PRO Chess League Summer Series: Pandas Throttle Arch Bishops, Mechanics Take Group A Lead

PRO Chess League Summer Series: Pandas Throttle Arch Bishops, Mechanics Take Group A Lead

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The PRO Chess League Summer Series kicked off last night with Group A action as Chengdu, San Diego, Saint Louis, and San Francisco each took their first steps to qualify for the PRO Chess League Summer Series Championships this August.

On opening night, fan participation proved to be key as both the San Francisco Mechanics and the Chengdu Pandas won their respective Live Club Matches, while Saint Louis' GM Varuzhan Akobian used the Arch Bishops' fan advantage to win the Knockout Battles. With two weeks left in Group A, the San Francisco Mechanics lead the group with five points in the standings.

San Francisco and Chengdu sit in both of the automatic qualifying spots for the Summer Series Championship later this summer.

    Live Club Match: San Francisco Holds Off Late San Diego Surge

    GM Daniel Naroditsky may have been a massive rating favorite against the Surfers' FM Alex Costello, but San Diego's fans kept things close for the duration of the match.

    San Francisco built an early lead when Naroditsky won his first game as Black, using his counterattacking resources and massive time advantage to outplay Costello, starting with 17...f5!

    With the fans' help, the Mechanics now held a 9-5 advantage, but the Surfers kept fighting. CM Anthony Atanasov, who chose to play for the Surfers, demonstrated the importance of correspondence squares when his national master opponent erred with 41...Kf4??, losing the equality and the game. Atanasov celebrated by checkmating with six knights:

    While the extra knights were a bit excessive, Atanasov's win was critical, as the Surfers cut the Mechanics' lead in half. Even with the momentum favoring San Diego, Naroditsky played the Larsen's in his second game against Costello to stop the comeback:

    Naroditsky's late win (along with other Mechanics fans) ensured match victory for San Francisco, 20-12. With the win, the Mechanics earned three points in the Group A standings.

    Knockout Battles: GM Varuzhan Akobian Uses Whites To Claim First

    Unlike traditional playoff formats, the Summer Series Knockout Battles offered players only one game each round to progress to the finals. Alongside Naroditsky and Costello, Saint Louis' GM Varuzhan Akobian and Chengdu's Zhang Di completed the four-player knockout:

    The semifinals offered tactical battles in both games, as Costello pushed Akobian to the limit before the Arch Bishop secured the victory thanks to a late endgame blunder:

    Despite his low rating, Chengdu's Zhang Di pushed Naroditsky to the edge, drawing their game to force a 1|1 tiebreaker:

    Even with draw odds, the Pandas' youngster was not able to overcome Naroditsky's bullet experience, setting up a finals match-up between Naroditsky and Akobian.

    Akobian, still with the fan advantage, had the White pieces and put pressure on Naroditsky early. As GM Aman Hambleton mentioned in the coverage, Akobian's idea of 14. Nd2 and 20. Ne4 was critical, as the Mechanics' grandmaster had limited activity after the last pair of knights was traded:

    The win gave the Saint Louis Arch Bishops three points in the standings. San Francisco earned two points, and with Zhang Di beating Costello in a third-place match, Chengdu earned one point. Additionally, Akobian won a first place prize of $100, Naroditsky won $60, and Zhang Di won $40 for their performance in the Knockout Battles.

    Live Club Match: Chengdu Throttles Saint Louis In Summer Series Opener, 46-28

    At some point, the Chengdu Pandas and Saint Louis Arch Bishops were destined to play. Both teams have qualified for the PRO Chess League Live Finals in the past two years, but have never faced each other outside of the regular season's Battle Royale.

    In their first ever match-up, 11-year-old phenom Zhang Di proved he was still in PRO Chess League form when he opened the match by beating Akobian with the Black pieces in a long endgame battle:

    Chengdu's fans took the cue and continued piling on the pressure. When featured streamer GoldDustTori won her second-round game for the Pandas, Chengdu had established an insurmountable 40-21 lead.

    Akobian did manage to score his revenge against the Chinese talent, but it wasn't enough:

    The final score stood 46-28, meaning Chengdu had earned three points in the Group A standings, leapfrogging the Arch Bishops.

    Next Week's Matches

    Next week, Group A leaders Chengdu and San Francisco clash in their Live Club Match, as Saint Louis and San Diego enter a must-win match-up. The Arch Bishops should not panic, but a loss to the San Diego Surfers next week could spell trouble for their Summer Series Championship chances. For the entire group schedule, visit the PRO Chess League website.

    Commentary for this week of #summerseries was provided by GM Aman Hambleton, IM David Pruess, NM James Canty III, and GoldDustTori. The primary commentary shows and archives are available at



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