Magnus Carlsen lost only his second game in the 2023 Pro Chess League, to Aleksandr Shimanov, as the Canada Chessbrahs lost to the Levitov Chess Wizards and will now have to win on demand next week to reach the Playoffs. The Shanghai Tigers, featuring Ju Wenjun and Wei Yi, joined the Wizards in booking a Playoff place after a comeback win.
It's Week 4 of the 5-week first stage of the Pro Chess League, with the situation critical for the remaining teams. If a team wins three matches they reach the 8-team Playoffs, but if they lose three matches, they’re eliminated.
Week 4 started in dramatic fashion as the powerful Shanghai Tigers team lost the first round of matches 3.5:0.5 to the Croatia Bulldogs, with Irene Sukandar the hero for taking down Wei Yi with a checkmating attack.
The Shanghai Tiger looked in trouble, but not for long, as they powered back to win 4:0 in the second round of matches.
Shanghai went on to win 10:6 to book their place in the Playoffs, while the Croatian team will have a must-win match in Week 5.
The second match on Wednesday had more at stake, with Blitz and the Brazil Capybaras knowing that the loser would be knocked out. For the third time in four weeks, the aptly named Blitz team drew the rapid match 8:8, leading to a 3+2 blitz decider. They emerged 2.5:1.5 winners.
2021 World Blitz Champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave redeemed himself for losing to Luis Supi in the first round of matches by finishing with 3.5/4.
3-time World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk hasn’t been scoring as highly as you would expect, but he’s lost just one game in 15, and holding Brazil Capybaras leader Vladislav Artemiev (who ends on an unbeaten 6.5/8) to two draws at the end was critical.
The first match on Thursday was then a chance for either the Canada Chessbrahs or the Levitov Chess Wizards to reach the Playoffs, with the first round of games notable for former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk playing her first game while representing Switzerland. The only problem? She was facing World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who took advantage of his opponent’s aggression to ease to yet another Pro Chess League win. Only Vidit had thwarted him so far…
Win no. 13 would soon follow, with 20.Bxh6+! a killer blow.
20…Rxh6 loses to 21.Qxe8, but after 20…Kxh6 21.hxg6+ Kg7 22.Rh7+! there was nothing better than 22…Rxh7 (22…Kf8 23.Rxf7+ leads to a quick checkmate) 23.Qxe8 fxg6 24.Qxd7+ and White had emerged with an extra pawn and a continuing attack.
Magnus went on to win smoothly, and the round could have been a turning point for the team, since WGM Maili-Jade Ouellet had done everything right against 359 points higher-rated GM Aleksandr Shimanov. Alas, just as she was on course to win, she lost on time.
That meant the match had gone with rating for two rounds, with the teams level at 4:4, but in the next round Levitov scored 3.5:0.5, including a rare loss for Magnus, who overpushed and fell to the same Shimanov.
Hikaru Nakamura, who could relax as his team Gotham Knights had wrapped up a Playoff spot a week earlier, picked that game for a recap.
That left the pressure on the Chessbrahs in the final round, since they had to win at least 3.5:0.5 themselves to avoid defeat.
That was a mission impossible, especially when Alexandra Kosteniuk was winning in 11 moves against Maili-Jade Ouellet, though the Chessbrahs could have won on all the other boards. Jorden van Forest top-scored with 3.5/4 after a fine win over Shimanov, while GM Razvan Preotu, a hero for the Chessbrahs in the earlier matches, missed a win over Denis Lazavik before slumping to a 6th loss in a row.
Magnus seemed to be on a slump himself when he fell for a tactic against Rauf Mamedov.
23…Nxf3+! turned the game, since after 24.exf3 Qxf3 the knight is out of squares (25.Nf2?? Qg2#) and White has to go for 25.Nxe5 Bxe5 26.Bxe5 Qe3+! (the point) 27.Qf2 Qxe5.
Black is a pawn up, and despite 28.Rd7!, attacking f7, giving White some chances, Magnus seemed to be fighting only for a draw. As so often, however, he actually went on to win, after outplaying Rauf in a rook endgame.
That didn’t stop the Levitov Chess Wizards reaching the Playoffs, while the Canada Chessbrahs must now win their Week 5 match on demand.
In the Thursday evening match the California Unicorns were eliminated by the Garden State Passers, with a crucial moment being Olexandr Bortnyk’s victory in a topsy-turvy game against Gukesh.
Olexandr top-scored with 3.5/4 and has so far lost only one game in the tournament, to Magnus Carlsen.
The standings look as follows, with the Indian Yogis, Gotham Knights, Shanghai Tigers and Levitov Chess Wizards all in the Playoffs, while the California Unicorns, Brazil Capybaras, Berlin Bears and Charlotte Cobras have been eliminated.
On Friday we have Team MGD1 (Arjun Erigaisi) and the Norway Gnomes (Pavel Eljanov) fighting for a place in the Playoffs from 16:30 CET (7:30 am PT, 21:00 IST), while the Spanish Maniac Shrimps (Alan Pichot) and Saint Louis Arch Bishops (Fabiano Caruana) are fighting to avoid elimination.