No More Magic for California Unicorns

by admin on March 4, 2020

This week the playoffs got started in the PRO Chess League. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the California Unicorns had a strong finish to the regular season and just barely sneaked past the New York Marshalls for third place in the Western Division.

Ordinarily you would think that this might give the Unicorns an easier opponent in the first round of the playoffs. However, in a very strange turn of fate, the Unicorns were paired against the China Pandas, who finished fourth in the Eastern Division… but have made it to the championship round of the PRO Chess League in both of the last two seasons. Obviously a team like that is no joke.

Part of the reason that China struggled during the regular season was that many of their top players had other tournament commitments. But that brings us to the other bizarre thing about this very bizarre year. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese players were on lockdown and can’t leave their homes. I’m not sure how literally true this is, but definitely they aren’t traveling around the world going to tournaments as they normally would, and paradoxically that was good for their chess team. Their strongest players were at home and had nothing better to do than get online and do what they do best!

Here I have to apologize to my readers and say that once again, other commitments kept me from watching the match. I only tuned in at the very end, and got a chance to watch commentators Robert Hess and Alexandra Botez interview China’s very gracious third board, Li Chao. Anyway, China was definitely favored in the match and they won going away, scoring 4.5-3.5 in the first half of the match and 5-3 in the second half to win 9.5-6.5. Alas, the Unicorns’ late-season magic wore off.

But there is still a lot of play left in the PRO Chess League! In the other matches so far this week, India beat Norway 9-7; Canada smoked Sweden, 11.5-4.5; and in the most exciting match, New York tied France 8-8 but won in a playoff when Hikaru Nakamura won on time against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. One more match, Chicago against Russia, will take place tomorrow.

The pairings for the semifinals will be as follows: Germany vs. China, India against St. Louis, Canada vs. the Chicago-Russia winner, and New York versus Armenia. I think that St. Louis, Canada, Armenia, and China have to be considered the favorites. The four winners will play in front of a live audience in Sandefjord, Norway, on May 22-23. The event is being billed as not just the PRO Chess League championship but also “the world’s first truly global chess party.” Good luck to all the remaining teams, and here’s hoping that the coronavirus will not spoil the party.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: