PRO Chess League Week 7 Playoff Push: Who's In, Who's Still Alive?

PRO Chess League Week 7 Playoff Push: Who's In, Who's Still Alive?

| 13 | Chess Event Coverage

Unlike many sports leagues where all or most of the playoff berths are decided before the final games of the regular season, the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League has everything to play for in week seven. This is what you've been waiting for.

The excitement is driven even higher by the league rules, which allow for this week's matchups to be formed based on standings (a "Hou Yifan" controversy this is not -- a human hand has stepped in to create drama). For this Wednesday's final matches before the playoffs begin, the pairings were manufactured to ensure contenders would face off versus one another.

No less than 13 teams are fighting to make it to the post-season, more than one quarter of the league's 48 teams. A further 17 are already in, but will be wanting to finish strong and also try to secure an all-important first-round bye.

A reminder that 24 teams qualify for the playoffs (six from each of the four divisions), but the eight get to eat popcorn the first week of the playoffs (top two in each division). The other 16 will go right back at it, reducing the total field to 16 by week two of the playoffs, whereby a traditional knockout will ensue. Four weeks later, we will have the champion of the inaugural PRO Chess League.

Eastern Division

We start with the most uncertain division -- only half of the Eastern's six allotted playoff slots are filled. The Delhi Dynamite (4.5-1.5), Budapest Gambit (4-2), and Gorky Stormbringers (4-2) are all riding high, but none has cinched a first-round playoff bye.

Delhi is up a half-match-point on the two chasers, and since they play Budapest, even a drawn match would get them a week off. If there is a winner, that team clinches first place in the division.

The Stormbringers benefited greatly from last week's default win over the Odisha Express (2-4), who abandoned the league. They will enlist top player GM Evgeny Shaposhnikov in this week's crucial match against the Mumbai Movers (3-3).

Mumbai is one of three teams on equal scores who can still make it. The others are Norway Gnomes (3-3) and Ljubljana Direwolves (3-3), who play each other and therefore still control their own fate. Two more pieces of good news for the Norwegians: a split point also gets them in due to their favorable tiebreaks, and GM Magnus Carlsen is back for the third week in a row!

The Belgrade Sparrows chirp slightly more favorably -- still without a firm spot but on 3.5-2.5. Even the Riga Magicians (2.5-3.5) could land a spot; those two teams play and the winner is in. Belgrade even gets in with a loss if Mumbai also loses.

Central Division

Four teams are in the post-season, while another four are fighting for the remaining two slots. Week six was kind to winning teams Marseille Migraines, Amsterdam Mosquitos and Cannes Blockbusters. They'll all play more chess in the coming weeks, as will the Stockholm Snowballs, as all are on 4-2 and there's not enough teams that can mathematically overtake them.

A GM Maxime Vachier-Leagrave-led Marseille squad plays a GM Loek van Wely-led Amsterdam team while Cannes takes on Stockholm; the winners of these pairs will take the coveted byes into week one of the playoffs.

The quartet of cities still vying for the two additional playoff tickets include the Hamburg Swashbucklers (3.5-2.5) and London Lions (3-3), who will play each other. The winner advances, but as you can see from the records, Hamburg and GM Niclas Huschenbeth will essentially enjoy draw odds.

The Appeldoorn Apes (3-3) will attempt to be the second Dutch team invited, but the London Towers (3-3) also covet becoming the second English invitee.

Atlantic Division

These mostly eastern North American teams are in the same pickle as their European counterparts. Four teams are confirmed while another quartet chases down only two remaining qualifications.

Both Canadian groups have made the playoffs, as has one U.S. team and one from South America. The Montreal Chessbrahs (5-1) and Buenos Aires Krakens (5-1) have the inside track to the first-round bye. They'll play fellow playoff clinchers the Philadelphia Inventors (4.5-1.5) and Toronto Dragons (4-2), respectively. You can see by the records that the Inventors would still get a bye with a win, but a Dragons victory would not necessarily overtake the Krakens on tiebreaks.

The Montclair Sopranos are also on 4-2 but due to lesser tiebreaks have not sealed a playoff berth yet. They'll lead with GM Alex Lenderman and two other grandmasters and take on the Patagonia Penguins (3-3), who feature zero GMs this week. A win or draw and very simply the Sopranos are in. But if the Penguins waddle their way into an upset, is becomes crazy, as both teams would then end on 4-3 and they are currently also deadlocked on tiebreaks. They would then be a lot of match watching of previous opponents (the first tiebreak accounts for final win/loss record of all seven opponents).

The New Jersey Knockouts (3-3) and Miami Champions (3.5-2.5) also duel, with winner taking all (Miami likely also gets in with a tie). So like London, New Jersey could end up with zero, one, or two teams in the playoffs, depending on week seven. The Champions are again without GM Hikaru Nakamura, who is playing in the FIDE Grand Prix in Sharjah. They'll instead be led by GM Leinier Dominguez while New Jersey counters with GM Alex Stripunsky on top board (in all, five GMs will play).

Pacific Division

This is the most dominant division, which also means the most playoff clarity. All six playoff invites have been sent.

The Saint Louis Arch Bishops, Rio Grande Ospreys, Dallas Destiny, Webster Windmills, and San Diego Surfers are all on 5-1 (and are listed here in tiebreak order). Amazingly the Surfers have the worst tiebreaks, although they entered last week as the only undefeated team in all the land. Their narrow 8.5-7.5 loss to Saint Louis in week six meant they went from number one in the league to number five in their division!

The San Jose Hackers are on 4-2 but have still qualified after the overturned result from last week's match against the Las Vegas Desert Rats (2.5-3.5).

Thus the race for the byes comes down to San Jose versus Saint Louis; Dallas versus San Diego; Webster versus Rio Grande. The Arch Bishops bring back their usual big-time weapon: world number two GM Wesley So (who will be joined by GMs Var Akobian and GM Ben Finegold). The Hackers are rolling the dice with GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Why is that a gamble?Like Nakamura, Mamedyarov is playing in Sharjah, UAE, with a time difference of 12 hours. So while his teammates play at 6:30 p.m. local time, he will have to compete at 6:30 a.m. Luckily, it will be Thursday by then for him, which is the lone rest day there.

And let's not forgot our pundit battle! Here's the standings after week 6, which was a rough week for most involved. NM Pete Karagianis picked up his first weekly win. NM Alex King still leads, but IM Robert Ris is closing in.

For week seven:

NM Alex King thinks only one London team will make the playoffs.

IM Robert Ris is planning for a lot of 9-7 matches.

Shaun McCoy thinks Mike Tyson's Punchout will give the league Migraines.

Tarjei Svensen thinks his fellow Norwegians have the playoffs in the bag.

NM Pete Karagianis is still thinking it over.

Full pairings, lineups, and start times can be found here. The action starts at 8:30 a.m. Pacific time (11:30 a.m. New York; 6:30 p.m. CET) Wednesday, February 22. You can catch live commentary at either or

Read up on everything you need to know about the PRO Chess League:

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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