PRO Chess League Week In Review: Season Starts With Surprises And Upsets
Vlad Dobrov scored 4/4, notching a 3023 performance rating for the Russia Wizards.

PRO Chess League Week In Review: Season Starts With Surprises And Upsets

PROChessLeague
PROChessLeague
|
5 | Chess.com News

The 2020 PRO Chess League is back, ending a 247-day drought since the end of last season. With the new improvements to the league format, fans watched the most competitive week in PRO Chess League history. The stronger competition brought debuts for Alexander GrischukWei YiDavid Navara and Evgeny Tomashevsky, but also showcased PRO Chess League stars like Fabiano CaruanaWesley So, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Top Moments Of The Week

1. Saint Louis is still really good.

The Arch Bishops are a favorite to win this year's PRO Chess League, and after dispatching the New York Marshalls last Monday, cemented their status. Even with both Nakamura and Gadir Guseinov headlining the New York lineup, the defending league champions proved too much to handle.

The match started to slip out of reach when So beat Nakamura in the second round. Nakamura needed to take some risks to keep the match close, but So's solid play gave Black the endgame advantage:

Saint Louis took the match 10.5-5.5, thanks to strong performances from both So and Caruana. New York faces the Brazil Capybaras on Monday, and the Arch Bishops will take on the UK Lions.

2. Russia stuns China in season opener.

China looked like a serious competitor to Saint Louis in the preseason, but Vlad Dobrov's perfect 4/4 will leave the Pandas scrambling for a better strategy next week. A last-minute substitution for Russia, Dobrov opened his day with a strong defensive win against Wen Yang:

In the third round, Wei seemed to have built an edge, but a quick blunder gave Dobrov the point:

Dobrov's performance was crucial to Russia's 9.5-6.5 win, as no other Russian players scored over 2/4. China now enters a must-win match against Armenia next week, while Russia will take on the Turkey Knights.

3. Sweden has the best fans.

After falling short of qualification in past seasons, the Wasabis finally made their PRO Chess League debut against their Scandinavian rival, the Norway Gnomes. Determined to win, the Wasabis put Jon Ludvig Hammer on notice a few days before the match:

The Stockholm-based club started slowly and quickly fell behind 3-1 after the first round. Sweden slowly worked their way back into the match, and with the score locked at 7.5-7.5, Bassem Amin broke the tie, beating Hammer with the black pieces to clinch the match:

Watching from the Wasa SK in Stockholm, Sweden's fans were pumped to see the Wasabis win in their debut. In his interview, GM Erik Blomqvist said that at least 50 fans came to watch him play live. 

Sweden will face Spain next week in a match they should be favored to win. If they do, the fan-favorite could face Vachier-Lagrave's Roosters in a clash of unbeaten teams in week three.

Game Of The Week

With the higher level of competition, this week's Game Of The Week was especially hard to pick, but none is more deserving than the fighting draw between Yannick Gozzoli and Kacper Piorun. While it's rare for a draw to be selected, this game brought a complex endgame where both sides had winning chances. For most of the game, both players were under one minute on the clock, making this draw an exciting affair:

The France Roosters went on to win the match after sweeping the Poland Hussars in the final round. This week's honorable mention goes to Sam Sevian of the New York Marshalls for his win with the black pieces against Caruana:

Sevian played incredibly well, posting a 98.1 CAPS score against the 2018 world championship challenger.

Blunder Of The Week

During this week's Eastern Division broadcast, a fan asked which game deserved Blunder Of The Week. With several strong contenders, the PRO Chess League has decided to select the Hungary Hunters' Gergely Antal. After holding a worse position for much of the game, Antal erred with five seconds left on the clock:

Hungary could not quite recover, and the Armenia Eagles went on to win the match, 11-5. The Hunters play the Croatia Bulldogs next week, a match they should be favored to win.

Stats Of The Week

Stats matter in the PRO Chess League. Here are three stats you may have missed in the season's opening week.

1. The Bird's Opening (1.f4) scored 100% in the opening week. Sure, it was only one game, but Italy's Lorenzo Lodici, well-prepared for his game against Wouter Spoelman, developed quickly and sacrificed pieces as early as move 15. The Bird's Opening is not a likely candidate to get more screen time this season, and new openings are always welcome:

2. Speaking of Lodici, he and just four other players scored a perfect 4/4. Ray Robson (Chicago), Anton Korobov (Germany), Dobrov (Russia) and Shant Sargsyan (Armenia) also completed a perfect day. Of the five players, only two—Dobrov and Sargsyan—notched performance ratings over 3000. Nearly making the list, Bassem Amin (Sweden) scored three out of three, as his first-round opponent had to forfeit.

Vlad Dobrov PRO Chess League

3. All four of Argentina's players had performance ratings of 2690 and higher. In their thrashing of the U.K. Lions, each of the Krakens' players scored at least 2.5/4. Considering the performance ratings, the Krakens outperformed the Saint Louis Arch Bishops, as Leinier Dominguez and Le Quang Liem both managed a 2666 performance rating. Argentina's best game came from Alan Pichot, who beat Gawain Jones after making a long-term sacrifice in the endgame:

Week 1 Power Rankings

This week's power rankings were compiled by Isaac Steincamp (@IsaacSteincamp), who served as a general manager for the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers for three seasons before working with Chess.com.

Opening week in the PRO Chess League tells us which teams were prepared to play. Managers are still trying to determine their best lineups and adjust to the new format of the league. However, losses are expensive this year. With only seven weeks of regular season to play, each match is critical, and managers need to be smart moving forward.

It's easy to overreact given the small sample size of games, but here are this week's power rankings:

Title Favorites: Saint Louis Arch Bishops

No surprises here. After a dominating performance against the New York Marshalls, the defending PRO Chess League champion looked the part with Caruana and So combining for 6.5/8. Except for Canada, it's quite difficult to see another Western Division team beating the Missouri-based squad. Its regular season losses generally stem from significant upsets: Minnesota and Pittsburgh in 2018, and Miami in 2019.

Join The Bandwagon: Armenia Eagles

General Manager Artak Manukyan will tell you his team is not a title contender in 2020, but his team is fun to watch. Sargsyan was just one of two Eastern Division players to score a perfect 4/4, and Armenia beat a talented Hungary team. Zaven Andriasian is particularly impressive, notching 3.5/4. This team will need to get through Russia, India, and China to win the Eastern Division, but the race to first place just got even more interesting.

Need To See More: Argentina Krakens

While it was not the biggest story in this week's opener, Argentina's crushing upset over the U.K. Lions is one of the big surprises in the season's opening week, although it's hard to read too much into this one result. Argentina has just one player rated over 2600, and while Pichot looks to be a star player for the Krakens, the schedule now gets tougher. For Argentina to make a significant jump in the power rankings, they'll need to upset Canada next week.

Don't Panic Yet: China Pandas

Still one of the favorites to win the title this year, China will have to grow quickly from their loss to Russia. Other than conceding a perfect score against Vlad Dobrov, China did everything else right by holding the other three boards to a combined 5.5/12. Based on this week's result, don't be surprised if Li Di becomes a featured player in the Pandas' lineup. The 20-year old is a proven force in the PRO Chess League with victories over So, Eltaj Safarli and Tigran Petrosian in 2019.

Dark Horse: Poland Hussars

Truly impressive opening-week performance, even with a loss to the France Roosters. Without Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Radoslav Wojtaszek, the Hussars still nearly upset the Central Division favorite last Thursday. While they will need some help to win the division, second place is easily within reach for them. With so many other strong players on the roster, Poland is officially a dark horse to win the PRO Chess League.

Fantasy Corner

PRO Chess League Fantasy ChessThis year the PRO Chess League is raising the stakes with its Fantasy Contest that offers weekly cash prizes and even more opportunities to win. Every week will have three contests, one for each division. The first-place finisher in each contest will win a three-month diamond Chess.com membership, and a perfect submission in any contest will win up to $100, so make sure to complete your three submissions every week.

This past week's winners are:

  • Western Division: @DrJekyllMrHyde
  • Eastern Division: @Greeny50000 and @yogesh1607
  • Central Division: @Leo_88

Make sure to submit your Fantasy lineup for every division each week to win prizes! You can reach the Fantasy portal on the PRO Chess League website by clicking the button below:

Next Week's Schedule

Next week the PRO Chess League will bring a critical prime-time match between the California Unicorns and the Chicago Wind. California will be looking to rebound from last week's loss to Canada, while the Wind have a chance to win two straight after beating Brazil. California needs a win to stay in the playoff race, as a second loss before facing Saint Louis and New York can put its postseason hopes in serious jeopardy.

Wednesday will bring the first division doubleheader of the season. The China Pandas face the red-hot Armenia Eagles in a 2018 PRO Chess League Final rematch. China avenged their 2018 defeat by winning in last year's third-place match, so next week's match will be the third edition of the rivalry. The Norway Gnomes will face the France Roosters in the Central Division's prime-time match, a key test for both sides. 

Weekly Mailbag

Have a burning question about next week's matches? Starting Sunday, every weekly preview will answer at least one question from a fan. To submit your question, you can tweet using #prochess or leave a question in the comments of this article. You can ask about your favorite team, player, or anything related to the PRO Chess League!

More from PROChessLeague
Saint Louis Arch Bishops 2020 PRO Chess League Champions; Armenia Eagles Disqualified

Saint Louis Arch Bishops 2020 PRO Chess League Champions; Armenia Eagles Disqualified

Today: PRO Chess League Quarterfinals Continue

Today: PRO Chess League Quarterfinals Continue