moves later the U.S. number four laid down his king and now faces relegation to the elimination bracket.
Following day two’s results, Nakamura will take on Dominguez, while Caruana will take on So in the champions bracket. Sevian and Aronian will face off in the elimination bracket with hopes of keeping their tournaments alive, though will have to overcome the winner of the clash between preparation experts Shankland and Robson to do so.
In the women’s event, playoffs were not required and the three winners from day one all comfortably picked up the points required to progress.
WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova was the first to secure her spot after defeating WGM Katerina Nemcova with the black pieces in a wild encounter. Needing to win on demand, Nemcova would have been pleased with the chaos but ended up being on the receiving end of a game-ending sacrifice.
GM Irina Krush continued in her winning ways and cruised to a 39-move victory with the black pieces against WGM Tatev Abrahamyan in the Sicilian Defense: Kan Variation, while FM Alice Lee was pushed to the limit by WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan but played with clinical precision in the middlegame en route to a second win.
According to Chess.com’s new report card feature in Game Review, last year’s runner-up Lee played at 2850 level (based on Chess.com rapid ratings) and thwarted her opponent who also played at a high level. Following a year of astounding results from the 13-year-old, it will be interesting to see how far she progresses in the event if she keeps up this form.
After a tight tussle on day one, IM Nazi Pakidze had to work the hardest to progress in the winners’ bracket and was able to overcome the four-time U.S. women’s champion IM Anna Zatonskih in a showcase of brutal, attacking chess. The Closed Catalan, although not known for being an aggressive opening, was the battleground for the deciding game, and an inspired Paikidze executed blow after blow to demote Zatonskih to the elimination bracket.
Two brilliant moves, pieces en prise, and a slicing exchange sacrifice, Pakidze’s masterclass was undoubtedly the game of the day in the women’s division.
All Games Day 2
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.