PRO Chess League Summer Series: Caruana, So, Firouzja Headline Championship Weekend
Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja and Georg Meier will all be fighting for Summer Series glory this Friday.

PRO Chess League Summer Series: Caruana, So, Firouzja Headline Championship Weekend

IsaacSteincamp
IsaacSteincamp
|
12 | Chess.com News

The PRO Chess League Summer Series enters championship weekend with eight teams looking to capture the league's first-ever summer title. With both the San Francisco Mechanics and the Minnesota Blizzard winning their respective play-in round matches, the bracket is set with intriguing matchups heading into Friday's quarterfinals.

PRO Chess League Summer Series Bracket
The Summer Series quarterfinals offer three first-ever meetings between PRO Chess League teams.

The quarterfinals (Friday, August 30) will feature non-stop PRO Chess League coverage on Twitch.tv/chess, starting with a 10 a.m. PT match between the Baden Baden Snowballs and Moscow Wizards, and concluding with a 5 p.m. PT showdown between the Chengdu Pandas and the Saint Louis Arch Bishops.

The winners of quarterfinals will play again on Saturday, August 31 in the semifinals, with the Summer Series Championship following at 11 a.m. PT.

PRO Chess League Summer Series Quarterfinals | Friday, August 30

Team Time Team
Baden Baden Snowballs 10 a.m. PT Moscow Wizards
Montreal Chessbrahs 10 a.m. PT Minnesota Blizzard
Sao Paulo Capybaras 2 p.m.PT San Francisco Mechanics
Saint Louis Arch Bishops 5 p.m. PT Chengdu Pandas

PRO Chess League Summer Series Semifinals | Saturday, August 31

Team Time Team
Saint Louis/Chengdu 5:30 a.m. PT Montreal/Minnesota
Baden Baden/Moscow 8 a.m. PT Sao Paulo/San Francisco

PRO Chess League Summer Series Championship | Saturday, August 31

Team Time Team
Semifinals winner 11 a.m. PT Semifinals winner

Every team faces a unique challenge to win the Summer Series title. The 2019 PRO Chess League champions, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops, bring both GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Wesley So, but will have to beat the two-time Pacific-Division-winning Chengdu Pandas in their first-ever encounter. The Sao Paulo Capybaras, the tournament's top seed, bring both GM Sandro Mareco and GM Alireza Firouzja in their lineup, but will have to win their first PRO Chess League match against a battle-tested San Francisco Mechanics.

Not sure what to look out for this weekend? Here are the biggest headlines heading into the quarterfinals:

(4) Baden Baden Snowballs vs (5) Moscow Wizards

Friday, August 30, 10 a.m. PT.

Baden Baden Snowballs vs Moscow Wizards
PRO Chess League finalists Baden Baden will face Moscow for the first time on Friday.

While many fans consider the Arch Bishops a clear favorite to win the Summer Series, don't sleep on the Snowballs. On paper, Baden Baden's lineup actually has a higher average rating (2512.3) than the reigning PRO Chess League Champions (2506.0), featuring GM Georg MeierGM Daniel Fridman and GM Dmitrij Kollars. By winning Group B, the Snowballs find themselves on the favorable side of the bracket, avoiding Saint Louis, Montreal, and Chengdu. If Meier can lead the German side to a win over Moscow, expect Baden Baden to make a deep run.

Unlike the Snowballs, the Wizards opted for a more balanced lineup, featuring blitz specialists IM Zhamsaran Tsydypov and GM Vlad Dobrov on their top boards. Heading into its quarterfinal, Moscow has already over-achieved in comparison to its Eastern Division counterparts, as both the Mumbai Movers and Armenia Eagles have already been eliminated from the Summer Series. A win against the 2019 PRO Chess League finalists would be a significant step for the Russians as they head into the 2020 PRO Chess League season.

Key Game: GM Georg Meier vs GM Vlad Dobrov

Georg Meier vs Vladimir Dobrov
Dobrov will have White against Meier in their critical third-round clash.

By rating, Vlad Dobrov may be an underdog in this head-to-head match, but Moscow's general manager held a 2600+ performance rating over 30 games last season. Baden Baden's all-time leading scorer, Georg Meier, has played 98 games for the Snowballs over the last two seasons, scoring 68.5 points and holding a 2650+ performance rating in both. A decisive result here could decide the match. With Moscow bringing four 2400+ rated players, the Snowballs will need a big score from Meier, as Dobrov looks to make the most with White here.

(2) Montreal Chessbrahs vs (7) Minnesota Blizzard

Friday, August 30, 10 a.m. PT.

Montreal Chessbrahs vs Minnesota
The Montreal Chessbrahs will play their first PRO Chess League playoff match since 2017, where they lost in the semifinals.

After two disappointing PRO Chess League seasons, the Chessbrahs seem to have found their stride in the Summer Series. After winning the "group of death" and setting the tournament's points record with ease, the fan-favorite Chessbrahs will have their shot to win their first playoff game in 895 days. To get there, the Chessbrahs will have to get revenge against the Minnesota Blizzard, who beat them 5.5-10.5 in their previous encounter back in 2018. Montreal has opted for a top-heavy strategy, with GM Ivan Saric and GM Eric Hansen commanding their top two boards. NM Elias Oussedik is a surprising choice at fourth board, but the Canadian scored 2/4 from fourth board in his last appearance against the Montclair Sopranos in 2018.

Minnesota has flirted with a final four berth in each of the last two seasons. In 2018, the Blizzard were handled by Saint Louis in the Atlantic Division championship, and then lost a close match against Chengdu last March to miss out on another live semifinals appearance. This time the task doesn't feel nearly as daunting for Minnesota. Bringing its trademark balanced lineup, the Blizzard will have IM Renato Terry and GM Andrew Tang leading the charge against the Chessbrahs. While Minnesota is a slight average rating favorite, Montreal has beaten it in each of their group stage encounters in both the live club match and knockout battles.

Key Game: GM Ivan Saric vs GM Andrew Tang

GM Ivan Saric vs GM Andrew Tang
Tang will have White against Saric in their critical third-round encounter.

A rematch! Tang and Saric played three times in Group D's final week, with the Croatian winning each of the games. This time the stakes are higher, and with Montreal already having 8-8 draw odds, Minnesota cannot afford to let Saric run up the score. Tang's final game with the white pieces will come at a critical point in the match—with both GM Vladimir Georgiev and IM Sean Nagle favored to beat Montreal's lower boards, a result for Tang could give Minnesota the lead heading into the final round. 

(1) Sao Paulo Capybaras vs (8) San Francisco Mechanics

Friday, August 30, 2 p.m. PT.

Sao Paulo Capybaras vs San Francisco Mechanics
The tournament's top-seed will play its first PRO Chess League match on Friday.

While pundits did not expect Sao Paulo to progress from the group stage, fans fueled the Capybaras after opening with a live club match loss to Moscow. The PRO Chess League debutant, created by GM Krikor Sevag Mekhitarian, is quickly growing to be the Arch Bishops' greatest threat to PRO Chess League dominance. The Group C winners face an unusual position heading into Friday's match with the Mechanics, having never played a traditional PRO Chess League match before. While GM Sandro Mareco and GM Alireza Firouzja both have match experience, fans will keep a close eye on GM Alexandr Fier and NM Lucas do Valle Cardoso as they make their PRO Chess League debuts on Friday.

The San Francisco Mechanics have already exceeded expectations this Summer Series. After winning the third-place vote to progress to the play-in round, the Bay Area team knocked off the Mumbai Movers 11-6 to win their first playoff match since its US Chess League days. General manager IM David Pruess will be counting on his top three, GM Sam ShanklandGM Daniel Naroditsky and GM Steven Zierk to lead the charge, as relatively unknown expert Ethan Boldi makes his debut on fourth board. If the Mechanics can win this, it's hard to see them not competing for the Pacific Division in 2020. 

Key Game: GM Alireza Firouzja vs GM Sam Shankland

GM Alireza Firouzja vs GM Sam Shankland
2019 Speed Chess Championship contenders GM Alireza Firouzja and GM Sam Shankland will face off in the match's third round.

These two grandmasters have never played against each other before—over-the-board or online. In the Summer Series' first match between 2700+ players, Shankland will have the white pieces in what feels like a must-win game. While beating the Iranian prodigy is a tall order, San Francisco needs both Shankland and Naroditsky to score 3/4 to overcome the draw odds and win the match. Shankland has already beaten GM Varuzhan Akobian and Mumbai's top players this season. Can he pick up his best win of the Summer Series here?

(3) Saint Louis Arch Bishops vs (6) Chengdu Pandas

Friday, August 30, 5 p.m. PT

Saint Louis Arch Bishops vs Chengdu Pandas
Despite both teams making it to the live finals in San Francisco the past two seasons, the teams have never faced each other in the traditional PRO Chess League format.

Chengdu decimated Saint Louis in their Group A live club match, but with GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Wesley So entering the lineup fresh from the Grand Chess Tour, the defending PRO Chess League champions are ready for revenge. Since that match last June, GM Varuzhan Akobian led Saint Louis to three consecutive knockout battle victories, en route to winning the Summer Series' first group. The Arch Bishops make only one change to their championship-winning squad, with NM Josh Bloomer returning as the team's fourth board. Bloomer has gained 293 rating points since the 2019 PRO Chess League season, thanks to strong performances in the Denver and Port of Dubuque opens.

The Chengdu Pandas have made an interesting gamble in preparing for their match with Saint Louis. Rather than opting for their usual top-heavy lineup with GM Li Chao and GM Wang Yue, the Pandas have gone for a more balanced approach, targeting the Arch Bishops' bottom boards. The lineup features PRO Chess League finalist GM Xu Xiangyu on top board followed by GM Li Di, who earned his grandmaster title last June. Chengdu rounds out its lineup with two 2400-strength players in IM Bao Qilin and IM Chu Wei Chao, who both saw limited playing time in the 2019 season. Will general manager Alex Liu's gamble payoff, or will Chengdu's Summer Series dreams end abruptly on Friday?

Key Game: GM Fabiano Caruana vs GM Xu Xiangyu

GM Fabiano Caruana vs GM Xu Xiangyu
Caruana will have White against Xu in the match's final round.

If Chengdu's new, balanced strategy is going to pay off, both GM Xu Xiangyu and GM Li Di need to score 2.5/4, while the Pandas' bottom two boards combine for 3.5/8. For this to work, both of Chengdu's top boards need at least one result each against Caruana and So. Saint Louis' top two will both have White in the match's final round, and it's quite likely that at least one of Chengdu's top players will need a result with Black to win the match. That's what makes this game so important. If Xu can find his 2018 season, 2600+ PRO Chess League form, Chengdu could be a hard team for Saint Louis to beat. Li is coming off of a 2600+ performance in 2019 (22 games), and with Bao already having some Summer Series experience, the pieces are in place for an upset here.

Predicting the PRO Chess League Summer Series Champion: Fan Take With IM Danny Rensch

Each week Chess.com will reach out to various guests to make their picks for the Summer Series Championship. IM Danny Rensch (@DanielRensch) is this week's featured guest as one of Chess.com's main hosts for the PRO Chess League.

When asked for his thoughts about the upcoming playoffs, Danny made some changes to his bracket, but still thinks GM Georg Meier's Snowballs are the favorites to win the Summer Series:

I love some of these quarterfinal matchups, and I think we're going to learn a lot about these teams as they head into the 2020 PRO Chess League season. I still think Baden Baden has to be favored to win, but they still have tough opponents to get through to make it to the finals.

I could be wrong about Montreal knocking out Saint Louis, but they beat the Arch Bishops in 2019, and this has been their event so far. Put in draw odds, and I can see players like Saric and Hansen knocking off the defending champs.

I'll be keeping a close eye on the match between the Capybaras and the Mechanics. I think that the fight between Firouzja and Shankland will be particularly interesting and could serve as an insight for the upcoming Speed Chess Championships. 

Danny Rensch's PRO Chess League Bracket
Rensch still sees the Baden Baden Snowballs as the favorite to win the PRO Chess League Summer Series.

Disagree with Danny's picks? Make your picks in the comments and watch the PRO Chess League Summer Series Quarterfinals starting this Friday, August 30 at 10 a.m. PT.

Championship weekend coverage of the PRO Chess League Summer Series semifinals and finals begins at 5:30 a.m. PT, with the championship match starting at 11 a.m. PT. To watch the official coverage, visit Twitch.tv/chess and follow the channel to get notifications for the Summer Series.

Just learning about the PRO Chess League Summer Series? Visit the site and check out the official information article.

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