The PRO Chess League qualifier has concluded, and these were the standings for the Pacific Division. (It was a 15-round Swiss, with 4 players on each team, so the team scores given below are out of 60 possible points.)
- Chengdu Pandas -- 36.5
- Seattle Sluggers -- 35
- Australia Kangaroos -- 34.5
- New York Knights -- 34
- Minnesota Blizzard -- 32.5
- San Francisco Mechanics -- 31.1
- Atlanta Kings -- 31
Chengdu, Seattle, and Australia qualify for the league automatically. The remaining spot in the league is to be determined by a fan vote among the 4th-6th place teams! This means that the Mechanics need your vote to qualify for the league. Unfortunately I do not have the details yet on how and when you can cast your vote, but I will let you know as soon as I get that information.
How do you recap an event as crazy as a 14-team, 15-round Swiss system blitz tournament? Well, first, you congratulate the winners: the Chengdu Pandas, led by Yu Yangyi (who tied for highest individual score with 12/15). It's a great thing that the PRO Chess League will get its first team from China; the absence of any Chinese team was the one thing that made it not quite a worldwide league last year.
Also, the Seattle Sluggers were in second place pretty much the whole way, led by Hikaru Nakamura, who tied with Yu at 12/15.
The Australia Kangaroos, appropriately for their name, put on a great finishing kick to finish in third place. As late as the ninth round they were scuffling along in seventh place (in fact, they were behind the other Australian team, the Australia Blitzkrieg).
The Mechanics were led very ably by Daniel Naroditsky, who played calmly and powerfully all day. He had the third best individual score of the day, 11.5/15, with only a defeat against Nakamura to blemish his record. I'd say it's okay to lose now and then to one of the two best blitz players in the world. The rest of the team struggled, with some really exciting moments and others that left one asking, "What was he thinking?" Vinay Bhat seemed a bit rusty. Yian Liou should have been rusty but actually played quite well, especially in the endgame. Rayan Taghizadeh played with unbelievable spirit but left a lot of points on the board. He had absolutely crushing positions against two grandmasters, but instead of playing simple chess he seemed to gravitate toward the most complicated possible moves, wild sacrifices, etc. Hopefully, if the Mechanics make it into the league, he can work on improving the soundness of his play.
Even though I was, of course, rooting for the Mechanics, I have to offer my sympathy to the Atlanta Kings, who were led by Ben Finegold. They tied with the Mechanics in game points, both with 31/60, but the first tiebreak was the highest individual score. I actually, quite frankly, hate that tiebreak: in a team competition, I would rather see a tiebreak that rewards team play in some way. Not that I have a good alternative proposal. But in this case, the tiebreak worked very much to the advantage of the Mechanics, as Daniel Naroditsky's strong individual performance gave them the tiebreak advantage over the Kings. (That explains the ".1" point that was added to the Mechanics' score in the final standings.)
So the excitement on the chess board is over, and now it's up to the fans! Please vote for the Mechanics! As I said in my last post, we are deserving of your vote because we are the oldest team in the league, the original charter member of the US Chess League. Also, I expect that the Mechanics will be more competitive once the season starts because we will probably have Sam Shankland on the roster. This will reunite the core of the Mechanics teams from the 2006-2009 era, when we were always at or near the top of the US Chess League. Plus, I'm sure that team captain David Pruess is working on signing up more young players from the talent-rich San Francisco Bay area.
Once again, I'll post here as soon as I find out the rules on how to vote for your favorite chess team.