Nakamura Opens The American Cup With Triple-Pawn Punishment
Nakamura won his first game of the event against Sevian. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Nakamura Opens The American Cup With Triple-Pawn Punishment

| 39 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Hikaru Nakamura was the sole winner in the open section on the first day of The 2023 American Cup in St. Louis. He defeated GM Sam Sevian in a game that featured weak pawn structures and instructive endgame technique.

Hard-fought draws materialized on the other three boards of the eight-player knockout event, while in the women's section, wins for GM Irina Krush, FM Alice Lee, and WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova opened up the field early.

Day two action at The American Cup will take place on Saturday, March 18, 2023, at 11 a.m. PT/20:00 CET.

How to watch?

The games of The American Cup can be found on our live events platform: Open | Women and will be broadcast daily with commentary at The rounds start at 8 a.m. Pacific/20:00 CEST each day. 

Following a successful 2022 edition, The American Cup is repeating the double-elimination format that requires players to face off in a two-game classical (90+30) mini-match. The winner will continue onward in the champion's bracket, while the losing player will be seeded into an elimination bracket.

If players are tied after two classical games, rapid, blitz, and eventually armageddon tiebreaks will be used to decide a match winner. Similar to's Speed Chess Championship, losing players will have the opportunity to re-enter the knockout after facing off in a sudden-death rapid (25+10) match.

Chief arbiter Chris Bird walks the participants through the regulations. How many players in this picture can you name? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Despite a "No Draw" rule outlined in this year's regulations that prevent players from offering or accepting draws, peace was the theme of the first day in the open section, with only one of the four encounters ending decisively.

Nakamura employed the uncommon Duras variation of the Ruy Lopez Opening and built an early advantage over Sevian who was likely surprised by the line that has not been popular since the late 1920s. 

By move seven, Nakamura had garnered the bishop pair and cashed in on his edge shortly after by rupturing Sevian's pawn structure and leaving his 2687-rated opponent facing the prospect of defending with tripled, doubled, and a pair of isolated pawns. 

Sevian found himself in trouble early after his pawn structure was compromised. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

An instructive endgame ensued. Nakamura duly converted the rook endgame, hampering Sevian's chances of a repeat of his round-one victory over GM Wesley So from the 2022 event. Our Game of the Day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Sticking with the theme of the day, tripled pawns also featured in the game between GMs Levon Aronian and Leinier Dominguez, the former managing to gain an advantage thanks to the ugly structure.

The Queen Gambit Declined: Exchange, Positional Line was the battlefield for the tournament's oldest players. Aronian opted for a setup often used by GM Magnus Carlsen where Black is hindered by doubled f-pawns. 

Although the Armenian-born GM was able to keep his rook more active throughout the middle- and endgame, his edge withered away as echoes of Tarrasch rook endgame mantras reverberated around the Chess Hall of Fame.

Aronian nearly cracked the staunch defense of Dominguez. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The matches between So and GM Sam Shankland, as well as GMs Fabiano Caruana and Ray Robson, were incident-free draws off the back of quality preparation by the players. While these day-one draws may look peaceful, the pressure now sits with the higher-rated players, So and Caruana, who will both play with the black pieces in their second games.

Image: Saint Louis Chess Club via Twitter.

If the 2022 U.S. Women's Chess Championship was anything to go by, the women's division is expected to provide ample entertainment, and the participants did not disappoint on day one. Three of the four games ended decisively in favor of White. IM Naki Pakidze was the only player to hold with Black, though she did miss an opportunity to steal the full point against IM Anna Zatonskih.

Top-seed Krush put on an attacking masterclass against WGM Tatev Abrahamyan on the white side of the Nimzo-Indian Defense: Bishop Attack, Classical Defense, a brutal combination of tactical shots, forcing Abrahamyan to push for a win on day two.

Lee, who was endorsed by Saint Louis Arch Bishops teammate Caruana as a player with "very good chances of becoming a grandmaster," lived up to expectations. She leaped on a move-36 blunder by her opponent, WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan, in an equal rook endgame.

In the game between Tokhirjonova and WGM Katerina Nemcova, Black struggled to deal with a backward d-pawn and was eventually ground down in 51 moves.

Tokhirjonova ponders her next move against Nemcova. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The second day of The American Cup will see all of the opening matchups come to their conclusion, with tiebreaks taking place immediately after the second classical game.

Image: Saint Louis Chess Club via Twitter.

All Games Day 1

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 sections, the players will compete in a double-elimination knockout bracket while contesting for their share of the $300,000 prize fund.  

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