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Boston Blitz Heads to Championship Print E-mail
By Robby Adamson   
November 15, 2007
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Boston Blitz team members and Denys Shmelov and Ilya Krasik celebrate
The Semifinals of the playoffs in the US Chess League kicked off Wednesday night with the Boston Blitz facing the New York Knights.  I guess it is appropriate that with the World Champ Boston Red Sox, the undefeated New England Patriots (save the Spy-gate controversy), and the still undefeated Boston Celtics, that Boston’s chess team be in the playoffs.  

While many predicted these teams would meet in the playoffs, it did not appear that would materialize after a few weeks. The Blitz and the Knights took very different routes to the playoffs.  The Boston Blitz won the East Division by defeating Philadelphia in the last regular season match, and thus received a first round bye in the playoffs, and draw odds for their match with NY.  The New York Knights however, overcame a terrible start to the year, and had to win their last regular season match to make the playoffs, as well as defeat second place Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs in order to face Boston.

    On board one, New York’s GM Hikaru Nakamura, fresh off two incredible international performances in Corsica and Barcelona , squared off against GM Larry Christiansen, who was undefeated in the US Chess League this year. Line-up choice for the other boards were affected by GM Perelshteyn and IM Irina Krush playing in the Spice Cup in Lubbock, Texas. On second board, New York played their other eligible GM ), Pascal Charbonneau, facing off against untitled but unquestionably IM-strength Jorge Sammour Hasbun.  Board 3 and 4 both featured regular season rematches between Boston’s NM Denys Shmelov and IM Jay Bonin (Shmelov held 1.5-.5 edge), while NM Chris Williams hoped to overcome an earlier loss to NY’s NM Iryna Zenyuk.

    Although the lineups for both teams did not surprise, it was mildly surprising to see New York choose White on boards 1 and 3.  I expected New York to choose Black on these boards to give their second and fourth boards a better chance to win with the white pieces, especially since Hikaru is better suited to play either White or Black and could hold his own with Back against Christiansen. New York was gambling that Hikaru would be able to defeat Christiansen with White. Enough guesswork, lets look at the games.

    The anticipated match-up between Nakamura and Christiansen started in a slow-paced Ruy Lopez with 5.d3. Hikaru, as has been his usual practice, played incredibly quickly throughout, but never seemed to get much of an advantage. Once Hikaru had to play 33.b4  to prevent Christiansen’s king from penetrating the queenside, Christiansen’s task to draw was quite easy because Hikaru’s c6-knight was limited in scope and the b4 pawn was stuck on the same color as black’s bishop.

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Position after 33.b4


 Soon after this point, the game ended in a draw.



Because Larry was Black, and Boston had draw odds, the result of this game had to be a big boost to the Blitz.

    Based on the board one result, New York needed to win 2 of the other 3 boards in order to advance to the finals. The rematch between Chris Williams and Iryna Zenyuk started off in bizarre fashion with Chris playing 7.Bd2?!, which upon first glance, looked like it could have been a mouse-slip, and continued with 14.Kf1.

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Position after 7.Bd2


Unfortunately for Iryna, she was unable to capitalize on what appeared to be a nice advantage. Iryna’s subsequent piece sacrifice did not yield nearly enough compensation and after a few careful moves, Chris netted the full point.



    So with the score 1.5-.5 in Boston’s favor, New York had to go all out in the two remaining games. In the most interesting game of the night, GM Pascal Charbonneau seemed to have a nice advantage over Jorge Sammour Hasbun. Even though it seemed Jorge did not have adequate compensation for the pawn, the position was far from clear.  As Jorge always seems to do, he created a complicated position.  With time pressure starting to set in, Pascal missed several opportunities. Perhaps his best chance to win was after Jorge erred with 29.Ra1? and instead of the very natural 29..Rg7, Black missed 29…Qd2! which would have won the b4-pawn. 

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Position after 29.Ra1


Although many other winning tries were suggested for those following live on ICC, there was no obvious winning line. After this missed opportunity, Jorge defended very well.

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Position after 35. Rh4


Pascal subsequently blundered with 33…Qg5??, which allowed 34. Rf4 Qh6 35.Rh4!, winning a queen for a rook and sealing the deal for the Blitz to advance to the finals.



    In the last game to finish, IM Jay Bonin won a dead lost endgame against previously unbeaten NM Denys Shmelov, who must have relaxed, had a drink or two, and been subject to a bear-hug from Chris Williams after Boston had clinched the win. Shmelov defended Jay’s best attempts to win, but because of some careless play, allowed Jay’s king to march in and win.  I cannot help but think that if the result of this game would have affected the overall match score that Denys would have defended well and at a minimum draw. 



    After all the dust settled, Boston won the match 2.5-1.5, and advances to face the winner of next Monday’s match-up (11-19, at 7 PM) between West division winner Dallas Destiny and West division wildcard-winner, Miami Sharks.  Like Boston, Dallas will have draw odds, and the pressure will be on 2006 and 2007 USCL MVP Julio Becerra to come up big for Miami.
 
    Check out the numerous articles, interviews, blogs, and playoff predictions at www.uschessleague.com . ICC is providing live coverage.

FM Robby Adamson is lawyer in Tucson, Arizona, and organizer of the Western Invitational Chess Camp.
 
 
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