PRO Chess League Playoff Hunt Intensifies In Week 9

PRO Chess League Playoff Hunt Intensifies In Week 9

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10 | Chess.com News

Not much time is left for teams to make late-season statements in the PRO Chess League. With only the Battle Royale remaining, some teams seem destined for postseason action, while many are still looking for clarity.

Top teams like Saint Louis, Webster, and Dallas struggled, while rivals Chengdu, Armenia, and Tbilisi continued to dominate.

This week there were five matches that finished with 8-8 draws, beating the season record that was set last week. 

For crosstables and games from all matches, visit our weekly results page.

Cast your vote in the game and MVP of the week polls!

Atlantic Division: Montreal Beats Montclair, Controls Destiny for Playoff Race

Going into week nine, the Montreal Chessbrahs needed a win against the fourth-seeded Montclair Sopranos to jump back into the playoff conversation. With a balanced line-up, the match's first point came from IM Sai Krishna G V, who knocked off GM Oliver Barbosa with a surprising turn of events:

With the round's remaining three games ending in draws, Montreal took a 2.5-1.5 lead, but it didn't take long for the Sopranos to answer. Barbosa rebounded in the second round by beating IM Shiyam Thavandiran:

With the match level at four, both teams needed a late surge for a playoff bid, and it was Montreal who punched first, with GM Ivan Saric beating GM Pascal Charbonneau for his second win of the night:

After taking a 7-5 lead, the Chessbrahs did not look back finishing the night at 9.5-6.5. When the match was over, GM Aman Hambleton was quick to note that nearly every Atlantic Division result helped the Chessbrahs' chances of moving even higher in the seeding next week:

With upsets in nearly every Atlantic Division match this week, the Chessbrahs made the most notable move in the standings:

With Montreal winning, it looks like Montclair will need to place several places higher than Montreal or Webster in the Battle Royale to reclaim its stake in the playoff race. Despite holding the Webster Windmills to an 8-8 draw, the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers slipped to seventh in the Atlantic, as Miami upset the top-seeded Saint Louis Arch Bishops.

The narrative is simple for these two teams next week: If Pittsburgh places one spot (or better) above Miami, the Champions are relegated. Otherwise, the Black and Gold will need to re-qualify for the 2020 season. The London Lions can still save their season by finishing at the top of the standings, but they would need both Pittsburgh and Miami to have lackluster performances.

Pacific Division: Minnesota Pulls Off Late Comeback

Heading into this matchup, the San Francisco Mechanics had beaten both the division-leading Chengdu Pandas and Dallas Destiny, and were a couple weeks removed from placing second in arguably the season's strongest Battle Royale group. A win against the Minnesota Blizzard would put the Mechanics in a great position heading into the final Battle Royale.

The match started slow, with long, grinding games. San Francisco built a healthy 5-3 first half lead, thanks to GM Daniel Naroditsky and GM Bartlomiej Macieja scoring a combined 3.5/4 against the Blizzard's bottom half. The Mechanics looked to be the better team and when FM Andrew Hong pulled out this win, the fourth round seemed to be a formality:

Now leading 8-4, San Francisco was a draw away from clinching the match. With the match seemingly over, the Mechanics' team Twitter account tweeted this:

With its eyes already on next week's Battle Royale, Minnesota needed to win all four remaining games to take the tie. GM Andrew Tang scored his first win of the night against Naroditsky in a time scramble, and the momentum swung back in Minnesota's favor:

In what may be the finish of the season, Minnesota's other three boards came through and delivered:

This tie will sting for San Francisco, as the five additional points it would have earned with a win is what separates the team from fifth place in the Pacific:

Fortunately for the Mechanics, Chengdu beat Seattle, giving them some breathing room from relegation, though they will likely need another strong Battle Royale finish and some help to close the distance between sixth and four place.

Keep an eye out on next week's Battle Royale for the Pacific Division, as the seeding for Chengdu and Dallas will be on the line. Remember, last year Chengdu eliminated Dallas on tiebreaks (better regular season performance) in the playoffs with an 8-8 tie.

Eastern Division: Volga Makes Statement Against Wizards

While teams like the Armenia Eagles and the Tbilisi Gentlemen seem destined for playoff action, the rest of the Eastern Division is still fighting for the coveted third and fourth spots. The day's biggest surprise came from the Volga Stormbringers, who thumped the third-place Moscow Wizards 11.5-4.5.

Once the Stormbringers built an early lead, Volga didn't look back. GM Grigoriy Oparin and German Bazeev both tallied 3.5/4, and from third board, FM Mikhail Bryakin scored an unbeaten 3/4. Oparin, who fell shy of winning Titled Tuesday earlier this week put together some great wins, including this deflection tactic:

His teammate on second board, Bazeev, also put together an exciting victory against GM Boris Savchenko.

Bazeev, though untitled, did have a particularly strong Rapid and Blitz World Championship performance to close 2018 in St. Petersburg. In the rapid (where he gained 121 rating points), Bazeev upset Sergey Grigoriants, Boris Grachev, and Ilya Smirin. In the blitz championship (where he gained 114 rating points), Bazeev beat Salem Saleh, Ivan Saric, Evgeny Tomashevsky, and many others.

Volga's biggest regret this season might be not acquiring this free agent's services sooner!

While Volga is looking a lot stronger than the 2018 team, the Stormbringers still need a strong showing in next week's Battle Royale to crack the top four. The more interesting note is that with the Moscow Phoenix beating the Dynamite, Delhi needs to take some caution heading into next week.

The most important 20 minutes of next week's Battle Royale action will be when Armenia faces the Tbilisi Gentlemen. Control of the Eastern Division will obviously be at stake, but we will also see how both general managers react to their 8-8 tie last week. If one team gets blown out by the other, it may make for some interesting lineup decisions if Armenia and Tbilisi meet again in the Eastern Division final.

Central Division: Berlin Bears Make Late Stand to Level Score with Marseilles

Berlin, who's spent much of the season in the bottom of the Central Division standings, needed to beat the Migraines to move out of the relegation zone. Marseilles, who was just outside of the playoff picture, needed to beat the Bears to move into fourth place. That meant PRO Chess League fans were due an exciting match to close out week nine.

Berlin showed early that it could fight with MVL's team, as GM Arik Braun outplayed GM Jules Moussard with Black.

The win opened scoring for Berlin, who took a quick 2.5-1.5 lead in the first period. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave responded quickly by outfoxing IM Jonas Lampert, as he realized that 33. Bxh7! works since the bishop doesn't get trapped:

Even with GM Pavel Tregubov scoring for the Migraines from second board, the Bears continued to apply pressure, as Berlin also scored two wins against Marseilles' bottom two boards. The match remained at a one-point deficit, 4.5-3.5, Bears in front.

Tregubov led the charge for Marseilles when he found this winning idea against GM Jacek Tomczak late in the third round:

The third round was all Migraines. Even with Braun drawing Vachier-Lagrave, Marseilles outscored the Bears 3-1, taking a late 6.5-5.5 lead. Things seemed to be headed in the Migraines' way in the fourth, but when Lampert won his game, it was Tomczak's turn to play hero as he beat MVL in an instructive endgame finish:

Berlin took an 8-7 lead, but CM Marc Andria Maurizzi converted a winning endgame to make the final score level, 8-8.

The draw means that Marseilles is still on the outside of the playoff picture, but a strong showing in next week's Battle Royale can change that. Here are this week's standings in the Central Division:

While both Berlin and Marseilles both needed a win, Baden-Baden's thrashing of Barcelona benefits both teams. Marseilles jumps to fifth place, and Berlin enters the Battle Royale, only needing to close a 13-point gap to escape relegation.

On the top of the list, Norway has amassed a significant lead heading into next week's regular season finale, while Amsterdam and Baden-Baden are level heading into next week.

For now, the Snowballs hold the tiebreak thanks to their week-three win over the Mosquitoes, but the picture at the top will look a lot different a week from now.


Commentary for this week of #prochess was provided by Robert Hess, Alexandra Botez, Anna Rudolf, and Danny Hess. All shows and archives are available at Twitch.tv/chess.

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Watch PRO Chess League Week 9 - Eastern and Central Divisions from Chess on www.twitch.tv

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