GM Levon Aronian kept his tournament dreams alive in Saint Louis on Tuesday after defeating GM Fabiano Caruana in a monumental clash at The 2023 American Cup. Following six decisive results in their rapid and blitz encounters, an armageddon tiebreaker was needed to split the players and Aronian came out on top after some resourceful defense with Black.
GM Leinier Dominguez also progressed to the elimination bracket final after downing GM Sam Shankland 1.5-0.5 while GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So drew their first championship bracket game in a tame Berlin.
In the women’s event, GM Irina Krush and FM Alice Lee drew their first classical encounter whilst WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova and IM Nazi Paikidze won their respective elimination bracket matchups.
Day six of The 2023 American Cup will start on Tuesday, March 22, 2023, at 11 a.m. PT/20:00 CET.
Generally, a game between Nakamura and So is expected to be top-billing in any tournament however today’s calm draw allowed the light to shine on other matchups on Tuesday. By move six Nakamura had deviated from the most common line in the Berlin Defense, playing an uncommon line that was dealt with well by So and eventually drawn.
Nakamura highlighted his game as a “shocker” during his Youtube recap and stated: “it was disappointing that the game hadn’t been more of a fight”.
The most exciting clash of the day was undoubtedly the match between Aronian and Caruana and the players came to the board with teeth bared. Caruana drew first blood after punishing his opponent for grabbing a pawn in the center of the board and leaving his king exposed.
With elimination on the line, Aronian clapped back immediately with a convincing performance with the Ruy Lopez Opening. Caruana clung on for as long as possible though Aronian eventually liquidated into a winning rook and pawn versus rook ending and equalized the scores.
In games three and four the chaos continued and both players managed to squeeze out wins with White. Needing to win on demand in the fourth, Caruana spent over 30 moves hunting Aronian’s king with minimal time on the clock and in the end found a way to force Black’s resignation.
A true nail-biter! In a must-win situation, @FabianoCaruana hunts down Levon Aronian’s king to the very end! What a clutch victory!
Now the players are on to the blitz tie-breaks. Who will win? #TheAmericanCup pic.twitter.com/m0HGc9UCNS
— Saint Louis Chess Club (@STLChessClub) March 21, 2023
Two wild blitz games led to what the match seemed to be destined to reach, armageddon. From the get-go, Caruana created an imbalanced position out of the English Opening and Aronian had to answer several questions that were asked of his Neo-Catalan setup that left him “shaking”.
Caruana launched a four-pronged assault on Aronian’s king but it was quickly shut down with inventive, active play from the former world number two. With all three results still possible, Caruana tried to double his rooks on the g-file and allowed his own queen to become trapped, blundering away the match!
Our game of the day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.
Dominguez-Shankland was far less dramatic than the other elimination bracket semifinal and was all but decided on move 18 when Shankland castled and blundered his knight in the first game. Unable to recover in that game, Shankland’s woes carried over into the next where he was unable to crack open Dominguez’s Petrov Defense and he was eliminated from the tournament.
The face-off between Dominguez and a weary Caruana will take place on Wednesday to decide who will progress to face the runner-up of the championship bracket.
The highly-touted showdown between the U.S. women’s number one and two players did end in a draw however the players both tried hard to create some chances in the game. Playing with the white pieces, Krush transposed from the English Opening to the Caro-Kann Defense: Accelerated Panov Attack and seemed to catch Lee off guard as the 13-year-old inaccurately played 8.Nbd7.
Though the move was advantageous for Krush, she was unable to find the tricky moves required to maintain the edge. A series of trades soon followed which culminated in a passed pawn for Krush, however, the light squares around her king made it impossible to make progress and on move 29, the eight-time U.S. women’s champion executed a threefold repetition.
Krush later noted in her post-match interview that she “doesn’t see any reason why she (Lee) can’t become a GM”.
Following a tough loss in the championship bracket semifinal at the hands of Krush, Tokhirjonova bounced back in style with a 2-0 victory over WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan. Her second win was particularly impressive as she dominated her opponent on the black side of Petrov’s Defense.
IM Nazi Paikidze also showed resilience on Tuesday en route to eliminating WGM Tatev Abrahamyan by a 1.5-0.5 margin. Paikidze’s Catalan Opening caused difficulty for her opponent and by move 12 white had built a healthy advantage.
An opportunity arose on move 24 for Abrahamyan to muddy the waters however she instead played the imprecise 24.g6?. Needing no further encouragement, Paikidze comfortably converted and played solidly in the following game to secure a draw and match victory.
While Krush and Lee battle it out for the top spot in the championship bracket, Tokhirjonova and Paikidze will duel to see who will advance to the elimination bracket final.
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.