PRO Chess League Begins With Carlsen And More
Season two of the PRO Chess League kicks off January 18, 2018.

PRO Chess League Begins With Carlsen And More

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

The second season of the Professional Online Rapid (PRO) Chess League is scaled down, and beefed up at the same time.

The league kicks off tomorrow with a full slate of week-one matchups. Gone is the unwieldy 48-team free-for-all. Fans complained they couldn't get any screen time for their favorite club.

Thanks to a qualification process that happened last fall, the league is now 32 teams, which is in line with many professional sports leagues. Most of the heavy-hitters returned, either by invitation or qualification. Four "chunks" of matchups will occur at any one time, so there will always be only four matchups at a given moment (here are the pairings and starting times for week one). In addition, a technical improvement on will allow viewers of the live show to click and follow the games on any specific team.


The Johannesburg Koeksisters were found by this reporter last week, locked in a box until at least next season. | Photo: Mike Klein/

One of those teams is the Norway Gnomes, who are led by the irrepressible GM Magnus Carlsen once again. The man that wants to win everything at least once must be eager to get back to the finals.

magnus carlsen pro chess league

He's even in the lineup for tomorrow's opening match, despite being in the middle of the super-tournament in Wijk aan Zee (thanks to the rest day!). The opponent will be the Volga Stormbringers (formerly the Gorky Stormbringers) who also have a score to settle from last year. They were eliminated by the Gnomes in the quarterfinals of the playoffs last season.

In total, there are 17 players over 2700 in the league, which is nearly half of all the super-GMs in the world. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is also in action, playing the role of birdcatcher in week one against the Reykjavik Puffins (who still lay claim to the best league video, from week one last season). 

Reykjavik Puffins chess

Can the Frenchman outdo himself from this wonderful tactic last season?

Other notable players jumping online tomorrow include: GM Yu Yangyi (Chengdu Pandas); GM Leinier Dominguez (Las Vegas Desert Rats); GM Etienne Bacrot (joining Vachier-Lagrave on the Marseille Migraines); GM Vladimir Fedoseev (the star recruit of the returning champion Saint Louis Arch Bishops); GM Le Quang Liem (graduated from the university but still a member of the Webster Windmills); and GM Rauf Mamedov (San Jose Hackers).

In total, more than 150 GMs are competing, or about 10 percent of all the GMs who have ever lived!

The league also has a new website: No longer will fans have to hunt around the news pages for standings, results, and stats. While the site doesn't have everything just yet, it's a vast improvement over the inaugural season.

The returning champion Arch Bishops may draw in the most interest from week one. Not only did they sign a super-talent, the 22-year-old Fedoseev, but they'll be playing against two of the most popular streamers in the game. Both IM John Bartholomew and GM-elect Andrew Tang are in the lineup for the Minnesota Blizzard (can they produce their own hometown miracle tomorrow and get commentators as excited as the Vikings?).

Speaking of commentators, the four anchors each week will be IM Danny Rensch, WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Robert Hess, and GM Ben Finegold. They'll be joined on a rotating basis by well-known voices GM Simon Williams, IM Lawrence Trent, IM David Pruess, WGM Anna Rudolf, GM Irina Krush, and GM Jesse Kraai.

Many of those names are familiar, so if you are looking for more improvements, here's a few:

  • First-ever All-Star Game, with $5,000 in prizes. The rules are here.
  • A weekly fantasy contest. Pick your 16-player team here and be eligible for premium memberships on
  • Two "Super Saturdays" in the regular season where the format will change and make it a 16-team free-for-all.

Regular match days will be Wednesdays (not counting tomorrow, where the season's opening week was altered to align with Tata Steel). Tune in tomorrow where the season's opening moves will be made in the Delhi Dynamite vs. Mumbai Movers match at 8 a.m. Pacific (11 a.m. New York; 5 p.m. Paris; 9:30 p.m. India). Catch all the action on!

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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