PRO Chess League: Saturday Smackdown
GM Awonder Liang, 14, will lead the upstart Pawngrabbers into the playoffs with a win this week.

PRO Chess League: Saturday Smackdown

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Earlier this season, the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League held a full weekend of chess, dubbing it "Super Saturday" and "Super Sunday." For each team's seventh match, the league will reprise the free-for-all format, but all the action will be condensed to one, single, checkmate-filled day.

And that day is this Saturday, Feb. 24.

You can watch all the games live on and Matches will be Saturday at 7 a.m. PST and at 11:30 a.m. PST. 

Gone are the team-vs.-team matches. Instead, players will face an entire conference as individuals, playing eight games instead of the usual four. Number-one seeds will play other number-one seeds, and so forth.

Other sports have tried this. WWE wanted to show what would happen if 41 elite wrestlers fought it out in one ring, but the PRO League will better that by having 64 in action at the same time. Call it the PRO League "Saturday Smackdown."

For this incredible event the fantasy competition returns for a chance at a belt and $10,000! OK, actually just the money, not the belt. You might think of yourself as a longshot among the sea of other entries, but perhaps so was Randy Orton to outlast the other 40 wrestlers.

The Eastern and Central Divisions will tangle with the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions. Since the divisions mostly divide the world down the prime meridian, this week will be kind of like an East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry. In that case, GM Magnus Carlsen would be "Biggie" and GM Hikaru Nakamura would be "Tupac." Unfortunately those two won't face each other since they are in different time slots, but you should put a few 40s on ice anyway for a full day of rapid chess (games will be 10+2).

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen's completely unconfirmed favorite Biggie Smalls lyric: "Never let them know your next move."

For the second time in 2018, teams will be playing outside of their divisions. These well-known players have entered the ring for the playoff push:

  • World Champion Magnus Carlsen (Norway Gnomes, currently fifth in the Eastern Division and outside the playoffs)
  • World number-seven Hikaru Nakamura (Seattle Sluggers, currently seventh in the Pacific Division and outside the playoffs)
  • World number-eight Fabiano Caruana (Saint Louis Arch Bishops, currently fourth in the Atlantic Division and holding on to the final playoff spot)

Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura's completely unconfirmed favorite Tupac Shakur lyric: "It’s the game of life. Do I win or do I lose? One day they’re gonna shut the game down. I gotta have as much fun and go around the board as many times as I can before it’s my turn to leave."

Tired of seeing Carlsen and Nakamura play? Probably not, but there are 126 other strong players competing Saturday.

Here's the full lineup of players in the early action. Players in the top green boxes will play all eight players in the red boxes below them:


Here are the players competing in the later time slot:


How does Super Saturday work?

These are two separate special events at a time control of 10-minutes-plus-2-seconds increment, where each team plays every team from the opposite division. Eastern Division and Central Division players face off against the half the Atlantic and half the Pacific Divisions. Each player will play a total of eight games, so a perfect score for a team would be 32 points.

The scores are tallied up and at the end the following match points are awarded:

  • 1st place: 1 match win and $500 bonus
  • 2nd-6th place: 1 match win
  • 7th-10th place: 1 match draw
  • 11th-16th place: 1 match loss

This week's battles have the most parity in single games, since no longer will board ones be facing lower boards.

The league-leading Webster Windmills can do almost no wrong this season. At 5.5-0.5, they have the best record in the league and are the only team to already clinch a playoff berth. Forget trying to be number one in college chess; they are striving to become number one in all the land. They'll sit top-rated GM Le Quang Liem this week in favor of GM Aleksandr Shimanov on top board.


Aleksandr Shimanov goes to school in St. Louis, so we can only assume his favorite rap lyric comes from Nelly: "Make a livin' off my brain, instead of 'caine now."

One team is really maximizing its chances this week. The Chengdu Pandas will be fielding the highest average rating in league history. Normally a team is capped at 2500 for the foursome, but since super-GMs factor in as "only" 2700 and because women qualify at 100 points below their rating, the Pandas will clock in at 2560!

How did they manage this? For the first time ever in the PRO League, all four of their players will be taking advantage of these two exceptions. Their lineup: Super-GMs Yu Yangyi and Li Chao on the top two boards, followed by female players GM Ju Wenjun and Chu Ruotong on the last two boards.

Yu Yangyi

GM Josh Friedel, nicknamed "The Panda," was signed by the Las Vegas Desert Rats before Chengdu could add him to the roster! The Pandas lead the Pacific Division even without the American.

Check out all the rules and players here. Look for other news at the PRO Chess League website. Super Saturday begins at 7:00 a.m. Pacific (3:00 p.m GMT) and the later matches are at 11:30 a.m. Pacific (7:30 p.m. GMT). 

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