Top Seeds Survive First Round Scares in American Cup

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A new exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame (courtesy SLCC)


We all know that, after the Ides of March, that’s when the madness happens. But the NCAA won’t have the only brackets worth looking at, because this year, the 2023 American Cup with its exciting double-elimination format is happening at the same time! 

Starting on Friday, March 17th, 16 of the top players in the country gathered at the Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis for the second edition of the American Cup.


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Players and commentators alike join International Arbiter Chris Bird at the World Chess Hall of Fame (courtesy SLCC)


The first round of mini-matches saw moments destructive and instructive alike, with strong demonstrations of precision. Seeing as the “No Draw” rule from the previous year remains in effect, the American chess community is looking to feast their eyes and minds on a tournament of pure fight and resolve. If this round was any indication, many more exciting games await us.


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"Okay, chat, how do we triple his pawns?" (Courtesy SLCC)


Speaking of a feast, GM Hikaru Nakamura cooked up a golden morsel of precise and instructive chess in his first game against GM Samuel Sevian. This game was the sole decisive result on the first day of the open section, as the others ended in relatively peaceful draws. After gaining the bishop pair and a comfortable advantage early on, Nakamura shattered Sevian’s pawn structure. With careful handling of the rook-and-pawn endgame that followed, he converted his advantage into a victory. 



Nakamura would go on to comfortably draw the second game against Sevian, banishing his opponent to the realm of the elimination bracket and earning himself a night off. 

For the rest of the competitors, however, the deciding moment would arrive during the second rapid playoff game. GM Leinier Dominguez dispatched GM Levon Aronian after the latter succumbed to piece passivity.


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Last year, Dominguez also banished Aronian to the elimination bracket after their encounter in the first round. Aronian came back to defeat Dominguez in the elimination finals. Will something similar happen this year? (courtesy SLCC)


GM Fabiano Caruana won against GM Ray Robson after his preparation in the Catalan gave him a clear advantage out of the opening. GM Wesley So defeated GM Sam Shankland by capitalizing on a weak g7-pawn and Black’s awkwardly placed king.

In the champion’s bracket semi-finals, Nakamura will face Dominguez and So will square off with Caruana. In the elimination bracket, it’s Sevian versus Aronian and Shankland against Robson.


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Abrahamyan shakes hands with Krush before the start of their decisive first game (courtesy SLCC)


Meanwhile, an inversion of the situation in the open section occurred in the women’s section. The first day saw decisive results across the board except for the game between IM Nazi Paikidze and IM Anna Zatonskih, which ended in a draw. FM Alice Lee won her game by taking advantage of WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan’s endgame blunder, and WGM Begim Tokhirjonova quietly outplayed WGM Katerina Nemcova, taking the victory in 51 moves. 


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Don't slip! Krush found an impressive series of forcing moves to convert her advantage before allowing her opponent counterplay. (courtesy SLCC)


Sharp and exciting was GM Irina Krush’s 28-move victory over WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, in which the former overpowered the latter with strong, forcing moves.



But unlike the open section, day two was equally decisive in favor of the day one victors, and no playoff games were required. After being the only game on Friday that drew, Paikidze stepped back into the ring on Saturday to fight a thrilling battle, taking the wheel and never letting go.


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Paikidze took center stage on day two, sacrificing everything in a ferocious game. (courtesy SLCC)



In the next round, Krush faces Tokhirjonova and Paikidze takes on Lee in the champion’s bracket. In the elimination bracket, it’s Abrahamyan versus Nemcova and Zatonskih versus Pourkashiyan tussling it out.

Now with the existence of the elimination bracket, the pool of competitors will start to thin out. Get excited! The stakes are about to get higher. 


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