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Carlsen To Face So In Sunday's PRO Chess League Final

Carlsen To Face So In Sunday's PRO Chess League Final

The Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League will see a magnificent final, with world number one Magnus Carlsen and world number two Wesley So leading their teams.

The final, on Sunday 26 March at 10 a.m. PDT (6 p.m. CET), will be played between the Norway Gnomes and the St. Louis Arch Bishops, who both won an epic semifinal on Saturday.

If you were watching the semifinals of the PRO Chess League, you probably woke up still shaking. Epic is the word.

On Saturday both the St. Louis Arch Bishops vs the Montreal ChessBrahs match and the Norway Gnomes vs the Stockholm Snowballs encounter went into tiebreaks, after the rapid play had ended in 8-8. After a total of 7.5 hours of play, the finalists were known.

St. Louis vs Montreal: Double Tiebreak

Let's start with that first match, St. Louis vs Montreal. This was scheduled before the "European" match, by the way, because some of the players there were involved in another chess event during the day.

The Arch Bishops played with GMs Wesley So, Varuzhan Akobian, Ben Finegold and NM Nicholas Rosenthal. The Chessbrahs consisted of GMs Fabiano Caruana, Eric Hansen, Alexandre Lesiège and NM Elias Oussedik.

In the first round the Chessbrahs took a slim lead by winning their match 2.5-1.5. A key game here was Finegold vs Hansen, with the white player getting a winning advantage, but failing to convert.

What happened there in time trouble will be seen as a comedy of errors by engines. Caruana was joining the Chess.com chat, correctly predicting the course of events: "But Eric is a magician, he'll save this."

The next two matches ended in 2-2. Round 2 saw fairly normal results, but round 3 was crazy. OK, So and Caruana winning their games vs Hansen and Akobian was expected, but on the other boards the two underdogs won their games!

Finegold again grabbed the spotlight as he went down to Oussedik after dropping a full piece in the opening. Caruana: "Ben is playing like the black knight from Monty Python."

The Chessbrahs weren't increasing their lead though. Rosenthal kept the St. Louis hopes alive by beating Lesiège in a truly excellent game. Many GMs would have been proud to play such a blitz game.

St. Louis had to win their last match, and they did. So and Caruana, who had started with three wins, split the point. Akobian defeated Hansen, but Finegold lost to Lesiège. Again it was Rosenthal who saved the day for St. Louis, using the Stonewall Dutch:

Making it 2.5-1.5 as well, the St. Louis Arch Bishops set the score at 8-8, so a tiebreak was needed. The whole match was repeated, but with reversed colors, and a blitz time control: 3 minutes plus 2 seconds increment. 

And, amazingly, the score was more or less repeated as well. The Chessbrahs again started with a win (3-1 this time), then two matches ended in 2-2 (with Rosenthal holding Hansen to a draw after the latter mouse slipped), and yet again the Arch Bishops managed to level the score with a 3-1 at the end. For starters, So defeated Caruana as Black on board one:

And Finegold finally started playing well, right where it was needed.

A second tiebreak was needed! By now commentators GM Simon Williams and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni had gone much longer than expected (the former desperately needed a toilet visit, the latter feared that her mum's dinner was getting cold). The other semifinal match was delayed, but started during the tiebreak as it was simply getting too late for some players.

Anyway, the second tiebreak was a bit like a sudden death penalty shootout where each decisive single round would decide the whole match. And this time it was St. Louis that started with a victory.

Akobian, who had suffered from a power outage earlier on and lost a game because of that, was back with full force and defeated Hansen. Finegold finished with another win, vs Lesiege, to become the man of the match. Who would have thought?

Download PGN St. Louis Archbishops vs Montreal Chessbrahs

Norway Gnomes vs Stockholm Snowballs: Another Tiebreak

The Norway Gnomes again came to the field with the world champion in their team. GM Magnus Carlsen was playing together with GMs Jon Ludvig HammerAryan Tari and NM Daniel Nordquelle. The Stockholm Snowballs played with GMs Baadur Jobava, Georg Meier, Levan Pantsulaia and NM Milton Pantzar

It was a very rough start for the Gnomes. They suffered no less than three losses, and only Carlsen won his game, vs Pantzar. Meier showed great persistence in his endgame with Tari.

The second round eded in 2-2. Meier won again, vd Nordquelle, and Tari lost again, vs Jobava. Carlsen scored another win, and Hammer too. He profited from a huge blunder by his opponent.


After round 3 it was all equal again, as the Gnomes won this one 3-1. Hammer scored an important win over Jobava, by eating pawns and more pawns, and not fearing the threats against his king.

Ironically, in Norway's biggest victory, Carlsen didn't win. He drew a "good game," as he also stated in the chat afterward. And the computers seem to agree; it's all correct what happened here.

Hammer then drew Meier, Tari won his game, and Nordquelle managed to hold Pantsulaia to a draw! So, the Gnomes seemed to be heading to the final without further ado, as Carlsen was also doing well and in fact winning at some point. But then it went horribly wrong.

So, like the first semifinal, the whole match was replayed with the faster time control. The Gnomes won 3-1, then 2.5-1.5, but it still wasn't decided as the Snowballs came back with 2.5-1.5 in round three. They needed a 3-1 win to tie the match, but it was the Gnomes who won 3-1 instead.

Carlsen was the only player to score 4-0 in this tiebreak. His revenge over Jobava was sweet:

Download PGN Norway Gnomes vs Stockholm Snowballs

It's not gonna be easy for the Gnomes in the final. Except for Carlsen, the team will be completely different, and not as strong: GM Kjetil LieFM Joachim Nilsen, and FM Sebastian Mihajlov.

The world champion himself will face Wesley So in at least one game. Yesterday the world number two was seen warming up on the Chess.com live server to play some blitz. Then, having a total score of 26/28 before the semis, he got that to 33.5/37. He'll play with Akobian, Finegold and Rosenthal again.

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Watch the PRO Chess League final on Sunday, March 26 at 10 a.m. PDT, 1p.m. EDT, 7 p.m. CET. (Note that daylight savings time in Europe occurs on the morning of the championship match, so plan accordingly!)


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