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US Chess League Opens with Fireworks Print E-mail
By Arun Sharma   
August 29, 2010
The inaugural week of the US Chess League's sixth season has shattered crystal balls of those brave enough to predict this year's results. The carnage began on Monday when the biggest rivalry in the League (Boston vs. New York) was decided in a sweep. By the end of opening day, the three teams with the best regular season records last year, New Jersey, Boston, and Seattle, along with the team that many were calling the favorites to win the Championship this year, Saint Louis, had all gone down in defeat. 

Some order was restored on Wednesday with three of the four favorites managing to win in some very tight matches. After such a crazy set of results on opening day, week two should be interesting, with each match pitting a team which won its first match against a team that lost its first match. See the lineups and schedule here. 

Now let's see what transpired in Week 1!
 
New York Knights vs. Boston Blitz


As mentioned above, this is unquestionably the biggest rivalry in the USCL, with these two teams having met twelve times over the seasons, including three playoff showdowns. On the top board, GM Alex Lenderman vs. GM Larry Christiansen quickly became double edged after a tricky opening.  While for the majority of the middlegame both sides definitely seemed to have their chances, eventually Lenderman showed why he has an incredible near perfect league record. He got the best of the tactics and cleanly converted a material advantage.



A somewhat messy affair, and the encounters on boards two and four were really no less so.  But just as in this game, the New York players managed to turn the tactics to their favor when it counted. GM Pascal Charbonneau knocked off SM Denys Shmelov and NM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy defeated NM Ilya Krasik.  The smoothest game was FM Alec Getz’s win over NM Vadim Martirosov. Getz used a nice shot in the following position:

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And with that, the defending champion New York Knights, who have tended to struggle in the early part of the season – having lost their opening match the last three seasons, swept the Boston Blitz, the team with far and away the best overall regular season record in the League the past few years.

Philadelphia Inventors vs.
New Jersey Knockouts


Pundits may have thought this was an easy match to call. New Jersey amassed an incredible 8 – 2 regular season record last year while the Inventors have finished below par almost every season.  But as usual things are never that simple in the league. On board Two, FM Tom Bartell put an end to GM Boris Gulko’s streak of eight straight wins.



Along with this shocker, after an interesting early Pawn sacrifice, recently unretired veteran FM Karl Dehmelt found a nice shot against young FM Arthur Shen:

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Although GM Joel Benjamin scored victory on the top board over IM Bryan Smith, league veteran IM Richard Costigan ground down Sean Finn in an ending and the Inventors pulled off the surprising 3 – 1 victory.
 
Saint Louis Arch Bishops vs. Los Angeles Vibe


The Arch Bishops and the Vibe kicked off the Western Division with a highly anticipated face-off by two expansion teams. A Southern California team had been talked of for years, while the relocation of GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Ben Finegold to Saint Louis made for an obvious expansion choice.  The Arch Bishops were unable to have top gun Nakamura for their first match, but still most called them the favorites, as GM Yury Shulman was available to play board one. Indeed, board one went the way of the Arch Bishops with Shulman producing a nice attacking effort to defeat GM Melikset Khachiyan.

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Despite the early setback, FM Alexandre Kretchetov of the Vibe gained a dominating position against GM Ben Finegold while the heavy rating favorite NM Ankit Gupta nursed a small edge against Spencer Finegold.  After Gupta managed to grind out a win in an endgame, FM Joel Banawa also managed to get the better of the complications of a crazy opening against IM Michael Brooks.  Kretchetov made a match strategic draw offer, which paid off as soon after it was accepted. Banawa’s extra Pawns compelled his opponent’s resignation, handing Los Angeles a win in their inaugural match.


 
Seattle Sluggers vs. Chicago Blaze


Losing Nakamura has not deterred the Slugger’s enthusiasm. They added GM Varuzhan Akobian and FM Costin Cozianu to the roster, allowing a bevy of strong lineups.  Unfortunately, with none of their top players in the lineup for the first week, they ended up using a much lower rated lineup against the resurgent Chicago Blaze who added two new GMs, Dmitry Gurevich and Mesgen Amanov to their team.  Despite the fair rating disadvantage on all but one of the boards, after an uneventful draw on Board Three, young Alex Guo played a spectacular game to upset recent US Junior competitor NM Eric Rosen. It was highlighted by a great shot:

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A very successful debut for Guo in the League, but unfortunately for him it did not manage to come with the right team result as IM Florin Felecan played a smooth game to knock off FM Michael Lee.  The major breath taker was on Board One between FM Slava Mikhailuk and GM Dmitry Gurevich. All three results seemed possible in the late stage of the game while the match was tied at 1.5.  Eventually White’s Kingside threats proved  insufficient, and Black’s break through on the Queenside netted him material and eventually the game, giving the Blaze the tightest of wins.



 
Manhattan Applesauce vs.
Carolina Cobras


With many eagerly anticipating the first Manhattan match (perhaps more for the team name than anything!), it seemed a foregone conclusion that “the Sauce” would start their season off with a win given their large rating advantage on the top three boards.  However, the early trend seemed indicate anything but that with IM Dmitry Schneider and IM Jonathan Schroer playing a very drawish line on the top board while NM Udayan Bapat seemed to be getting the far better of his encounter against Manhattan’s young phenom, James Black.  But as has happened countless times in the USCL, a combination of time pressure and resourcefulness managed to turn the result a hundred eighty degrees as James found a nice tactic to win material.

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A tough loss for Carolina as they had a great chance to score in this match with a point seeming to be in the bag on Board Four, the only place where they held a rating advantage.  On Board Three, a game that seemed firmly in Manhattan’s clutches took a similar turn as NM Craig Jones played a nice counterattack to defeat SM Gregory Braylovsky.



And with Board One indeed drawing as seemed likely, the tied match fell to a battle between FM Ron Simpson and IM Eli Vovsha. Vovsha seemed to gain the best of the opening, but Simpson found a nice practical try with 16. Re5!  A tricky set of moves followed, leaving both players in blitz mode once the endgame arrived.  Despite time pressure, Vovsha played smoothly and converted his endgame edge giving the Applesauce a narrow but well deserved victory.


 
New England Nor’easters vs.
Baltimore Kingfishers


The Nor’easters entered this match with a surprising hundred point rating advantage on nearly every board – not generally the welcome most teams expect in their first USCL match.  The match seemed to be trending the way the statistics would have pointed with New England achieving superior middlegames on Boards One, Two, and Four with Board Three fairly level.  IM Robert Hungaski used an outside passed Pawn to compel an exchange sacrifice from IM Tegshsuren Enkbhat and then converted his extra material without trouble.  However, on Board Four, Baltimore’s NM Ian Schoch found a dangerous shot against FM Christopher Chase  in this position.

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While Chase had a few opportunities to refute the interesting sacrifice, a combination of time pressure and being in a tricky position resulted in disaster when Schoch broke through for a material advantage.



Board Three was headed for a draw, so the match would come down to WGM Sabina Foisor and IM David Vigorito on board two.  Vigorito achieved an opening edge, with a powerful Knight on d4 and a menacing attack.  However, Foisor defended very resourcefully, forcing her opponent to find some accurate moves. Foisor’s stubbornness managed to force the game into a tricky Rook ending.  But despite her best efforts, an outside passed Pawn proved to be decisive as Vigorito skillfully converted the endgame, giving the Nor’easters a close and entertaining victory in their first USCL match.



San Francisco Mechanics vs.
Dallas Destiny


Another one of the oldest rivalries in the USCL, with both of these teams having been at the top of the Western Division for many seasons and between them accounting for three of the last four USCL Championships.  The match started fairly tamely, with the only real fireworks occurring on Board Four with Dallas’s NM Nelson Lopez breaking out the rarely seen King’s Gambit.  Somewhat ironic for the Mechanics’ to face that given that the only other recent time in the League this opening was displayed was in San Francisco’s heartbreaking Semifinal loss last season to Miami. They were on the right end of it this time with FM Andy Lee smoothly refuting the daring opening and quickly putting San Francisco up a game.



The Board Three encounter between FMs Steven Zierk and Keaton Kiewra was a fairly up and down struggle where both sides seemed to have minor chances at points but eventually fizzled out to a trivial opposite color Bishop ending.  The real clincher for the Mechanics was FM Daniel Naroditsky’s smooth positional crunch in a King’s Indian over IM Salvijus Bercys.



Despite San Francisco having the match well in hand for majority of it, the game on Board One between GM Patrick Wolff and IM Puchen Wang was hotly contested, with an interesting central Knight battle giving way to some very interesting middlegame tactics leaving Wang in a pawn-up endgame.  While attempting to convert, a tough blunder by Wang lost a piece giving San Francisco a resounding victory.


 
Miami Sharks vs. Arizona Scorpions


Miami came into this match as favorites, with a sizable rating advantage along with brandishing two of the most successful players in League history, GM Julio Becerra and NM Eric Rodriguez.  This match was the most topsy turvy of the week with three of the four games seeming to have all three results possible until near the very end. The only exception to the tumultuous tone of the match was IM Daniel Rensch's smooth win against NM Eric Rodriguez – something of a surprise considering Rodriguez’s tremendous success in the USCL compared to Rensch's USCL struggles.
 


Meanwhile, Becerra seemed to be treading in familiar waters in a Ruy Lopez – an opening that he handles superbly.  While he seemed to have a nice edge for much of the game, late in it with time pressure and complications developing, it suddenly was anything but clear.  But if there’s anything Becerra has demonstrated in five seasons in the League is his ability to pull it out in the clutch.  In a position which just previously many had been calling for his resignation, he found a great shot – an idea that had doubtlessly been seen by him many moves prior.

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Meanwhile on board four, FM Charles Galofre had a better opening against John Gurczak. Based on his team-mates positions, Dionisio Aldama must have felt he needed to go all out for the win against IM Blas Lugo.  With Lugo low on time, Aldama played a very daring idea, 30. Ndf5?!.  With only a couple of minutes on his clock, Lugo was unable to defend, giving Aldama an entertaining win.



Gurczak, who had been in trouble earlier in the round, recovered and even had a better ending at some point. But the game soon fizzled out to a draw, giving the Scorpions the narrow victory.

See uschessleague.com for schedule, line-ups, games and pgn file downloads as well as daily links to blogs and predictions from team members and fans.

 
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August - Chess Life Online 2010

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