Blunders, Brilliancies As Carlsen's Gnomes Survive PRO Playoff Opener

Blunders, Brilliancies As Carlsen's Gnomes Survive PRO Playoff Opener

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With tensions high as 16 teams strove to advance and join the top seeds in the round of 16 in the PRO Chess League, the games delivered with plenty of high drama. Aggressive and decisive play from players throughout the league produced plenty of brilliancy prize candidates, but these highs were matched by significant lows as some nightmarish blunders and mouseslips knocked desiring teams out of the playoffs. 

Eastern Division: Carlsen's Gnomes Power Through

Norway Gnomes vs Mumbai Movers: 9-7

The Norway Gnomes came to play with the most stacked lineup seen thus far in the league. Clearly GMs Magnus Carlsen, Jon Ludwig Hammer, and Simen Agdestein were a scary top three, but what about about board four, Tor Fredrik Kaasen? Well he is rated 2450! How does that lineup come under the 2500 average-rating cap? The secret is that Kaasen was only 1927 when lineups were submitted in fall.

Though the Movers fought hard, the Gnomes took an early lead, and Carlsen got his first 4-0 in the PRO Chess League. Carlsen took to Twitter to celebrate Belichek-style, and he also wrote a blog about the PRO Chess League.

Gorky Stormbringers vs Riga Magicians: 8-8

In the second Eastern division match, things did not go the way of the rating favorite. Without GM Evgeny Shaposhnikov, the Gorky Stormbringers were ceding 100 rating points on average to their opponents, the Riga Magicians. Never underestimate a Russian CM though. The Stormbringers proved incredibly resilient, eventually managing an 8-8 tie and advancing because of their superior record in the regular season.

The weakest point for the magicians proved to be board one as GM Igor Kovalenko scored only 1/4, making these two ghastly blunders.

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It may have been "in a losing effort," but IM Vitalijs Samolins got himself a move of the week nomination for his win on board three.

Central Division: English Heroics

In one of the more notable underdog stories in English history since Waterloo and Dunkirk (okay, less notable), both London teams advanced against their higher-seeded continental rivals with some crazed last-minute heroics.

Cannes Blockbusters vs London Lions: 7-9

The Lions have come back from some really unfortunate matches in the early weeks of the PRO Chess League and are looking quite strong. With finishes like the following, one understands why their manager would be emotional.

Amsterdam Mosquitos vs London Towers: 7.5 - 8.5

Each of these teams drew strength from strong board one performances. First, GM Loek Van Wely won a pleasant game against GM Keith Arkell as his team raced to an early lead.

But in rounds three and four, it was GM Gawain Jones who downed GM Wouter Spoelman and then Van Wely in games where he was worse and even losing, but he managed to handle the chaos and time trouble better than his opponents.

Atlantic Division: Time Trouble Mishaps

Toronto Dragons vs Miami Champions: 7.5-8.5

This match featured lots of tactical wizardry from both teams, and it could easily have gone either way as both teams saw time forfeitures in winning positions. There were two particularly striking moments to highlight. First, GM Razvan Preotu earned a move of the week nomination for this tactic.

Preotu was then defeated by young FM Nikhil Kumar who found some impressive moves of his own.

Montclair Sopranos vs Philadelphia inventors: 9-7

GM Robert Hess absolutely refused to let the commentators ignore his games in this match as he was constantly under a minute on the clock. The commentators were riveted both by this game which he heroically saved with seconds on his clock...

...and this one, in which seconds were not sufficient to save the game.

One that the Inventors would surely love to have back is this costly blunder from IM Thomas Bartell.

Pacific Division: California Defeats Texas

In a confrontation between the only two U.S. states with three cities that exceed a population of 1,000,000, California's two teams were victorious against the two Texas teams.

Dallas Destiny vs San Jose Hackers: 7.5-8.5

The Dallas Destiny have been very strong on boards one through three with GMs Jeffery Xiong, Ruifeng Li, and Conrad Holt. They performed admirably, but such top board strength left them vulnerable on board four where they only scored a half-point. Meanwhile, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was again dominant as he scored 3.5/4.

Despite what must have been heated emotions, these two teams demonstrated the best sportsmanship as GM Cristian Chirila hosted GM Jeffery Xiong to play in his apartment while Xiong was in California for a tournament.

San Diego Surfers vs Rio Grande Ospreys: 9.5-6.5

The San Diego Surfers were the only team to start with five match wins in the PRO Chess League, but in the incredibly strong Pacific division, that wasn't even quite enough to secure a first-round bye. That seems to have made them hungry as they came out strong and achieved the most dominant match victory in the playoffs opener with 9.5 points. GM Alexey Dreev showed that he deserves increased recognition as one of the most solid board ones in the league. He won this beautiful game as Black.

Dreev's prior opponent, the sharp GM Vladimir Belous, successfully castled in this game and pleased the spectators with a move of the week candidate.

Game And Move Of The Week Polls

Carnage In The Brackets

Over 2,600 people submitted brackets as part of's competition. How many survived even the first half day with a perfect bracket? Only 257! Ouch.

By the end of the day, only thirteen participants retain perfect ballets. They are: zeus3101, UNDERWEARNERD, Checkers, knight_of_la_mancha, Lukas_Krieg, static89k, MrCooldra, bolocanolo, rockstar2211, likithkk, thouRedHerring, Birch4, Raif_Garipov, rookblizzard, Chess_Lagoon.

Who did people favor to win it all?

Team Picked To Win
Norway Gnomes 748
St Louis Arch Bishops 394
Montreal Chessbrahs 390
Marseille Migraines 240
Delhi Dynamite 185
Miami Champions 69
Mumbai Movers 61
Budapest Gambit 60
Gorky Stormbringers 58
Riga Magicians 51
Stockholm Snowballs 49
London Lions 48
Webster Windmills 34
Toronto Dragons 34
Amsterdam Mosquitos 33
San Jose Hackers 29
Cannes Blockbusters 25
Dallas Destiny 23
London Towers 22
San Diego Surfers 18
Buenos Aires Krakens 16
Philadelphia Inventors 15
Montclair Sopranos 7
Rio Grande Ospreys 6

The full archive of broadcasts with commentary from GMs Jesse Kraai, Simon Williams, Alex Yermolinsky, Irina Krush, IMs David Pruess, Lawrence Trent, Anna Rudolf, and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni is available at

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Read up on everything you need to know about the PRO Chess League:

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