As commenter IM David Pruess observed, heartbreak was inevitable as 38 excellent PRO Chess League teams competed for only 8 berths in the 2018 season of the PRO Chess League.
The ultimate qualifiers (the Armenia Eagles, Estonia Horses, Mumbai Movers, Chengdu Pandas, Seattle Sluggers, and Australia Kangaroos) demonstrated the global nature of chess and the PRO Chess League as no countries qualified more than one team and four continents were represented. Here are the top six teams in each qualifier with the top three teams having secured qualification to the PRO Chess League. Full crosstables for both qualifiers featuring all individual results are available in the complete crosstables below.
Places 4-6 in both the early and late qualifiers are eligible to qualify via a fan vote. One additional team will be voted in from each qualifier.
Polls are available on both Twitter and Chess.com for 72 hours after this article was published. Votes will be accumulated from both the Twitter and Chess.com polls and viewers are permitted and even encouraged to cast an honest vote in all four polls!
Polls from the early and late qualifiers on Chess.com are available here:
The format for the qualifier was as follows: a swiss system featuring 15 rounds of 3|2 blitz. Teams submitted a four-player lineup with an average rating below 2500 and scores from all four players were summed to achieve the team scores.
Teammates absolutely could and did play each other in the event with some waging serious battles and some choosing to rapidly agree a draw and save their energy for future rounds.
22 teams and 88 players tried their luck in the early qualifier, dedicated to European, African, and Western Asian teams seeking to compete in the Central and Eastern divisions of the PRO Chess League. Four teams, Guntur, Uganda, Nantes and the Madrid Sharks, dropped out prior to the start of play.
The hottest start was achieved by the Malmö Moomins. On first board, they had GM Nils Grandelius who started with 5/5, the only player to start with a perfect score. Grandelius has one of the best Chess.com usernames on record: Grandelicious. He gave some short comments while his team was riding high.
The Moomins were engaged in a friendly rivalry with their countrymen, the Stockholm Wasabis who streamed commentary from the legendary GM Pia Cramling in Swedish. Unfortunately, the Wasabis were never able to elevate their team into the top places as GM Tom Wedberg struggled.
Returning to the Moomins, the Nils Grandelius train was stopped by GM Santosh Vidit Gujrathi who won with a mysterious exchange sac that baffled the commenters and Grandelius.
This was one of many fine games won by Vidit who benefited from a mixture of incredible skill and significant luck to eventually win clear first in the event by 1.5 points!
One example of both his significant skill and luck was the following game where he was completely winning, then nearly losing, and finally drawing with a remarkable perpetual!
Vidit's excellent performance ultimately elevated his team, the Mumbai Movers, into one of the coveted top-three slots and qualification, but another Indian favorite, the Hyderabad Hawks were not so blessed.
Early in the tournament, GM Harika Dronovalli missed a nice mate, ceding a half-point that her team could have used.
More significant was the relatively poor performance of GM Parimarjan Negi. Negi is a great talent who was for a long time the second-youngest GM ever ahead of Carlsen. Yesterday, he became the third-youngest GM ever as the remarkable Uzbekistani talent, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, earned his GM title.
Negi's 7.5/15 was not a bad score, but his team needed more from their board one if they hoped to qualify. Negi has been in semi-retirement from competitive chess while he pursues his degree at Stanford. While the rust was showing, it was great to see him back in action, and chess fans surely hope he will play more chess in future!
The ultimate first and second place finishers in the event, the Armenia Eagles and the Estonia Horses showed the value of balanced lineups. Entering as their first and third place team by seeds, they arguably lacked the prestige of an elite board one, but they each managed to grab top 15 spots for ALL of their top three boards. With solid fourth-board performances, they easily locked in victorious slots.
Armenia Eagle's board one GM Zaven Andriasyan also entered the event with the top seed according to Chess.com blitz ratings and secured shared second with Grandelius.
Meanwhile GM Sergey Shipov of the Estonia Horses provided streaming commentary for the entirety of his qualification attempt. It did not seem to negatively affect his play as he finished 13th and was often among the leaders.
What was the sweetest move in the early PRO Chess League qualifier? The author thinks it must be this bomb drop from Aleksandr Kumala whose Radom Randoms unfortunately missed the cut.
Early Qualifier Team Results
Early Qualifier Individual Results
Find the full crosstable and all games on the tournament page.
IMs David Pruess and Anna Rudolf provided commentary on the early qualifier. Find their full commentary at twitch.tv/chess.
With only one pre-qualifier withdrawal (the Patagonia Penguins), 13 teams and 56 players lined up to play the late qualifier to qualify for the Pacific and Atlantic divisions. This year the PRO Chess League was pleased to welcome qualification attempts (ultimately successful) from the other side of the Pacific as two teams from Australia and one team from China elected to compete with the many North and South American teams.
The late qualifier had a bumpy streaming start, but few were bothered as GM and top-seed Hikaru Nakamura had chosen to broadcast his play on his personal Twitch channel! Hundreds elected to watch his incredibly high-level blitz commentary.
Nakamura was playing for the Seattle Sluggers who participated in the 2017 PRO Chess League, but weren't able to secure a playoff spot. With Nakamura on board one, they are clearly a team to be feared.
The second seed in the event was GM Yu Yangyi who competed for the Chengdu Pandas. With their winning qualification performance, they become the first Chinese team into the PRO Chess League. They clearly demonstrated their prowess in the qualifier and will surely be a force in the regular season. Here Yu Yangyi got the better of Nakamura with some clever tactics.
Although this is their first time playing, their manager Li Chao competed as a free agent for the Montreal Chessbrahs last year and will surely have lots of wisdom to pass on. Their elite talent is perhaps not the scariest aspect of the Pandas. They had excellent performances from their top three boards as boards two and three finished 4th and 6th behind Yu Yangyi's shared first! It has often been said that Chinese players are underrated because only the National team members get regular chances to play FIDE events; based on this qualifier, that appears to be true!
Despite Yu Yangyi's and Nakamura's presence and ultimate victory, the only player to achieve a perfect score after five rounds was GM Daniel Naroditsky, who has proved himself a force in blitz and bullet chess with one of the highest ratings on site.
Naroditsy is now playing for the San Francisco Mechanics who weren't able to grab a top three spot and will have to pin their hopes on the fan vote to get a berth this year.
A team that delivered on their high average rating of 2497 was the Australia Kangaroos! Lead by team manager GM Max Illingworth, they are the first team from the southernmost habitable continent to join the PRO Chess League! They bested their countrymen, the Australia Blitzkreig who were among the leaders for some time but faded down the stretch.
Illingworth will be familiar to many from his regular presence on Chess.com and his popular blog which contains many excellent chess puzzles, such as this one:
Another team needing success in the fan vote is the Minnesota Blizzard. Their highest score was achieved by IM Andrew Tang who is a legendary bullet player. Here he nearly gets the best of Yu Yangyi despite playing with seconds on the clock.
The final hopeful team is the New York who were lead by Chess.com regulars GMs Mark Pargua and Oliver Barbosa. Strong finishes from both elevated them into top 12 twelve individual places and a sixth place finish as they edged out GM Ben Finegold's Atlanta Kings.
With play completed and scores tabulated, it's up to you! Be sure to vote and show your support for the two additional teams you want to see in the regular season!
Early Qualifier Team Results
Late Qualifier Individual Results
Find the full crosstable and all games on the tournament page.
IM Lawrence Trent and WGM Jennifer Shahade commented on the late qualifier. Their full commentary is available on twitch.tv/chess.
More than 100 top-quality chess players will have the next three months of their lives transformed in a single day. And that day is this Saturday.
The first-ever Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League Qualification Tournament will advance eight teams to complete the 2018 season's field. The twin tournaments will be separated by geographic region and will qualify the final eight of the league's 32 teams.
Six squads will have clinched by day's end, while two others will be galvanizing support to try to win a fan vote for the final two spots.
The qualifier tournaments will begin at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pacific time on Oct. 28. The starting times were chosen to accommodate as many players in as many time zones as possible.
The Central and Eastern Divisions will go first. Nearly twice as many teams (26) signed up from this division, which covers Europe, Asia, and Africa. In the later qualifier, 14 Atlantic and Pacific Division hopefuls will battle.
The format is simple: Each team will consist of four players, with an average rating below 2500. Players compete as individuals toward a final team composite score. The tournaments are 15-round Swisses played at a time control of 3+2. At the end, teams tabulate the total of their four players for their final score (teammates are allowed to play each other in the tournament).
After 15 rounds, the top three teams in each qualifier have qualified for the 2018 PRO Chess League season. Fourth- through sixth-place teams will be entered into a fan vote for the final placement from each division.
Let's take a look at composition of some of the highest-rated teams.
In the Central and Eastern Divisional Tournament, the Estonians proved to be good at math. The Estonia Horses, which are apparently small but "strong and resilient against sickness," managed to field a lineup that averages 2499.5.
They are captained by native son GM Jaan Ehlvest, who now represents the U.S. but was briefly in the world's top five in the early 1990s. Not only has Ehlvest entered the building, but so has commentator extraordinaire GM Sergei Shipov, who is actually a few rating points higher. Both men once crested 2650+. Throw in two other high-2400 Estonian GMs and you've got a rare quad-GM lineup that is deserving of "favorite" status.
Who's gonna ride those Estonian Horses? GM Sergei Shipov will put down the microphone and pick up the pieces on Saturday.
With the Delhi Dynamite already one of the 24 guaranteed teams for next season, a few more Indian contingents are vying to join them. Teams from Hyderabad, Mumbai, Amaravati, and Guntur have all thrown their papadums in the ring.
(Yes, before you ask, several teams from all over the world are courting GM Viswanathan Anand. As of this writing, however, he is still unsigned to a team, but we know he doesn't like to get bored. Also accepting invitations to play on your team? Some former world rapid champion named "Aronian"! )
The Hyderabad Hawks clock in as the number-two team by average rating (2492.75). They are captained by GM Harika Dronavalli, currently the number-11 woman in the world. Teams are allowed to have one free agent, and her recruiting included a big "bird" -- the highest-rated member of the team is the Stanford University student GM Parimarjan Negi (2656). Distance from Hyderabad to Stanford, California: 13,539 km. The Cardinal-turned-Hawk flies far.
Hyderabad Hawk GM Harika Dronavalli will hope the "City of Pearls" gives her wisdom this weekend.
Sweden is also attempting to stack the division. With the Stockholm Snowballs already resting comfortably on the couch for next season, GM Nils Grandelius leads the Malmo Moomins this Saturday. The country's best player, who also seconded GM Magnus Carlsen at last year's world championship, must have been jealous that constant-rival Norway made to the PRO League finals in the league's first season.
Chess.com's graphic designers will have some fun designing a logo if the hippopotamus-like "Moomins" from the Swedish kids' book series qualify. Image: Wikipedia.
In addition, a second team from the largest city will try to create the chance for a Stockholm derby. The GM Grigor Grigorov-led Stockholm Wasabis will try to blend an incongruous Scandinavia-Asian fusion in the qualifiers.
GM Nils Grandelius will try bring the Moomins off the pages and onto the chessboard.
As for France, only the Riviera is assured representation in 2018, with the Cannes Blockbusters guaranteed to be chasing the PRO League's Palme d'Or. The Marseille Migraines, led by GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, will also return.
Attempting to join them will be a three-GM squad, the Paris Musketeers, and the Nantes Kingslayers, who are led by grandmaster born in one of the most unlikely places. GM Adrien Demuth was born in Réunion, an island region of France east of Madagascar. Then he learned to play chess as a boy in Tahiti, but will now represent a town in the Loire Valley, in an internet competition! A true 21st-century story if there ever were one.
GM Adrien Demuth's peripatetic life hasn't stopped him from becoming a top French player. | Photo: Mike Klein, Chess.com.
In the Atlantic and Pacific Divisional qualifier, which encompasses North and South America and also Australia and parts of China, the chances are much greater for teams to advance. Instead of a field of 26, only 14 teams signed up, but there are some much bigger top boards contending.
The highest-rated foursome is led by GM Hikaru Nakamura, who switches coasts this year: last year a Miami Champion, this time a Seattle Slugger. His team tops out as the only one with a rating above 2500. The 2507.75 average is allowed since any super-GMs only have their rating "counted" as 2700 for purposes of having the team average below 2500.
Like Shipov, frequent commentator/streamer IM John Bartholomew will let his moves do the talking this Saturday for the Minnesota Blizzard.
This will be the second time Nakamura takes his talents to the Pacific Northwest -- in 2008 and 2009 he also wore a Sluggers jersey in the U.S. Chess League. He will be hoping to rekindle some of that Starbucks magic. In 2009 Nakamura was the league's MVP.
Australia didn't field any teams in the PRO Chess League's first season. They seek to make amends for that with two teams entered Saturday. The nationalism is apparent as both teams have chosen the country as their location name -- the Australia Kangaroos (seeded second) and the Australia Blitzkrieg (seeded fourth).
GM David Smerdon (left) analyzing after his draw with GM Magnus Carlsen at the 2016 Olympiad. | Photo: Mike Klein, Chess.com.
Six of the country's top seven players will be competing for one of the two teams, with the most recognizable name for Chess.com members being GM David Smerdon. "Smurfo" has just moved back to his native homeland recently and will captain the Blitzkrieg as he tries to cull the Kangaroo.
Other notable teams and names include the Chengdu Pandas, captained by GM Yu Yangyi; the San Fransisco Mechanics, led by GM Daniel Naroditsky; and the Atlanta Kings, where GM Ben Finegold will attempt his second title with a different team. He also recruited GM Gadir Guseinov to "The Big Peach."
The winning St. Louis Arch Bishops won't need the qualification tournament, but they will have to do without the services of GM Ben Finegold (exact middle) this year. | Photo: Mike Klein, Chess.com.
Both qualifier tournaments can be watched with commentary on Twitch.tv/chess or Chess.com/TV. The Central and Eastern Divisions will be hosted by IM David Pruess and IM Anna Rudolf and will begin this Saturday at 8 a.m. Pacific (GMT-7), which is 5 p.m. Paris and 8:30 p.m. Mumbai.
The Atlantic and Pacific Divisions will be hosted by IM Danny Rensch and WGM Jennifer Shahade and will begin this Saturday at 1 p.m. Pacific (GMT-7), which is 4 p.m. New York, 4 a.m. Chengdu (Sunday) and 7 a.m. Sydney (Sunday).
October 28 might have more titled players than ever playing on Chess.com. If nothing else, there will be more at stake than ever.
That's because many qualification spots for teams to earn spots in the Professional Online Rapid (PRO) Chess League are up for grabs. This prequel to the league's second season will fulfill 25 percent of the squads in the 32-team league -- all determined by two high-stakes qualification tournaments in one day.
Are you ready to sign up your team? Teams must fill out this form by October 15!
You can toss out the two-tier qualification originally announced early this summer. Now, the qualification tournaments will conclude all in one day, and six four-person teams will know by day's end if they've made it to the show. If so, they'll join the 24 invited teams (which are listed in the original article).
Another two teams will qualify three days later, with help from their fan bases. More on that later in this report.
New York Knights
There's currently no team from inside the five boroughs. Will the New York Knights change that through the qualification tournament?
A note about future seasons: Going forward, the top six teams in each of the eight-team divisions will automatically qualify again for the following season. The bottom two teams will be "relegated" and will have to earn their way back through the qualifying tournament. League management believes this will lead to even more excitement every year, as teams are not just vying for top spots and big prize money, but also for the right to "stay alive" as an automatic qualifier for the next season.
The Hamburg Swashbucklers were solid last year, just missing the playoffs. Still, they finished a lot better in their first season (3.5-3.5) than that "other" pirate logo franchise.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't rob anyone's loot at the beginning. In 1976, their first season, they went 0-14.
Also coming later on in 2017, backed by heavy demand, will be a dedicated league website: PROChessLeague.com. The site is still being built, but when done, it will greatly help fans and players follow standings, players, matches, statistics, photos, and much more.
The league has a tentative start date of January 17, 2018.
Teams and fans can find the full breakdown of rules and regulations for the qualifier event on October 28 here, but the big question now becomes who will try to qualify to dethrone the St. Louis Arch Bishops (champions picture above). For those willing to speculate...see below.
The Dublin Desperadoes
The Dublin Desperadoes won't be so desperate if they get GM Ruslan Ponomariov back for the qualifier tournament.
The Kings have already announced their intention to try to qualify. They boasted a few GMs last year, but now GM Ben Finegold is a local, too. His loyal fan base is thus wondering if he will stay an Arch Bishop, or if he's "taking his talents to the beltline?"
Only one cold-weather bird flew to warmer climates this offseason. While the Puffins are in for 2018, the Penguins will need to play their way in. At least in the offseason they acquired one million extra Patagonian acres to hold training sessions.
None of the African teams earned automatic qualification, but the team that had everyone googling their mascot has the best chance to be the first back in from the continent. Who doesn't love donuts?
To restate, the qualifying tournament will determine six of the many hopeful teams for the winter season. How about the final two teams? They will get in with a little help from their friends...
A fan vote will take place (full details at the rules page here) within a few days after the event. Teams will have time to submit pleas to fans on social media, create videos and interact with the Chess.com community in any way they can to drum up support! A poll will then be placed on the Chess.com homepage for 72 hours and the magic will begin!
So tell us in the comments, fans, which of the teams cut would you like to see back and who are you hoping make a bid for this year's qualifier?