U.S. Chess League Becomes PRO Chess League
The U.S. Chess League is coming back to Chess.com, but it will have a new name and different format. In January, the site will play host to a brand new form of organized chess competition: The PRO Chess League.
The Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League is the combined vision of what the USCL and Chess.com see as the future of high-stakes, top-level, entertaining chess. Unlike its predecessor, the USCL, the PRO Chess League will have faster time controls, provide more flexibility in forming and managing teams, and allow for "free agent" acquisitions from all over the world. The fundamental goal will remain promoting the growth and togetherness of the of local community chess clubs.
Teams in the PRO Chess League will compete against others from around the world each week. Grouped initially by geographical divisions to allow for more time-zone-friendly matches, teams will vie for weekly cash prizes as they move toward the elimination rounds. Thousands of dollars will be on the line in the final rounds.
International Master Greg Shahade.
IM Greg Shahade, founder of the U.S. Chess League, said:
"I'm so excited to bring the U.S. Chess League to Chess.com and form the brand new PRO Chess League. I've seen how amazing the Grandmaster Blitz Battles and Titled Tuesdays are and can't wait for the U.S. Chess League to get the same level of fan participation, exciting commentary and to see some of the top players in the world involved. Now every city in the world will have a chance to prove itself against cities from all over the world. It could be London vs. New York, Barcelona vs. Moscow. I can't wait to get started!"
The U.S. Chess League started in 2005 as an online team competition. Before the merger and founding of the PRO Chess League, it remained the only nationwide chess league in the United States (2015 had 20 active teams). Top American players such as Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Gata Kamsky all participated in the league at different points.
During its 10-year tenure, the USCL helped legitimize the online chess scene and established itself as the only organized, consistent way for top players in the United States to compete online against each other in a serious, tournament environment.
The San Francisco Mechanics, Dallas Destiny, Boston Blitz, Miami Sharks, Philadelphia Inventors, and the Carolina Cobras are all clubs that have played every year since the beginning of the USCL in 2005. Though it is not clear yet how many of the legacy teams will ultimately join the PRO Chess League, League Commissioner Greg Shahade said he expects many of the current USCL teams to play. We can only hope that original teams like the:
- New York Knights
- San Francisco Mechanics
- Dallas Destiny
will participate. Great players like Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush competed for the Knights in the past, while well-known stars in the Chess.com community such as Sam Shankland, Daniel Naroditsky, Jeffery Xiong, Alex Lenderman, Le Quang Liem, Joel Benjamin, Robert Hess, Ben Finegold, Gregory Serper, Conrad Holt and many more have all competed for various teams throughout the history of the USCL.
And how many of the world's elite might we expect to compete? Will some teams find sponsors and pay top dollar to attract international Super-GMs? Will other USCL heavywieghts like the St. Louis Arch Bishops and the Minnesota Blizzard be able to once again field teams with players in the top 10 in the world? Hikaru Nakamura (St. Louis) and Wesley So (Minnesota) competed in previous years.
Will Hikaru Nakamura compete in the new PRO Chess League?
Fans may remember that Chess.com hosted the league in 2013. You can find many videos of the action here. In the other years, the matches were played at the Internet Chess Club.
"We're completely redesigning the league from the ground up," said Chess.com Vice President IM Danny Rensch, "We think the faster time controls will engage the most viewers and that our new rules will attract even stronger teams from all over the world."
PRO Chess League Format
Teams will be grouped into divisions based on geographic and time-zone convenience. Play will follow a system designed to increase both the difficulty and excitement of each match, and stage, as the season progresses:
- Stage 1 | Divisional: Teams will play other division rivals.
- Stage 2 | Ladder: Pairings are done so that the bottom teams (ranked after divisional play) play each other and the top teams play each other. The bottom-ranked teams in each division fight for survival each week; the top teams jockey for playoff positioning.
- Stage 3 | Playoffs: Every match is now sudden death until we are left with two teams.
- Stage 4 | Finals: A single match between the top two teams will determine the league winner.
Each week, all four players will play all four players from the other team. This improved format will mean 16 games of action per match. There is the possibility of big upsets and chances for the lower boards to play just as big of a role as the top boards.
If a team attracts big-name free agents, these top grandmasters will also play the local stars on boards three and four, not just the another GM representing the top board for the opposing team.
Teams will be required to field a team with an average rating under 2500 FIDE and have three of their four team members based locally ("local player" specifications to be described later). However, the fourth team member could be from anywhere in the world. Your hometown team could sign Magnus Carlsen! But don't worry, security measures, both on site and through Chess.com's Fair Play detection systems, will be in place to deter any unsportsmanlike behavior.
The time control will be 15 minutes plus a two second increment per move. All rounds will be covered live from start to finish on Chess.com/TV.
There is a total prize fund of U.S. $50,000. $30,000 will be dedicated to the final ($20,000 for the winner, $10,000 for the runner-up) and $10,000 will be dedicated to weekly cash prizes including:
- Best game
- Best use of blog
- Best team promotion (via social media)
- and more!
2017 PRO Chess League Schedule (Expected Weekly "League Night" to be Wednesdays)
|11 January||Round 1||22 February||Round 7|
|18 January||Round 2||1 March||Round 8|
|25 January||Round 3||8 March||Round 9|
|1 February||Round 4||15 March||Round 10|
|8 February||Round 5||22 March||Semi-finals|
|15 February||Round 6||26 March||Final|
"With this merger, Chess.com and the USCL are coming together to give birth to a league that will do more to grow the game and relations of chess players internationally, attract the highest level of chess professionals, and increase viewership, with a stronger possibility of bringing in more big sponsorship dollars to the game of chess," said Rensch, "Local 'chess philanthropists' as well as corporate marketing firms will have interest in their sponsored teams doing well, and with chess fans from around the world watching, we expect the competition to be fierce!"
Interested in playing?
If you think your local chess club has what it takes to compete against other top PRO Chess League teams from around the world, you can apply here! All applications will be reviewed. There will be a limit on the number of teams allowed to join the league in the first year.