Carlsen, So Topple Division Leaders In PRO Chess Week 6
As playoff tensions increased in week six of the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League, the matches were tighter than ever. Fully one third of the 24 matches were decided by a half-point, and no matches were drawn.
In the chaos, four division leaders were defeated this week.
Magnus Carlsen and the Norway Gnomes beat the Delhi Dynamite. Wesley So and the St. Louis Arch Bishops defeated the only team that entered the week with a perfect 5/5 score, the San Diego Surfers. The Marseille Migraines beat the Stockholm Snowballs, and the Buenos Aires Krakens defeated the Philadelphia Inventors.
There is now no team in the PRO Chess League with better than a 5-1 score, and five of those teams are in the extremely strong Pacific Division.
With one week to go, many teams have clinched playoff spots (see standings here), while others will be fighting for survival next week. For all teams, there are significant incentives available in the final week.
- The top two teams in each division get a bye in the playoff opener.
- The top-seeded team in each playoff match advances in the case of a match tie. Once we are down to the final four, a tied match will go to tiebreaks.
Norway Gnomes vs Delhi Dynamite:
Many expected the Norway Gnomes and Magnus Carlsen to be a team to beat in the PRO Chess League, but that hasn't been the case so far. Instead, the very balanced and strong Delhi Dynamite lead the Eastern division with 4.5/5. Entering this week, the Gnomes were 2/5 and had to win to maintain playoff hopes.
While spectators were drawn to Magnus Carlsen, it was the lower boards that saw some key battles. FM Nihal Sarin was a huge asset for Delhi. He defeated GM Aryan Tari in round one before he took the fight to Magnus Carlsen himself.
@ChessbaseIndia) February 15, 2017
The Gnomes had their own ringer in 16-year-old Johannes Haug, who took the fight to GM Abhijeet Gupta.
@TarjeiJS) February 15, 2017
@NorwayGnomes) February 15, 2017
Despite faltering against Sarin, Tari won his other three games including this pleasing miniature.
Carlsen ceded a draw to GM Sahaj Grover in round three, but with the match on the line, he played cleverly against GM Abhijeet Gupta to force a piece sacrifice.
@AntonSquaredMe) February 15, 2017
Then, with the win in sight, he made a massive blunder... and Gupta missed it!
Out of all this chaos, the Gnomes escaped with an essential 8.5-7.5 victory and will need to beat the Ljubljana Direwolves next week to make the playoffs.
St Louis Arch Bishops vs San Diego Surfers:
Through week five, Wesley So has been a prime candidate for league MVP. For two consecutive weeks, he scored 4-0 with very interesting games. In week six, he and his team faced the San Diego Surfers.
The Surfers were the only team with 5/5 entering week six. They have fielded one of the most balanced lineups each week as their board one, GM Alexey Dreev, has multiple times achieved 4/4 while their lower boards, IMs Michael Brown and Joshua Sheng, have been a real headache for even the very best players in the league.
That proved true again this week as both Brown and Sheng had serious chances in very interesting games against So.
The Surfers kept up the pressure in round three as popular author, GM Melikset Khachiyan, played brilliantly against So and took his advantage into an endgame with an extra pawn. Opposite-color bishops kept the game holdable for So, and infiltration proved impossible for Khachiyan.
So won his final game against Dreev fairly convincingly, but it may have been the key victory from their board four, Nicholas Rosenthal, that put the Arch Bishops over the top to 8.5.The Surfers and the Arch Bishops are both part of the large 5-1 tie in the Pacific Division and must be considered to each have very good chances of a championship berth.
Marseille Migraines vs Stockholm Snowballs:
The Snowballs have somewhat quietly accumulated the best record in their division with a very balanced lineup and generally excellent play from their board one, GM George Meier. This week the Marseille Migraines sat GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in favor of a more balanced lineup. This proved an effective strategy as they secured a clean 10-6 victory.
GM Yannick Gozzoli achieved one of the more amusing wins as his fleeing king suddenly became an attacking one.
Las Vegas Desert Rats vs San Jose Hackers:
The Hackers have won many fans in the PRO Chess League with their excellent streams featuring bubbly commentary from bottom board NM Christopher Yoo. Unfortunately, their fan enthusiasm hasn't necessarily translated to match points. In the toughest division, they have had the toughest schedule. Entering the week, they were 3-2 while the Desert Rats were on a 50 percent score.
GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was again excellent for the Hackers, scoring 3.5/4 and winning the below positional endgame, but the Hackers suffered on their lowest board as Ivan Ke scored 0-4. Meanwhile, the Desert Rats got 2.5/4 from FM Elliot Liu. That may have been the most notable statistic in a match that the Desert Rats won 8.5-7.5.
GM Timur Gareyev has continually played some of the most interesting chess in the league. Here his rook goes wild on the fourth rank, eventually delivering a winning blow there.
These two teams will have a immediate rematch next week in the playoff hunt for the Pacific Division. It will be a winner-take-all rematch with the Desert Rats going through in the event of a tied match. The emotions may also have been elevated through a little chippiness demonstrated by the teams on Twitter.
@LVDesertRats) February 16, 2017
@SanJoseHackers) February 16, 2017
Buenos Aires Krakens vs Philadelphia Inventors:
in our final match highlight, the Buenos Aires Krakens soundly defeated the Philadelphia Inventors, the leaders in the Atlantic Division. The Inventors got a perfect 4/4 score from GM Sergey Erenburg, but they could score no more than 1/4 on any of the other boards.
One key missing point was this exciting duel between GM Alan Pichot and GM Andriy Vovk. One of the best variations remained behind the scenes. In the end, Pichot had secured a draw when Vovk lost on time! Probably Pichot was as shocked as anyone.
Week Five Shots
As mentioned, Gareyev has produced some of the most fun chess to watch in the league. Here he found a nice pair of bishop moves to defeat GM Daniel Naroditsky.
In an interesting endgame, IM Dmitry Kollars of the Hamburg Swashbucklers found one last trick to win an endgame that appeared easily drawn. This was another key point in a tight watch as Hamburg defeated the London Towers by that critical 8.5-7.5 margin.
@PROChessLeague) February 16, 2017
@PROChessLeague) February 16, 2017
The full streams of the event with commentary from GMs Dejan Bojkov, Alex Yermolinsky, Simon Williams, Irina Krush, IMs Lawrence Trent, David Pruess, Anna Rudolf, and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni are available on Twitch.tv/chess.
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