The North American Corporate Chess League, a brainchild of the Charlotte Chess Center in cooperation with lichess and Chessstream, is not the first recreational corporate chess competition nor is it one with commercial interests. So, when registration totaled 43 teams and over 425 players, all expectations were out the door. On Thursday night, the nervous excitement from the organizers, players, and teams comprising the largest-ever corporate chess league was transferred to hundreds of virtual chess boards.
Another online chess league?
Although the strategic decision-making attributes of chess and the business worlds have always gone hand-in-hand, the chess boom since spring 2020 from online streaming and collaborations by top Grandmasters is still expanding. Beth Harmon of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is as much of a household name as Bobby Fischer was in the 1970s.
To set it apart from other leagues, the NACCL features an inclusive, easy-to-understand, and flexible format. Yes, Grandmasters and other titled masters are competing, but the bulk of the league is the hundreds of participants who are playing in their first chess competition in years. Only the top four scores from each company (up to 15 players per team) comprise a team’s score, so recreational players can compete without the fear that they are “bringing down” their colleagues.
With a simple online check-in process and no downloads, roster submissions, memberships, or powerhouse chess teams from within the industry, the NACCL is very accessible and straightforward, meanwhile emphasizing engagement, team building, and the popularization of our royal game.
376 out of the 427 players checked-in for week 1 – each “week” consists of two 15+5 (15 minutes plus 5 second increment per move) games played on Thursday evening. With 23 players rated over 2000 competing, this is a strong yet diverse player field.
The top two seeds are Grandmasters Akshayraj Kore (Capital One) and Ashwin Jayaram (Wells Fargo). Both GMs are from India, attended U.S. universities on chess scholarships, and have the same USCF rating of 2571! International Master Arthur Shen (Susquehanna International Group) skipped this week, so on board 3 was FIDE Master Kyron Griffith from Lyft. Earlier this month, Kyron earned his second “IM norm” for an exceptional performance at an over-the-board championship at the Charlotte Chess Center. Kyron boasts a USCF rating in the high 2400s and scored 2-0 for his team today, including this instructive win in round 2:
Another feature of the league is that it truly is “North American,” as companies from Canada, Mexico, and the United States may compete. Jonathan Wang (Uber) defeated Jaime Xiang (Imperial Tobacco Canada), after Xiang, rated 1050, missed a great chance late in the endgame.
Players of all levels are competing in the NACCL, and it is refreshing to see that fashionable Grandmaster openings are also played by recreational players. The below game between Andrew Whited (IBM) and Joshua Shepherd (Google) saw White’s London System against Black’s King’s Indian Defense in what was truly an up-and-down affair.
With two rounds in the books, four teams scored the maximum 8 points – Lyft, Qualcomm, Jump Trading, and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, while Susquehanna International Group (SIG), Google, The Decision Company, DuckDuckGo, and Imperial Tobacco Canada are just behind them with 7.5 points. The top four player scores within each company contribute to the team standings, which can be seen here.
In addition to team prizes, the league offers individual prizes for the top performers. With nearly 400 players competing in week 1, there were certainly some upsets, but most of the top competitors made it through unscathed. 84 players move to 2-0 on the individual standings, but with an accelerated pairing system and closer matchups coming up in week 2, the number of perfect scores will be whittled down.
NACCL Director and FIDE Master Peter Giannatos commentated live on week 1’s games, which you can replay here. In the upcoming week, Peter will be reaching out to all participants to share the weekly improvement seminar schedule (featuring Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky and others) and to schedule each company’s private chess class.
The NACCL thanks its partners lichess and Chessstream for its one-click pairings system which allows such a huge online event to start seamlessly and promptly and we are looking forward to a great week 2!
We’ve also compiled a small list of some interesting tactics puzzles from games played in week 1 of the league. Test your skills below!
Lichess currently fixing embed codes to enable piece movement. In the meantime, you can click the square in the bottom right corner to solve on lichess directly.