Caruana Clinches Match Victory In Catalan Classic
Caruana claimed victory in his second rapid playoff. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Caruana Clinches Match Victory In Catalan Classic

| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

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 Champions bracket. Caruana struggled to subdue 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 by Aronian to take their match.

GM Hikaru Nakamura also comfortably drew with GM Sam Sevian and earned himself a rest heading into day three.

The winners' bracket semifinals at The American Cup will commence on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at 11.00 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 11 a.m. Pacific/20:00 CEST each day. 

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.

Nakamura happily chatted with Rex Sinquefield after his game. Photo: Lennart Ootes/

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 helped him to enter a winning endgame with a rook, bishop, and pawn against a rook and bishop.

With time dwindling down, 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.

So survived quite the scare against Shankland. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

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 having played in their classical encounter, left Robson with undeveloped pieces and little counterplay.

The deciding game, which is 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 was drawn as both players performed at 98.5 percent accuracy!

Once a world blitz chess champion, Dominguez showed his class under time pressure against Aronian. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

In the second rapid game, Dominguez 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 is relegated 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 alongside Shankland and Robson. 

Image: Saint Louis Chess Club/Twitter.

In the women's event, playoffs were not required. The three winners from day one all comfortably picked up the points required to progress.

With the black pieces, WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova was the first to secure her spot after defeating WGM Katerina Nemcova 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.

Lee will now face Paikidze in the winners' semifinal. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

According to's new report-card feature in Game Review, last year's runner-up Lee played at a 2850 level (based on rapid ratings) and thwarted her opponent who also played at a high level. Following a year of astounding results by 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 Paikidze had to work the hardest to progress in the winners' bracket and was able to overcome 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.

With two brilliant moves, pieces en prise, and a slicing exchange sacrifice, Paikidze's masterclass was undoubtedly the game of the day in the women's division.

Image: Saint Louis Chess Club/Twitter.

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.

Previous coverage:

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