5 Of World's Top 6 To Contest PRO Chess Sweet 16
Going into the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League's round of 16, which stat is more impressive to you: that five of the world's top six players will compete, or that a total of 49 GMs will occupy the 64 roster positions?
Full disclosure, the second stat is somewhat contrived, but the first is most definitely not. Although in the four-vs-four format, there are 64 "slots," teams can make mid-match substitutions from round to round, meaning even more grandmasters can play.
For example, the San Jose Hackers will enlist a total of five GMs, where even world-number 10 GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will not get the start. That's a little like the 1992 U.S. "Dream Team" in which Larry Bird and Magic Johnson often came off the bench.
Photo: Steve Lipofsky, Basketballphoto.com via Wikipedia
But while the Hackers have plenty of depth, one thing is clear this inaugural season: having a world elite sure helps in keeping your season going. The top five players in the league are on all teams still alive in the playoffs.
The complete quintet has been tapped by their respective managers tomorrow:
- GM Magnus Carlsen of the Norway Gnomes
- GM Wesley So of the Saint Louis Arch Bishops
- GM Fabiano Caruana of the Montreal ChessBrahs
- GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of the Marseille Migraines
- GM Hikaru Nakamura of the Miami Champions
Amazingly, none of these five players play against one another in the eight matchups. That means next week we could potentially have six of the world's 10 best going at it again, and of course there would be some head-to-head aggression then.
But first, week nine awaits! The team listed first in each matchup has draw odds in case of an 8-8 tie.
Delhi Dynamite vs. Norway Gnomes: The Gnomes play their second Indian squad in a row. After barely getting into the playoffs, they only just got by Mumbai in the playoff opener (9-7), after Carlsen picked a timely week to notch his first perfect 4-0. This week he returns, without a Hammer but with a Tari (the week began as a good one for the Tar).
GM Aryan Tari will look to keep the snowmobile moving, but the dynamite bring the four horsemen to the field. They'll play three off the bat, then after round one, GM Salem Saleh will sub in.
Sure he'll have to face those two Norwegian grandmasters, but he's fresh off his first-ever Grand Prix event. Keep in mind also that Dynamite leader GM Abhijeet Gupta missed a chance to win Carlsen's queen earlier in the PRO League's season.
Budapest Gambit vs. Gorky Stormbringers:
The Hungarians are led by 17-year-old GM Benjamin Gledura, and was it really 18 months ago that he beat multiple world champions to win a rapid event? He won't have any of those to face, but he will have some lesser names who've done very well this season. Gorky will be "led" by its impressive bottom boards, Anton Yatzenko and FM Mikhail Gorozhanin. The Stormbringers just barely survived last week, advancing on an 8-8 tie, but that won't have that luxury this week.
Marseille Migraines vs. London Lions:
Almost all the pundits predicted London would burn last week, but instead both teams advanced. The Lions had a slow start to the season, but have been as hot as anyone lately. GM Sergei Movsesian will lead his pride against another type of Lyon. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, better known on Chess.com as LyonBeast, is back to bring some headaches and will be joined by one-time Super-GM GM Etienne Bacrot.
The French are famously close-knit at tournaments, so we will have to see how Lions number-two GM Romain Edouard plays against his national teammates.
Stockholm Snowballs vs. London Towers:
It's nearly spring, but there's still snow on the ground in the PRO League. The Swedes come off their bye week without any major changes; they'll use their usual three-person snowman: GM Georg Meier, GM Evgeny Agrest, and WIM Inna Agrest. They'll throw in a 2500 IM on board three to round out the lineup.
The Towers are only here due to the heroics of GM Gawain Jones. Last week, in the final round he needed to win as Black in the all-board-one matchup against GM Loek van Wely. Win he did, and the Towers advanced 8.5-7.5, and so Jones gets the deserved start again tomorrow.
Montreal ChessBrahs vs. Montclair Sopranos:
How does it get better than GM Li Chao on board one? How about GM Fabiano Caruana as the replacement? The ChessBrahs also throw in Canadian Baku Olympians GM Eric Hansen and GM Alexander Lesiege make for a fearsome lineup.
The Sopranos have no fewer than five capos playing this week. Their five GMs rival the same number that the Hackers will use. There's some interesting grandmaster battles amid the grouping. Like Edouard, GM Pascal Charbonneau has to face his native country, while in the final round, GM Robert Hess will take on Caruana, which is a rivalry that goes back to their elementary school years.
There's at least one game in the database played when Caruana was eight!
Buenos Aires Krakens vs. Miami Champions:
The good news for the Argentinians? By virtue of the last week's very close opening round, the Krakens faded a Toronto team that crushed them 11-5 earlier this season. The bad news? GM Hikaru Nakamura is back for the Champions. Unlike Edouard and Charbonneau, Nakamura has actually returned to his homeland for the match.
Although he lived there only as a small child, Nakamura is vacationing in Japan but will play anyway.
There are so many beautiful places in this world! @ Kinkakuji, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto https://t.co/lZ0VTVUfeo— Hikaru Nakamura ( @GMHikaru) March 7, 2017
The Krakens counter with a balanced attack of triple GMs: Sandro Mareco, Federico Perez Ponsa, and Alan Pichot.
Webster Windmills vs. San Hose Hackers:
You know that mini-golf game where the windmill keeps rotating and blocking your ball? While admittedly not as annoying as a clown doing it, the Webster squad will be rotating players in and out so fast that the Hackers may not be able to keep track. GM Ray Robson leads the university's contingent of nine (!) players, six of which are GMs! That's a league-high number of grandmasters used by a single team this week, and perhaps a record for the entire season.
As previously stated, San Jose counters with five of its own, led by Mamedyarov, making this a match with 11 GMs in total! That even more than you can find between two Olympiad teams. San Jose took out the Windmills in the opening week of the season, but Webster only needs to tie to enact revenge.
St. Louis Arch Bishops vs. San Diego Surfers:
The Arch Bishops' GM Wesley So has been proven to be human this season, but only just. His combined classical and PRO League unbeaten streak was getting out of control before it ended recently, but he's still put together an MVP-like season. If he goes unbeaten as usual, it may be hard for the GM Alexey Dreev-led Surfers to survive the chop. He will be joined by one more GM, four more IMs, and a WGM in a rotating cast.
As for our pundits, there aren't that many weeks left for the crowd to catch NM Alex King. But for the leader, he's just happy his season is still "alive" (quite literally).
IM Robert Ris was burned by the London teams last week, but he goes back to the well this week and tries it again.
Tarjei Svensen thinks his hometown team will survive, but only just.
NM Pete Karagianis is still thinking it over.
Full pairings, lineups, and start times can be found here. The action starts at 8:30 a.m. Pacific time (11:30 a.m. New York; 6:30 p.m. CET) Wednesday, March 8. You can catch live commentary at either Chess.com/TV or Twitch.tv/chess.
Read up on everything you need to know about the PRO Chess League: