The Professional Rapid Chess League(PRO) was launched in January 2017 by the online social chess-playing site chess.com. It emerged from the United States chess league in 2016.In over a year and a half since its existence, the league has grown at a tremendous rate. It has drawn the participation of some of the world's strongest chess Grandmasters including Carlsen, Caruana, MVL, Mamedyarov, Nakamura, Anand, Harikrishna, Wesley So, etc. The league is divided into four divisions according to the team locations and time-zones. There have been 'Super Saturdays', 'Super Sundays', 'Games of the week', 'Moves of the week', 'Social Media prizes', fantasy leagues, official Twitch commentary by star players, most valued player prizes, and the inaugural finale weekend in San Francisco in April,2018 besides the 'normal rapid matches' played by the team members. With two seasons already over, one can already predict an even larger third season in 2019. Without wasting more time in the descriptions, I turned to interview the league commissioner- International Master(IM) Greg Shahade- himself.
Can you tell us a bit about how the idea of converting the US Chess League into the PRO Chess League developed and what you had in mind about this new league?
Chess.com had a truly global vision for chess, and I was very happy to jump on board. I see no reason why Internet Chess should be restricted to just one nation. That's what's great about the Internet, it can bring people together from all over the world.
Now, let's go a bit inside the organisation of the league. There are four divisions and each falls in a separate time zone. How do you manage with this and what do you think can make it get easier?
I don't know, it's, of course, difficult because of the different time zones. Some teams have no choice but to play at a somewhat inconvenient time. I'm not sure if there's an easy solution just yet.
The league has drawn players like Carlsen, Nakamura, Mamedyarov, Anand, MVL, Caruana, Harikrishna, and many more such stalwarts. What do you think makes it so interesting for these kinds of super Grandmasters to compete in the league?
Chess.com has spent years putting together high quality and reputable events, and I think that the top players see that there is a real future in online chess. It could be that in 10 years, online chess is bigger than over the board chess so I think it's a smart idea for the top players to familiarize themselves now with this new chess landscape. It is also a unique experience for them to play on a team. There is something about team chess that is really exciting, yet there are few opportunities to play high-level team tournaments. It's also an easy and flexible event to play in, as someone like Magnus can simply play from his own home. At the same time, I am super honoured and proud to work on an event that so many of the top players want to be part of. We have tried to create a relatively relaxed and unique format to make it interesting for everyone.
The second season also saw a fitting finale match live in San Francisco. Can you elaborate on what went behind the scenes of this match and how was the actual experience during that weekend in April?
I felt like I was witnessing chess history. It was obvious that there had never been an event like this in the history of chess, and to be part of it.....it's the kind of thing that ten years from now I could look back and realize that I was at the start of something really special. The energy in the room was simply incredible, it was hard to believe it was really happening.
Now, coming to the technicalities of the league. There have been a few issues with the rating cap when a player with a rating of 2700+ competes for a team for one particular match. How do you tend to improve this or would you be continuing with the same formula for a few more seasons?
We don't think there needs to be an improvement. It is important to us that teams have the incentive to sign the top players to their teams, and therefore we give teams some advantage for recruiting them. If teams want to take advantage of the rating bonuses we give out to the top players, they should do whatever it takes to recruit them, as many teams did.
The PRO Chess League is only one part of your chess exploits. You have also launched the US Chess School. Can you speak a bit about this and how one could start something similar in a chess booming nation like India?
Starting a U.S. Chess School in India would be easy because you have so many talented players there. If there is someone who has time, desire and financial resources, it should be a piece of cake.
Lastly, what would you like to say to your fans and followers?
I love you all!