Three days after a narrow loss to the Minnesota Blizzard, Pittsburgh has eked out a half point from PRO Chess League Super Saturday, after a four-hour battle against their toughest opposition yet. Look no further than GM Awonder Liang, who had been undefeated but faced a daunting lineup that included Shakriyar Mamedyarov, Hikaru Nakamura, and other world-class grandmasters.
Each Atlantic Division team played each Pacific Division team in a series of eight G/10+2, 4v4 matches. Teams were ranked by total number of games won, allowing every player to focus solely on beating their fellow Board 1s (or 2s, 3s, 4s). At the end of the night, teams were awarded match points based on where they placed (1 point for teams 1-6, 0.5 for teams 7-10, 0 for 11-16).
IM Safal Bora made his debut for the Pawngrabbers on Board 4, behind University of Michigan teammate IM Atulya Shetty on Board 3. With GM Alexander Shabalov gone, GM Awonder Liang moved up to Board 1. The Pawngrabbers were fortunate to land IM Minh Le (better known to chess.com bullet as @wonderfultime) to play Board 2 from Vietnam at 5 a.m. local time.
Pittsburgh started off with a dreadful 0.5-3.5 against the Dallas Destiny, reminiscent of its similar start against Minnesota from which it never fully recovered (Fellow junior GM Jeffrey Xiong ended Awonder’s 12-game undefeated streak). By the end of the night, however, Pittsburgh was an even 16/32 in games and 9th place. Seemingly long-shot victories – every point and half-point – proved critical throughout the night. Just one game separated the drawing teams from the losing teams!
As usual, co-manager Isaac Steincamp provided 4 hours of non-stop commentary this week with NM Grant Xu replacing NM David Hua on screen this week.
What were the highlights of the night? In no particular order…
1. Awonder Liang
Awonder was outrated by all 8 of his opponents, but somehow finished the night with 4.5 points. Two of the biggest surprises: his upsets over GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Leinier Dominguez-Perez, both rated over 2700 FIDE.
IM Minh Le, not being one of our local players, was a big unknown – would his online quick chess prowess outweigh being outrated (like GM Liang) by all of his opponents? Le – playing from Vietnam in the early hours of the morning local time – definitely proved his worth. His time management in a seemingly equal game proved critical to upsetting GM Rauf Mamedov of the San Jose Hackers en route to a respectable 3.5/8.
3. IM Atulya Shetty steals half a point from GM Anton Smirnov
It’s hard enough to swindle someone in a 2-pawn-down ending. It’s much harder against a grandmaster with 4(!) seconds left, but Atulya stole a draw courtesy of the wrong-colored bishop.
4. IM Safal Bora goes 5/8 on Board 4
With the Pawngrabbers heavily outrated on Boards 1 and 2, we expected to rely on the lower boards when it counted. IM Safal Bora, playing for Pittsburgh for the first time, despite some setbacks, posted the highest score on the team. Below is his last-round victory – and crucial 16th point for Pittsburgh – over IM Josh Sheng:
Pittsburgh bounced back from a disastrous Round 1 with a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Sluggers, topped by GM Awonder Liang‘s upset of GM Hikaru Nakamura. However, losing the next two matches left Pittsburgh deep in the hole at halftime, struggling to make it into the “draw” zone.
By now, however, Pittsburgh is no stranger to long-shot comebacks, and turned its night around with a 3.5-0.5 blowout over the Las Vegas Desert Rats, who themselves beat the Pawngrabbers 12.5-3.5 last year. The Pawngrabbers pulled even or ahead in the remaining rounds went on to finish 9th.