Carlsen, Mamedyarov Gather For PRO Playoffs Opener
You wasted more than an hour of your perfectly good weekend watching IM Danny Rensch dance like an Indian woman and give some quasi-scientific prognostications. (Former U.S. president Barack Obama needed only five minutes to get through his bracket.)
Whoever you penciled in, the finale of the first year of the Professional Online Rapid (PRO) Chess League awaits. Twenty-four of the original 48 teams still have life, and 16 will play Wednesday. The other eight, composed of the top two finishers from the regular season in each of the league's four divisions, get to sit with their feet up and watch. After their byes and tomorrow's action, the PRO League will have a traditional "Sweet 16" and simple knockout going forward throughout the month, with the championship weekend taking place March 25-26.
Note that the teams listed first in each matchup have "draw odds" in case of an 8-8 tie by virtue of winning a higher playoff seed.
Byes: Delhi Dynamite, Budapest Gambit.
Norway Gnomes vs. Mumbai Movers: The Norwegians did it. They managed a lineup with the three best players their country has ever known. GMs Magnus Carlsen, Jon Ludwig Hammer and Simen Agdestein will man the top three chairs. Collectively, they are Pompey, Caeser and Crassus -- the three best players in the history of the Land of the Midnight Sun. Unlike the Roman Triumvirate, they need a "plebeian" to help them play limbo with the 2500 rating cap, but their 1900-rated fourth board is still an FM.
Mumbai counters with some rostering tactics. Their 2689-rated GM Vidit Gujrathi will play board three, and will only enter after the first two rounds. Since the matches are in "reverse" order (meaning Carlsen will play number four first, then number three, and so forth), Vidit cleverly sidesteps having to play the best player of all time. The Movers are also shakers it seems!
Winner plays Delhi.
Gorky Stormbringers vs. Riga Magicians: The Latvians are the six seed, so they'll be easy prey, right? Not exactly. GM Igor Kovalenko and GM Artur Nieksans Magically created a Faraday cage to protect against the Stormbringers.
As for Gorky, or Nizhny Novgorod, or "Russian Detroit," the team is composed of many faces but no one stands out internationally. They will have one IM, two FMs and an untitled player, but that hasn't stopped them from outperforming all season en route to the third seed in the Eastern Division.
Winner plays Budapest.
Byes: Marseille Migraines, Stockholm Snowballs.
Cannes Blockbusters vs. London Lions: Marital bliss is on the line in the French Riviera, even more than for Branjelina in "By the Sea." French champion GM Matthieu Cornette and his wife IM/WGM Deimante Daulyte take boards one and three. Sandwiched in between is nearly-2600 GM Murtas Kazhgaleyev, who you may not know but according to team captain Kevin Bordi is apparently a successful blogger, once writing a chess post read more than one million times.
You never know what you'll learn on the Perpetual Chess Podcast! Lastly, Cannes returns untitled Flavio Perez, the everyman who took down GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a game-winning match earlier in the season.
Meanwhile the Lions won their final two matches to continue their season. The sartorial and chess skills of GM Romain Edouard were just added to the roster last week, and he will polish his shoes once again for this week's matchup. In addition, IM Justin Tan just won "move of the week."
Winner plays Marseille.
Amsterdam Mosquitos vs. London Towers: All eyes will be on the top boards. GM Loek van Wely is no stranger to leading the Dutch. GM Gawain Jones will counter for the Towers. They've played three games over the board, with all three results occurring. Their final-round matchup may break that deadlock.
Winner plays Stockholm.
Byes: Montreal ChessBrahs, Buenos Aires Krakens.
Toronto Dragons vs. Miami Champions: These two teams are a clash in rosters. The Canadians show their modesty by not using anyone above 2600, nor anyone much below 2400. The Champions show their South Beach bling with three GMs, lead by strong Cuban number-one GM Leinier Dominguez. He's considered a "local" player, and the rules allow that you can be such if you're within a few hours driving distance. I guess "sailing" distance counts also, or maybe "Little Havana" suffices!
Winner plays Buenos Aires.
Montclair Sopranos vs. Philadelphia Inventors: If you like chalk, this is the battle for you. Six GMs and two IMS will bloat the scorecards in the most title-heavy fight of the day. Montclair will use local GM Pascal Charbonneau and goes fishing across the Hudson river for several more elites from Manhattan: Robert Hess and Marc Arnold.
The Inventors have been looking up at their present-day I-95 rivals since the 1700s. They'll try to conquer Gotham with GMs Evgeny Postny, former U.S. Chess League MVP Sergey Erenburg, and Bryan Smith.
Winner plays Montreal.
Byes: St. Louis Arch Bishops, Webster Windmills.
Dallas Destiny vs. San Jose Hackers: There are college kids everywhere in this, the most top-heavy division (three teams finished with 5.5/7 or more). But while the teenagers in St. Louis are doing late-night runs to Waffle House, three Dallas youngsters will saddle up and try to fulfill their density, or rather their Destiny. World junior champion GM Jeffery Xiong will be joined by GM Ruifeng Li and GM Conrad Holt.
The Hackers aren't Anonymous. They'll actually play four grandmasters this week, the only team to do so. Through an artful choreograph or round-by-round changes, we will see GM Daniel Naroditsky, GM Zviad Izoria, and GM Cristian Chirila play do-si-do while GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov plays the jukebox all four games.
Winner plays Webster.
San Diego Surfers vs. Rio Grande Ospreys: The Surfers seemed a lock for a first-round bye, but after their 5-0 start they stumbled to a 0.5-1.5 finish and thus have to play this week. They'll try to get back on track with GMs Alexey Dreev and Melik Khachiyan playing lifeguard amidst their talented young players on the lower boards.
Meanwhile, team Rio Grande tries to show that there's already a wall on the southern U.S. border, and GM Andrey Stukopin is the sheriff.
Winner plays St. Louis.
For the punditry race, NM Alex King still leads after the regular season. But like the league, this race will go until the end of March. Here's the predictions for this week:
IM Robert Ris thinks London is burning.
NM Alex King went a step further and shared his entire playoff bracket.
Shaun McCoy went digging in the archives for a video presentation of his picks.
Tarjei Svensen also has no faith in the teams on Thames.
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 1. 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: