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Chess joins the esport arena

Watching the PRO Chess League, an online rapid chess league, can be an intense experience.
Eric Rosen
Watching the PRO Chess League, an online rapid chess league, can be an intense experience. Its second finals in San Francisco included the Saint Louis Archbishops.

Pressure is a major element in chess. Pressure to find the right move. Pressure to use your clock time wisely. Pressure to beat your opponent. Pressure to win the tournament.

The PRO Chess League, an online rapid chess league, has used these elements to provide a great viewing experience on its weekly Twitch.tv stream.

Taking a programming cue from the fantastically popular esports world, PRO Chess recently hosted its second finals in San Francisco with the top four teams — the Ljubljana Turtles, Chengdu Pandas, Armenian Eagles and Saint Louis Archbishops.

While the format of the games followed the regular season’s 15 minutes per side, the added presence of a live studio audience provided an atmosphere of intensity rarely seen at chess events. In fact, such a live chess event has probably never been seen.

At first, the crowd didn’t know how to respond to the action on the screens projected above the players. Soon, spectators were cheering for victories and wincing at blunders.

The teams traveled from around the world to play in the championship and one of the consequences was that some players were unable to make the trip. Both Saint Louis and Chengdu fielded their second- or third-best lineups. It certainly leveled the field for the final four as some superstars did not end up playing the final weekend.

Chengdu’s players had the best regular season score and were therefore allowed to pick their opponents. It turned out they chose well as they defeated Ljubljana 10-6 to advance to the Sunday final.

Saint Louis faced Armenia and needed to win in order to defend its PRO Chess League championship title. However, Armenia had a bit more skill and edged past to make the final. It was a tough loss, as the fourth board for Saint Louis, Forest Chen, had a stellar performance against the Armenian Grandmasters.

On the final day, China faced off against Armenia. With each passing round, the score stayed close as Armenia trailed by one game point. With the final round, the Eagles were able to tie the score and send it into a blitz playoff. This was pure excitement as the grand prize for the winners would be $20,000.

The tiebreak format meant that the lowest boards would play for the right to continue until the last player was left standing. Whichever team’s players were left undefeated, would win the Championship.

Armenia’s secret weapon was Grandmaster Zaven Andriasyan whose blitz chess rating is almost 200 points higher than his standard rating. His skills paid dividends as Armenia secured the second season’s championship trophy.

If you would like to catch the PRO Chess League in 2019, you can do so on twitch.tv/chess.

Richard Pointer is the assistant manager of the Saint Louis Archbishops and a scholastic coordinator for the Saint Louis Chess Club.

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