Arch Bishops Capture 2nd PRO Chess League Title
Saint Louis Arch Bishops captain Mike Kummer agonizes over the final moments of his team's championship run. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

Arch Bishops Capture 2nd PRO Chess League Title

| 20 | Chess Event Coverage

Buoyed by strong days from their top and bottom boards, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops captured another PRO Chess League title by easily defeating the Baden-Baden Snowballs, 10-6.

It was the largest margin of victory in any of the four matches this weekend at the Folsom Foundry in San Francisco, and it means the team's second league title in three years of existence.

The Chengdu Pandas enacted some measure of revenge for last year's finals loss as they defeated the Armenia Eagles in the third-place match by a score of 8.5-7.5.

Saint Louis Arch Bishops
The Saint Louis Arch Bishops receive their first-place medals and the $20,000 first prize.| Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

The Arch Bishops were paced by an unsurprising 3.5/4 from Fabiano Caruana (who netted 7.5/8 in the semifinals and finals combined) and the surprising even score from their fourth board on Sunday. After going 0-4 in the semis on Saturday, the NM Julian Proleiko came through with one win and two draws from his four games Sunday (2.0/4).

When asked who his team's MVP was, Saint Louis manager Mike Kummer picked the youngster over anyone else.

"You've got to go with Julian because he got the game clincher," Kummer said. "He did the reverse Forest Chen from last year." In the 2018 finals weekend, Chen manned the final board and did well in the semifinals before getting blanked on Sunday.

"We didn't need [Proleiko] in the first match but we really needed him to drive home the championship," Kummer said.

Julian Proleiko
Julian Proleiko is congratulated after clinching the team's finals win. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

After three dominating opening sessions that put the Arch Bishops on an 8-4 lead, they needed a single half-point to decide the championship. After dropping the first game to create some tension, it was Proleiko's win that decided the gold.

"It feels good," Caruana said about becoming a world champion a few months after he intended. "I had a lot of fun. The team pulled through on the last day."

Caruana also praised Proleiko, calling him the "crucial factor" on the last day of play.

Fabiano Caruana Georg Meier
Fabiano Caruana, right, in his final-round win over Georg Meier. Caruana went 7.5/8 in the championship weekend. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

About his own 7.5/8 this weekend, Caruana said that a team can't really be top-heavy with the required average rating being below 2500. He also doesn't think his results will do much to dispel the conception that he's not suited for rapid.

"People will say that they want," he said. "People ignore my good results anyway!"

John Urschel
Chess streamer and the former NFL player John Urschel has some fun with commentator IM Anna Rudolf (left) and streamer "GoldDustTori." | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

Back to Proleiko. Despite his final point creating the clinching margin, it was his third-round draw that had the crowd oohing and aahing, as the pendulum of expectations swung back and forth more times than any other game at the Folsom Street Foundry.

First he was completely winning with queen vs rook+bishop, then he failed to find a simple fork. After the Snowballs' GM Dmitrij Kollars battled back to make a queen, Proleiko was simply down a rook and a knight.

In any other circumstance one might be compelled to resign, but being a good teammate, the Arch Bishops' board four kept playing and won both the rook and knight, even creating some winning chances! It was sport, not science, but the public loved it.

And the crowd goes wild...

Earlier in the round, Saint Louis had taken the lead (2.5-1.5) after the first session thanks to IM Nikolas Theodorou's sparkling material offerings against GM Alexander Donchenko. The first one, Ra6, made Donchenko hold his head in his hand, but he didn't have to allow the sac on d6. The second offering, on a7, he had to capture, and that spelled the end.

The Arch Bishops also captured the second round, 3-1, to push their lead to 5.5-2.5 halfway through the finals. Here's Caruana's win over Kollars, punctuated by a simple mating motif on the black king.

That set the stage for the third session, where Proleiko went from hero to goat to hero again, all in the course of that one rapid game. Saint Louis got another win from Theodorou, pushing the team to that 8-4 margin and giving Proleiko the chance to be the hero. In addition to his win in the last frame, Caruana added one against Georg Meier to make the final score 10-6.

Proleiko Agrest
You can't spell PRO Chess League without "Pro"leiko. Here he accepts the handshake of Inna Agrest in the decisive game of the finals. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

Kummer is an assistant manager of the Saint Louis Chess Club and has therefore seen Caruana play many events there over the years. He said he thinks Caruana really enjoys a team event like this. 

"It sure seems like he does," Kummer said. "It's not too stressful."

True to his word yesterday after the semifinals win, Kummer said the team "prepared" for the final with a party, although he clarified that he hosted a "pizza party" and nothing more than that.

In the third-place match, China got to face Armenia as in 2018. This time less was at stake, but that didn't stop the Pandas from evening the series.

Chengdu Pandas
The Chengdu Pandas watch their youngest member play in the deciding game. Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

Just like in the first-place match, the winning team's board four played a key role. It actually seemed like there would be a fourth board defeating a top board, but Zhang Di came up just short against GM Zaven Andriasian in the opening round. With everything building to a climax on the g-file, out of nowhere the veteran trapped the 12-year-old's queen.

Luckily for China, second board GM Wang Yue overcame getting his bishop trapped and roared back to beat IM Shant Sargsyan and so the opening frame was tied 2-2.

Chengdu then took a one-point lead in the second segment, only to give it back in the third when WFM Anna Sargsyan beat GM Zhao Jun as his time ticked down to one second. That meant the teams entered the final frame tied 6-6.

Artak Manukyan
Artak Manukyan got to be the player-captain last year but this year being only the captain meant many stressful hours of watching... | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.
Artak Maukyan
...and eventually the tension couldn't be hidden any more. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

The Pandas won the all-important top-board matchup as GM Li Chao continued the struggles of Andriasian. The top Eagles only managed 1.5/4 for the second day in a row. 

But on board two, GM Haik Martirosyan got things back to level against Wang Yue with a big comeback in a must-win game.

Everything now came down to the final board. Could Anna Sargsyan win another one, or could the kid come through? Zhang Di came through for his team, and his coaches (the top two Pandas!).

"I feel both excited and nervous because I'm playing players with much higher ratings than me," Zhang Di said about the experience. He then credited Wang Yue's coaching on the endgame as helping guide him through that final win.

Zhang Di
Zhang Di is all smiles after a great final day and winning the deciding game. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

When the closing ceremony began, a big announcement came from PCL commissioner Greg Shahade. Due to the growing popularity of the league, the PCL will expand next year from 32 to 40 teams, allowing even more chess squads to qualify.

Here you can watch Sunday's PRO Chess League broadcast.

The PCL finals were hosted at the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco in front of a live audience of paid ticket buyers. The event was hosted in conjunction with and Twitch.

Caruana Donchenko
Alexander Donchenko and Fabiano Caruana in front of another near-capacity crowd. | Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

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