MVL, Nakamura Falter In Thrilling PRO Chess Rivalry Week
Rivalry week in the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League was packed with thrilling and competitive crosstown and cross-country matches whose results often hung on a single game, or even a single blunder or brilliancy.
Rivalry week also saw the debut of speed chess legend GM Hikaru Nakamura for the Miami Champions, but his play was surprisingly less than dominant. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also came back to earth after a perfect score last week.
Two other powerhouse players, GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (San Jose Hackers) and Li Chao (Montreal ChessBrahs), continued to deliver against strong opposition, making their teams early-season favorites.
Week 2 Nailbiters:
Ordinarily, the match of the week would be hotly debated, but this week there can be little debate. The Cannes Blockbuster toppled the Marseille Migraines in a match that was exhilarating from start to finish. The first stunner came from super-grandmaster Vachier-Lagrave, who salvaged a half-point for Marseille when it appeared he might be in trouble against GM Robert Fontaine.
Entering the final round of the match, Cannes trailed 5.5-6.5 to Marseille. A win from Cannes' top board against Marseille's bottom board, Remy Degraeve, tied the match, a standing which was not altered by draws on boards two and three.
Marseille had (intentionally?) pinned their hopes of victory on Vachier-Lagrave to defeat Flavio Perez. With a 400-point rating advantage, that seemed like a good bet.
However, with all eyes on him, Perez rose to the challenge, defeating Vachier-Lagrave with a thrilling piece sacrifice and ensuing attack. The patient moves he made to bring all his pieces into the attack left Vachier-Lagrave completely bound. MVL resigned faced with mate in a few moves.
The only drawn match of the week was the Ljubljana Direwolves versus the Riga Magicians. Both of these teams have been rock solid. One of the most gleeful battles of the week was GM Artur Neiksans' duel with GM Jure Borisek. In the last round with the match on the line, Neiksans (who analyzed the game) played an excellent queen sacrifice and transitioned to a probably winning endgame. Good defense from Borisek suddenly equalized when Neiksans pulled out "the finest move I made lately."
Crossing an ocean, two New Jersey teams did heated battle in a state that was not big enough for the both of them. The Knockouts benefited from a stellar performance from U.S. chess legend Joel Benjamin who scored 3.5/4, but they suffered a deficit of points on board four, which allowed Montclair to secure a half-point match win.
The Knockouts self-identified the critical move and miss that decided the match.
@NJKnockouts) January 19, 2017
The Webster Windmills won a collegial match as their players from Webster University defeated their crosstown rivals, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops who had to go a week without GM Wesley So on their top board. He is currently playing in Tata Steel. The Windmills had IM Irene Sukandar handling their Twitter page and capturing the emotional highs and lows of the match.
An emotional high was GM Ashwin Jayaram's victory featuring ...Bb4!! against GM Darius Swiercz.
@Gmasterg4) January 19, 2017
Week 2 MVPs:
One of the MVP candidates based on the first two weeks is Li Chao. He has scored 7.5/8 in two weeks and is one reason that the Montreal ChessBrahs have comfortably won their first two matches.
The highest-rated player on the ChessBrahs is GM Fabiano Caruana, who is playing at Gibraltar soon. When his schedule finally permits him to play, will we have a classic "quarterback controversy" for the top board?
Li Chao won the best game prize for his game against Barbosa last week in which he sacked an exchange for central pawns. He did the same in two games this week.
Here is one.
@chessbrahTV) January 19, 2017
The San Jose Hackers are another team that is looking extremely difficult to beat. They are lead by Mamedyarov, who has only permitted one draw in seven games. He ground down GM Vinay Bhat in a beautiful demonstration of pressure.
One player who did not immediately appear to be an MVP candidate was Nakamura, who debuted for the Miami Champions. He won one game and drew three. In fact, things could have been more difficult as Nakamura himself noted when he commented to GM Mark Paragua after they agreed a draw in light of a repetition, "I think g3 was winning. "
Unsurprisingly, the engine agrees, although the game may not be entirely over there.
Although Nakamura surely has more dominant days ahead of him, the team MVPs must be GM Eduardo Iturrizaga (3.5/4) or the 2076-rated FM Nikhil Kumar who equaled Nakamura's score of 2.5/4 and earned a nice win against Paragua.
The Chess.com fan favorite IM Yaacov Norowitz, was a critical board three for the Philadelphia Inventors as they won convincingly against the Atlanta Kings. He scored 3.5/4. Last week the Kings drew their match against Miami. The win leaves the Inventors on a perfect score and looking like one of the best teams in the Atlantic Division.
Another board three, Anton Yatzenko, delivered an incredible 4.0/4 score for the Gorky Stormbringers against the Shymkent Nomads. Here's a really beautiful little game where 25...a5!! reminds one of Richard Rapport's missed ...c6!! and ...Qa7 opportunity against Wesley So in Tata Steel.
Perhaps he was inspired by that game.
Week 2 Shots:
The much anticipated London Towers vs London Lions match proved to be one of the biggest blowouts of the week as the Towers dominated the Lions. One point that got away was this beautiful back-and-forth battle between IM Justin Tan (not the popular crazyhouse streamer!) and IM Richard Pert. Pert was busted, the nicest win being 19.Rxd5!, but then he generated a "bluff" (his words) attack that carried the day despite Tan getting a second queen!
A gorgeous missed shot was noted by the Norway Gnomes, who bounced back with an angry vengeance as they defeated the Johannesburg Koeksister 14.5-1.5. Hammer didn't need to find the surprising best move below to win this game for the Gnomes, but he certainly would have liked to.
@NorwayGnomes) January 18, 2017
Finally, GM Angel Lopez struck another fine blow against FM Yannick Kambrath for the Dallas Destiny.
@PROChessLeague) January 19, 2017
@PROChessLeague) January 19, 2017
Week 2 Results:
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