Pro Chess League: Now or Never for Three American Teams

Sevian Carlsen
Image Caption


March Madness. The time of year when upsets cement unlikely players’ names in history. Brackets are busted, and silly mascot names become fans’ new heartthrobs. And, no, we’re not talking about college basketball.

The Pro Chess League playoffs are around the corner, with the penultimate week of the regular season currently underway. Teams that win at least three of their five matches qualify for the quarterfinals.

After three weeks of play, only two teams have qualified: the Indian Yogis and GM Hikaru Nakamura’s Gotham Knights. With the Berlin Bears and Charlotte Cobras already eliminated after starting the season 0-3, this means 12 teams will battle for the final six spots.

The remaining American teams are all 1-2 after three weeks, meaning they each face elimination this week.

After an 0-2 start, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops resoundingly defeated (and eliminated!) the Berlin Bears 10½ - 5½. The real story was the upset of the week, with young FM Alice Lee defeating GM Matthias Bluebaum in a decidedly one-sided affair.



The Arch Bishops will now tango with the Spanish Maniac Shrimps Friday at 10 a.m. PT. The winner will have one more shot at the playoffs, while the loser is eliminated.

The California Unicorns lost 10-6 to a fierce MGD1 squad. The ‘corns were almost lost after three rounds, if not for GM Christopher Yoo’s nice attack against Indian GM Harika Dronavalli. Knowing his game was a must-win, he sacrificed early for a clear initiative that Harika was unable to navigate her way out of.



From here, the Unicorns needed a 4-0 round four to force tiebreaks, and it was not to be. Alas, now they will have to face the beasts from the East…

The Garden State Passers lost a heartbreaking match 8 ½ - 7 ½ to GM Magnus Carlsen’s Canada Chessbrahs, setting up their elimination match with the Unicorns. The Passers got off to an exciting start when IM Carissa Yip had a chance to upset Carlsen after clawing back from a rough Vienna Gambit.





In the fourth round, wins from Yip and GM Abhimanyu Mishra allowed the Passers to momentarily tie the match. Both Yip and Mishra won with the black pieces, emerging from the opening with a strong initiative they refused to relinquish.




As such, the match game down to the battle of the two most prestigious blitz players of the year: Carlsen and Passers’ GM Sam Sevian. Sevian had a clear initiative through most of the game, missing several decisive blows, but in the end Carlsen broke through once Sevian’s kingside attack stalled out.



Carlsen’s victory clinched the match for the ‘brahs, who now have a chance to secure a playoff spot if they defeat Levitov Thursday at 7:30 a.m. PT.

The Passers and Unicorns square off in their elimination match Thursday at 10 a.m. PT.

The Gotham Knights will enjoy their first of two consecutive rest weeks, having already secured a playoff bid after defeating the Shanghai Tigers 9-3. Just how good is Gotham? Well, Shanghai has since won their week four match against the Croatia Bulldogs, earning the third playoff spot in the process. But it’s hard to do anything against an in-form Nakamura in an online rapid game.



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