|US Chess League: Week One Highlights|
|By Kostya Kavutskiy|
|September 4, 2011|
The 2011 US Chess League season kicked off last Monday and
teams picked up right where they left off last year in terms of excitement.
Week 1 featured some highly anticipated matches, starting with the Boston Blitz
taking on the New England Nor'easters, the 2010 Champions, in a rematch of last
year's Eastern Semifinal, which New England won due to draw odds. This time the
Blitz got their revenge, winning 2.5-1.5, thanks to a great victory by SM Jorge
Sammour-Hasbun over IM Robert Hungaski.
This was New England's first ever loss, after a record breaking season last year, and they were probably missing their star player, GM Sam Shankland, who was busy tearing it up in Khanty-Mansisk.
The New York Knights defeated the Baltimore Kingfishers by a score of 2.5-1.5, mainly due to GM Giorgi Kacheishvili's dominant showing over GM Giorgi Margvelashvili, who was making his USCL debut.
The Carolina Cobras beat the New Jersey Knockouts, also by the popular score of 2.5-1.5, and the Manhattan Applesauce drew with the Philadelphia Inventors, which featured a very fine win by Manhattan's IM Lev Milman over league superstar GM Sergey Erenburg, making his Philadelphia debut.
In the Western Division, the Chicago Blaze crushed the Seattle Sluggers, 3.5-0.5, thanks to a clean win by IM Florin Felecan over FM Costin Cozianu.
The San Francisco Mechanics defeated the Saint Louis Archbishops, 2.5-1.5 with wins by IM Daniel Naroditsky and IM David Pruess over FM Joaquin Banawa and FM Doug Eckert.
Meanwhile the Arizona Scorpions cruised to a 2.5-1.5 victory of their own over last year's Western Division champs, the Miami Sharks. IM Levon Altounian and FM Robby Adamson scored the key wins over FM Eric Rodriguez and NM Alberto Hernandez in that encounter.
Last but not least, the Los Angeles Vibe drew with the favored Dallas Destiny, thanks to a heroic win by IM Conrad Holt over FM Joel Banawa, which leads us to our first highlight:
Game of the Week
The game of the week is an official USCL contest (with cash prizes!) judged by league commissioner Greg Shahade and vice president Arun Sharma. You can read the full article here on the USCL blog.
Winner: IM Conrad Holt (DAL) - FM Joel Banawa (LA) 1-0
A very up-and-down game with some amazing tactical ability displayed from both sides. IM Holt was able to steal this one away at the end and save his team from a loss, a great effort!
Week 1 Upset Prize
The weekly upset prize sponsored by Endgame Clothing, is given to the best upset win each week. This week the prize went to Anna Matlin, for her 223 point upset over NM Craig Jones.
Winner: Anna Matlin (NJ) - Craig Jones (CAR) 1-0
A very smooth win from Matlin, who will definitely by seeking more than one upset prize this year.
The rest of the highlights are going to be handpicked by yours truly, and will vary from week to week:
Most Exciting Match
Los Angeles Vibe vs. Dallas Destiny 2-2 (tie)
Although this match was naturally more exciting to me since I'm a member of the Vibe and was at the site watching them play live. The four games (see Holt-Banawa above) in this match were filled with creativity, imagination, and hanging pieces. There were so many hanging pieces!
If I notice a strong novelty or interesting opening play, you'll see it here.
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) - IM Mackenzie Molner (ARZ) 1/2-1/2
1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 Here we have a symmetrical english, nothing special yet... 5.a3 e6 6.b4!?
At first I thought GM Becerra had just blundered a pawn on move 6, but after checking the database I found that other players such as Smyslov, Ivanchuk, and Gashimov had also "blundered" the same pawn 6...Nxb4 (6...cxb4 7.axb4 Nxb4 is absolutely the wrong way to accept the pawn as 8.Ba3 Nc6 9.Nb5 is crushing for White; 6...d6 is the most theoretical continuation, where most games have continued 7.Rb1 Nge7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.0-0 b6 10.Qc2 Bb7 0-1 Ivanchuk,V (2779)-Aronian,L 2011) 7.axb4 cxb4 8.Bb2!? This move has only been played once before, more common is (8.d4 bxc3 9.e3 Ne7 10.Ne2 d5 11.cxd5 Nxd5 12.Ba3 with a very unclear position as there have been mixed results from this point) 8...bxc3 9.Bxc3 Bxc3 10.dxc3 Qc7 11.Qd4N e5 12.Qe3 d6 13.Nf3 Ne7 14.0-0 0-0
Now Black is a healthy pawn up, and IM Molner could not have played more naturally to get to this point, which makes me quite skeptical of the future of 8. Bb2. The game later ended in a very messy draw where it seems like Black had missed some opportunites for a decisive advantage.
This category will feature one fantastic tactical shot each week.
GM Varuzhan Akobian (SEA) - GM Dmitry Gurevich (CHC) 1/2-1/2
In the following position, try to guess what GM Gurevich played:
24.Qxc4 (24.Nxc4 Qd5 25.f3 Bxg3-+ and Black threatens both Bxe1 and Ba6) 24...Qf5! The point, with a nasty double attack on c2 and h3 25.Rce2
(25.gxf4 Qxc2-+) 25...Bxe5 This wins back the exchange, but Black had a much strong option available: 25...Qxh3! 26.Re4 (26.Nc6 Bxg3 27.fxg3 Qxg3+ 28.Kf1 Qf3+ 29.Rf2 Qxc6 30.Qxc6 Bxc6-+; 26.f3 Qxg3+ 27.Kf1 Bxe5 28.dxe5 Bxf3-+) 26...Rc8 27.Qf1 (27.Qd3 f5) 27...Qxf1+ 28.Kxf1 Bd2-+; 25...Bd5! 26.Qd3 Qxh3 27.Re4 f5 28.gxf4 Qxd3 29.Nxd3 fxe4 30.Ne5 Rc8-+)
The game was later drawn after Chicago had already clinched the match. Nevertheless, this was some fine tactical awareness by GM Gurevich! Chicago's win was featured in the Skokie Review.
For more blogs and this week's line-ups and matches, go to the US Chess League homepage. Watch live games on Tuesday (instead of Monday due to the Labor Day holiday) and Wednesday night on the Internet Chess Club. Kostya Kavutskiy will also be posting weekly recaps from his team's perspective at thelavibe.blogspot.com.