Balance Over MVPs: Shanghai Tigers, Team MGD1 Defeat Heavyweights

Balance Over MVPs: Shanghai Tigers, Team MGD1 Defeat Heavyweights


On Thursday, the Shanghai Tigers again proved themselves to frontrunners, reaching 2-0 by taking down Blitz―the team with the highest rated lineup in week two of the Pro Chess League. Meanwhile, Team MGD1 bounced back to defeat three-time champions, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops. 

The Tigers’ top two boards, GM Wei Yi and GM Ju Wenjun, led their team to victory, both scoring three points despite Blitz’s double super-GM lineup of GMs Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and 2612 team average rating (before adjustments). Ju especially punched far above her rating, going undefeated and scoring a brilliant victory against Vachier-Lagrave in the last round. 

GM Fabiano Caruana‘s commanding 3.5 score for the Saint Louis Arch Bishops wasn’t enough to overcome MGD1’s balanced lineup led by GM Arjun Erigaisi with every player scoring at least 50%.

The PCL will continue on Friday, February 24, 2023, at 7.30 a.m. PT/16:30 CET, when the Berlin Bears wrestle with the Croatia Bulldogs and the Gotham Knights joust vs. the California Unicorns.

Shanghai Tigers 10.5 – 5.5 Blitz 

The Tigers must’ve been in high spirts coming off last week’s victory against the Arch Bishops, as they fought confidently against the Blitz’s fierce lineup. They seized the lead from round one with yet another victory by the team’s top seed, Wei. 

Facing a King’s Indian Attack against his Sicilian, the Chinese grandmaster shifted his pieces towards the kingside to conjure a vicious attack vs. GM Alexandre Bacrot, scoring the only win of the first round. Can you find the combination he played to break through?

In round two, second seed Ju also got the better of Bacrot in a knight and two pawns vs. rook middlegame by boldly marching her kingside passers (and kingside pawn cover) down the board, supported by tactical play. 

Though Vachier-Lagrave defeated the Tiger’s board four, GM Lou Yiping, Wei Yi’s time scramble mating net vs. GM Kateryna Lagno neutralized the French grandmaster’s point.

In round 3, Vachier-Lagrave delivered Wei his first loss in the league with a speculative knight sacrifice, ripping open the black kingside and chasing down the bold enemy king to its demise.

Wei Yi’s fearless king meets its end.

Holding down the fort for the Tigers’ side, Ju fought off Grischuk’s persistent cat-and-mouse style pressure in a challenging minor piece ending.

In round four, Lagno created a dangerous attack vs. GM Xu Yi and had the chance to finish him off with a mating combination. Can you find the missed opportunity?

The star of the final round was Ju, who upset Vachier-Lagrave with a dynamic combination of attacking and active defensive play, eliminating all attempts at couinterplay from the 2021 world blitz champion. This superb game by the reigning women’s world champion is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

With this second match victory in a row, the Shanghai Tigers are just one more win away from reaching the playoffs. 

Saint Louis Arch Bishops 6.5-9.5 Team MGD1

In round 1, MGD1 gained a one point edge with Erigaisi’s miniature attacking victory vs. FM Rochelle Wu. As soon as the Indian grandmaster’s fianchettoed dark-squared bishop was unleashed on the a1-h8 diagonal, it took deadly aim towards Wu’s king, castled on the queenside.

In round 2, Caruana defeated GM Harika Dronavalli in a double-edged duel.

However, the U.S. Champion’s victory was canceled out by wins from both Erigaisi and GM Amin Tabatabaei, growing Team MGD1’s lead to two points.

In round three, Akobian gained a slight positional advantage on the queenside and gradually converted it into a winning pawn-up rook ending vs. IM Mittal Aditya. Caruana also won his game vs. Tabatabaei by thoughtfully maneuvering his knights to potent outposts and then creating a mating net virtually out of thin air. 

Despite these efforts, MGD1 held the balance with wins from Erigaisi and Dronavalli. The all-decisive, yet ultimately 2-2 tied round left the Arch Bishops in a more dire position, still trailing by two points heading into the final round. 

Caruana again came through for the team, sneaking a mating combination vs. fellow board one Erigaisi.

However, the Tigers shut out any further chance at a comeback by striking back with victories on boards three and four, including an upset victory by Harika vs. Akobian by converting her extra pawn with excellent endgame technique.

Though the Arch Bishops had the player with the highest score with Caruana’s 3.5 points, MGD1’s solid and consistent team performance won the match.

With this victory, Team MGD1 jumps to the middle of the scoreboard at 1-1. On the hand, to the shock of many, the three-time champion Arch Bishops are on 0-2 and will face a must-win match next week to avoid elimination. 

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 February and March and features top players like GMs Magnus Carlsen, Daniel Naroditsky, and Hikaru Nakamura.

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