Late Surge Establishes Pittsburgh as PRO League Threat

Despite a tough loss to the San Francisco Mechanics last night, the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers are primed to prove they are much stronger than their ratings suggest.

San Francisco Mechanics (10) Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers (6)
GM Patrick Wolff: 2564 GM Alexander Shabalov: 2563
GM Vinay Bhat: 2519 NM Alexander Heimann: 2271
IM Yian Liou: 2414 FM Gabriel Petesch: 2260
FM Cameron Wheeler: 2398 NM Grant Xu: 2193

Commentators were rough on Pittsburgh from the beginning as San Francisco quickly chalked up a 7-1 lead. Shabalov, seen as the main hope for the team, fell to Wolff and Bhat via an early opening blunder and a queen hang in a drawn ending, respectively. At the tail end of Round 2, however, NM Grant Xu put Pittsburgh on the board with an incredible swindle against IM Liou.

This completely turned around matters for the Pawngrabbers, who earned some healthy praise from GM-commentator Yermolinksy by the end of the night. Although Mechanics’ early margin proved too much for the Pawngrabbers in the end, Pittsburgh took the last two rounds 5-3.

GM Shabalov led Pittsburgh to a 3-1 sweep in Round 3, grinding out IM Liou in a tricky minor-piece endgame. NM Alex Heimann completely swindled FM Wheeler in a drawn exchange-down ending, and FM Gabriel Petesch recorded a big win over GM Patrick Wolff.

This gave Pittsburgh an outside shot of tying the match, but FM Wheeler overcame GM Shabalov’s characteristic fighting chess in a time-scramble, with both players missing wins in a wild ending. Fortune was clearly not on the GM’s side this match, but he will be very tough to beat after finding his stride.
Heimann, Petesch, and Xu faced tough tasks against their IM/GM opponents, but Heimann’s offbeat Alekhine Defense paid off in the end. Grant Xu was once again the story of the round as he tested GM Wolff with the Smith-Morra and later turned around one of the most depressing endings ever, despite having to play on mobile due to a computer crash (!).
If you want more on the match through video, check out Isaac’s video recap from this morning!

The Pawngrabbers will look to bounce back next week against the Minnesota Blizzards, who defeated the Portland Rain last night by 10.5-5.5. Tune into Chess.com TV and the Chess.com Live boards on Wednesday, January 18, 9 pm ET for a great match!

-Beilin Li, Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers Co-Manager
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