Chess Wizards Stun World Champion, Advance To Playoffs; Bortnyk Leads Passers

Chess Wizards Stun World Champion, Advance To Playoffs; Bortnyk Leads Passers


In week four of the 2023 Pro Chess League, the Levitov Chess Wizards and the Garden State Passers won their matches against the Canada Chessbrahs and California Unicorns, respectively. The Chess Wizards qualify for the Playoffs, while the Passers move on to week five.

GM Aleksandr Shimanov was unquestionably the MVP for the Chess Wizards as he handed World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen his second loss of the season. In the second match, GM Oleksandr Bortnyk scored a 3.5/4 and defeated the opposing board one, GM Gukesh D.

On Friday, March 10, 2023, beginning at 7:30 a.m. PT/16:30 CET, Team MGD1 faces the Norway Gnomes in the first match, while the Spanish Maniac Shrimps will play the Saint Louis Arch Bishops in the second.

Canada Chessbrahs 6.5 – 9.5 Levitov Chess Wizards

It’s impossible not to notice the gargantuan rating of the Chessbrahs’ board one, as well as their board two, but the Chess Wizards had a more evenly rounded lineup. Having the strongest board four in the PCL in GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, for example, was a critical part of winning.  

The higher-rated players won on all boards in both rounds one and two. All eight games were decisive, but this nevertheless resulted in an even score.

World Champion Carlsen was on fire. In round two, he shocked the commentators as he had a winning position hardly 10 minutes into the round against GM Denis Lazavik.

Repeating a line he played against Aronian in 2020, Carlsen broke through with the old “h4, h5, sac, sac, mate,” an attacking plan GM Bobby Fischer once described. The world champion’s bishop sacrifice on move 20 seemed to come out of the blue.

Speaking of Fischer, the American world champion enjoyed playing the white side of the King’s Indian Attack (even from a young age). Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the Chess Wizards’ board one, GM Rauf Mamedov, played this same opening in round two. It just happened to also be Fischer’s birthday (he would have turned 80.) The Azerbaijani GM won a nice attacking game:

Chessbrahs’ board four, WGM Maili-Jade Ouellet, nearly upset Shimanov in round two in a topsy-turvy game—heartbreakingly, she lost on time in a winning position.

After two rounds, the score was even: 4-4. 

The breakaway happened in round three as the Chess Wizards mounted a 3.5-0.5 score. Kosteniuk defeated GM Razvan Preotu while Lazavik scored his first victory in the match against Ouellet, but the crowning achievement was certainly Shimanov’s upset victory over Carlsen. 

In a Sicilian Dragon, the Russian grandmaster sacrificed the exchange for an attack with which the computer wasn’t particularly impressed. In rapid chess, momentum matters, and Carlsen wasn’t able to stave off the problems he faced and resigned one move before a forced checkmate. 

This, of course, is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Dejan Bojkov below

GM Hikaru Nakamura also covered this game in the video below:

A Chessbrahs comeback was unlikely. Although we’ve seen such miracles happen this season, “ChessQueen” Kosteniuk snuffed those dreams as she achieved a winning position as early as move 12 against Ouellet on board four. With this win, the match was over, regardless of the other boards.

The Chess Wizards earn their third victory and qualify for the Playoffs. The Chessbrahs go into week five; a win will qualify for the Playoffs while a loss will result in elimination.

California Unicorns 6.5 – 9.5 Garden State Passers

What more to say? The Passers came to play. Even with a tough day at the office for IM Carissa Yip, the winning team sailed to victory on the backs of the top three boards who each scored three points or higher.

The Passers nearly won on every board in the first round. The highlight was the one game that didn’t go in their favor, IM Carissa Yip vs. Gukesh. The former U.S. women’s champion had a winning advantage out of the opening in a version of the razor-sharp Sicilian Najdorf Poisoned Pawn Variation, but the Indian prodigy survived and won the game.

The Unicorns won round two 2.5-1.5 and reduced the Passers’ lead to just one point, but round three essentially sealed the deal as the New Jersey team won 3-1 once again. 

The most significant victory, of the three for the Passers, was that of Bortnyk over Gukesh, the Unicorns’ board one. In a back-and-forth game, the Indian grandmaster lost control in a position where he was better-to-winning. Given a tactical chance, Bortnyk snapped up the win. 

Can you find the winning moves? White to move and win material.

GM Johan-Sebastian Christiansen kept the Unicorns alive another round with a win over Yip in round three.

However, just like the first match, this one too was decided in the first game to end. GM Aleksandr Lenderman, a former 2600-rated player who’s proving to be a monstrous board-three, defeated Christiansen to bring the Unicorns’ season to a close.

After the match, Bortnyk spoke about beating Gukesh in the possibly match-determining game: “I just didn’t have time to think about nerves.”

The Passers win their second match of the season. Next week, they need to win another one to qualify for the Playoffs, while a loss would eliminate them.

The Unicorns exit the season earning $4,000 for reaching this stage.

Standings | Week 4

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

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