Friday, September 24, turned out to be one of the most anticipated and thrilling days of the year for chess fans—and the 2021 PRO Chess League Arena Royale finals did not disappoint!
As those who were following the previous days of the event know, the finalists were the Saint Louis Arch Bishops and the Russia Wizards. These two were some of the highest-rated teams of the event, so seeing them collide in the final match was definitely a delight for any chess enthusiast.
However, there was even more exciting chess: the third-place between the California Unicorns and the India Yogis featured two incredibly strong teams full of young gifted competitors.
Excited? Let’s dive in and see how the day went!
Live coverage of the finals. Watch all of the live coverage at chess.com/tv
The California Unicorns and the India Yogis faced each other in a battle for third place. Just like in the semifinal matches, the teams would play four rounds with each other, so each player of the Californian team would face each player of the Indian team.
The first round saw two draws and one victory for each team: GM Daniel Naroditsky scored a full point against GM Raunak Sadhwani, while GM Aravindh Chithambaram won his game against GM Zviad Izoria. The other two games, where California’s team’s players GM Baadur Jobava and IM Christopher Yoo faced GMs Karthikeyan Murali and Vidit Gujrathi, respectively, were drawn. So, the round was drawn, 2-2.
In the next round, however, the India Yogis took a lead with a convincing victory 3-1: Chithambaram beat Naroditsky, Sadhwani outplayed Izoria, and Vidit won against Jobava. However, Yoo managed to brighten the day for his team by scoring a full point against Murali.
In round three, which had three decisive games (a very fighting match so far, right?)the Yogis once again came out on top: Murali turned out stronger than Naroditsky, and Chithambaram outplayed Yoo—earning his third win in a row. Again, the Unicorns managed to strike back on one board: Jobava beat Sadhwani. However, the final score of 2.5-1.5 should have appeased Yogis fans.
As a result, the India Yogis won third place in a very difficult event, which is a rather fantastic achievement for any team. Congratulations to them, there was a lot of great chess along the way!
In the Online Olympiad, which just finished two weeks ago, Russia faced the USA in the final match and went on to win. That’s why it appears rather interesting that the final of this online event also saw a Russian team face an American team! Would history repeat itself this time?
In the first round of the match, Russia put up a convincing start with a 3-1 score: GM Alexey Sarana beat the world’s second-best player GM Fabiano Caruana, setting the Russian team massively ahead. That game was truly something: first, Sarana missed a win, then was completely lost, and then Caruana….blundered a checkmate in one move. We will look at it below!
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is about to face GM Magnus Carlsen in the World Championship Match later this year, supported his teammate by also scoring a win versus GM Jeffery Xiong. The other two games were drawn, giving Russia a comfortable victory in the round.
Next round, the same players, GMs Sarana and GM Nepomniachtchi, again brought their team a victory, as they have both won their games versus GMs Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez. Xiong minimized the damage for the Arch Bishops by beating GM Evgeny Tomashevsky, but since the remaining fourth game was drawn, Russia won the round again: 2.5-1.5.
Generally, they say that to win any team event, having two players in amazing shape is usually good enough. Well, Russia had just that: in round three, GMs Sarana and Nepomniachtchi both won once again! They outplayed So and Dominguez, respectively. This time, however, the team of St.Louis did not lose the round because Caruana and Xiong bailed their teammates out by beating Tomashevsky and GM Maxim Chigaev.
By the time the third round was over, the outcome of the final was clear: Russia had won.
However, the Arch Bishops delivered an amazing fight in the last round, having finally won 2.5-1.5: this time, three games were drawn, while So won against Tomashevsky.
Russia is celebrating another brilliant victory, while the Saint Louis Arch Bishops (who were the top seed in this event) had to be satisfied with second place.
The Russian fans should definitely thank GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexey Sarana, who scored a whopping 3.5/4 each and essentially were the ones to win the finals for the team. Particularly, Sarana did a fantastic job: his classical rating is 2635 is a very strong player, but to beat Caruana, So, and Dominguez in three successive games is an accomplishment any player in the world would be very proud of. An amazing performance!
Let us now take a look at that truly dramatic game of the first round between GMs Sarana and Caruana.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed the coverage of the finals, and make sure to stay tuned for the next events!