Shankland Ousts Robson In Epic Playoff
Shankland clawed his way back from a one-point deficit. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Shankland Ousts Robson In Epic Playoff

| 17 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Sam Shankland set The American Cup elimination bracket alight on Sunday after defeating GM Ray Robson in a marathon match that was decided after six games. With an armageddon game looming and the two-time world Puzzle Rush champion posing a serious threat, Shankland won the final blitz game, cutting Robson's tournament short.

GM Levon Aronian kept his hopes alive after scoring a classy win over GM Sam Sevian in their rapid playoff, while the two classical games in the champions bracket were drawn in drama-free affairs.

In the women's division, GM Irina Krush defeated GM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova with the Queen's Gambit Accepted, while WGM Katerina Nemcova and IM Anna Zatonskih were eliminated by their respective opponents.

Action will continue at The American Cup on Monday, March 20, 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 11 a.m. Pacific/20:00 CET each day. 

In the championship bracket, GM Hikaru Nakamura looked to press with the white pieces against GM Leinier Dominguez but was met with the solid Petrov's Defense: Classical, Karklins-Martinovsky Variation, known for its high draw rate (52 percent of master-level games).

Nakamura carried a small edge throughout the middlegame thanks to his bishop pair but missed a small chance to unbalance the position, a decision he would later regard as "disappointing" in his YouTube recap. Unable to avoid liquidation, the players eventually repeated moves, meaning their match will be decided on Monday.

The match between GMs Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So was an even tighter encounter and despite some creative preparation in the Queen's Gambit Accepted that involved a d5-knight sacrifice, Caruana was unable to make inroads into So's position.

Caruana's 13. Nd5!? took 18 minutes off So's clock. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Thanks to the unique tournament format, players who are knocked out of the championship bracket have the opportunity to re-enter contention by progressing through a sudden-death elimination bracket. For these players, classical games are replaced by two rapid games to determine a victor. If the match is tied, they continue with more rapid and blitz games until an armageddon tiebreaker is reached.

A full outline of the time controls for the matches. Image:

The first match to finish in the elimination bracket was Aronian-Sevian, with Aronian winning the crucial first game in one of his pet Ruy Lopez lines. Sevian looked to be coasting through the game until he overplayed his hand on the kingside and got lost in the tactics.

Although Aronian's conversion was not perfect, the game proved to be an exciting one and was a fitting choice for the Game of the Day and has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

Needing to win on demand in game two, Sevian was able to create significant imbalances but fell just short of equalizing the scores after missing several subtle ideas.

Sevian (right) in action against Aronian (left). Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Meanwhile, in the match between Shankland and Robson, two lengthy draws meant that further rapid games would be required to separate the pair. It was Robson who struck first with the white pieces in the third game.

The Giuoco Pianissimo was a sound opening choice for the tactician who procured a small-edge heading into the middle game. One inaccuracy from Shankland as his time dipped under one minute was all Robson needed to capture his first full point of the match.

Nerves of steel were required for Shankland to hang in the match. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The fourth game was a forgettable one for Robson. A missed king and bishop fork was a sign of pressure starting to get to him, and a straightforward draw in the first blitz game with White did little to calm his nerves.

With armageddon quickly approaching, Shankland did everything he could to try and capitalize on his final game with the white pieces, opting for the Ruy Lopez Opening and testing Robson's theoretical knowledge. By move 15 the players arrived at a position that had been reached five times at master level, with a 100-percent win rate in favor of White.

During the moves that followed, Shankland also built a sizeable time advantage. When push came to shove, he was able to punish Robson for a tactical miss on move 43 and win the match.

With this result, Shankland has progressed to play the unlucky loser of the match between Nakamura and Dominguez.

The elimination bracket as it stands. Image: Saint Louis Chess Club/Twitter.

In the women's event, Krush continued her domination with a third straight win, this time over Tokhirjonova. With the white pieces, the eight-time U.S. women's champion took full advantage of her opponent's lack of queenside coordination, later stating, "Look after your pieces and they will look after you."

After the game, commentator and GM Cristian Chirila cited that her opponent would be "coming to the game with aggressive intentions," to which Krush rebutted, "It's a good thing I'm aggressive too."

The other championship bracket encounter between FM Alice Lee and IM Nazi Paikidze ended in a draw, while in the elimination bracket, WGMs Tatev Abrahamyan and Atousa Pourkashiyan came out on top in their matches.

Pourkashiyan dispatched Zatonskih 1.5-0.5. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Abrahamyan was particularly impressive en route to victory as she managed to win with a two-nil score, the first of which was a tactical slugfest in the English Opening: Anglo-Indian Defense.

Day four of The American Cup will decide which players will join Abrahamyan and Pourkhashiyan in the elimination bracket.

Image: Saint Louis Chess Club/Twitter.

All Games

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.

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