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Carlsen, Top Teams Win In PRO League Playoff

Carlsen, Top Teams Win In PRO League Playoff

How often do chess players get a chance to play one of the world's super-grandmasters? How often then do they get a chance to win?

In the second playoff week of the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League, the answer was surprisingly often. What's more, the stakes were huge as teams battled to advance to the quarterfinals in the PRO Chess League playoffs. Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, and Fabiano Caruana were all put on the ropes by their lesser-known opponents, and the legendary Hikaru Nakamura had one of the worst chess days of his life, scoring 1.5/4 and losing spectacularly in a do-or-die final round.

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Eastern Division: A Carlsen Scare

Delhi Dynamite vs Norway Gnomes: 6.5-9.5:

Last week, the Norway Gnomes had a stacked squad with three grandmasters and an FM, but this week it was the Delhi Dynamite who had three grandmasters while the Gnomes had only two. Of course, one of those was Magnus Carlsen. Featuring the world champion on the team didn't go as smoothly in round one as the Gnomes would have liked. Carlsen was completely lost against young Aradhya Garg after the youth played great attacking chess but then lost on time!

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Carlsen seemed completely unphased by his near upset, bouncing back and devouring GM Sahaj Grover in only 20 moves.

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The Gnomes were also buoyed by a strong 3/4 from GM Aryan Tari and an excellent 2/4 from fourth board Johannes Haug, defeating the division-winning Delhi Dynamite by a solid margin. This season did showcase some incredible young talent in India with both Garg and IM Nihal Sarin impressing.

Carlsen's excellent score (3.5/4) inspired team manager GM Jon Ludwig Hammer to wonder if an MVP award is possible. Carlsen himself seemed uncertain.

Budapest Gambit vs Gorky Stormbringers: 6.5-9.5:

For the second week in a row, the Stormbringers ceded over 100 rating points on average to their opponents and still won. They have to be the most balanced team in the league, scoring 2.5/4 on boards one through three and 2/4 on board four.

The Gambit did have the small satisfaction of winning this nice game as recently minted GM Oliver Mihok punished Mikhail Gorozhanin's king placement with enterprising attacking play as Black.

Central Division: Unlucky London

Last week, London won two enthralling matches in the final match seconds, but this week its luck ran out as both London teams lost their matches and were eliminated.

Marseille Migraines vs London Lions: 10.5-5.5:

Do the Migraines have the best top three in the league? Together GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Etienne Bacrot, and Yannick Gozzoli scored 10.5/12 with a perfect score from Vachier-Lagrave.

That was sufficient for a clear victory even with fourth board, Remy Degraeve, scoring 0/4. The shortest and sweetest of those wins Bacrot's victory over GM Romain Edouard.

Stockholm Snowballs vs London Towers: 8.5-7.5:

Even though the Towers lost, the star of this match was GM Gawain Jones who scored 4/4 with aggressive play.

Unfortunately, the cold-hearted Snowballs ground down the Towers with wins such as this, possibly the most Georg Meierian win ever played, one that was extremely reminiscent of the So-vs-Chirila bishop endgame from last week.

Atlantic Division: The U.S. Goes Down

Eight of the 12 Atlantic Division teams are based in the U.S., but no U.S. teams have made the quarterfinals as Argentine Krakens and the Canadian ChessBrahs advance.

Montreal Chessbrahs vs Montclair Sopranos: 9-7:

Most of the way through the third round, it looked like the Sopranos were likely to be the victors thanks partly to great initial play from GM Pascal Charbonneau and solid play from their board four, IM Nico Checa, who scored 2.5/4. Sadly too many opportunities were missed. This round-one opportunity was truly spectacular and had the soon-to-be-subbed-in GM Robert Hess screaming at his computer screen.

But this one had to really hurt. Charbonneau played absolutely incredible chess to earn a winning position against GM Fabiano Caruana who subbed in for GM Li Chao, but he couldn't quite conclude the game. A not-yet-checkmated Caruana is a dangerous Caruana, and he eventually reversed the game with his tenacity.

Last week, Hess bemoaned the fact that his losses always make the reports. We must apologize for including him again this week as he subbed in for the final two rounds, playing Caruana in the final game after an interesting draw with GM Eric Hansen.

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Buenos Aires Krakens vs Miami Champions: 10-6:

In a shocking turn, the Krakens devoured the stacked Champions team. Undoubtedly the story of the match was GM Hikaru Nakamura (who just won the largest Titled Tuesday ever) scoring only 1.5/4 and losing two games. The first to GM Alan Pichot was certainly interesting...

... but it was GM Sandro Mareco who managed to etch his name in all of the tactics books yet to be written with his final move.

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Pacific Division: Is St. Louis Really the Chess Capital of the World?

Last week, the Pacific Division featured a California-vs-Texas showdown while this week featured two St. Louis teams taking on two California teams. At the end of the day, St. Louis claimed victory in both matches by close margins.

Webster Windmills vs San Jose Hackers: 9.5-6.5:

No team has featured as many different players in its matches as the Windmills. A key difference in this match was the 4/4 they scored on board one against the 2/4 that the Hackers got from Mamedov/Mamedyarov. Here is one of those key upsets.

The Windmills were graceful in victory though as GM Vasif Durarbayli allowed his opponent, GM Zviad Izoria, a well-deserved checkmate.

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St. Louis Arch Bishops vs San Diego Surfers: 8.5-7.5:

The narrow half-point victory the Arch Bishops secured could largely be traced on board one as GM Wesley So scored 4/4, defeating (for example) the Surfers' board one, GM Alexey Dreev, with great positional and tactical play.

So did almost lose to GM Melik Khachiyan on board two as in a pawn endgame Khachiyan miscalculated. Sadly the miscalculation not only conceded the win, but eventually the draw as well. Such is life lived in the precipice that is pawn endgames.

Game and Move of the Week Polls

No Perfect Bracket

After two weeks of playoffs, no entrants retain a perfect ballot, but some have been quite accurate prognosticators. Here are the leaders and their scores

ghattis 30
MangusCarlsan 29
WHITENERd 29
arkjohnss29 29 (his username AND his score)
akshraj 28
Zhbugnoimt 28
sajgra 28
Snesk0008 28
cdman444 28

The full archive of broadcasts with commentary from GMs Jesse Kraai, Simon Williams, Alex Yermolinsky, Irina Krush, IMs David Pruess, Lawrence Trent, Anna Rudolf, and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni is available at Twitch.tv/chess.

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