The Norway Gnomes and Spanish Maniac Shrimps defeated the Brazil Capybaras and Charlotte Cobras, respectively, to kick off week three in the Pro Chess League.
The Norway Gnomes pulled off a shocking comeback after losing the first two rounds of the match. The Spanish Maniac Gnomes, on the other hand, enjoyed a more one-sided affair and eliminated the Charlotte Cobras, the first team to lose three matches this season.
Week three continues on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, starting at 7.30 a.m. PT/16:30 CET. The first match will be the Levitov Chess Wizards vs. Indian Yogis, followed by Garden State Passers vs. Canada Chessbrahs.
Brazil Capybaras 7.5 – 8.5 Norway Gnomes
Going into the match, the teams were more or less evenly matched; the Norway Gnomes had higher rated players on the top two boards while the Brazil Capybaras had the upper hand in the bottom two, especially on board four.
As previous weeks have shown, even 100 rating points in difference do not determine the players’ performances. While the higher rated player might win in a longer match format, the rapid time control and format of just one game between two individual players allows for upsets to occur—sometimes, outstanding ones.
GM Pavel Eljanov ultimately scored the most points in this match, in a near-perfect 3.5/4, but the final score belies how close some of his games really were.
Although the Brazil Capybaras led by just one point after the first round, they nearly won on all four boards. Most notably, board four for the Brazilian team, IM Irina Bulmaga, was winning against board one for the other, super-GM Eljanov, but drew the game by threefold repetition—still an impressive result.
As Pruess reflected after the round with a statement that would become prophetic: “The Gnomes are gonna be thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t just get 4-0’ed, and I think that’s gonna keep their spirits up.”
The Brazil Capybaras extended their lead further in round two, where they won with a score of 2.5-1.5 again. Bulmaga played another key game, holding the Norway Gnomes’ board two, GM David Howell, to a draw.
Eljanov achieved the sole win for his team in round two. In his game against GM Alexandr Fier, he showed that his passed pawn was worth more than a knight.
GM Jose Martinez played an instructive, albeit not difficult, exchange sacrifice against WIM Chelsie Monica. Showing off the strength of his knight, he even declined to win his rook back initially for an attack against the king.
Round three was the most exciting by this point in the match. Down two points, the Norway Gnomes pulled themselves together, won three games, and evened the score. All four games were decisive.
Fier was the sole player to win a game for the Brazil Capybaras in this round, against Monica in a sharp and equal endgame featuring a pawn race. The endgame was played quite accurately considering the time control, but it ended abruptly after Black miscalculated and made a powerful-looking move—that turned out to be losing.
On the other boards, nothing short of divine intervention seemed to take place. Miraculously for the Gnomes, Martinez seemed to hallucinate something as he sacrificed a piece for insufficient compensation against Eljanov. The Ukranian grandmaster converted the extra piece with ease.
GM V Pranav managed to defeat the until-then-undefeated Bulmaga in what ended as a rook ending up two pawns.
But the most important and astonishing game of round three was that between Howell and Supi. Being down in the match, Howell sacrificed the exchange just to continue the game, assessing a draw to be equivalent to a loss at this point in the match. Supi took the rook and quickly had a winning position. Completely winning …
… And then he lost on time. Howell’s guilty smile at the end of the game tells the story.
The stars aligned once again for the Norway Gnomes in round four as a few miracles completed their comeback. While the board-two encounter Martinez-Howell ended in a draw, all the other games were decisive in the victorious team’s favor.
On board three, Fier converted an extra pawn (and then extra two pawns) advantage against Pranav. He would, however, for the second consecutive round, be the sole player to win a game for his team.
Now, prepare for the miraculous.
On board one, the Brazilian grandmaster Supi held the advantage for most of the game against Eljanov and even entered a rook endgame up two pawns at one point. What could go wrong?
As pushed his passed b-pawn for what looked to be surefire promotion, he missed a zwischenzug checkmate threat that cost him his rook and the game.
With one win for each side, the match was even with one board left in play.
The star of the show was Monica, for whom a draw was enough to send the match to tiebreaks, which would have been a welcome result considering how the match had gone.
In the early opening, her opponent was for choice with Black with play against White’s isolated queen’s pawn. However, Bulmaga was under severe time trouble—on move 39 she had four seconds against Monica’s 44. She dropped a pawn and White made zero mistakes in converting from there.
Monica’s smile when she realized she brought her team the match victory is ineffable.
The Norway Gnomes move on to week four having won two matches and lost one. The Brazil Capybaras, suffering their second loss, are one more loss from elimination in this season.
Charlotte Cobras 5 – 11 Spanish Maniac Shrimps
The Spanish Maniac Shrimps were simply a powerhouse. Although their board four, 17-year-old WFM Candela Francisco, was clearly outmatched by her board-four counterpart, GM Irina Krush, they had three 2600+ grandmasters on the other boards. (Francisco would go on to upset Krush in round four, by the way.)
The four-grandmaster lineup strategy, while theoretically should have been more effective, did not work in the Charlotte Cobras’ final match of the season. GM Eduardo Iturrizaga, scoring a perfect 4/4 against grandmaster opposition, and GM Jaime Santos, scoring 3.5 points, certainly put a dent in that plan.
The Spanish Maniac Shrimps took a one-point lead from the first round. Although GM Elshan Moradiabadi scored a win for the Charlotte Cobras, the ferocious Shrimps won two.
The Spanish grandmaster on board three, Iturrizaga, started his unstoppable rampage against the rival team’s board two, GM Andrew Tang, outplaying him in a long rook and knight vs. rook and knight endgame.
Board one Santos, meanwhile, defeated Krush after finding a killer one-move tactic in his opponent’s time trouble. Can you find it?
Black to play and win.
The Spanish Maniac Shrimps went on to dominate the next round with even more force. Although Tang redeemed himself by defeating their board four, Francisco, the Spanish team won all three of the other games.
GM Alan Pichot defeated Krush with a crushing attack, as did Santos in his game against Moradiabadi. In the latter game, the Spanish grandmaster sacrificed a pawn for a powerful initiative. From there, the attack was so expertly conducted it looked easy—it often isn’t as simple as it looks.
When attacking a king, it is often wise to keep queens on the board, and Santos demonstrated this concept beautifully in the one-sided affair. This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.
The annotations will be added soon.
Iturrizaga won his second consecutive game against the Charlotte Cobras board one, Oparin. He found a nice geometric pattern—or, as commentator Canty called it, a “classic triangle”—to cleanly convert the queen endgame.
In round three, the Spanish Maniac Shrimps could have put the match away. The most important game was Pichot-Oparin, where the first player had a winning advantage after winning a piece as early as move 17.
As the games on other boards ended, it became clear that a victory in this game would decide the match. Pichot was up by a bishop, so what could possibly go wrong?
Oparin found a miracle draw with a rook sacrifice, just barely saving the game.
But wait, there’s more. Fascinatingly, White was still winning after allowing the sacrifice, although it required finding several only moves with under a minute on the clock.
The players repeated positions with a draw instead.
The Charlotte Cobras survived another round, although they would not survive another day.
The first game to finish in round four also decided the match. It was Santos on board one who claimed the day for his team after beating Oparin with the black pieces. In a desperate attempt to win the game, Oparin sacrificed a pawn but lacked any compensation.
It did not have an impact on the match win, but they won on two other boards—Iturrizaga defeated Moradiabadi and Francisco defeated Krush—while Tang vs. Pichot ended in a draw.
Santos, the board one for the Spanish Maniac Shrimps, complimented his team: “The four players, we play very well.” He added: “It’s a big responsibility of course … [we feel] more pressure because it’s elimination next week.”
The Spanish Maniac Shrimps win their first match in the season and make it through to week four. They are one loss away from elimination. The Charlotte Cobras are the first team eliminated from this year’s Pro Chess League, but they earn $2,000 for their efforts.
Standings | Week 3
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.