The Pro Chess League 2023 started with a bang on Tuesday with two high-octane matchups that resulted in convincing wins for the prodigious Indian Yogis and the GM Magnus Carlsen-led Canada Chessbrahs.
The Yogis kicked off their campaign in the best way possible, defeating the popular Brazil Capybaras by a margin of 8.5-3.5 with GM Aravindh Chithambaram taking MVP honors after winning all three of his games for the Indian team. IM Vaishali Rameshbabu was equally impressive as she held an even score against her three 2600+ rated opponents.
Finesse was required in the second matchup of the day as the Chessbrahs were forced to play four rounds to secure a thrilling win with a score of 8.5-7.5. Carlsen did not disappoint on board one as he swept aside all four of his opponents including GMs Irina Krush, Aryan Tari, Daniel Naroditsky, and Awonder Liang, whom he completely swindled to take the match.
The Pro Chess League, featuring the Levitov Chess Wizards vs. Garden State Passers and Spanish Maniac Shrimps vs. Norway Gnomes, will continue on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, at 7.30 a.m. PT/16:30 CET.
Indian Yogis 8.5 – 3.5 Brazil Capybaras
One feature that makes the Pro Chess League one of the most anticipated events on the chess calendar is the unique four-board rotation where players begin with the most lopsided matchups (board ones play against board fours) and work their way upward until the highest seeds face off in the final round.
The Yogis demonstrated the strength of their powerful lineup in the curtain raiser with a 3.5-0.5 win. Undoubtedly the biggest upset of the day was the Yogis board four, Vaishali, who scored a victory over the Capybaras board one, GM Luis Paulo Supi, on the white side of the King’s Indian Defense.
In the reverse matchup, GM Vidit Gujarathi flexed his board-one status and won a 21-move miniature with Black over IM Irina Bulmaga of Romania.
One of the closest matchups of the first round, between four-time Brazilian chess champion GM Alexander Fier and Chithambaram, culminated in a win for the Indian GM, whose well-timed exchange sacrifice left Fier’s king in no man’s land and open to an infiltrating queen.
Looking to edge closer to the 8.5 points required to win the match, the Yogis notched a professional 2-2 result in the second round with no unexpected results. The Capybaras collected their first game point of the match thanks to GM Jose Martinez (best known on Chess.com by his handle Jospem) who managed to grind down Vaishali; however, the result was counteracted by Chithambaram’s clean win over Bulmaga.
The third round saw the Yogis crash home and reach their target of 8.5 with another dominant 3-1 triumph with wins for GM Abdulla Gadimbayli and Chithambaram. A questionable draw between Martinez and Vidit in the third round occurred when the Peruvian GM, who was completely winning, offered a draw, incurring the ire of commentators Hess and Canty and leading the former to exclaim: “Ban the draw offer!”
Ban the draw offer!
In a match that Hess dubbed a “blowout,” the impressive result is an ominous sign for other teams in the competition. With members of the successful 2022 Indian Olympiad teams as well as an array of the world’s best young talent, the Indian Yogis will be a force to be reckoned with in this year’s Pro Chess League.
“A blowout,” says 🎙️ @GM_Hess in the #ProChess League first match. The @indian_yogis win without needing a fourth round! pic.twitter.com/77dIcWM11X
— ProChessLeague (@ProChessLeague) February 14, 2023
Canada Chessbrahs 8.5 – 7.5 Charlotte Cobras
Tipped as one of the league’s favorites to win it all, the Chessbrahs were rattled in their match with the venomous Cobras but clutched up in the final round after surviving a “near-death experience,” as team mastermind GM Eric Hansen classified it.
The tense match started with a 2-2 draw with both board fours, FM Jennifer Yu and Krush, falling at the hands of Liang and Carlsen respectively while the middle boards drew their game. GM Razvan Preotu very nearly dispatched Naroditsky on the White side of the Caro-Kann Defense: Advance variation, but his American opponent hung in the game long enough to see White blunder into a drawn ending.
As far as the stacked Chessbrah lineup goes, the Canadian Preotu was perhaps not expected to outshine the likes of teammates Carlsen, GM Anish Giri, and GM Jorden van Foreest; however, his heroics in round two proved critical when it came to pushing his team in front. A win over the Cobra’s board one, Liang, was the catalyst for a 3-1 victory as the other results fell the way of the heavy rating favorites.
In round three the script flipped and the Cobras won their first round, 2.5-1.5, reeling in the deficit to just one point. While Carlsen was able to score a fine win over popular content creator Naroditsky, the Cobras were able to inject life into the match when Liang and GM Brandon Jacobson overcame GM Aryan Tari and Yu respectively.
With one round to go and a 6.5-5.5 score on the board (favoring the Chessbrahs), commentator Canty quipped that the “venom was starting to seep in” and an aggressive start to the final round from the Cobras very nearly left the Chessbrahs paralyzed.
Jacobson’s Sicilian Defense prowess came to the fore as he quickly built a strong edge over Preotu, eventually winning the game in 26 moves and signaling to his team that the scores would soon be leveled.
In a rematch of their U.S. Women’s Championship playoff, Krush pressed against Yu with the black pieces, but as both players’ clocks dwindled, the American legend chose to repeat moves and trust in her boards one and two to get the job done.
Generally speaking, it would be foolish to trust anyone to defeat Carlsen in a high-pressure encounter, though in round four it became clear early that Liang was completely winning against the reigning world champion. Opting for the French Defense, Carlsen appeared to be comfortable against his 19-year-old opponent, but a greedy pawn grab left him with a pinned bishop and more problems than solutions.
Staring down the barrel of a -5 disadvantage by move 30, the world number-one needed to show great resolve to stay in the match, and with seconds on the clock, he managed to pull the game back to a situation where a draw was possible.
As many players have previously found though, converting against Carlsen is a nervy prospect and Liang let the position slip in spectacular style. Out of nowhere, Carlsen won the game and put the Chessbrahs back in the box seat, only needing a draw in the final game to ensure an outright victory.
Our extraordinary Game of the Day is not the tidiest of encounters but is a great representation of why the world has fallen in love with fast chess. Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao have been provided below.
Likely not realizing that Liang had not managed to score a result against Carlsen, Naroditsky traded into a drawn ending against Tari and split the point, leaving the Chessbrahs with a decisive one-point buffer over the Cobras.
With another six matches taking place between now and Friday there is plenty of excitement still to come. On Wednesday, The Levitov Chess Wizards, led by GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov, will take on the Garden State Passers, where Captain Canty will swap his commentator’s hat for that of a participant. Wednesday’s second match will see qualifiers, the Spanish Maniac Shrimps, take on the Norway Gnomes whose top player is GM A.R. Saleh Salem.
The Pro Chess League (PCL) is the number-one online global chess league for teams from all over the world. The event features 16 teams playing rapid games for their piece of the $150,000 prize fund.
The main event will continue throughout February and March and features top players like GMs Magnus Carlsen, Daniel Naroditsky, and Hikaru Nakamura.