Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers were not immune from Pittsburgh's overall terrible sports week, as they were dealt a harsh dose of reality in a 3.5-12.5 loss to Las Vegas.
The toughest team to face Pittsburgh so far, Las Vegas never let up, posting GMs Timur Gareev, Kayden Troff, Zbigniew Pakleza, and FM Elliot Liu for all four rounds. Pittsburgh once again opted for subs, with GM Alexander Shabalov playing all four rounds and FMs Edward Song, Gabriel Petesch and NMs David Hua, Alexander Heimann, Grant Xu seeing partial action.
As usual, GM Shabalov was quick to turn Board 1 upside down, but his 12...g4? proved far too optimistic, as the tactics worked out for GM Gareyev who converted easily.
FM Song and NM Hua faced taller tasks on Boards 2 and 3, but they managed to hold their own against the GMs. Unfortunately, Edward was eventually ground down to a losing ending and David was done in by time trouble after a promising attack. Pittsburgh did their best to target FM Liu, with NM Xu scoring the lone win in Round 1 with typical, quality Morra prep.
The Pawngrabbers were again drastically outrated on Boards 1 and 3, and unfortunately Shabalov was derailed in an equal ending during a time scramble with GM Troff. However, NM David Hua scored the next win, against NM Liu after his clock ran a bit too low.
If nothing else, the third round was a bit better for the Pawngrabbers, but the 1.5-2.5 score failed to keep them in the match. NM Hua and FM Petesch were overwhelmed by the GMs, but FM Song fought back to a draw against FM Liu, while GM Shabalov scored his first win with a kingside blowout against GM Pakleza.
At 3.5-8.5, this left Pittsburgh playing for a symbolic result, but even that did not materialize, as the bottom three boards failed to produce any major upsets and Shabalov was upset by FM Liu after a risky Alekhine's Defense did not go as planned. The Desert Rats went 4-0 in the last round and earned a resounding 12.5-3.5 victory.
With the rosters we were able to field, we knew from the start that the Pittsburgh team would face extremely tough challenges throughout the season. The team did well to exceed expectations against San Francisco and Minnesota, but this week it was simply not to be as Pittsburgh failed to produce upsets against an incredibly strong Las Vegas roster.
Even though we've pulled surprisingly close at times, especially against Minnesota, the Las Vegas match did well to show us how valuable it can be in these matches to have a consistent roster. With much lower-rated players, we had to rely on rapid-style upsets and superior preparation to stay competitive, and as we learned this week, sometimes that just doesn't materialize.
And while it doesn't seem like the challenges get easier for us - we're playing Webster University tonight! - this is something that we very much hope will be a long-term journey. Our experiences will be valuable if we are able to run future iterations of the Pittsburgh PRO Chess League team. In the meantime, the Pawngrabbers are still motivated and preparing well, so we hope you'll tune in tonight at 9:10 pm Eastern, for our match against Webster!
- Beilin Li, Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers co-manager