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PRO Chess League Announces Returning Teams, New Qualifiers

PRO Chess League Announces Returning Teams, New Qualifiers

Too much excitement is not usually a problem in the chess world, but the inaugural year of the Professional Online Rapid (PRO) Chess League grappled with that exact "problem." In year two, the league (which is partially owned by Chess.com) has announced a few structural changes.

The worldwide league enjoyed having the world's two highest-rated players in the finals earlier this year, but long before the Saint Louis Arch Bishops won it all, 47 other teams comprised a sizable five-continent contingent. Nearly any reputable group of players was allowed to jump into the nascent experiment.

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All of the final eight teams got automatic entry into the 2018 PRO Chess League season, including the winners. The Saint Louis Arch Bishops are seen here celebrating on the roof of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel.

Covering all those players and following all of those games became too unwieldy, so the PRO Chess League will be reduced by one-third. Instead of 48 teams in four divisions of 12, the second year will feature only 32 teams, again in four divisions.

League Commissioner IM Greg Shahade called year one "a bit too large and chaotic" as he announced the changes.

In comparison, 32 teams is about the size of the four major U.S. sports leagues, but still sizably larger than many national football leagues like the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga.

Speaking of football, the PRO Chess League will borrow some procedures from that sport, namely the promotion and relegation features. The mimicry is not exact since there's no "second league" to downgrade teams to, nor to pull teams from. Instead, Shahade explained that 24 teams will get automatic qualification into the 2018 season, while all others will be invited to compete for the final eight spots.

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All of the players in the banner above had their teams qualify for year two!

Shahade listed the criteria for automatic qualification, which was based on a combination of these factors:

  • Final placement in 2017
  • Social media performance
  • Enthusiasm from team management
  • Marketability of players

Shahade said that the teams making the final eight last season automatically qualified per the first criterion. From there, he went on to the other three benchmarks.

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The Reykjavik Puffins are back, aided by one of the most popular social media posts of the season. Who could forget the opening week war cry, "The Puffins, the Puffins..."?

"It was a tough decision for us," Shahade said. "We had well more than 24 teams we would be happy to have back and we hope that they will play in the qualifier." (More on that below.)

As such, these two dozens teams made the cut and will be invited to play for year two:

Central and Eastern Divisions

Norway Gnomes (2017 runner-up)

Stockholm Snowballs

Marseille Migraines

Gorky Stormbringers

London Lions

London Towers

Delhi Dynamite

Amsterdam Mosquitoes

Reykjavik Puffins

Riga Magicians

Ljubljana Direwolves

Cannes Blockbusters

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A tough break for the Mumbai Movers: They made the playoffs and lost narrowly in the first round to the eventual finalists, the Norway Gnomes. They'll now have to qualify to play in season two.

Atlantic and Pacific Divisions

Saint Louis Arch Bishops (defending champions)

Montreal Chessbrahs

Webster Windmills

Buenos Aires Krakens

San Jose Hackers

Dallas Destiny

San Diego Surfers

Montclair Sopranos

Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers

Miami Champions

Rio Grande Ospreys

Las Vegas Desert Rats

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The Toronto Dragons lost by the absolute minimum in round one of their playoffs (8.5-7.5). That means they will also have to qualify to play next season.

The other 24 teams from year one, as well as any new squads that wish to compete, are eligible for a qualification tournament. This will determine six of the remaining eight openings. Shahade said he expects more than 24 teams to take part since there has been interest from new markets.

The tournament, which will take place in two "cycles," is tentatively scheduled on the Saturdays in October (with the exact schedule to be determined). Here's an overview of the format, which will recur twice -- once for teams from the Americas and once for teams from Europe/Africa (teams from Asia or Australia may be placed in either as they may find preference for one given their time zone):

Preliminary Round

  • 15-round Swiss
  • 3+2 time control
  • Each team submits lineup of four players that comply with the PRO Chess League's rating restrictions (note A.2 in the official rules)
  • After 15 rounds, the team's four players' scores are added together, and the top six teams qualify for the single-elimination matches in the knockout round

Knockout Round

  • One-on-one matches that follow exactly the standard PRO Chess League format (15+2 time control, Scheveningen format)
  • Top three scoring teams from round one play the bottom three scoring from round one; the winner will officially qualify for the 2018 PRO Chess League
  • Top scoring team gets to choose their opponent from the bottom three
  • The second-place team chooses from the remaining two opponents, while the third-place team automatically pairs with the final remaining team
  • The top-scoring team will have White in the board one vs. board one matchup

In this way, three teams qualify for the season in each of the two cycles.

Since 24+6=30, how then to decide those final two teams? Fans will choose! In each cycle, there will be three teams that made it past the preliminary round but who lost the one-on-one match. Those three teams will immediately be placed in a poll on the Chess.com homepage, and fans will decide which of the three they would most like to see in the league for 2018.

This also begins a regular system of promotion and "relegation" (as they call it in football/soccer leagues). At the end of the 2018 season, the bottom two teams in each division (a total of eight teams) will lose automatic qualification for 2019.

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The league's qualification/relegation system loosely resembles many national football leagues, where the world champion would also feel right at home. | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Unlike football leagues, they may not be demoted for all of next season since they would then have the ability to qualify through a similar system as above (the process therefore resembles golf where those outside the top money list can go to "Q-School" at season's end).

"This way there is not only a fight to qualify for the playoffs every season, but also a battle to avoid being one of the bottom two teams in each division," Shahade said.

Shahade said a full list of qualification rules and procedures will be released soon.

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