American Cup: Aronian knocks out Caruana in Armageddon

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/22/2023 – In the most thrilling match of the tournament so far, Levon Aronian knocked out Fabiano Caruana to remain alive in the elimination bracket, where he is set to face Leinier Dominguez next. In the women’s elimination bracket, Nazi Paikidze and Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova were the winners of the day and will face off on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in the champions brackets, draws were seen in both sections. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Seven decisive games in a row

The top five seeds in the open section of the American Cup are among the fifteen strongest players in the world. Thus, it was to be expected for at least one of the favourites to be eliminated from the event at this stage, after the fifth day of action. As it happened, last year’s champion Fabiano Caruana was the one being knocked out. Caruana lost with white in Armageddon to Levon Aronian in a match that featured seven consecutive decisive results.

On Wednesday, Aronian will face Leinier Dominguez, who got the better of Sam Shankland by a less dramatic 1½-½ score. The winner of that match will play the loser of the champions bracket’s final — i.e. either Hikaru Nakamura or Wesley So. Naka and So drew their first classical game on Tuesday.

Wesley So

Wesley So | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Nakamura ½ - ½ So

In a game lasting 34 moves, Nakamura played it safe with white and saw his opponent showing good theoretical preparation to keep the evaluation balanced throughout.


Nakamura’s recap: “Dear YouTube, today’s game was a shocker”

Aronian 4 - 3 Caruana

A match that features seven consecutive decisive games requires by force for both players (combined) to win on demand three times. In this thrilling confrontation, Aronian twice scored in must-win situations, while Caruana did it once.

In the Armageddon decider, a retreating move by Caruana, with white, left him in an inferior position amid a tense tactical struggle.


25.Rg1 was called for at this point, challenging the all-important open file on the kingside. Instead, Caruana’s 25.Qf3 allowed Black to gain the initiative with 25...f5, using the pin on the light-squared long diagonal.

One more mistake by Caruana three moves later was enough for Aronian to clinch match victory and advance to the next stage in the elimination bracket.


Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian

It was a tense struggle — Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Dominguez 1½ - ½ Shankland

Two players known for their excellent theoretical preparation explored a Najdorf Sicilian in the first game of their match. Dominguez, playing white, already had the upper hand when Shankland faltered on move 19.


19...Nxh3 does create a discovered attack against the dark-squared bishop, but 20.Bb6 is an elegant refutation (20.Bc5 was also good), as the knight is now trapped on h3.

Dominguez ended up with a piece — and the bishop pair — for two pawns, and duly converted his advantage into a 48-move win. The Cuban-born star employed the Petroff Defence to draw the second game and knock out his opponent.


Leinier Dominguez

Leinier Dominguez | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

American Chess Cup 2023

Paikidze and Tokhirjonova advance

After getting knocked down to the elimination bracket on Monday, Nazi Paikidze and Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova managed to remain in contention for overall victory in the women’s section by beating Tatev Abrahamyan and Atousa Pourkashiyan respectively.

Similarly to what happened in the open section, the finalists in the champions bracket, Irina Krush and Alice Lee, signed a draw in their first classical encounter.

Alice Lee

A beautiful shot by Lennart Ootes, with 13-year-old Alice Lee in the background | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Krush ½ - ½ Lee

A strategic battle saw both players spending considerable amounts of time in the opening and the early middlegame. Krush had an extra pawn, but a couple of subpar manoeuvres left her in an inferior position. Lee tried her best, but Krush’s experience allowed her to keep things under control until the end.


Paikidze 1½ - ½ Abrahamyan

In the post-match interview, a confident Paikidze noted that she prepared well for this tournament, unlike what she had done in last year’s US Women’s Championship, which did not go well for her. In the first game, she got an early advantage and focused on preventing Abrahamyan from getting the kind of counterplay that often serves her well. Paikidze won the game in 34 moves.

The second game saw Abrahamyan missing a chance to create good winning chances by pushing her central d-pawn at once in the middlegame.


16.d5 would have created a world of trouble for Black, while Abrahamyan’s 16.b4 gave Paikidze a respite to coordinate her pieces in defence. The game ended as a 50-move draw.


Nazi Paikidze

Nazi Paikidze | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Tokhirjonova 2 - 0 Pourkashiyan

After winning the first game with white, Tokhirjonova got to attack her opponent’s king in a position with opposite-side castling.


White is doomed after 28...Bf5. There followed 29.Qg3 cxb2 30.Bxb2 Qxc2+ 31.Ka1 Rd8, and Pourkashiyan resigned two moves later.


Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova

Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

American Chess Cup 2023


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.