The Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2018 PRO Chess League season, emerging clear 2nd in the Atlantic Division after defeating the Buenos Aires Krakens by a higher-than-expected 10-6 margin.
The Pawngrabbers look a bit different this year as they look for a fresh start to their second season. With fewer teams in the league this year, we were able to solidify our bench with several strong players from across the lake in eastern Michigan that will have plenty of chances to shine in the coming weeks. And just last week, Pittsburgh scored a huge victory with the addition of 14-year old free agent GM Awonder Liang, who, like traditional powerhouse GM Alexander Shabalov, requires little introduction.
Finally, our stream team (originally my co-manager Isaac Steincamp) now includes NM David Hua and GM Eugene Perelshteyn.
Unfortunately for Buenos Aires, their chances were severely hampered by poor performance on their lower boards. Untitled Cristian Sanhueza, rated 2298 FIDE, scored 0-4 as the Krakens’ #4, while GM Leandro Krysa, who suffered from chronic connection problems, posted a dismal 0.5-3.5 on the night. This was clearly a bit of an extreme case, but does suggest that the more “top-heavy” lineups (Buenos Aires also fielded GM Federico Perez Ponsa and GM Alan Pichot) may be underestimating the importance of the lower positions.
In contrast, the Pawngrabbers seem to be quite strong in that regard. Many of our players last year were heavily outrated by many of the IM/GM powerhouses they faced, yet managed to score a respectable number of upsets. As we saw last night, being blown out 4-0 can be more damaging than it looks at first, so scoring a point or two as a low board goes a long way. A 1.5-2.5 was a respectable result for Pittsburgh #4 FM Edward Song (especially given how close his other games were), while IM Atulya Shetty scored a surprisingly strong 2.5-1.5.
Finally, time to recognize the obvious: our top two boards GM Alexander Shabalov and GM Awonder Liang. It’s never easy to predict Shaba, but he showed no signs of nerves, obliterating his first three opponents before falling to the Krakens’ MVP, GM Ponsa. Awonder took a more solid route, scoring two draws and a win against the Argentine GMs to also finish 3-1.
Let’s take a look at some of the key moments of the match.
Pittsburgh went 2.5-1.5 in the “weird” round (1v4, 2v3, 3v2, 4v1). Edward, not fearing his highest-rated opponent, played what was probably the most exciting game of the round. Unfortunately, time trouble proved fatal in an equal ending.
GM Perelshteyn offers his take on White’s spectacular opening.
Round 2 was a bit shakier, but Pittsburgh scored 2-2 to stay ahead. Shaba spiced things up with a scary piece sac.
With the score so close, Round 3 was shaping up to be critical. Everyone was up to the challenge, and collectively scored 3-1, moving within a point of winning the match. Isaac and David recap the round below.
I have to repost another Shaba game. 14. c4! was a really nice find.
Ed promptly finished the match in style, clinching the match courtesy of an early tactic against the Krakens’ Sanhueza. Black was surprised to find that 18…Qc5?? loses the queen after 19. Bxf6! Bxf6 20. Rd8+!!.
And just like that, Pittsburgh had ensured victory over the Buenos Aires Krakens, a strong, 2017 Playoff team. However, now that Pittsburgh is a true contender for the league, tiebreaks matter, and Awonder and Atulya did well to pick up another point and a half, getting us to 10-6. A great start to the season for the Pawngrabbers!
Be sure to tune in next week/same time as we take on the Montreal Chessbrahs in what should be another tough and exciting matchup!