PRO Chess League Summer Series: Saint Louis, Chengdu Earn Spots in Summer Series Championships
GM Varuzhan Akobian's dominance in the Knockout Battles sees the Arch Bishops win Group A.

PRO Chess League Summer Series: Saint Louis, Chengdu Earn Spots in Summer Series Championships

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The first group of the PRO Chess League Summer Series is now complete, with the Saint Louis Arch Bishops and the Chengdu Pandas both clinching berths in the Summer Series Championships this August. The San Francisco Mechanics did just enough to keep their playoff dreams alive and will have to wait until Group D concludes on August 17 to see if they make the cut.

With postseason aspirations on the line, teams were pushed to the limit in their respective matches. GM Sam Shankland played his first online bullet game since 2015, GM Varuzhan Akobian won his third Knockout Battle, and NM Robert Shlyakhtenko tallied three consecutive wins to send the San Diego Surfers out of the Summer Series on a high note.

With Saint Louis and Chengdu taking the top two spots, San Francisco will have to earn its bid into the PRO Chess League Summer Series Championship through the Twitter Vote on August 17.

    Live Club Match: Saint Louis Ices San Francisco In Crucial Match

    If San Francisco wanted to qualify for the playoffs on Saturday night, the Mechanics needed to beat the PRO Chess League Champions in their direct match-up. Knowing that GM Varuzhan Akobian was likely to represent the Arch Bishops again, the Bay Area side brought the 2018 U.S. Champion, GM Sam Shankland, to this week's match. In its first game, Shankland outplayed Akobian by using his queen and rook to target Black's weaknesses:

    Shankland's endgame squeeze pushed the Mechanics' lead to six, the score now 16.5-10.5. Fans such as Andrea Botez were relentless and continued to pile pressure onto the PRO Chess League Champions. Andrea used her opening knowledge of the Hyper Accelerated Dragon to win her second game:

    Akobian's draw in his second game with Shankland meant the Arch Bishops needed their fans to save the match. The Arch Bishops pulled within one point of the Mechanics when Pokemon4242, playing on the bottom board had to win with Black to tie the match for Saint Louis.

    With the incredible comeback, the Summer Series saw its first Live Club Match draw with a final score of 22-22. Both teams earned a point toward the standings, with Saint Louis earning the bonus point for having more fans throughout the group stage. San Francisco's chances of a top-two finish were dwindling and now needed Shankland to win the Knockout Battle to have a chance of passing Chengdu.

    Knockout Battles: GM Varuzhan Akobian Keeps Perfect Record

    Unlike traditional playoff formats, the Summer Series Knockout Battles offers players only one game each round to progress to the finals. Alongside Akobian and Wu, Chengdu's Zhang Di and San Diego's NM Robert Shlyakhtenko completed the four-player knockout:

    Both Akobian and Shankland built on small advantages early and ultimately converted their respective advantages in the semifinals. With both GMs winning, Shankland and Akobian were due a rematch in the finals, and the two juniors were paired in the third-place match.

    Akobian pressured Shankland early out of a Slav and forced the former U.S. champion to play precisely to draw the game:

    The draw meant a bullet tiebreak match between the two American heavyweights. While the two players have had numerous encounters in the U.S. Championships, they have never faced each other in bullet. In fact, Shankland had not played an online bullet game since 2015, and Akobian had played only a mere 23 total bullet games. Shankland built a significant advantage on the clock, but Akobian's counterattack saw him win his third Knockout Battle:

    Akobian's win meant the Arch Bishops had clinched first place in Group A, while San Francisco was mathematically eliminated from a top-two finish. Even with the Knockout Battle tiebreak complete, the third-place match between Shlyakhtenko and Zhang was just heating up:

    When asked about his decision to continue playing for a win instead of opting for a draw, Shlyakhtenko told the audience the specific reason why he needed to avoid a bullet tiebreak:

    Saint Louis' third consecutive Knockout Battle win meant another three points in the standings. San Francisco earned two points, and San Diego earned their second point of the Summer Series. Additionally, Akobian won a first-place prize of $100, Shankland won $60, and Shlyakhtenko won $40 for their performances in the Knockout Battles.

    Live Club Match: Chengdu Keeps Perfect Record, San Diego Finds Clarity In Tournament Exit

    With Chengdu guaranteed to finish second in Group A and San Diego mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, this Live Club Match gave both youngsters a chance to show their prowess to their managers. Shlyakhtenko had played in just one PRO Chess League match prior to Saturday night's match-up, but after his second place finish in the recent ChessKid games, San Diego's general manager, IM Keaton Kiewra, decided to give the 13-year-old the start.

    Despite some awkward piece placement, Shlyakhtenko found an important exchange sacrifice to gain the initiative against Zhang Di, but the game descended into chaos in a time scramble:

    Even with San Diego playing well on top board, Chengdu's fans were building an insurmountable lead. WCM mcseattleschess4, who had played every week for Chengdu, scored her fourth win for the Pandas by coming back from a slightly worse position:

    Chengdu built an eight-point lead, and the Surfers were not able to make a late comeback. The night ended when Shlyakhtenko made a long-term piece sacrifice to beat Zhang Di for a third time, once again in a tight strategic battle:

    While Zhang Di may have left Saturday's match wanting more, his fans carried the Chengdu Pandas to the Summer Series Championship with a 23.5-16.5 win. This Summer Series has been tough for the Surfers, but Shlyakhtenko's dominant performance on Saturday means that San Diego may have found their fourth board for the 2020 PRO Chess League Qualifiers.

    Next Week's Matches

    Next week brings four new teams to the Summer Series as the Baden Baden Snowballs, Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, Barcelona Raptors, and the Reykjavik Puffins return for PRO Chess League action. While Baden Baden is the presumptive favorite to win the group, three scrappy teams stand between the Snowballs and a playoff berth.

    Tune into the Summer Series this Saturday, June 22, at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Twitch.tv/chess to watch the action live!


    Commentary for this week of #summerseries was provided by IM David Pruess, CM Isaac Steincamp, Helmsknight, Andrea Botez and GoldDustTori. The primary commentary shows and archives are available at Twitch.tv/chess.


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

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