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Playoffs Set in the US Chess League Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
November 4, 2013
Jeffrey Xiong, USCL MVP
After week nine the playoff teams were already decided, but the top spot in most divisions was still up for grabs. The top spot is particularly valuable since it grants teams advantages in the postseason, such as draw odds in the quarterfinals and choice of color in the semifinals.

The San Francisco Mechanics had already clinched first in the Pacific division, but continued their momentum with a smooth 3-1 win over the Seattle Sluggers.

The Manhattan Applesauce were leading by a half-point in the Atlantic, and beat New Jersey to secure first place as well.

The critical match-ups of week ten included the Dallas Destiny vs. Miami Sharks and the New England Nor'easters vs. Connecticut Dreadnoughts.

Both Dallas and New England were leading their divisions by a half-point, and while the Nor'easters were able to draw their match and keep first place, Dallas was upset by Miami to fall to second in the South.

Here are the final standings after ten weeks of regular season play, with teams advancing to the playoffs in bold:

USCLmainlogo.jpgWestern Conference

South Division

Miami Sharks (7.5 - 2.5)

Dallas Destiny (7 - 3)
St. Louis Arch Bishops (6 - 4)
Carolina Cobras (1 - 9)

Pacific Division

San Francisco Mechanics (6.5 - 3.5)
Los Angeles Vibe (4.5 - 5.5)

Arizona Scorpions (4 - 6)
Seattle Sluggers (3 - 7)

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Manhattan Applesauce (6.5 - 3.5)
New York Knights (5.5 - 4.5)

New Jersey Knockouts (4 - 6)
Philadelphia Inventors (3 - 7)

Northeast Division

New England Nor'easters (7 - 3)
Connecticut Dreadnoughts (6.5 - 3.5)

Boston Blitz (4.5 - 5.5)
Baltimore Kingfishers (3.5 - 6.5)

Playoff Match-ups

The quarterfinals will take place this week, pitting the top two teams from each division:

Eastern Conference

New York Knights vs. Manhattan Applesauce (draw odds)
Connecticut Dreadnoughts vs. New England Nor'easters (draw odds)

Western Conference

Dallas Destiny vs. Miami Sharks (draw odds)
Los Angeles Vibe vs. San Francisco Mechanics (draw odds)

MVP Winners

This year's MVP race was won by FM Jeffrey Xiong of the Dallas Destiny, who basically led from start to finish. Jeffrey went 8-0, playing mostly from the third board, with wins over GM Gonzalez, GM Anka, and GM Kaufman, as well as this humbled CLO writer. Here is Jeffrey's win against GM Renier Gonzalez of the Miami Sharks, played just last week:


Taking second place in the MVP race was GM Zviad Izoria of the Manhattan Applesauce, who went undefeated for the year with wins against other top players, such as GM Akobian, GM Hess, GM Gelashvili, and GM Stripunsky. Here is Izoria's fine technical win over GM Alex Stripunsky of the New Jersey Knockouts:


Third place went to NM Ryan Goldenberg, also from Manhattan, who dominated the fourth board all year and even won last week's Game of the Week contest (analyzed below).

Highlights - here are the two winners of the Game of the Week contest from Weeks 9 and 10:

Week 9

Giorgi Margvelashvili (DAL) - Ben Finegold (STL) 1/2-1/2
(game of the week!)

The following encounter was superb, with both players playing critical moves on their way to the only drawn encounter to win GOTW this season.
Finegold 1.jpg

White had just played Bxe7, expecting Rxe7 as an automatic reply, but instead came 17...Nxh2! A highly unusual move -- which falls within the mysterious realm of zwischenzugs (in-between moves). Black counterattacks the rook and White has no time to save both pieces. 18.0-0-0 Probably best. The critical point comes after 18.Bh4 Nxf1 19.Kxf1, and with two pieces for the rook White is doing great, except for 19...Nb6!-+ winning a piece.

Since the knight is so far away from home, a move like 18.Rh1 would usually punish Black's eccentricity, but here 18...Nf3+ saves the day, since 19.Ke2 runs into 19...Nxd4+, winning the queen.)
18...Nxf1 19.Ba3

Finegold 2.jpg

Although White is down an exchange, they have great compensation -- the minor pieces have use of the d6-square while Black's pieces are fairly inactive. Black's position is definitely to be preferred, but it's hard to make use of the extra material. 19...Nb6 A clever way to defend the loose knight. 20.Nd6 Nd5! Black understands that White's knight on d6 is worth as much as either of his rooks, so he welcomes Nxe8 and instead improves his pieces. 21.Nce4!
Finegold 3.jpg

Thanks but no thanks! White prefers to keep his knight on d6. (21.Nxe8 Rxe8 is much better for Black, who is up a healthy extra pawn and will eventually get his knight back into the game via h2-g4.) 21...Qe2! Leaving the rook hanging once again -- piece activity is key. Black also leaves the b-pawn hanging, hoping to open up files against White's king. 22.Qxb7! Accepting the challenge, trusting that his knight on d6 will keep his king safe by controlling the c8-square. 22...Rf8 23.Qxc6 a5 24.Qc4 Rfc8!
Finegold 4.jpg

Always look for tactics to justify positional ideas! In this case Finegold simply wanted to place his rook on the open c-file, so he made it happen! 25.Bc5 Qxc4+ 26.Nxc4 Nh2 27.Kd2 Ng4 28.f3 Nh6 29.g4
Finegold 5.jpg

A very unbalanced endgame -- Black is up a bit of material but White has great squares for all of their pieces -- the game reached its logical conclusion and the players repeated moves later on. ½-½

Week 10

John Michael Burke (NJ) - NM Ryan Goldenberg (MAN) 0-1 (game of the week!)

NM Ryan Goldenberg has been one of the best players in the league this year, scoring 8.5/10 on the fourth board. This week he finally earned game of the week honors, due to the following sacrificial attack:

Goldenberg 1 (1).jpg
20...Ng3+! 21.hxg3 hxg3+ 22.Kg1 Now the h-file is open, and the g3-pawn is a huge attacking asset, but Black must find a new avenue to attack since Nh3 is always a defensive possibility. 22...Bxe4!
Goldenberg 2 (1).jpg

Taking advantage of White's knight being overloaded, since it must stay on h3 to defend the h-file. 23.Nh3 (23.Nxe4 runs into the common mating pattern: 23...Rh1+ 24.Kxh1 Rh8+! Why not? 25.Kg1 Rh1+ 26.Kxh1 Qh4+ 27.Kg1 Qh2#) 23...Rxh3!? Not a bad idea, sacrificing a full rook for the mating prospects along the h-file, but 23...Bxe3+! was much stronger, with idea 24.Qxe3 Qf5! A hard move to find, but White is forced to give back their extra piece since any move like 25.Nb3 loses to 25...Bxg2! or even 25...Rxh3 ) 24.gxh3 Qh4 25.Bxa7 Qxh3!
Goldenberg 3.jpg

26.Rf3 Forced! 26...Rxa7 27.Nb3 The queen can never leave the 2nd rank on account of Qh2+, followed by g2+ and g1=Q 27...Rc7 28.Nd4 Rc4! White still has their hands full on the kingside, and can't get out of harm's way just yet. 29.Rd1 Bxf3 30.Nxf3 Rxf4
Goldenberg 4.jpg

Black has won back some material, and now has three pawns for the knight, but White's a-pawn remains on the board as an important factor. If Black's attack stalls on the kingside, White will simply promote and win. 31.a5 Qh5?! 32.Nd4 A reasonable move, but not the best...32.Kg2! was strong, since 32...Qxa5 can be met with 33.Qd2 and Black is hard-pressed to find a good move here. 32...Qd5?
Goldenberg 5.jpg

Giving White a chance to practically win the game on the spot! (32...Qc5 would keep the position extremely unclear) 33.c3?? As is often the case, when one side has an opportunity for a game-winning move they instead make a game-losing blunder! Winning was 33.Qb5! a tough move to spot, but very strong, since basically all endgames are winning for White, so Black has to try 33...Qe4 (33...Rxd4 loses elementarily to 34.Qxd5 Rxd5 35.Rxd5 exd5 36.a6+- and the pawn promotes) and now 34.Qd3! Qd5 White has won a crucial tempo here, and can simply play 35.a6 and Black has no way to seriously attack White's king. If 35...Rf2 then the simplest way to victory is to simplify with 36.Nf5+! (36.Qxg3 is also not bad) 36...Qxf5 37.Qxf5 Rxf5 38.Ra1+- and Black will have to give their rook for the a-pawn. 33...Rf2! Simply winning the queen. 34.Qxf2 gxf2+ 35.Kxf2
Goldenberg 6.jpg

And NM Goldenberg was able to win from here without too much difficulty. 0-1

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