The Pro Chess League returned on Wednesday with two thrilling matchups which the Levitov Wizards and the Norway Gnomes won in contrasting styles.
Number one seeds by average rating, the Wizards, put on a strong performance against the Garden State Passers to win 10-6. GM Denis Lazavik was the standout of the team with 3.5/4 and he conceded only a single draw with GM Sam Sevian, who put his team in the hunt with an undefeated run.
IM Anna Rudolf‘s Norway Gnomes managed to defeat the Spanish Maniac Squids in a match for the ages that was tied 8-8 after four rounds. With tiebreaks required to separate them, a heartbreaking blunder by GM Miguel Santos Ruiz in his game against GM Gawain Jones decided the match.
The Pro Chess League’s (no longer “PRO Chess League’s”) next matchups will feature MGD1 vs. team Blitz as well as the Berlin Bears vs. the Gotham Knights who will face off on Thursday, February 16, 2023, at 7.30 a.m. PT/16:30 CET.
Levitov Chess Wizards 10 – 6 Garden State Passers
When the Pro Chess League’s full lineups were announced last week it became clear that the Levitov Chess Wizards had drafted one of the best teams, fielding the likes of GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, GM Daniil Dubov, GM Alexey Sarana, and two of the world’s best women’s players, recent FIDE Grand Prix winner GM Alexandra Kosteniuk and the three-time European women’s champion GM Valentina Gunina.
With the league’s highest average rating of 2606, balancing a four-player team that came below the required average of 2550 will continue to be the biggest challenge for the Wizards. Their selections seemed to pay off on Wednesday.
The selection of Lazavik (who also happens to be the lowest-rated men’s player on the team) proved to be a masterstroke for the Wizards as he marched his way to an impervious 3.5/4, and his presence was felt as early as round one as he upset GM Gadir Guseinov with the white pieces to help his team score 3-1.
GM David Paravyan‘s win in round one was also impressive as he overcame GM Alexander Lenderman with the black pieces, flicking aside the American’s Trompowsky Attack. The most exciting moment of the round though was a near-miss from the Passers lowest rated teammate WIM Trisha Kanyamarala who missed a huge opportunity to win Mamedyarov’s queen for free!
For the Garden State Passers, their lack of a Super-GM meant that quality performances from their well-rounded top three boards were critical and board one Sevian was undoubtedly the standout (3.5/4) in their first match.
The team’s two form players faced off in the second round and drew in 65 moves, but not before Sevian missed an instructive way to win a classic king and pawn endgame, a result that would have stopped the Wizards from winning round two with a 2.5-1.5 score.
Now facing a 2.5-5.5 deficit, the FM James Canty-captained Passers needed to ensure they won the third round to keep their nose in the match. Sevian and Lenderman pulled out all the stops in this round and won their respective games against Paravyan and Gunina. Sevian’s impeccable technique was on full display against Paravyan as he was tasked with converting a queen vs. rook and pawn endgame.
For the chess Romantic’s, Lenderman’s attacking masterclass against Gunina was the true highlight of the round and a string of sacrifices left his opponent’s king helpless in the center of the board.
Despite winning the third round, allowing the Wizards to pick up 1.5 points meant that the Passers would have to win the final round 3.5-0.5 for an outright victory, or score 3-1 and take the match into overtime. Although Sevian was able to mow down Mamedyarov on board one in one of the most extraordinary attacking games of the Pro Chess League so far, the rest of the team wasn’t able to lift and the Wizard’s Paravyan, Lazavik, and Gunina all won their games to secure a 10-6 triumph over the Passers.
Despite his team losing the match, Sevian’s clash with Mamedyarov was worthy of being the Game of the Day, which GM Rafael Leitao has analyzed below.
Spanish Maniac Shrimps 9.5 – 10.5 Norway Gnomes
The second match of the day was an absolute blockbuster that left commentatory Naroditsky claiming it was “one of the craziest half an hours in the history of online chess”.
From the get-go, the Shrimps and Gnomes matched each other’s intensity, the first round producing a 2.5-1.5 win for the Gnomes thanks to a Millenium Attack gone right for GM Pranav Venkatesh over Ruiz. The respective board ones, GM A.R. Saleh Salem and GM Eduardo Iturigazza Bonelli both won their games as well.
Round two saw the scores reverse at which point commentator Sachdev predicted that a close match might occur. Bonelli and Ruiz were the two winners for the Shrimps as cracks began to form in the Gnome’s lineup. Pranav, who fell at the hands of Bonelli, appeared to overpress on the kingside in his game in the King’s English Variation and paid the price for his ambitiousness, while the sole draw of the round procured a brilliant tactical motif.
With the scores locked at 5-5 and a target score of 8.5, both teams commenced round three with the knowledge that the match could end if a few results landed their way. Once again the Gnomes asserted themselves and clocked a 2.5-1.5 score.
Wins for Pranav and GM Jose Ibarra over each team’s women’s players put the pressure on the top two boards to determine the round. Saleh ended up being the hero for the Gnomes as he overcame Ruiz on the white side of a messy Nimzo-Indian Defense.
Like the rest of the rounds, the teams could barely be separated in the fourth and once again the Maniac Shrimps leveled the scores with a 2.5-1.5. Following a draw between the women’s players on board four, Bonelli was the first to find himself in a winning position against Saleh. This glimmer of hope was the boost the Shrimps needed and after Pranav confirmed a win for the Gnomes on board three it all came down to the game between Jones and Ruiz.
The final game, which the Shrimps needed to win looked like a classically drawn rook endgame but the Greek goddess of chess, Caissa, had other ideas. With seconds left on the clock, Jones played the mind-boggling 69.Kc4?? and stumbled straight into a completely losing position. Had he played 69.Kd2, the game would have easily been drawn.
Clearly livid after his capitulation, Jones had to re-center himself quickly so that he would be able to play well in the impending tiebreak.
For the first time in the 2023 Pro Chess League season, a tiebreak occurred and the players faced off in blitz time controls in one more round. Once again the scores locked up at 1.5-1.5 and one game remained… Jones vs. Ruiz.
History looked to be repeating itself as the pair ended a drawn rook endgame and once more, with two seconds on the clock, Jones blundered the position away. On the verge of victory, Ruiz forced Jones to sacrifice his rook for a pawn and was up an entire rook before an unbelievable mouse slip meant that Ruiz’s rook was left en prise!
That’s why I try to teach my students to literally never give up. Anything can happen, especially online. If you fight till the end perseverance will be rewarded one day. For instance, check out my game vs Mamedyarov from Wijk, 2016. https://t.co/Wygjf1ptfg
— Pavel Eljanov (@Eljanov) February 15, 2023
Unfortunately, the position was no longer winning or drawing for Ruiz and a pawn to the good, Jones only had to play one more move before Ruiz resigned in shock.
The Shrimps secured a remarkable 10.5-9.5 victory that Jones would later agree was in the top three most wild moments of his chess career.
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.