Caruana Holds Carlsen, As ChessBrahs Win In PRO Chess Week 5
In an action-packed day for fans of online chess, GMs Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and numerous other grandmasters competed for the glory of their teams in the interdivisional week of the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League. This week, play took place on Saturday as teams competed outside of their divisions against teams from distant locales.
Undoubtedly, the biggest matches of the day were the Norway Gnomes (GMs Magnus Carlsen, Jon Ludwig Hammer, Aryan Tari, with Daniel Nordquelle) taking on the Montreal ChessBrahs (GMs Fabiano Caruana, Eric Hansen, IM Aman Hambleton, and Elias Oussedik) and the St. Louis Arch Bishops (GMs Wesley So, Darius Swiercz, Ben Finegold, with Nicholas Rosenthal) versus the Marseille Migraines (GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Etienne Bacrot, Yannick Gozzoli, with Remy Degrave). Both matches delivered in every possible way with hard-fought, creative, and tense play.
Four teams that won their matches with relative comfort were the San Diego Surfers (5/5, the only team with a perfect score), Delhi Dynamite (4.5/5), Philadelphia Inventors (4.5/5), and Stockholm Snowballs (4/5). These teams each hold clear first in their division. See the full divisional standings here.
Week Five Marquee Matches
Montreal ChessBrahs vs Norway Gnomes:
How could this not be the biggest match of the day as Carlsen and Caruana made their chess league debuts? Magnus Carlsen's participation for the Gnomes has been hotly anticipated, and they have needed him. Entering the day with a 2/4 record, they desperately needed a win. Carlsen has been the world's top-rated player since 2011, and although So and Caruana are now nipping at his heels, one would expect a big score from him in this event.
Despite Carlsen and Caruana's cache and gravitas, it was their teammates who pleased the spectators early in round one while they won easily. Tari was beating Hansen when he missed a key tactic, and then (presumably flustered) miscalculated.
Hansen also had tactical success in round two against young Nordquelle, who suffered in the match and lost all his games. In contrast, Oussedik scored 2/4 for the ChessBrahs.
Carlsen had won easily against Oussedik in round one, but then in round two, he got into trouble against Hambleton. He was worse for awhile, but eventually acquired some pressure before having to concede a draw in a king and pawn endgame.
Carlsen then applied his typical massage to Eric Hansen, gradually eeking out a win in a likely drawn game. That left all eyes on Carlsen and Caruana as they faced each other in the last round with the match score tied.
Caruana has a reputation of being weaker in rapid and blitz play than he is in classical, and indeed, he had only only drawn against both GM Jon Ludwig Hammer and Aryan Tari. He was even near defeat against Tari.
Caruana got into trouble against Carlsen, acquiring a position that looked impossible to defend in practice, but when Carlsen tried to force the play, Caruana put up a stodgy defense. Long efforts could not break Caruana, and Carlsen had to concede the draw.
The match came down to Hansen who was pressuring Hammer since early in the game. 50.f5! was the needed breakthrough, and with excellent technique, Hansen brought home the key win and a half-point match victory against the Gnomes.
@FabianoCaruana) February 11, 2017
For the Gnomes, their straits are dire. Having lost thrice by razor-thin margins, they now have only a 2/5 record, and they likely need wins in the next two weeks to gain a playoff berth. Their situation is not easier next week as they take on the division leaders, the Delhi Dynamite.
@NorwayGnomes) February 11, 2017
St. Louis Arch Bishops vs Marseille Migraines:
Wesley So's current unbeaten streak of 56 classical games does not consider his PRO chess games. If it did, the streak would be 12 games longer as he has drawn only once thus far. This week, like last week, he won all four games. His first-round win was a lovely miniature as he sacrificed a rook before forcing resignation on move 22 with a quiet move.
Meanwhile his super-grandmaster counterpart on the opposing team, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, lost his first-round game with a shocking blunder. More shocking was the fact that he might have been lost anyway!
Vachier-Lagrave also got into trouble against Finegold. Although, he won, Finegold missed an excellent move here that promised sufficient counterplay to draw. GM Hikaru Nakamura was the first to spot this when spectating in the comments.
@PROChessLeague) February 11, 2017
Entering the final round, the Arch Bishops held a 6.5-5.5 lead, but a turnaround was certainly possible. Instead, the Arch Bishops delivered a dagger to Marseille Migraines as Wesley So smoothly and stylishly defeated Vachier-Lagrave.
Week Five Shots
While we don't have the space to delve as deeply into the many other thrilling matches this week, here are some highlights.
First, the Toronto Dragons grabbed a 5-0(!) lead against the London Towers before the Towers mounted a fierce comeback and fell just a half-point short. GM Razvan Preotu played an incredible and creative (if flawed) attack against IM Thomas Rendle.
Another key to the Dragons victory was this turbulent victory by IM Bindi Cheng against GM Gawain Jones who found the best move in the following position.
@Lond0n_Towers) February 11, 2017
The San Jose Hackers had lost their last two matches, but this week they came back with a 9-7 victory over the Budapest Gambit. The Gambit made things definitely by consistently over-performing their ratings. Here their board one, Mamedyarov, was held to a draw by GM Oliver Mihok who found a brilliant 24th move.
The same match also saw a pleasing finish on board four as Ivan Ke defeated Andras Orosz.
The Delhi Dynamite had no trouble winning their match against the New York Knights 11.5-4.5. They were aided by their new free agent on board one. GM Salem Saleh scored 4/4 and won the following fine game. With a high-stakes match next week, it seems very possible that we will see him on board one next week against the Norway Gnomes and Magnus Carlsen.
@PROChessLeague) February 12, 2017
@PROChessLeague) February 12, 2017
Week Five Blunders
In general, there was more brilliance than blunders this week in the PRO Chess League, but here are two that their authors surely wish they could have back. GM Bryan Smith scored an impressive 4/4 for his Philadelphia Inventors against the Gorky Stormbringers, but he should have lost this game against GM Evgeny Shaposhnikov had the following not happened.
In a position that was seemingly over, IM Abilmansurур Abdilkhair of the Shymkent Nomads let GM Robert Hungaski escape to a fortress and tablebase draw.
The full stream of the event with commentary from GM Dejan Bojkov, IMs Danny Rensch, David Pruess, and Anna Rudolf is available on Twitch.tv/chess.
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