In one of the most riveting and closest matches in U.S. Chess History, the San Francisco Mechanics prevailed over the New York Knights to become 2006 U.S. Chess League Champions. The match had enough twists and turns to cause Mechanics Manager and player, IM John Donaldson to say: " For a while I thought the Mechanics' should have invested in a defibrillator."
During the first half of the match, San Francisco's positions looked favorable or equal on all boards.
U.S. Junior Champion Robert Hess has a specialty for turning around the worst positions, which he has demonstrated time and again during the last four weeks for Knights. IM Dmitry Zilberstein did not heed his team-mate Josh Friedel's light-hearted advice to go for a worse position against Hess....and was accordingly punished in Hess's usual resourceful style.
GM Pascal Charbonneau continued the turn-around by coming up with the stunning Be5!! on board one. What had looked hopeless a few moves before was suddenly a tricky endgame with winning chances for Pascal! Josh defended well and even had the better of it in the very end, requiring accurate technique for Pascal to get the draw. A nail-chomper of a game!
Board two looked very drawish for a long time, but David Pruess got the better of the endgame against Irina Krush , scoring a victory for San Francisco.
Board four looked totally hopeless for the Mechanics, but Herman, in time pressure for much of the game, finally faltered and gave up the draw to the determined Shankland. The score was 2:2.
Thrilling tiebreak system
The tiebreak system, a series of 5 minute games with 5 second increment is thrilling and complex. One game is played at a time, with the lowest boards facing off against each other first. Whenever a player loses or draws, he or she is eliminated and the next board fills in. An exception is the first board, who cannot get eliminated on a draw.
Knights' and supporters stayed at the Marshall Chess Club till 1:30 AM for the playoffs.
In the case of the USCL playoffs, Mechanics 4th board Shankland won against his Knights' counterpart, Matthew Herman. Herman was replaced by Hess, who drew against Shankland. Hess and Shankland were thus both eliminated. Another draw followed, between Zilberstein and Krush. Pascal Charbonneau was the only Knight left to sword fight, while Mechanics David Pruess and Josh Friedel were both eager to "fix cars."
David got off to a good start achieving a totally crushing position against Pascal that had most of the Knights shaking their heads, trying to convince themselves that Pascal had a prayer to survive. And then, with each passing move, it became more and more real: Pascal was coming back! Pascal managed to coordinate three pieces, which he used to devastating effect against David's lonesome queen. After this game, the crowd at the Marshall burst into applause and Robert Hess exlaimed: "This is why we play chess!" On ICC, Smallville mocked the game, hinting that next year he may join in USCL activities to show fans how to properly follow through crushing attacks. So perhaps this extraordinarily exciting game will indirectly lead to the inclusion of the strongest league participant yet....
Ten Decisive Minutes
Friedel replaced Pruess. Three months of competition would come down to this head to head match between top guns for the Knights and the Mechanics. Josh achieved a great position from the opening, and followed through with accuracy to clinch the Championship for the Mechanics.
Victory for the jubilant Mechanics!
IM Josh Friedel scored the crucial win for San Francisco.
The title of U.S. Chess League Championship has switched coasts from Baltimore (2005) to San Francisco. Next year, with two expansion teams, the competition is sure to be even stiffer.
Visit uschessleague.com for stats,blogs, more games and to read about the All Star Team, and what's in store for next year!
Watch for the February Chess Life Magazine with a Chess League highlights article by USCL Commissioner IM Greg Shahade.