The fourth week of the 2023 Pro Chess League started with victories by the Shanghai Tigers and Blitz over the Croatia Bulldogs and Brazil Capybaras, respectively. After losing badly in round one (0.5-3.5), the Tigers bared their fangs and dominated the rest of the match; Blitz, on the other hand, faced a much closer match that was decided in the blitz tiebreaks.
While GMs Wei Yi and Xu Yi earned the most points for the Tigers, not a single player on their team scored below 50% in their individual games.
The rivalry on board four in the other match, between IM Mahel Boyer and FM Julia Alboredo, was critical to overall victory. While the latter triumphed heroically in a must-win game to send the match to tiebreaks, the former won his first game there—and it was the final win his team needed to eliminate the Capybaras from the season.
The Canada Chessbrahs will play the Levitov Chess Wizards in the first match, while the California Unicorns will face the Garden State Passers in the second, on Tuesday, March 8, 2023, beginning at 7:30 a.m. PT/16:30 CET.
The first two matches of week four in the PCL coincided with International Women’s Day. Several women players were indispensable for their teams’ success in the following matches, as readers will see in the report.
Croatia Bulldogs 6-10 Shanghai Tigers
The Bulldogs added IM Irene Sukandar as an emergency replacement to their lineup after the deadline on Sunday. As a penalty, they faced a slight handicap: the average rating of their lineup had to be below 2525 (instead of 2550).
This didn’t seem to affect their play, however, as the Bulldogs could hardly have started the match better than they did.
The Bulldogs won crushingly in round one and took a humongous lead in the match score. With one draw, they won all three other games: 3.5-0.5.
Last-minute addition Sukandar was the hero that early round as she defeated the opposing board one, super-GM Wei. In a position where she looked to be succumbing to a ferocious attack by the powerful Chinese grandmaster, he made a natural move that turned out to be a losing blunder.
Just as Hess was about to comment on how difficult the move would be to find, Sukundar played it. She went on to win the game with an unforgiving counterattack.
Savielly Tartakower‘s phrase is commonly used in chess: “No one ever won a game by resigning.” Facing an uphill battle, the Tigers mustered their strength and showed their claws in subsequent rounds.
The “eye of the tiger” was on full display in round two as the Tigers did the seemingly impossible. With a 4-0 clean sweep, they took the lead in a match when just evening the score looked like a Herculean challenge.
The biggest upset of this round was IM Lou Yiping‘s victory with the black pieces over GM Vasif Durarbayli; he swallowed a piece sacrifice in the Ruy Lopez and lived to tell the tale.
In the same round, GM Mustafa Yilmaz may have been the victim of the biggest swindle in the match. He had a winning attack against Xi but the latter found a tactical resource that not only drew but won the game. This prompted Canty to exclaim, “This man is the luckiest man alive!”
“This man is the luckiest man alive!” (🎙️ @gmcanty)#ProChess pic.twitter.com/xcJlOK7HqD
— ProChessLeague (@ProChessLeague) March 8, 2023
The Chinese team won round three too. Going into round four, the Tigers led 7-5, a 180-degree turn from the narrative the Bulldogs set in round one.
The Tigers won the match in the very first two games of the final round. Wei, playing Black, defeated Yilmaz on board one in just 27 moves—in an endgame. White played the innocent yet losing move, 25.Bb5 attacking a rook, and resigned just two moves later.
Seeing he needed just a half-point, Lou (who was winning) made a draw with Sukandar. The Tigers clinched the match two games still ongoing.
The Shanghai team moves on to the Playoffs. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are one match loss away from elimination.
Blitz 10.5 – 9.5 Brazil Capybaras
Team Blitz lived up to its name on Wednesday as it played its third blitz tiebreaks out of four matches. They seem to have a predilection for living on the edge, and it served them well this time; it is their second victory in tiebreaks, with one loss.
GM Luis Paulo Supi upset GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the very first round. Impressively, he outplayed the French super-grandmaster in the Najdorf Sicilian, an opening in which the latter is arguably the world’s leading expert.
The star move was certainly 23.b4, an aesthetic pawn sacrifice that forcibly rips open the queenside. After winning material in the center of the board, the Brazilian grandmaster then switched his attention to the only side of the board he hadn’t yet attacked—at the king—and won the game.
Although they lost the first round 1-3, Blitz brought the match to a one-point margin after winning the second. In round three, Vachier-Lagrave escaped a lost position against GM Vladislav Artemiev, a key factor in finishing the round in a 2-2 even score.
Going into the final round, the momentum was on the side of the Blitz. They seemed on the verge of victory without tiebreaks as Vachier-Lagrave defeated GM Sandro Mareco and GM Kateryna Lagno took down Supi.
The latter game was capped off with a nice, intuitive piece sacrifice—impressive because it did not lead to a forced checkmate but rather a prolonged attack. Her bishop zipped across the chess board like a lightning bolt and the knights followed behind to deliver an irresistible infiltration.
GM Rafael Leitao covers this as our Game of the Day, annotated below.
Boyer seemed cruising to victory against Alboredo on board four, and winning this game would have secured match victory. As we have seen even among super-grandmasters this season, however, winning positions do not win themselves.
Alboredo, understanding she was losing, found her one opportunity to set practical problems, and one natural but erroneous move by the French international master sent the evaluation bar from all-black to all-white in a heartbeat.
The Brazilian master could hardly contain her joy as she saved her team from elimination—at least until the tiebreaks.
Julia Alboredo saves the season for the Cabybaras by turning around a completely lost game!
She sends the match to blitz tiebreaks.#ProChess pic.twitter.com/yI9NuW3Y5f
— ProChessLeague (@ProChessLeague) March 8, 2023
It came down to the blitz tiebreaks. Board one made a draw. Meanwhile, Vachier-Lagrave took down Mareco on board two and Supi had his revenge against Lagno on board three. But the final game came down to board four.
In a position where Alboredo had the initiative, she played a fancy move that had a tactical flaw. After her move, 21…Nxe5?, can you find the correct and winning response?
White to play and win material.
Blitz moves on to week five, their last chance to qualify for the Playoffs. A victory next week would mean qualification, while a loss would result in elimination.
The Capybaras, unfortunately, exit the season having won $4,000 for making it this far.
Standings | Week 4
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 March and features top players like GMs Magnus Carlsen, Daniel Naroditsky, and Hikaru Nakamura.
- Adhiban Gains Perfect Score For Team MGD1, Lee Wins Upset Of Season For Arch Bishops
- Gotham Knights Advance To Playoffs, Croatia Bulldogs Best Team Blitz In Tiebreaks
- Indian Yogis Qualify For Playoffs, Chessbrahs Stage Reversal With Carlsen’s Perfect Score
- Norway Gnomes Recover To Steal Match Win, Spanish Maniac Shrimps Run Riot
- Nakamura Scores 4/4 For Gotham Knights, Croatia Bulldogs Outclass Berlin Bears
- Balance Over MVPs: Shanghai Tigers, Team MGD1 Defeat Heavyweights
- Levitov Chess Wizards Win Again, Garden State Passers Fry Spanish Maniac Shrimps
- Yogis 4-0 Turnaround Stuns Chessbrahs, Capybaras Crush Cobras
- Shanghai Tigers, California Unicorns Post Comfortable Wins
- Blitz Flips Script In Tiebreaks, Gotham Knights Dominate After Shocking Upset
- Carlsen Swindles For Chessbrah Victory, Indian Yogis Dominate Brazil Capybaras
- Spanish Maniac Shrimps Qualify For PCL Main Event
- Pro Chess League 2023: All 16 Teams And The Players To Watch Out For