Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers Upset Defending Champs St. Louis Archbishops
Pittsburgh couldn't have had a more exciting win last night, toppling none other than the St. Louis Archbishops, last year's champion team, 8.5-7.5. Chess.com gave Pittsburgh only an 11% chance of winning the match (and even worse at halftime)!
St. Louis went all in on Boards 1-3 (GMs Caruana, Fedoseev, Ramirez), outrating Pittsburgh by more than 150 points on each board. The downside of that was having to play NM Forest Chen (rated under 2000 FIDE/2300 USCF) on Board 4, placing undeniable pressure on all the top boards to compensate. Chen's score of 1/4 wasn't the end of the world, but that probably should have been 0/4, and the top boards simply did not perform as they should have.
Of course, it's hard to argue against playing GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Vladimir Fedoseev, both rated over 2700 FIDE. But to truly help the team, they really needed to run up the score against their (significantly) lower-rated opponents, and they didn't quite get enough. The Pawngrabbers had a clear, if not easy, goal of picking points off NM Chen and holding down Caruana and Fedoseev a bit. This left GM Alejandro Ramirez as the deciding factor, and unfortunately for the Archbishops, he did not do so well last night.
Crucially, Pittsburgh managed to avoid the early disasters from the last two matches and kept the match close in the first half, losing the first matchup 1.5-2.5 and tying the second 2-2. They completely turned around the match by sweeping the third quarter 3.5-0.5, and picked off the last 1.5 points from a selection of good positions.
As a result, Pittsburgh is still 3rd in the Atlantic Division (behind Webster and Minnesota), but has widened its lead over its nearest competitors, including St. Louis. There are still a few tough matches, but last night's victory bodes well for the Pawngrabbers' playoff prospects.
Highlights of the night, in no particular order:
1. Awonder Liang defeats Fabiano Caruana
Awonder, somehow, remains undefeated outside of Super Saturday, scoring 3-1 for the night. Evidently, Awonder was not content with beating GM Hikaru Nakamura last weekend:
He's actually looking a lot like Candidates material...
2. Alexander Shabalov defeats Vladimir Fedoseev
GM Shabalov has been less consistent, although his worst performances are scoring even against slightly lower-rated players. When he is on form, he is easily one of the most appreciated players, at least among the chess.com commentators! Shaba delivered a surprising demolition of a 2731-rated Fedoseev in Round 3:
3. Atulya Shetty defeats Alejandro Ramirez
Atulya scored a solid 2-2 for the night, and was well-rewarded for smoothly outplaying GM Ramirez from a seemingly equal middlegame. This game gave Pittsburgh a little peace of mind, bringing them to the safe 8 points.
4. Safal Bora swindles Alejandro Ramirez
Getting swindled by Forest Chen and difficulties over Caruana and Fedoseev did not make for a great night, but Safal was resourceful enough to snag what ended up a critical half point from a beyond hopeless-looking position. You never know when a lucky half point is going to decide a match!
The Pawngrabbers are all the better for this monumental upset. Our next match will be in one week, on February 14 against the Montclair Sopranos. Don't forget to tune in on https://www.twitch.tv/napoleonbonaparteiv for Isaac's live comments!