PRO Chess League: Massive Pawngrabbers Comeback Can’t Stop the Minnesota Blizzard

The Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers responded to an early 3-point deficit the only way they know how, staging a late comeback to force the Minnesota Blizzard back into business. Unfortunately, there are a few things you can’t do in a PRO Chess League match, and going down 3.5-0.5 early is one of them. Minnesota held its ground for a well-deserved 8.5-7.5 victory, emerging clear first in the Atlantic Division for the first time.

Given Pittsburgh’s history with the Blizzard, this couldn’t have ended with anything other than a close match. This year, Minnesota and Pittsburgh took early division leads over the likes of Webster, St. Louis, and the Montreal Chessbrahs despite not making the playoffs last year. Our two 2017 matches were decided by the slimmest of margins, 9-7 (Minnesota) and 8.5-7.5 (Pittsburgh).

Minnesota fielded a balanced lineup that is remarkably easy to underestimate. The bullet prowess of GM-elect Andrew Tang may prove more relevant than his OTB ratings in this rapid league. Of course, all eyes were on IM Sean Nagle after he went 4-0 as Minnesota’s #4 last week. Pittsburgh brought the same lineup as last week, with the exception of FM Jennifer Yu, who made her debut on Board 4.

Unfortunately, the match couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start as a few promising positions went astray and we went down 0-3. We were hoping GM Awonder Liang could close the gap, but time trouble got the best of him as IM John Bartholomew forced a perpetual to put the Blizzard up 3.5-0.5.

A 3-point deficit is nearly insurmountable and meant every opportunity would be crucial for the rest of the match – even if you have to play 23. Bxd6?!? like in a crazy game we’ve already recommended for Game of the Week. Since Awonder didn’t win that last week, I guess he just wanted to play another. Be sure to support us on Twitter when the GOTW poll goes up!

Although ending IM Nagle’s 5-game winning streak along with a win by GM Alexander Shabalov over IM Bartholomew is all well and good, barely tying the round 2-2 was not nearly enough to give us a fighting chance. GM Shabalov quickly recognized the dire situation and promptly demolished IM Daniel Gurevich’s Caro-Kann.

GM Liang followed up next, defeating GM-elect Tang in a classic battle of youngsters. Unfortunately, FM Jennifer Yu saw her edge against IM Bartholomew fall apart in time trouble, but IM Atulya Shetty ended the round in dramatic fashion with a swindle over IM Nagle.

It seems that Awonder wanted to play multiple Games of the Week. Not quite the rampage we saw in the round before, but 26. Nf5! is beautiful.

This left Pittsburgh down 5.5-6.5, needing 2.5 of the last 4 points for a tie and 3 for a win. This was a nailbiter all the way to the end. The Pawngrabbers looked down and out a few times, but IM Atulya Shetty scored an exciting win against IM Bartholomew (along with Awonder’s Round 2+3 wins, are these the best 3 games our team has played in a single match?) while FM Yu and GM Liang held their opponents to draws from very tough positions. Meanwhile, however, GM Andrew Tang was able to save the Blizzard with a win against GM Shabalov.

After three weeks, what can we say about the new Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers? The team is no longer outmatched by its competitors and has clearly earned its spot in the league. However, the players we’ve brought in, while very good, are still inexperienced in the league environment, and that does show in critical moments, usually through time trouble. It will be interesting to see how this develops as the season goes on and our players get used to playing 15+2 against other strong players.

If you’re itching to watch our next match, you won’t have to wait for long — we’re due for more this (Super) Saturday. We will be streaming on The Steincamp Show once more — once again, thanks to Isaac Steincamp, David Hua, and GM Eugene Perelshteyn for their contributions and commentary! Be sure to tune in next week!

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