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Carlsen, Caruana To Compete In PRO Chess League

Carlsen, Caruana To Compete In PRO Chess League

The PRO Chess League will not just be a clever name. The two strongest professional chess players on the planet have signed up to play in the inaugural season.

World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen will lead the Norway Gnomes, while world number-two GM Fabiano Caruana will take his talents north of the border to play for the Montreal Chessbrahs.

The Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League is a close cousin of the former U.S. Chess League. The revamp will offer a more up-tempo fan experience and a worldwide appeal. 

More than 30 teams from around the world have already signed on to play. The addition of these two chess celebrities, and the increased prize fund of $50,000 USD, give the league instant clout in the chess world.

In anticipation of the PRO Chess League, the Gnomes began stalking the Chessbrahs at the Olympiad.

Many chess fans would tune in to a tiddlywinks match-up featuring Carlsen or Caruana, but instead, they'll be plying their traditional craft on Chess.com. Fans will be able to watch them play multiple games of 15+2 on any "league night." The rules stipulate that all four players will play all four opponents in a given week. That means that those lucky (or unlucky!) enough to match up with Norway or Montreal will get a game with one of these top-flight players.

Let's look at the expected rosters of the Gnomes and the Chessbrahs.

Norway signed three-fifths of its Olympiad team, and this surely makes it one of the favorites to win it all.

Not a Travelocity commercial: This Gnome will not be your friend when the league begins.

In addition to Carlsen, the Norwegians will field GM Jon Ludvig Hammer and GM Aryan Tari. Collectively, the trio played boards one through three for Norway at the recent Chess Olympiad in Baku. They are rounded out by current national champion, IM Johan Salomon, as well as IM Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, IM Lars Oskar Hauge, FM Joachim Nilsen, and FM Sebastian Mihajlov.

Per league rules, the maximum average rating for any quartet in a given week is 2500. However, anyone above 2700 will only factor in as 2700, making it possible for Carlsen to be on a team with several IMs and FMs.

"We have selected the players with the cap in mind," Hammer told Chess.com. "And I do have a plan for getting below 2500 when Magnus plays...It's a team packed with promising youngsters.

"We think the PRO League is a very innovative and cool project and wanted to be a part of it from the get-go."

If Scandinavians are now playing the Scandinavian, will Caruana invent the "Canadian" in the PRO Chess League?

The Montreal Chessbrahs take their name from the popular Youtube channel fronted by several team members. You might expect from their energetic and sometimes raucous videos that their logo would be a can of Red Bull or a DJ. No, instead they'll play in the PRO Chess League under a close facsimile of their existing Chessbrah logo:

Judging by the logo, the Chessbrahs won't be as cuddly as the Gnomes.

In signing Caruana, the Montreal Chessbrahs are taking advantage of the league rule that allows for one of the four players in a given weekly lineup to be from anywhere else in the world. Others on the team include Montrealers GM Eric Hansen, IM Aman Hambleton, FM Lefong Hua and Elias Oussedik. The Chessbrahs have also signed Dutch GM Robin van Kampen, who is Hansen's most frequent sidekick in the Chessbrah channel, and GM Jorden van Foreest, the current Dutch champion.

"Fabiano will help us win a lot of games and provide a massive boost to the team," Chessbrahs Assistant Manager NM Keith MacKinnon said. "We're going to be a force to be reckoned with."

GM Fabiano Caruana had been an honorary Chessbrah for a while before becoming an official one, as this t-shirt suggested. Apparently, he doesn't have any hard feelings from GM Eric Hansen's final-round win in the U.S.A.-Canada match. It nearly cost the Americans the gold medal in Baku!

Didn't get Carlsen or Caruana on your team? Not to worry: Other 2800s are still unsigned, so give GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave or GM Vladimir Kramnik a call. Other top-10 members are still "waiting for the right contract."

The 30 teams that have pledged to play in the first year represent a far-ranging list of locales. About half of the teams are from the United States, and several past U.S. Chess League champions will return (San Francisco Mechanics, Dallas Destiny, Seattle Sluggers, St. Louis Arch Bishops).

Europe has a healthy presence, with teams in Budapest, London, and Belgrade, to name a few. There is even a team from far away Nizhny Novgorod! Africa will play, thanks to a team from Abuja, Nigeria. The only Asian contingent thus far is Delhi. South America is represented by a team in southern Argentina (16,231km from Delhi!). No teams have currently signed up from Australia/Oceania, but there's still time!

If you are interested in competing, registration ends November 20. The registration procedure is outlined here, and the specific signup link is here.

If you are a player in search of a team that might need your services, you can send a message to PROChessLeague here on Chess.com.

Matches are slated to begin January 11, 2017 with most competitions on Wednesdays (league night) and a few inter-league matches on Saturdays. After a 10-week regular season, the playoffs will begin March 22, with the league championship on March 26.

The tentative times:

  • One European/Asian division will begin at 1 p.m. Eastern (GMT-5), the other at 2 p.m. Eastern.
  • One Eastern North American and South American division will begin at 7 p.m. Eastern.
  • One Central and Western North American division will begin around 9:30 or 10 p.m. Eastern.

All matches will have live commentary on Chess.com/TV with the host changing with the time zone. GMs Simon Williams and Robert Hess are penciled in right now; a third host for the late matches will be named later.

*This news article has been edited to reflect a change. GM Wesley So was listed as a possible player for a team from Minnesota, but will not be participating in the league.

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