Plot Thickens As 2 Weeks Remain in PRO Chess League

Plot Thickens As 2 Weeks Remain in PRO Chess League

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In one of the most memorable weeks in PRO Chess League history, fans were treated to close matches from every division. After week eight's standings shake-up, Saint Louis finds itself back on top of the Atlantic, playoff pictures are now wide open in the Pacific and Central Divisions, and Tbilisi and Armenia are still locked in a battle for top seed in the Eastern Division. 

With playoff ambition and relegation fears settling in, nearly every match was close, as 12 matches finished 9-7 or closer. 

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: Pawngrabbers Fall Short in Quest for Revenge

Needing a win to secure their sixth-place position in the standings to avoid relegation, the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers entered week eight keen on beating the team that eliminated them from the 2018 PRO Chess League playoffs, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops. Saint Louis, looking to build momentum from last week's Battle Royale win, entered the match-up with GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Wesley So once again in the lineup.

While the Arch Bishops may have been favored to win, Pittsburgh showed early that they too had weapons, as the three-time Titled Tuesday winner IM Minh Le tricked So and pulled out a win to start the match:

Now up two pawns, it didn't take long for the Vietnamese IM to outplay the 10th-best player in the world:

Points from GM Sergey Erenburg and GM Evgeny Postny added to the Pawngrabbers' tally to close the round 3-1 in favor of the Pawngrabbers. Though Minh nearly got a result against Caruana, the round split 2-2 heading into the second round, meaning that the Pawngrabbers only needed three points in the final eight games to secure a result.

Needing to change the trend of the match, Caruana put together a game-of-the-week nominee when he beat Erenburg in the third round:

With IM Hans Niemann scoring his first win of the match from third board, Saint Louis and Pittsburgh were tied 6-6 heading into the final round.

Even with Postny holding a draw with Caruana, Wesley's win from second board proved to be too much for the Pawngrabbers, as Niemann successfully defended an equal endgame in time trouble to secure an 8.5-7.5 final result.

With Montreal and Montclair both winning, the Pawngrabbers are likely out of playoff contention, barring a miracle Battle Royale finish. With Webster losing this week, the Windmills are now in a race with the Sopranos and Chessbrahs to secure playoff bids. Towards the bottom of the division, London and Miami's tie mean that both teams close in on sixth place. Out of the Pawngrabbers, Champions, and Lions, one team will survive the 2019 PRO Chess League season..

Pacific Division: Chengdu Takes Advantage of Dallas' Misstep, Moves to Top of the Pacific

When Chengdu heard that San Francisco's had pulled off a shocking upset over the Dallas Destiny, the Pandas knew that this was their chance to finally close the gap. Meanwhile, the Australia Kangaroos needed a result to keep pace with the Minnesota Blizzard and San Jose Hackers—a perfect match-up to end the night.

With his team's top board stating slow, GM Anton Smirnov tallied a crucial win for Australia against IM Bao Qilin, demonstrating superb minor piece endgame technique:

Needing to keep the match level heading into the third round, the Chess.com top blogger GM Max Illingworth sacrificed an exchange early against GM Xu Xiangyu, and then after some complications, managed to grind out another endgame win for the Kangaroos.

After three rounds, the match was still tied but after Chengdu scored a quick two points making the score was 8-6, and Australia, despite inspired play, now needed a comeback to save the match. FM Raymond Song tricked IM Chu Wei Chao into a losing pawn endgame, meaning Smirnov would have to play the role of hero to save his team.

The youngster didn't disappoint, winning the game, the game-of-the-week prize, and securing the tie with his kingside assault against GM Bai Jinshi:

Despite conceding the tie, the Pandas jumped into first in the Pacific with the result. Australia clung on to its playoff spot, meaning the Hackers would have to spend another week looking in from the outside.

With San Francisco and Minnesota both winning by large margins, every team from first through seventh is in serious playoff contention, which means with just two weeks left in the season, one of them will make a dramatic exit from the PRO Chess League.

Chengdu claims the tiebreaker over Dallas given the Pandas' head-to-head 10-6 win back in week three, but with the final Battle Royale left on the calendar, there's a lot of chess left to break the tie between these two teams.

Eastern Division: Eagles Save Match Against Division Rival Gentlemen

In what some were already billing a preview of the Eastern Division final, Tbilisi finally had its shot against the PRO Chess League defending champions.

Though IM Shant Sargsyan was not on the Eagles' line-up, his sister WFM Anna Sargsyan was, and all eyes were on her game with GM Baadur Jobava. After defending for the duration of the game, it was Jobava who found a way to save the half-point in the endgame:

Fourth boards ruled the match, as Tbilisi's Nika Volkov got a GM scalp against the Eagles' GM Zaven Andriasian:

The Gentlemen took the round 2.5-1.5, and the race between Volkov and Sargsyan was on. Volkov drew GM Samvel Ter-Sahakyan, and Sargsyan returned the favor by beating Tbilisi's GM Levan Pantsulaia:

Even with the bottom-board heroics, the Eagles needed the rest of their team to get results in the final round, as they trailed 5-7 with four games left. Sargsyan and Volkov drew, which meant Armenia's top three needed to score 2.5/3 to secure the tie.

Andriasian kicked off the comeback by beating Jobava:

With Ter-Sahakyan also giving the Eagles a point, that left a drawn rook endgame between GM Artur Gabrielian and GM Luka Paichadze, meaning the match finished with a split 8-8.

Tbilisi stands ahead of Armenia after the draw, but the two teams both look ready for postseason action. Moscow's win over the Dynamite gives the Wizards an edge over the Movers, who were held by their crosstown rivals, the Moscow Phoenix.

The Estonia Horses secured their first win of the regular season by beating Volga, which could mean they escape relegation. Their opponent next week? The Armenia Eagles.

Central Division: Norway Wins Key Match-Up, Playoff Race Tightens

With teams like the Amsterdam Mosquitoes and Cannes Blockbusters closing in on the playoff race, this week's match-up between the Norway Gnomes and the Baden Baden Snowballs was a critical test for both teams.

GM Jon Ludvig Hammer scored the first point of the match against WIM Inna Agrest, sacrificing his rook with style to get mate.

The Gnomes got off to a 4.5-1.5 lead, and if it weren't for a win from GM Georg Meier the match may have gotten out of hand:

The momentum only built from there, as GM Dmitrij Kollars beat IM Sebastian Mihajlov to bring the match score within one as the second round came to an end. GM Andre Diamant scored to start the third round, meaning the match was level at 6-6 with four games to go.

Needing to break the trend, IM Lars Oskar Hauge showed fans the true power of the queen to level the score at 7.5-7.5:

Hauge's win was critical, as the final game saw Mihajlov convert his exchange advantage on board four to win the match, 8.5-7.5.

Norway's win saw the Gnomes increases its lead at the top of the standings, and Cannes' win over Ljubljana sees the Blitzstreams jump into a playoff spot.

Marseilles earned a critical win against the Raptors, but MVL still has work to do if he wishes to see his team secure a playoff berth. Next week they play the Berlin Bears, who will try to close the gap to sixth heading into the Battle Royale.


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

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