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Magnus Carlsen was a mate-in-3 against Vidit away from a perfect 8/8 in the Pro Chess League, but instead he crashed to defeat as the Canada Chessbrahs lost their Week 2 match. The winners, the Indian Yogis, are one of four teams that can now qualify for the Playoffs with two weeks to spare, while four teams, including Fabiano Caruana’s Saint Louis Arch Bishops, can be eliminated this week.
The first five weeks of the 16-team Pro Chess League are all about qualifying for the 8-team Playoffs. If you win three matches you’re in, and stop playing, while if you lose three matches, you’re out.
In Week 3 there are two matches that will qualify a team to the playoffs, Levitov Chess Wizards (led this week by Daniil Dubov) vs. Indian Yogis (Praggnanandhaa), and Gotham Knights (Hikaru Nakaura) vs. Shanghai Tigers (Wei Yi).
There are also two matches that will see a team eliminated: Charlotte Cobras (Grigoriy Oparin) vs. Spanish Maniac Shrimps (Jaime Santos) and Berlin Bears (Matthias Bluebaum) vs. Saint Louis Arch Bishops (Fabiano Caruana).
The action once again kicks off at 16:30 CET (7:30 am PT, 21:00 IST) on Tuesday, with the later match starting at around 19:00 CET. The same schedule applies on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as well.
Week 2 of the Pro Chess League was notable for a lack of close matches. No match went to a blitz playoff, while there were many crushing wins. Vladislav Artemiev made a 3/3 debut for the Brazil Capybaras as they defeated the Charlotte Cobras with a round of games to spare.
Sam Sevian became the top scorer of the event on 7.5/8 as his team, the Garden State Passers, crushed the Spanish Maniac Shrimps 11:5. He’ll face off against Magnus Carlsen in Week 3.
There were two 10.5:5.5 wins. One was for the Levitov Chess Wizards against the Norway Gnomes, with Alexandra Kosteniuk getting to play a famous bishop sacrifice as she beat the other team’s Board 1, Salem Saleh.
The other 10.5:5.5 win was, surprisingly, for the Shanghai Tigers, who overwhelmed the powerful Blitz team.
It helps for Shanghai Tigers that their obligatory female player is none other than Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun, who scored an unbeaten 3/4. That included a great escape against 3-time World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk…
…and a dominant win over 2021 World Blitz Champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The final tactic is of course that the forced 34…Kxh8 runs into 35.Ng6+ and 36.Nxh4. It was quite a final round for the Shanghai Tigers.
One surprisingly close score was the Gotham Knights’ 8.5:7.5 victory over the California Unicorns, especially considering the Knights went into the final round of games with a 7.5:4.5 lead. That meant they needed to score only one point in the final round of matches, and they did, as Hikaru Nakamura confidently defeated Sam Shankland for a 7th win in a row.
Hikaru’s teammates all lost, however, so that the match had come down to the wire.
The highlight of the week, however, came at the very start, in the one match where a team took the lead but then lost. Magnus Carlsen was again in fine form as the Canada Chessbrahs took a 5.5:2.5 lead after two rounds of matches. The Indian Yogis then struck back, with Vaishali beating Razvan Preotu as her team won the 3rd round 3:1.
That still meant the Chessbrahs went into the final round of matches with a one-point lead, but suddenly we got the only clean sweep of the whole event so far, as the Yogis shocked the Chessbrahs.
The headline result was Magnus Carlsen’s 7/7 winning streak being brought to an end, and it came in the most dramatic fashion.
Magnus played 1.b3 and had done everything right, until Vidit spent a full minute on 28…Bxc5?
Magnus, meanwhile, spent one second on 29.Qh7?, which was a good move except for the fact he’d overlooked an instant win with 29.Bxg7+! Kxg7 30.Qh7+ and now either 30…Kf8 31.Qh8# or 30…Kf6, when White even has a choice of checkmates, 31.Qxh6# or 31.Qh8#
That miss might easily not have mattered, since Magnus was still much better and soon had a tricky win (32.Bg6+! Kxg6 33.Qg8!), and then a final chance.
Magnus here realised the importance of the moment and thought for 48 seconds, but he went for 33.Qh7?! Ne7 34.Ne5+? fxe5 35.Bxe5 and suddenly, after 35…Nh5!, Vidit had everything defended and was a piece up.
Instead 33.Bxf6! was the win. 33…gxf6 loses the queen immediately to 34.Qh7+, while 33…Kxf6 is met by the only move 34.Qf8+!, when after Black blocks with 34…Qf7 or 34…Bf7+ White has 35.e5+.
35…Nxe5 is forced, and now rather than giving checkmate the point is that White can pick up the rook on c8.
There was no way back for Magnus, as Vidit went on to wrap up victory for himself and his team.
“When something is less likely and then it happens, the joy is more!" said the Indian star after the game.
Week 3 promises to be more intense, with qualification and elimination on the line. The matches start at 16:30 CET (7:30 am PT, 21:00 IST), with Tuesday’s early match seeing Norway Gnomes field David Howell and Pavel Eljanov for the first time as they take on the Brazil Capybaras, while the Charlotte Cobras and Spanish Maniac Shrimps will then be fighting to avoid elimination.
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