Armenia, Ljubljana, St. Louis, Chengdu Win PRO Chess Division Championships
PRO Chess League Division Champions

Armenia, Ljubljana, St. Louis, Chengdu Win PRO Chess Division Championships

SamCopeland
NM SamCopeland
Mar 22, 2018, 3:10 PM |
21 | Chess.com News

The Armenia Eagles, Ljubljana Turtles, Saint Louis Arch Bishops, and Chengdu Pandas won their divisions in the 2018 season of the PRO Chess League. These four teams are headed to San Francisco on April 7 and 8 for finals weekend where they will battle through the semifinals and finals to determine our 2018 champion.

The Ljubljana Turtles were the only ratings underdog to win their division championship this year, but all of the winning top seeds were at some point behind in their matches and had to overtake their opponents.

Cast your vote in the game and move of the week polls!

PRO Chess League Division Championship Highlights: Board Fours Carry The Day

In three of the four division championships, the winning teams outscored their opponents on board four. This was in sharp contrast to last week when the top-heavy teams with super-GMs generally won out. The debate about how to construct a perfect PRO Chess League roster continues.

First, CM Artak Manukyan of the Armenia Eagles scored 1.5/2 against the higher-rated boards three and four on the Mumbai Movers to help the Armenia Eagles catch their rivals and win the match on tiebreak.

Then CM Luka Skuhala of the Ljubljana Turtles scored 2.5/4 against the hungry Marseille Migraines team! He started tremendously with the following draw against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Finally, Forest Chen of the Saint Louis Arch Bishops defeated both GMs Andrew Tang and Nikola Mitkov! With so many points being delivered on board four to swing matches, teams are sure to be on the lookout for game-changing board fours in the offseason. Will we some teams aggressively recruit free agents for board four?

PRO Chess Division Championship Highlights: The Perfect Bracket

Is it possible to put together a perfect PRO Chess League bracket? Yes and no...

A single user (ViliamChess) has filled in a so-far perfect bracket, selecting the winners correctly in all 12 matches! Given how many upsets there have been, this is truly a remarkable achievement.

Who does ViliamChess have winning? He's picking the Ljubljana Turtles! It's a surprising pick no doubt, but picking the Turtles has worked well for this user so far! In second place? ViliamChess has the Chengdu Pandas, picking them to defeat the Australia Kangaroos.

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ViliamChess has picked the bracket-busting Turtles to win it all.

Sadly, despite his success thus far, ViliamChess cannot have a perfect bracket. He's picked the Mumbai Movers to win third place! As they've already been eliminated, he's preemptively broken his otherwise perfect bracket.

Just learning about the PRO Chess League? Visit the site and read the rules.


Armenia Eagles Win PRO Chess League Eastern Division

The Armenia Eagles came back in the final round to split their match with the Mumbai Movers 8-8. Thanks to scoring more game points in the regular season, the Eagles had draw odds and advance to the semifinals! They will be one of four teams taking the trip to San Francisco for finals weekend on April 7-8.

The Movers started well, buoyed by an excellent 3/3 from recent Reykjavik Open winner, GM Baskaran Adhiban. Here is a nice game he won against Eagles board one, GM Hrant Melkumyan.

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GM Adhiban under-performed in this year's Tata Steel, but he is in shining form now. | Photo: Maria Emelianova, Chess.com

With a 6.5-5.5 lead, the Movers seemed to out-think themselves. GM Santosh Vidit Gujrathi took a quick draw against Melkumyan, presumably following pre-match strategy, but having conceded a half-point from a board on which they both had White and a rating advantage, the Movers were under pressure in their final three games.

In fact, it was once again the Eagles' star board four, CM Artak Manukyan, who delivered the goods as he scored a quick and decisive victory over IM Raunak Sadhwani by advancing all of his pawns to steamroll Black. At this point, the Movers had no advantage on the remaining two boards, and the Eagles sealed up the match draw that was all they needed.

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Despite being rated under 2200, Manukyan has performed at a 2375 clip over 48(!) games. No wonder the Eagles are headed to San Francisco!

2018 PRO Chess League | Eastern Division Championship | Armenia Eagles vs Mumbai Movers

Eagles Movers Vidit Gujrathi B. Adhiban Eesha Karavade Raunak Sadhwani 8
Hrant Melkumyan 2.5
Zaven Andriasyan 2.5
Karen Grigoryan 1.5
Artak Manukyan 1.5
8 2.5 3.5 1 1

Navigate to PRO Chess League Website

Ljubljana Turtles Upset Marseille Migraines, Win Central Division

The "underdogs," the Ljubljana Turtles, handily defeated the Marseille Migraines in the PRO Chess League's Central Division championship. Many factors were important to their victory.

The French number-one and Migraines team manager, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, started slowly out of the gate. He was only able to draw against Turtles' board four, Luka Skuhala, and in the final round, he was fortunate to be given a draw in a losing position by GM Luka Lenic. He did have the pleasure of playing a nice checkmating combination in this game.

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Skuhala drawing Vachier-Lagrave (from a winning position no less) was an auspicious start for the Turtles.

Despite Vachier-Lagrave's tribulations, the real problems came on board three. GM Yannick Gozzoli has been on fire for most of the season, but the light went out in this match. His 0-3 start pretty much doomed the Migraines after only three rounds. Here is an amusing and quite sneaky first-round trap that he walked into.

Yannick Gozzoli, Marseille Migraines, PRO Chess League

The Gozzoli giveth, and the Gozzoli taketh away.

2018 PRO Chess League | Central Division Championship | Marseille Migraines vs Ljubljana Turtles

Migraines Turtles Luka Lenic Jure Borisek Matej Sebenik Luka Skuhala 9.5
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 3
Etienne Bacrot 3
Yannick Gozzoli 0.5
Marc Andria Maurizzi 0
6.5 3 2 2 2.5

Navigate to PRO Chess League Website

Saint Louis Arch Bishops Win Atlantic Division; Return To Finals Weekend

Last year, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops won the Pacific Division and the 2017 championship. After some key changes this year (replacing Wesley So with Fabiano Caruana and moving to the Atlantic Division), the Arch Bishops are headed back to the finals weekend.

Last year, the Arch Bishops relied heavily on the dynamic duo of Wesley So on board one and Nicholas Rosenthal on board four. This year, they drew heavily on their lower boards as GM Yaroslav Zherebukh and NM Forest Chen were big performers.

After a rough start, the Arch Bishops got a huge point in round two as GM Andrew Tang got into trouble against Chen, recklessly declined a draw, and lost!

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NM Forest Chen beat two GMs this week!

Chen also scored the critical final-round point with a nice tactic against GM Nikola Mitkov.

GM Yaroslav Zherebukh has been tremendous on board three, scoring a 2700+ performance rating. This week he was outshone by GM Varuzhan Akobian, who scored 3.5/4 and the Blizzard's GM Mauricio Flores who did the same. A just O.K. performance did not prevent him from playing this beautiful game, though!

nullZherebukh has achieved a super-GM performance on board three!

2018 PRO Chess League | Atlantic Division Championship | Saint Louis Arch Bishops vs Minnesota Blizzard

Arch Bishops Blizzard Mauricio Flores Andrew Tang Daniel Gurevich Nikola Mitkov 6
Vladimir Fedoseev 2.5
Varuzhan Akobian 3.5
Yaroslav Zherebukh 2
Forest Chen 2
10 3.5 1 1 0.5

Navigate to PRO Chess League Website

Chengdu Pandas Are Pacific Division Champions

The Chengdu Pandas became the second PRO Chess League team to win their division after qualifying for the 2018 season. The other similarly victorious team was the Armenia Eagles.

This was a tight match with the Australia Kangaroos actually holding a narrow half-point lead for much of the match. The Pandas' powerful boards one and two underperformed early, but they delivered big in the final round winning two vital and beautiful games to elevate their team to the championship and a final weekend trip to San Francisco.

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2013 world junior champion and China's #2 won a beautiful king-and-pawn ending!

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Three-time Chinese champion Ni Hua stylishly scored the point when it counted.

2018 PRO Chess League | Pacific Division Championship | Chengdu Pandas vs Australia Kangaroos

Pandas Kangaroos Alexey Sarana Anton Smirnov Temur Kuybokarov Brandon Clarke 7
Yu Yangyi 3
Ni Hua 3
Xu Xiangyu 2.5
Chu Ruotong 0.5
9 2 1.5 1.5 2

Visit the PRO Chess League website.

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