Armenia Eagles Win PRO Chess League In Triple Overtime
Armenia Eagles, PRO Chess League Champions. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Armenia Eagles Win PRO Chess League In Triple Overtime

Yesterday they jumped over the ropes, and today they crashed through them.

After two draws that kept extending a playoff, GM Zaven Adriasyan won in game three of his sudden-death blitz match with GM Wang Yue to give the Armenia Eagles a boisterous championship in the 2018 PRO Chess League. Andriasyan's teammates in the front row leaped in applause and pushed through the velvet ropes to embrace their leader. They nearly knocked over a camera, but with the $20,000 first place prize, they can afford to replace a few!

Cast your vote for the GOTW and MOTW for finals weekend!

Wang Andriasyan

GM Zaved Andriasyan (left) and GM Wang Yue contest the tiebreaker playoff. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"I think America is famous for its shows, and today we made one," Eagles' captain CM Artak Manukyan said.

Team strongman GM Karen Grigoryan was back to his old tricks from yesterday, bear hugging the hero. This time, his "lift" could be measured in feet, not inches.

The Eagles beat the Chengdu Pandas in the playoff after the two teams ended regulation tied 8-8.

If chess and esports were having a first date this weekend, let's just say there was a goodnight kiss at the end.

The finished was the culmination of a gripping final. With the Eagles trailing in their match for most of the day, things looked bleak in the fourth segment.

Trailing 6.5-5.5 going into the final quartet of games, Manukyan played a dubious opening that left him down two pawns. Suddenly his rook found life and right at a critical moment, he offered a draw to Chu Ruotong, which was accepted.

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A nervous wife and confused captain. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

But did he make the right decision to bail out? Grigoryan made sure of it by keeping enough pieces on the board to beat his third-board counterpart, GM Xu Xiangyu, who had been undefeated up until that point.

With the match now tied 7-7, boards kept finishing in increasing order. First board two drew, then right at a critical moment, top boards Wang and Andriasyan also agreed, despite the Pandas having three pawns for the piece.

That left everything knotted at 8.0 points each. For once, fans cheered following the anti-climactic draw on board one, for it meant that the overtime rules would be employed. Much more free chess was on the way.

Andriasyan

Get comfortable, GM Zaved Andriasyan. You're going to be here a while. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Shifting from 15+2 to 3+1, the rules dictated that board fours would reconvene and play. The loser would be be eliminated, with the winning board four then moving on to play the opposing team's board three. In the case of a draw, both players are eliminated, and the process continued down to each team's final player.

The first team to defeat the opposing team's board one wins the championship. Turns out, even more rules would be needed after that.

Chengdu Pandas

The second-place Chengdu Pandas and PRO Chess League staff. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

But first, the opening games.

Chu got her first win of the weekend by beating Manukyan after the Eagle played a suspicious exchange sacrifice. The Armenian captain was thus eliminated.

Then Grigoryan filled the chair for the Eagles, whereupon he dispatched Chu. Now both teams had three players left in this chess version of "Survivor."

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Before the tiebreaker began, the Eagles' convocation added another Armenian. Native son and current Arch Bishop GM Varuzhan Akobian (foreground) joined in their discussions. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Xu and Grigoryan drew after a repetition. In esports terms, this was a "double KO" and both left the stage.

In came GM Samvel Ter-Sahakyan for the Eagles, yesterday's hero, and also GM Ni Hua for the Pandas. The Eagle seemed to mismanage his clock all game, first running it down to 1:12 when Ni still had only used 10 seconds, then later the clocks showed 0:30-2:00 in favor of Chengdu. Still, Ter-Sahakyan built an easily-manageable fortress and toggled until Ni admitted they'd reached an impasse.

Manukyan

The playoff began with board fours Chu Ruotong (left) and CM Artak Manukyan. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

With their draw, only two men remained. The rules now stated that if the two board ones are the only ones left in the playoff, then they simply keep playing until there's a winner, alternating colors each game. In other words: Don't. Go. Anywhere.

Wang took White in game one and it looked like it might all end there. Andriasyan battered the Panda's pawns and despite dimished armies, Black seemed to have formed a mating net. Wang eventually held, and even made Andriasyan make some accurate moves in a knight ending.

After the last pawn was captured, there was a quick break. The players reconvened as the tension built in the standing-room only audience.

Having just played a sort of King's Indian Defense setup, Andriasyan trotted it out again, this time as White. He played 2. d3 against the Caro-Kann, an old Mikhail Tal favorite, and got a King's Indian Attack.

Wang Yue

GM Wang Yue, eyes wide open for the playoff. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

But before anything concrete happened, all the queenside pawns were traded. The second draw meant it was on to triple overtime.

Very quickly pawn imbalances appeared. Andriasyan had "center mass" and built up for a ...c4 breakthrough. He told Chess.com that once he played 31...Qc6 (a "very important move"), he thought he was in control.

Indeed, Wang couldn't find a way to curtail the passers, and the Eagles flew to victory.

Andriasyan wasn't necessarily eager to have the spotlight on him.

"I was hoping Karen (Grigoryan) would win and I wouldn't have to play," he said.

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GM Karen Grigoryan (middle) prepares the bear hug...| Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Andriasyan

...But the hero also gets a kiss from his wife. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Still, when the moment came, he was ready thanks to his personal background and also some sage instructions from his captain.

"When we were coming here, Artak told us to prepare only for three minutes plus one second."

It doesn't hurt that Andriasyan has played a ton of blitz in his life, and is even #20 in the world in FIDE's blitz ratings.

"In blitz I'm much stronger than in rapid or regular chess," he said. Andriasyan had a solid but unspectacular weekend up until that final moment, drawing almost all of his games but losing none.

Here's the waning moments as described by commentators IM Danny Rensch and GM Robert Hess:

Watch PRO Chess League Finals Day from Chess onwww.twitch.tv

The Eagles gave out multiple bottles of Armenian cognac as gifts at the  pre-tournament players' meeting (and continued to give more at the closing dinner). Chess.com asked Andriasyan if the team had saved a bottle for the celebration.

"Not only one," Andriasyan said.

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Manukyan, the most jovial player, was distraught after losing a close ending earlier in the day. Here in the playoffs he gets back to business. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Earlier in the day, play went to form, with both board ones winning against board fours in the opener. With the score tied 2-2, Chengdu won two of the three decisive games in the second set to take a one-game lead, 4.5-3.5.

Wang notched his second win in a row:

The Chinese players had not lost a session all weekend, but it looked like in the third group, Armenia would get back to even. Grigoryan atoned for his round-two loss by beating Chu, and Manukyan seemed headed for his first mini-upset of the weekend.

Surely the opposite-colored bishop ending gave the appearace of a dead draw, but it turned out that Xu had exactly one idea. And that idea worked beautifully. 

Manukyan buried his head in his hands and sat at the board momentarily after the loss.

China thus preserved its one-game lead, 6.5-5.5, going into that final session before Grigoryan struck again to put the match into extra time.

He gave Chengdu's probable MVP his first loss of the weekend by imprisoning Black's rook on the fifth rank. It also resulted in the Pandas' first session loss in San Francisco.

With the score evened up at eight, the playoff commenced.

Eagles Pandas Wang Yue Ni Hua Xu Xiangyu Chu Ruotong 8
Zaven Andriasyan 2.5
Samvel Ter-Sahakyan 2.5
Karen Grigoryan 2.5
Artak Manukyan 0.5
8 3 2.5 2 0.5

In the third-place match played earlier in the morning, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops beat the Ljubljana Turtles 9.5-6.5. It was the "Yaro and Daro" show.

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Bronze medalists, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops. Manager Mike Kummer (third from left) was happy to get a medal to accompany last year's championship ring. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

GM Dariusz Swiercz atoned for an unperforming Saturday by winning 3.5/4. It helped that he was better rested today; a delayed flight meant he didn't land until 1:30 a.m. the morning of their ill-fated semifinals.

He said he was "more relaxed" and that today there was "not much pressure on us" since they'd already won a championship the previous year. 

"I think there were four more or less equal teams," he said of the semifinals and finals. "The requirement that there has to be a weaker player on the team adds spice." Curiously, the Arch Bishops spoiled a fantastic four-draw day by NM Forest Chen yesterday, but won today despite their fourth board losing his first three games.

Here was a fun finish to Sweircz's round two match:

GM Yaroslav Zherebukh also rebounded today, with two wins and two draws. He said his mentality going into the day was to be free from expectations and "not to be so tense." Zherebukh and Swiercz are both only a few days removed from another team event, the Final Four of College Chess.

Turtles Arch Bishops Varuzhan Akobian Dariusz Swiercz Yaroslav Zherebukh Forest Chen 9.5
Luka Lenic 2.5
Jure Borisek 3
Matej Sebenik 1
Luka Skuhala 0
6.5 2 3.5 3 1

All told, Zherebukh said he prefers individual events. At least there he gets to play what he wants.

"It's a bit more responsibility," he said of teams. "In individual [events] I can play 1. a3 for example. I felt like the managers didn't want me to do that here." We will see if he opens with that later this month at the U.S. championship.

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