Hikaru Nakamura moved above Anish Giri to world no. 5 on the live rating list | photo: Lennart Ootes
Hikaru Nakamura's 1st classical games in eight months went well as he defeated Sam Sevian 1.5:0.5 in the American Cup. The other matches went to rapid tiebreaks, with wins for Leinier Dominguez (over Levon Aronian), Wesley So (Sam Shankland) and Fabiano Caruana (Ray Robson). All four American Women’s Cup matches were decided in classical chess, including 13-year-old Alice Lee beating Atousa Pourkashiyan 2:0.
Double eliminations are all the rage in the chess world right now, with the latest, the American Cup, a $300,000 event from March 17-26 in Saint Louis, featuring 8-player Open and Women’s knockouts.
Leinier Dominguez, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana watch the action | photo: Lennart Ootes
The first matches are over, with Hikaru Nakamura, Leinier Dominguez, Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana advancing in the Champions Bracket, while the defeated players drop down to an Elimination Bracket that still gives them a route to winning the tournament.
The stand-out player so far has been Hikaru Nakamura, who was playing his first classical games since losing to Ding Liren in the final round of the 2022 Candidates Tournament on July 4th.
Hikaru commented, “I haven’t played classical chess in a very long time, so I just wanted to do something simple”, but he got a complex and entertaining setup. On St. Patrick’s Day, Sam Sevian found himself with an “Irish pawn centre”, and he wasn’t alone.
The difference is that Hikaru went on to ease to a comfortable win against the tripled pawns, while Levon Aronian had an edge before his game against Leinier Dominguez ended in a 103-move draw.
Hikaru wasn’t overly impressed by how he handled the second game against Sam, where he played a rare 4…h6!? against the Queen’s Gambit Declined.
It was definitely a pretty terrible game today! I basically wanted to surprise Sam in the opening by playing some nonsense h6-move.
As Hikaru also noted, however, “I figure if I survive the opening then I have good chances against anybody”, and he found a forced draw to win his match.
Hikaru will now play Leinier Dominguez, who followed that 103-move draw against Levon Aronian by another draw against Levon’s Berlin Endgame. The players then switched to 10+5 rapid chess, knowing that if they tied again they would play two 3+2 games before a potential final Armageddon game.
Levon Aronian and Leinier Dominguez are good friends and fellow St. Louis residents | photo: Lennart Ootes
The first rapid game also saw Levon play the Berlin Endgame, with the perhaps inevitable conclusion, but the second rapid game went like a dream for Leinier. As he pointed out, 20…Qb5! (20.a4! would have been a good move to stop this) was very strong.
The computer says White has to acquiesce to the coming Qxb3 spoiling his structure, since after 21.Qa3?! Re2! in the game Black was already winning. Levon found himself resigning just six moves later.
Wesley So got off to a winning start | photo: Lennart Ootes
The two other matches that went to rapid chess were also decided in the second game. Wesley So and Sam Shankland played two very careful draws in classical chess, but the rapid chess was altogether more fun. Sam came very close to winning the first rapid game.
Then in the second it was Wesley who took over before wrapping things up with 42.g4!
Black is completely paralysed and White can choose how to win, for instance with g5 and then pushing the h-pawn after hxg5.
Wesley now takes on Fabiano Caruana, who followed three tight games with a crushing win in the fourth against Ray Robson. Fabiano, the defending champion, got a big advantage out of the opening and never let go.
Irina Krush dominated last year's American Women's Cup and got off to a great start this year as well | photo: Lennart Ootes
The reigning American Women's Cup Champion Irina Krush got off to a 2:0 winning start against Tatev Abrahamyan, with Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova (against Katerina Nemcova) and Alice Lee (Atousa Pourkashiyan) also making it 2:0.
13-year-old Alice Lee has been on fire recently and put her improvement down to a more rounded playing style.
I spent a lot of time on chess, especially I’ve been trying to branch out with my playing style, go for these more attacking openings.
She managed to squeeze out a win with an extra pawn in the first game, before exploiting the fact that her opponent had to play for a win in the 2nd.
The other win came for Nazi Paikidze, who overcame Anna Zatonskih 1.5:0.5.
Sunday’s Day 3 again sees all the players in action, either in the Champions or the Elimination bracket. This time the losing players in the Elimination bracket, which starts with two 25+10 games, will, as the name implies, be eliminated.
The American Cup continues each day from 19:30 CET (2:30pm ET, 0:00 IST). Watch all the American Cup games live here on chess24:
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