United States Chess League
|No. of teams||20|
The United States Chess League (USCL) was the only nationwide chess league in the United States for eleven years. In 2016 the League announced it would be opened to cities from around the world, moved to the website chess.com, and renamed the Professional Rapid Online Chess League.
At its peak, the USCL comprised twenty teams, whose members included some of the highest-rated chess players in the United States. Participants in the last season included Wesley So, Alexander Onischuk, Alex Lenderman, Anton Kovalyov, Varuzhan Akobian, Daniel Naroditsky, Julio Becerra, Joel Benjamin, and many other grandmasters. The League was founded in 2005 by International Master Greg Shahade. In later seasons the league was run by Arun Sharma, who was the Vice President of the USCL.
Origin and first season
On January 30, 2005 the San Francisco Mechanics became the first team to join the U.S. Chess League. Carolina joined the league on April 30, 2005, bringing the league to its full first-season roster of eight teams. The Boston Blitz and the New York Knights played the inaugural match on August 31, 2005.
The league concluded its first season on November 24, 2005 when the Baltimore Kingfishers defeated the Miami Sharks three and a half to a half in the USCL Championship Match.
The league recognized the game between GM Larry Christiansen (Boston Blitz) and IM Pascal Charbonneau (Baltimore Kingfishers), won by Charbonneau in Week 4, as Game of the Year.
On March 10, 2006 Commissioner Shahade announced that two expansion teams, the Seattle Sluggers and the Tennessee Tempo, would join the league for the second season. The 2006 season concluded on November 29, 2006 as the San Francisco Mechanics defeated the New York Knights in the blitz tiebreaker to win the Championship. Game of the Year honors went to the drawn game between GM Pawel Blehm (Baltimore) and GM Pascal Charbonneau (New York Knights) from Week 2.
In 2007, two further expansion teams, the New Jersey Knockouts and the Queens Pioneers, joined the USCL. The Philadelphia Masterminds also changed their name to the Philadelphia Inventors. In the season ending Championship Match, the Dallas Destiny defeated the Boston Blitz in the blitz tiebreaker. Game of the Year went to SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun's (Boston) defeat of IM Davorin Kuljasevic (Dallas) from the Championship Match.
At the end of 2007, the league announced two additional teams for the upcoming season: the Chicago Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions. These teams competed in the Western Division. The Carolina Cobras moved back to East to balance the Divisions.
The Championship Match for the 2008 season featured the same teams as the previous year, with the Dallas Destiny again beating the Boston Blitz in the blitz tiebreaker to claim the Championship. Game of the Year honors went to GM Larry Christiansen (Boston) for his win in the Championship Match over IM Marko Zivanic (Dallas).
For the first time, the participating cities and divisions remained the same in the 2009 season. One key rule change was the elimination of bonus rating points for female players, instead establishing a bonus roster spot for the team if at least one woman was on the roster.
The Championship Match was contested by New York and Miami, with New York winning in the blitz tiebreaker, the fourth season in a row the Championship Match was decided in that fashion. Game of the Year honors went to GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (New York) for his win over GM Josh Friedel (San Francisco) from Week 5.
The league expanded from fourteen to sixteen teams this year, with the addition of three new teams (the St. Louis Arch Bishops, the Los Angeles Vibe, and the New England Nor'easters) and the folding of the Tennessee Tempo. Additionally, the Queens Pioneers moved to Manhattan and became known as the Manhattan Applesauce. The rules were also changed to eliminate alternates, favoring instead another permanent roster spot, increasing the size to nine, or ten if at least one woman is on the team.
The expansion team from New England set a new league record with 9.5 points out of 10 matches, drawing only with their local competitors, the Boston Blitz. New England then worked its way through the playoffs, winning the Championship by a score of three to one against the Miami Sharks. The Championship match featured an unusual occurrence as a Miami player was unable to reach the playing site in time, resulting in a forfeit on Board Three. Game of the Year honors went to GM Varuzhan Akobian (Seattle) for his win over GM Yury Shulman (St. Louis) from Week 10.
As in the fifth season, the participating teams and divisions remained the same as in the previous season. The only major rule change was the increasing of roster size from nine spots to ten along with the elimination of the bonus roster spot that had previously been given if there was at least one woman on the team.
The Championship Match was contested between the New York Knights and Chicago Blaze with the Knights winning their second Championship by a two and a half to one and a half score. Game of the Year honors went to GM Melikset Khachiyan (Los Angeles) for his win over GM Cristian Chirila (Dallas) from Week 5.
Despite reaching the Championship in the previous season, the Chicago Blaze did not play the eighth season of the USCL. Chicago's slot was filled by a new team, the Connecticut Dreadnoughts, featuring grandmaster Robert Hess as its top-rated player. This change resulted in a slight re-shuffling of the divisions, with the Carolina team moving back to the Western Division.
The Championship Match featured the Philadelphia Inventors against the Seattle Sluggers - both making their first appearance in the title match. Seattle won by a three to one score, winning on boards three and four. Game of the Year honors went to SM Matt Herman (New York) for his win in the Quarterfinals over IM Eli Vovsha (Manhattan).
As in the fifth and seventh years, the participating teams and divisions remained the same as in the previous season.
The Miami Sharks won their first title defeating the New York Knights three and a half to a half in the Championship Match. Game of the Year was awarded to GM Tamaz Gelashvili (New York) for a sacrificial win with Black against IM Marc Esserman (Boston) in Week 6.
With the addition of two new teams - the Rio Grande Ospreys and the Atlanta Kings - the league divided its 18 teams into three divisions: East, West, and South. Prior seasons featured only East and West divisions. The Rio Grande team is based in Brownsville, Texas and draws its player pool heavily from the University of Texas - Brownsville program, coached by GM Bartomiej Macieja.
The St. Louis Arch Bishops won the 2014 Championship, their first, with a blitz tiebreaker victory over the Dallas Destiny. For only the second time in ten seasons Game of the Year honors went to the drawn game, this time between GM Daniel Naroditsky (San Francisco) and GM Conrad Holt (Dallas) from Week 8.
With the addition of four new teams—Las Vegas Desert Rats, Lubbock Tornadoes, Minnesota Blizzard, and San Diego Surfers—along with the departure of the Baltimore Kingfishers and the Los Angeles Vibe, the total number of teams reached 20, causing a reversion back to the two division system.
The Manhattan Applesauce team won the eleventh season championship, beating the defending champion St. Louis Arch Bishops two and a half to one and a half in the final match. Game of the Year was awarded to IM Alexander Katz (New England) for an upset win over GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (Manhattan) in Week 9.
The new divisional lineups for 2015 were:
- Atlanta Kings
- Boston Blitz
- Carolina Cobras
- Connecticut Dreadnoughts
- Manhattan Applesauce (previously the Queens Pioneers)
- Miami Sharks
- New England Nor'easters
- New Jersey Knockouts
- New York Knights
- Philadelphia Inventors
- Arizona Scorpions
- Dallas Destiny
- Las Vegas Desert Rats
- Lubbock Tornadoes
- Minnesota Blizzard
- Rio Grande Ospreys
- San Diego Surfers
- San Francisco Mechanics
- Seattle Sluggers
- St. Louis Arch Bishops
Teams consist of rosters of ten players, and each week the manager selects a lineup of four, depending on rating, form, and availability. The average rating for each match is capped at less than 2401, with certain exceptions for highly rated players.
The season starts the last week of August or first week of September and ends in late November or early December. Each team plays one match per week, and matches are almost always scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. All matches are played online at the Internet Chess Club. Team members gather at a common public location where a league-approved tournament director is present.
If either team in a given match scores two and a half points or more from the four games, that team wins the match. If the score is split at two points apiece, the match is drawn. At the end of the regular season, the four teams in each division with the highest match point totals qualify for the playoffs, which are conducted in a knockout format. In the Championship match, a drawn match proceeds to a series of blitz games to determine the ultimate winner.
- Doggers, Peter (August 25, 2016). "U.S. Chess League Becomes PRO Chess League". Retrieved February 14, 2017.
- US Top Player List January 2015
- Historical notes on USCL in New York Times
- Carolina Chosen as 8th and Final Team
- USCL Game of the Week archive
- "Mechanics Wrench Victory From New York". Accessed Jun. 4th, 2007
- "Queens and New Jersey join the USCL". Accessed Apr. 14th, 2007
- "Philadelphia Masterminds change name to Inventors" Accessed Apr. 14th, 2007
- Coverage in Gambit, the New York Times chess blog
- Official USCL announcement
- Champions by a Heartbeat
- Official rules from USCL site