The Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League is comprised of teams from around the world who compete online at chess.com. This year’s finals took place May 4-5 at the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco.
The regular season has four divisions, with the winner of each qualifying for the finals. Each team is comprised of four players in an all-play-all format. With 16 total points available, the first team to accumulate 8.5 points wins the match.
The St. Louis Arch Bishops were keen to regain the PRO Chess League Championship title they last earned in 2017. The journey began on Thursday; while out to eat at a Chinese restaurant before the weekend matches, the team’s board four national master (NM) Julian Proleiko opened his fortune cookie, which promised an award in his future.
Grandmaster (GM) Benjamin Bok, the towering 6'4" board two, unfolded the best fortune of all: “You will step on the soils of many nations.” It seemed the whims of fortune were blowing for the team from St. Louis.
The first hurdle came against the defending PRO League Champions, the Armenia Eagles. They’re a very tough team from a country known for producing amazing chess talent. With St. Louis already trailing 2-1 in the first round, things looked bleak as SLU student Bok was being heavily battered. He found the move of the day to escape with a draw, but the Arch Bishops lost the first round 2.5-1.5.
In round two, the Arch Bishops evened the score 4-4, and team manager Mike Kummer was asked to give a halftime recap. With confidence and jubilation, Kummer proclaimed St. Louis was right where they wanted to be and observed that the Arch Bishops were the favorite in five of the eight remaining games. Sure enough, all the favorites came through, and the Arch Bishops won 9-7, leaving Armenia with nothing but shattered dreams.
In the championship round, the Arch Bishops played the Baden-Baden Snowballs for the PRO Chess League title. The Arch Bishops meant business in the first round and jumped out to a 2.5-1.5 lead. Proleiko, who wasn’t able to win a game in the semifinals, drew a grandmaster in the second round, giving the Arch Bishops a comfortable halftime lead of 5.5-2.5.
He scored another half point in round three in the wildest game of the tournament. In a crazy scramble, with just seconds left, Proleiko’s lone queen was able to gobble up his international master opponent’s knight and rook in successive moves, clinching a second draw against internationally titled opponents.
The Arch Bishops' all-star, St. Louis’ own “Super GM” Fabiano Caruana, dominated the whole weekend. He was finally nicked for the only draw he gave up in round three. He finished the weekend with an impressive 7.5 out of 8 possible points.
In the final round, St. Louis was up 8-4, needing only one draw from four games to clinch the match and the title. On board one, "Fabi," as Caruana is known to his teammates, was in a battle for his life against former Webster University student GM Georg Meier.
Unfortunately Bok clicked his mouse in error, blundering on board two and losing the game on the spot. Board three International Master (IM) Nikolas Theodorou, who is also a student at St. Louis University, was being taken to the cleaners by German GM Dmitrij Kollars.
This meant the championship came down to one man: Julian Proleiko. The player who hadn’t even pushed his first pawn in 2012 was a severe underdog against his opponent: woman international master Inna Agrest. With the fate of the Arch Bishops on Proleiko’s shoulders, Bok started an infectious chant to encourage his teammate. Eventually the spectators in the audience were all chanting in unison “Julian, Julian, Julian,” until he prevailed, bringing the championship title back to St. Louis for the first time in two years.
While the St. Louis Arch Bishops were the stars this season, the PRO Chess League is comprised of some of the best players from around the world. You can find more information, including plans for an impromptu summer season, at www.prochessleague.com.
Mike Kummer is team manager for the St. Louis Arch Bishops. He will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cards-Cubs game July 31.