Chess, like other games, is being revolutionized by the world of streaming online. Using platforms like Twitch.tv, players have jumped at the chance to promote live chess and engage viewers in real time. This weekend saw the championship match of the Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League featuring the Norway Gnomes and the Saint Louis Arch Bishops.
The PRO Chess League was the vision of International Master Greg Shahade, who has long been at the forefront of online chess production. He and Chess.com introduced a new team format with faster time controls (15 minutes per side) which sought to bring exciting action to viewers around the world. As the number of spectators swelled to more than 6,000 this past Sunday during the final, the success of the league was even greater than the founders had imagined, according to Grandmaster (GM) Alejandro Ramirez. “The number of viewers showed that chess can compete with any eSport,” said Ramirez.
It was no surprise that PRO Chess drew such large audiences. Not only did the league feature nearly 50 teams from all over the globe, but it also included five players from the world’s top 10, and more than 100 Grandmasters. The playoffs did not disappoint either. Three of the four semifinal teams featured world champion Magnus Carlsen, world champion number two Wesley So, and world champion number three Fabiano Caruana.
Led by Grandmaster So, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops had great success during their regular season campaign, finishing with the best record and sweeping through the playoffs to capture the league championship.
But having the hottest player on the planet, wasn’t the only key to such a great season. The match format developed for the PRO Chess League guaranteed that each of the team’s players would play against all of the opposing team’s players. Two of the most thrilling games were played by the 3rd and 4th board (by rank) for the Arch Bishops. In a key, late season match, the Arch Bishop’s Grandmaster Ben Finegold found himself facing the world’s number ten, Grandmaster Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Although he was at a double disadvantage - being out-rated by almost 300 points and having the black pieces - Finegold was able to win with an unorthodox opening. It helped to secure the match victory and win first place overall in the Pacific division. For most of the Arch Bishops' season, fourth board was occupied by National Master Nicholas Rosenthal. He pulled off the upset of the year by defeating the fifth best player in the world, Grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and was a thorn in the side of many opposing Grandmasters.
The Arch Bishops met World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s Norway Gnomes in the final on Sunday. Again, it would take solid play from all four players for the Arch Bishops, and Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian pushed the team over the finish line with his fourth round victory to secure the championship title. St. Louis can proudly say they we are home to the PRO Chess League World Champions.
The Arch Bishops included the following team members: GM Wesley So, GM Dariusz Swiercz, GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Yaroslav Zherebukh, GM Alejandro Ramirez, GM Francesco Rambaldi, GM Ben Finegold, IM Cemil Can Ali Marandi, NM Nicholas Rosenthal, NM Spencer Lehmann, Manager Michael J. Kummer, Assistant Manager Richard W. Pointer, and Data Analyst Jacob Wilkins.
Richard Pointer is a scholastic coordinator at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, as well as the Assistant Manager for the Saint Louis Arch Bishops.