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Pro Chess League Playoff Preview

Pro Chess League Playoff Preview

NathanielGreen
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The month of May brings with it the Pro Chess League playoffs! An exciting regular season that began with 16 teams is down to eight playoff squads. It is now time to crown a champion, who will receive a $25,000 first-place prize. Of the original $150,000 prize fund, $100,000 is still there for the taking.

How to watch?
You can watch the Pro Chess League Playoffs on Chess.com/TV. You can also watch the show on our Twitch channel and catch all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/ChesscomLive. Games from the event can be viewed on our events page.

The playoff schedule is as follows:

Date Team A Team B PT CET New Delhi Beijing
May 11 Shanghai Tigers Norway Gnomes 6:30 a.m. 15:30 19:00 21:30
May 11 Gotham Knights Saint Louis Arch Bishops 9 a.m. 18:00 21:30 0:00 (+1)
May 12 Levitov Chess Wizards Team MGD1 6:30 a.m. 15:30 19:00 21:30
May 12 India Yogis Blitz 9 a.m. 18:00 21:30 0:00 (+1)
May 13 Winners of May 11 matches 6:30 a.m. 15:30 19:00 21:30
May 13 Winners of May 12 matches 9 a.m. 18:00 21:30 0:00 (+1)
May 14 3rd place match 6:30 a.m. 15:30 19:00 21:30
May 14 Finals 9 a.m. 18:00 21:30 0:00 (+1)

What can we expect from the PCL Playoffs? A lot of exciting matchups, beginning with the four quarterfinals.


#1 Indian Yogis (3-0) vs. #8 Blitz (3-2)

Seed Logo Team (Match Record) Win% Total Wins/Games
1 India Yogis Pro Chess League PCL 2023 Indian Yogis (3-0) .625 27.5/44
8 Blitz Pro Chess League PCL 2023 Blitz (3-2) .481 38.5/80

Matchups between the top and bottom seeds often end up lopsided. At first glance, this one is no exception. But do the Blitz have a chance?

Of course they do. But first...

Indian Yogis Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 W 1-0 Brazil Capybaras 8.5 3.5
2 W 2-0 Canada ChessBrahs 9.5 6.5
3 W 3-0 Levitov Chess Wizards 9.5 6.5

From board one to board four, the Yogis had the deepest and most balanced roster in the PCL this regular season—IM Vaishali R was the only team member to play all three weeks as the rest of the lineup took turns turning back all the competition.

As a result, they were one of two teams to blast into the playoffs in the first three weeks. GM Vidit Gujrathi led them the first two weeks, and they clinched with GMs Praggnanandhaa R and Nihal Sarin leading the way in week three, with Praggnanandhaa scoring 3/4 in the clinching week. 

Blitz Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 W (TB) 1-0 Team MGD1 10.5 9.5
2 L 1-1 Shanghai Tigers 5.5 10.5
3 L (TB) 1-2 Croatia Bulldogs 9.0 11.0
4 W (TB) 2-2 Brazil Capybaras 10.5 9.5
5 W 3-2 Canada ChessBrahs 9.0 7.0

Note: (TB) = Result came in tiebreaks after an 8–8 tie through four rounds. Tiebreak games did not count toward overall winning percentage.

Their opponent, the Blitz, isn't chopped liver despite qualifying as the eighth and final seed. They have star power, with GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk, both of whom played every week of the regular season. They proved their worth in the week five elimination match against the Canada ChessBrahs, albeit without GM Magnus Carlsen available, scoring 5.5/8.

No team played more chess to get to the quarterfinals than the Blitz, who went to a tiebreaker round more often than not in the regular season. Their reward is the best-performing regular season team as their quarterfinal opponent.

Also:
Blitz team captain NM Kevin Bordi is also hosting a PCL Playoff Watch Party at the Espot in Paris. 

Scene from a previous live Blitzstream event at Espot. Photo: François Bonfiglio/Espot.

Yogis–Blitz Quarterfinal Lineups

Board YOGIS BLITZ
1 GM Vidit Gujrathi GM Alexander Grischuk
2 GM Nihal Sarin GM Etienne Bacrot
3 IM Vaishali R GM Kateryna Lagno
4 IM Pranesh M IM Mahel Boyer

Quarterfinal Prediction: No reason to expect the Yogis to be stopped now, especially with Vachier-Lagrave not in the Blitz lineup.


#2 Gotham Knights (3-0) vs. #7 Saint Louis Arch Bishops (3-2)

Seed Logo Team (Match Record) Win% (All Games) Total Wins/Games
2 Gotham Knights Pro Chess League PCL Gotham Knights (3-0) .602 26.5/44
7 Saint Louis Arch Bishops Pro Chess League PCL Saint Louis Arch Bishops (3-2) .513 41.0/80

They are two of the most storied teams in PCL history, although the Knights have undergone some name changes (most notably when they were the New York Marshalls). Saint Louis, meanwhile, has won the league championship three times: in 2017, 2019, and 2020. This is a match not to be missed.

And of the eight teams still alive, perhaps none of them rely more on their top board than these two American squads.

There won't be handshakes over the internet, but the first board matchup will be particularly important either way in this match. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Gotham Knights Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 W 1-0 Berlin Bears 9.0 7.0
2 W 2-0 California Unicorns 8.5 7.5
3 W 3-0 Shanghai Tigers 9.0 3.0

The other team to reach the playoffs undefeated, besides the Yogis, is IM Levy Rozman and GM Hikaru Nakamura's Gotham Knights. Nakamura played all three weeks for the Knights and scored 10/12 to lead them. His teammates went 16.5/32, but your top board is supposed to be good enough that .500 support wins the week.

Saint Louis Arch Bishops Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 L 0-1 Shanghai Tigers 6.0 10.0
2 L 0-2 Team MGD1 6.5 9.5
3 W 1-2 Berlin Bears 10.5 5.5
4 W 2-2 Spanish Maniac Shrimps 9.0 7.0
5 W 3-2 Croatia Bulldogs 9.0 7.0

They are facing the Arch Bishops, the only team to recover from an 0-2 start to make the playoffs. Exemplifying their early struggles, GM Fabiano Caruana scored 3.5/4 in week two, but Saint Louis lost by three points. But then the comeback began, concluding when Caruana scored a perfect 4/4 in week five to lead Saint Louis into the playoffs.

Gotham, of course, needed no such heroics, making the playoffs in the minimum weeks necessary while defeating a playoff team by six points in week three.

Knights–Arch Bishops Quarterfinal Lineups

Board KNIGHTS ARCH BISHOPS
1 GM Hikaru Nakamura GM Fabiano Caruana
2 GM Vladimir Fedoseev GM Benjamin Bok
3 GM Shamsiddin Vokhidov GM Nikolas Theodorou
4 WIM Alua Nurmanova FM Alice Lee

Quarterfinal Prediction: Knights win. With just how much the Arch Bishops rely on Caruana (he didn't play in their week one loss, then scored more than half their points in week two), it's tough to see them scoring the upset here without more balance.


#3 Levitov Chess Wizards (3-1) vs. #6 Team MGD1 (3-2)

Seed Logo Team (Match Record) Win% (All Games) Total Wins/Games
3 Levitov Chess Wizards Pro Chess League PCL Levitov Chess Wizards (3-1) .570 36.5/64
6 MGD1 Pro Chess League PCL 2023 Team MGD1 (3-2) .556 44.5/80

This, not the battle between the fourth and fifth seeds, might be the closest match of the quarterfinal. It certainly is by winning percentage in all the games, with just 1.4% of separation, even though MGD1 needed an extra week to qualify for the playoffs

Levitov Chess Wizards Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 W 1-0 Garden State Passers 10.0 6.0
2 W 2-0 Norway Gnomes 10.5 5.5
3 L 2-1 Indian Yogis 6.5 9.5
4 W 3-1 Canada ChessBrahs 9.5 6.5

The Chess Wizards proved that balance can win just as easily as top-board dominance. The week that they improved to 3-1 and qualified for the playoffs, all four boards scored at least 50% even though none of their players that week rated higher than 2646. They defeated an unbalanced team, one who scored 6.5/8 against them on the top two boards, but 0/8 on the bottom two.

Scoreboard from the Levitov team's fourth-round victory.

And they did it without GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. When Mamedyarov plays for the Wizards, as he did in a four-point win in week one, they are potentially unstoppable.

Team MGD1 Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 L (TB) 0-1 Blitz 9.5 10.5
2 W 1-1 Saint Louis Arch Bishops 9.5 6.5
3 W 2-1 California Unicorns 10.0 6.0
4 L 2-2 Norway Gnomes 7.0 9.0
5 W 3-2 Garden State Passers 10.0 6.0

Note: (TB) = Result came in tiebreaks after an 8–8 tie through four rounds. Tiebreak games did not count toward overall winning percentage.

After losing in overtime by a single point in the first week, MGD1 looked like they were going to coast their way into the playoffs, winning by three points the next two weeks. However, they were stopped by the eventual #5 seed before recovering against Garden State.

Wizards–MGD1 Quarterfinal Lineups

Board WIZARDS MGD1
1 GM Alexey Sarana GM Arjun Erigaisi
2 GM David Paravyan GM Adhiban Baskaran
3 GM Denis Lazavik GM Diptayan Ghosh
4 GM Alexandra Kosteniuk GM Harika Dronavalli

Quarterfinal Prediction: Team MGD1 with the upset, especially without Mamedyarov appearing for the Levitov team. It just so happens that the only two teams with grandmasters in all four quarterfinal lineup spots are playing each other.

#4 Shanghai Tigers (3-1) vs. #5 Norway Gnomes (3-1)

Seed Logo Team (Match Record) Win% (All Games) Total Wins/Games
4 Shanghai Tigers Pro Chess League PCL 2023 Shanghai Tigers (3-1) .558 33.5/60
5 Norway Gnomes Pro Chess League PCL 2023 Norway Gnomes (3-1) .484 31.0/64

It's the closest match by seeding, but Shanghai is a much tougher opponent than their fourth-place ranking would indicate.

Shanghai Tigers Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 W 1-0 Saint Louis Arch Bishops 10.0 6.0
2 W 1-1 Blitz 10.5 5.5
3 L 2-1 Gotham Knights 3.0 9.0
4 W 3-1 Croatia Bulldogs 10.0 6.0

Outside of the 9–3 loss to Gotham in week three, Shanghai crushed it, qualifying in four weeks while scoring a .635 win percentage to go undefeated in their other three matches. Two of the three teams they beat also made the playoffs, making them the only team to defeat multiple other playoff teams this season.

Norway Gnomes Regular Season Results

Week Result Record Opponent For Against
1 W (TB) 1-0 Spanish Maniac Shrimps 10.5 9.5
2 L 1-1 Levitov Chess Wizards 5.5 10.5
3 W 2-1 Brazil Capybaras 8.5 7.5
4 W 3-1 Team MGD1 9.0 7.0

Note: (TB) = Result came in tiebreaks after an 8–8 tie through four rounds. Tiebreak games did not count toward overall winning percentage.

Norway, meanwhile, also advanced in just four weeks despite a losing record in the overall games. They accomplished this with thin margins in their three victories—including tiebreaks in week one—relative to the size of their lone defeat.

Each team's first board (GMs Pavel Eljanov and Wei Yi) facing off at the 2018 Olympiad. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the week four advancement, GMs David Howell and Pranav V led the way with a combined score of 6.5/8. More where that came from would certainly help Norway with their upset bid.

Tigers–Gnomes Quarterfinal Lineups

Board TIGERS GNOMES
1 GM Wei Yi GM Pavel Eljanov
2 GM Ju Wenjun GM Pranav V
3 GM Xu Yi IM Elham Abdulrauf
4 IM Lou Yiping GM Nino Batsiashvili

Quarterfinal Prediction: Both teams went 3-1, but Shanghai has the deeper roster and wins.


Semifinals & Finals

Obviously, we don't know exactly who will be playing in the final two rounds until the games actually happen. If the above predictions end up correct, that produces a Yogis-Tigers semifinal and a Knights-MGD1 semifinal. If that happens, predict a Tigers-Knights final, with the Knights running it back in a regular-season rematch to win it all.

Conclusion

Which quarterfinal matchup are you most looking forward to? Which team do you think will win it all? Let us know in the comments.

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