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Miami Sharks, 2013 US Chess League Champions! Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
November 25, 2013
After many years of disappointment, the Miami Sharks are no longer the strongest team *not* to have won a USCL Championship!

The Semis

In the semifinals, Miami won against the San Francisco Mechanics, in a match that came down to Miami’s MVP  GM Renier Gonzalez, who skillfully outplayed GM Daniel Naroditsky to achieve a decisive endgame advantage.

New York secured their spot in the playoffs in an exciting match vs. the New England Nor’Easters, which included this marvelous tactical flurry:

GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 1 – 0 FM Steven Winer (NE) (2nd place Game of the Week)


An incredibly pleasant position for White – the serious advantage in space puts Black at a serious...disadvantage. Both of Black's bishops are bad and the knights aren't looking so hot either. Moreover, White can choose to dictate the action, and here GM Charbonneau went for the throat: 30.g5! 
Initiating a devastating breakthrough on the kingside. 
30...h5 31.f4! 
This idea is key, and now Black cannot prevent White from forcefully opening things up. After that the superiority of White's pieces will be felt and the rest won't take long. 
Trying to keep the position as closed as possible is not a viable solution to Black's problems, since after 31...Rb8 32.f5 Bd8 33.f6 Ne8 everything is locked up, but White has a simple breakthrough: 34.Nxh5!+- and the game is over. 
32.Nxf4 Kh7 
There is nothing to suggest for Black here, White can win in any way they please. 


I think Pascal was already looking forward to his 35th move, but an even quicker way to mate was the immediate sacrifice on h5. 33.Ngxh5 gxh5 34.Nxh5 With the threat of Nxg7, Bd4+ and Qh5, and of course if 34...Nxh5 35.Qxh5+ Kg7 36.Bd4++- Black can resign. 33...Qd7 34.Ngxh5 Nxh5 35.Qxh5+!!

This isn't a true queen "sacrifice" since White is either winning loads of material or just mating by force, but nevertheless an extremely pretty picture. 
35...gxh5 36.e5+ 
The point, White's bishops place Black in a somewhat uncomfortable spot. 
Not much better is 36...Kh8 37.e6+ f6 38.exd7 Rcd8 39.g6+- White wins a rook, followed by everything else. 
37.exf6+ Kh8 38.Ng6+ Kh7 39.Nxe7+ Kh8 40.f7+

One of the most aesthetically pleasing games of the year! 1–0

Striking back on New England's behalf was GM Sam Shankland, who took down GM Tamaz Gelashvili in a complex struggle:

GM Sam Shankland (NE) 1 – 0 GM Tamaz Gelashvili (NY) (Game of the Week!)


In this rich middlegame, Shankland decided to liven things up with 
It seems reckless to open up his own king, but I like this idea a lot. Taking a page out of Nimzowitsch's book, Sam attacks Black's pawn chain at the base! This strike at f5 is meant to weaken the e4-pawn, thus activating the light squared bishop. 29...Bxd4 Gelashvili decides to exchange off the powerful knight in order to ease some of the pressure off the kingside. 
Capturing the pawn is not recommended, since White gets a near decisive advantage after 30.Bxe4 Bxe4 31.Qxe4 Nxd6 32.cxd6 Rxd6 33.Nf5! Here White has a safer king and the more active pieces, and I doubt Black can survive. 

Now Black has a choice of winning a pawn with Nxd6 or grabbing the exchange with Bb3, but both players, as well as myself, figured that White would get fantastic compensation for it. 
30...Bb3 was perhaps the critical test of 29.g4, but after 31.Qd2 Bxd1 32.Qxd1 The g4 pawn is still relevant, and soon Black's kingside will become quite vulnerable. Practically speaking White's chances are definitely to be preferred here.
31.cxd6 Rxd6 32.Qc5 
Black's up a pawn but White's activity and pressure surely offer full compensation. 
32...Rf6 33.Rxd5! 
Sam continues to play energetically, a perfectly justified sacrifice. 
33...cxd5 34.Rxd5 Rb8! 
Black's only chance to survive is to activate their major pieces as soon as possible. Otherwise it's simply a matter of time before White launches a decisive assault. 
35.gxf5 Rb1+ 36.Bf1


It seems like White has conceded something, but Black still has to deal with the threat of Qd4, followed by infiltration with the rook or just Qxe4. 
36...Kh7 37.Qd4! Kh6 38.Rd7 Qf8 39.Qxe4

Spotted instantly by Houdini and was the most precise way to victory, but Shankland's choice is the more human move. The threat is Qh2#, but after either Rxf5 or Rf7 White has to find a long series of precise moves to seal the deal. One mistake and the initiative can slip away, but after 39.Qxe4 White threatens mate with Qh1 but also keeps their options open and wins an important pawn.
An error in an already near-hopeless position. 39...Qb4! was the last way to really make a fight out of it, but after 40.Rd4 all of White's possibilities remain alive and I don't think the final result is in doubt. 40.Bc4 Renewing the threat of Qh1# 40...Rxc4 41.Qxc4 Rxf5 42.Qc6+!

One last precise move and Black had to resign. Qf6 loses to Rd6, while Rf6 and Kh5 both lead to a quick mate. A nice game by Shankland to earn Game of the Week! 1–0

This tied the match up at 1-1, but IM Akshat Chandra outplayed his opponent in mutual time pressure and New York advanced to the finals for the fourth time in their history.


The finals

Miami’s USCL history includes losing to Baltimore in the 2005 finals, to New York in 2009, and New England in 2010, as well as two semifinal exits against Dallas in 2007 and 2008. But in a spirited showing last Wednesday, the Sharks defeated the New York Knights 3.5 – 0.5 to capture their first, long-awaited USCL Championship title.

Although the final score was lopsided, it was only because New York fell behind early and had to scramble to try and even up the score. On the top board GM Julio Becerra and GM Tamaz Gelashvili decided to risk everything by playing one of the sharpest opening lines in all of chess, the Sicilian Dragon: Yugoslav Attack. This game was full of thematic ideas – White opened the h-file and traded off the “Dragon” bishop with Bh6, while Black managed to double rooks on the c-file and sacrificed the exchange with Rxc3. Then came 21.Rxh5! And it was all over. This early win (in Fischer's style) put Miami in the lead.


On board two GM Pascal Charbonneau won a pawn early on against GM Renier Gonzalez, but started to drift later in the middlegame and placed all of his pieces awkwardly on the queenside. Then 33...Bg5 must have come as a real shock, forcing White to make even more concessions after which the position was beyond saving.


Down 2-0 the match looked pretty bleak for New York, needing to win both of the two remaining games to even the score. IM Akshat Chandra and NM Nicolas Checa tried to mix things up, but could only manage 0.5/2 (Chandra definitely had winning chances, but erred in the complications and ended up losing).



And with that, Miami fans finally got their wish, and can thank GMs Julio Becerra and Renier Gonzalez, who combined for 5.5/6 points in the playoffs!

Make sure to check out Uschessleague.com for more news, team blogs, and the upcoming Game of the Year contest. It's been a pleasure covering the league this year, until next time!