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US Chess League Week 10: Playoff Dreams Realized & Crushed Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
November 1, 2010
USCLmainlogo.jpgSeasons were made, dreams were crushed, and records were broken in Week ten of the 2010 United States Chess League. For several teams, this was the unofficial first round of the playoffs-win or go home. In the East, everyone was closely following the match between the New Jersey Knockouts and the Baltimore Kingfishers. If the Knockouts won the match 4-0, they'd be in the playoffs, but their hopes did not last long as Baltimore won the match 3-1, putting them ahead of the 4th place New York Knights.  The New England Nor'easters will play the New York Knights in the first round of the playoffs, while the Boston Blitz will face the Baltimore Kingfishers.

The long-lasting mess of playoff chances, hopes, and scenarios finally cleared up in the Western Division. The Chicago Blaze defeated the Dallas Destiny 2.5-1.5 to clinch second place, the Miami Sharks defeated the San Francisco Mechanics 3-1 to finish in third place, and the Seattle Sluggers defeated the Saint Louis Archbishops 3-1 to grab the last playoff spot. The division champion Arizona Scorpions were upset by the last place Los Angeles Vibe, 3-1, in a match that had absolutely zero effect on playoff seating. Arizona will play Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, while the Chicago Blaze will face the Miami Sharks.

In other news, the New England Nor'easters, easily the strongest team this season, now have a serious argument for being the strongest team of all time, as after a 3-1 win over the Manhattan Applesauce they finish the regular season with a 9.5-0.5 record, the best of all time! Miami's GM Julio Becerra became the 2010 USCL MVP, holding a league-leading 24 MVP points. This is GM Becerra's third MVP award! GM Sergey Erenburg of Baltimore came in second place with 20 MVP points, and GM Hikaru Nakamura of Saint Louis came in third, with 19 MVP points.

Visit uschessleague.com for the final standings, recaps, playoff line-ups, and more! Don't forget to track the progress of the Quarterfinals or watch them live on the Internet Chess Club. The Eastern playoffs take off on November 1st, Monday and the Western Quarterfinals on November 3rd, Wednesday. 11/2/10 Update: Boston and New England Advance! Now let's give out some awards for Week 10:

Most Exciting Match
Winner: San Francisco Mechanics vs. Miami Sharks

Not only was this already a match between two historically strong teams, but the winner of this match would find themselves in the playoffs. This made the games very exciting indeed, as every player was playing for the win right from the start. GM Jesse Kraai really went after GM Julio Becerra, having a positional advantage for most of the game, but fell victim to another vicious counterattack (see Gurevich-Becerra from last week), and GM Becerra only agreed to a draw after the match was clinched for Miami.


IM Dmitry Zilberstein desperately tried to create some winning chances against the higher rated GM Renier Gonzalez but could not achieve anything in the rook and pawn endgame.


FM Andy Lee launched a very dangerous attack against FM Marcel Martinez, who defended very nicely and won too much material for the attack to continue.


Expert Nicholas Rosenthal was able to exploit his clear advantage against NM Yian Liou by forcing a classic "good-knight vs. bad-bishop" endgame, and converting it quite nicely.


Most Interesting Opening

Winner: IM Julio Sadorra (DAL) - GM Mesgen Amanov (CHC)
Queen's Gambit Declined: Vienna Variation

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4
The Vienna variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined
5.e4 Bb4 6.Bxc4!?

A very rare move that's been played recently by players such as Carlsen, Mamedyarov and Eljanov. White sacrifices a pawn for fast development and an easy initiative
6...Nxe4 7.0-0 Nxc3

7...Nf6 has also been tried
8.bxc3 Be7
8...Bd6 has been tried but White gets a dangerous attack with 9.Ng5; 8...Bxc3?! looks very speculative after a continuation like 9.Rb1 0-0 10.Qd3 Ba5 11.Ng5 g6 12.Qh3 h5 13.g4
9.Ne5 has been played more often but it looks like Black is doing fine there
9...0-0 10.Re1!?N
A natural novelty--White places his rook to put pressure down the e-file [Mamedyarov, S - Kosteniuk, A 2009 continued 10.Rd1 c6 11.Bf4 Nd7 12.Rd3 with the initiative]

Black could also probably try 10...Nd7 with the idea of bringing the knight to f6 and developing the light-squared bishop via b7-b6.
11.Qe4 Bf6 12.h4!
Black still has to figure out how to develop his queenside, so White launches an early attack
12...Ne7 13.Bd3 g6 14.Bg5!?

Trading off a strong defensive piece seems like a good idea here, but it also simplifies the position a bit (14.h5 is probably worth trying).
14...Bxg5 15.hxg5 Bd7 16.Ne5 Bc6 17.Qh4 Nf5 18.Qf4 Qd6=
White has definite compensation for the pawn, but  I think Black is holding here. IM Sadorra went on to win a very complicated game thanks to some defensive errors by GM Amanov. This variation remains unexplored and more games are needed to determine the validity of the pawn sacrifice.

Most Intriguing Endgame

Winner: IM Lev Milman (MAN) - IM Sam Shankland (NE)

In the following position, IM Shankland played
19...Nxf2 planning after 20.Rxe6 to play 20...Nxd1! which forces 21.Rxd6 Nxc3+ 22.Bxc3 Bxd6
And we've reached an endgame where Black has 2 rooks and a pawn for a Queen, but has weaknesses on the kingside as well as some vulnerable queen-side pawns.

23.Nh4! was much stronger because the natural 23...Nf8 does not gain a tempo against the White queen as in the game, and after 24.Ng6 Rd8 25.Nh8! White will be have a clear advantage. 23...f4 would be best, with an unclear position.
23...Bc7 24.Nh4 Nf8

24...Nf6! gives Black a winning advantage because if 25.Nxf5? Black wins after 25...Re8 26.Qc4 Nd5 27.Qd3 Ref8 winning a piece due to the threat of mate on f1. 25. Qb3 would be best but Black is then almost fully coordinated and ready to push the kingside majority.
25.Qb3 Rd8?!
25...Re8! leads to a clear advantage after 26.Qxb7 Bg3 27.Qxc6 Re6 28.Qh1 Bxh4 29.Qxh4 f4 where White will probably have to give up his bishop for the f-pawn.
This allows Black to completely coordinate all his pieces and win the important h5-pawn. 26.Ng6 Rd5 27.Nxf8 Rxf8 28.Qxb7 is best for White--the position remains very unclear.
26...Rd5 27.Ne3 Rxh5 28.a4 Bf4
29.Nc4 Rd5!
The rook on d5 is a very nice piece, blocking White's counterplay and controlling a lot of space.
30.Na5 h5!
With everything ready to go, IM Shankland begins to push his passed pawn. 30...g5 is actually better, because after 31.Nxb7 g4 32.Na5 g3 33.Nxc6 g2 34.Qxd5 does not cover the queening square as in the game 34...g1Q+-+.
31.Nxb7 h4 32.Na5 h3 33.Nxc6 Rdd7 34.Bb4 h2 35.Qh3

35.Qf3 was better but Black wins after 35...g5.
35...Rf6 36.Bxf8 Kxf8 37.Qh8+ Kf7 38.Qh5+ Kg8 39.d5 g6 40.Qh3 Rh7  0-1
Once again, very interesting endgame play by IM Shankland!

Best Move
Winner: GM Varuzhan Akobian (SEA) - GM Yury Shulman (STL)

In this position, GM Akobian played
A nice combination that required a very accurate evaluation of the resulting position

if 21...Rxf6 then White wins with 22.Qxe5! Qxe5 23.Bxe5 Rf7 24.Bxc6 Rb8 25.Rd8++-
22.Bxe5 Qf7 23.Bxc6 Rb8 24.Qd2±

White has two pawns for the piece, full control of the open files, and two very strong bishops. Black is poorly coordinated and has not even connected rooks yet. [24.Qf3 Be6 25.Bxc7 Qxc7 26.Rxe6 Nd4 27.Rxd4 Rxf3 28.Bxf3 is also very good for White, but Black does have drawing chances]

giving back material, if [24...Bb7 25.Bd7 is very strong]
25.Bd5 Nxd5 26.Bxb8 Nf6 27.Bd6 Rd8 28.Qc3±

White is now up in material, having a rook and two pawns for two lowly knights. GM Akobian went on to win this game quite nicely.

Mystery Category: Tactics in the Exchange Slav

Winner: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) - GM Giorgi Kacheishvili
It is a common belief that the Exchange Slav is one of the more "boring" openings, but that was definitely not the case here as SM Sammour-Hasbun began a powerful attack in the opening and continued it all the way throughout the game.


Try to see if you can predict White's moves! Update: This game was also awarded Game of the Week honors! 

That's all for this week! Check back here every week for USCL highlights. Follow all PLAYOFF action live on the Internet Chess Club starting tonight, Monday November 1, and find pgn downloads, line-ups, blogs and Game of the Week details on http://www.uschessleague.com/

For more of Kostya's writing (and cartoons!), check out the LA Vibe team blog, http://happychess.blogspot.com/

July - Chess Life Online 2010

The Chess Party Begins in Irvine Irina Krush Victory Rap The Odds at the DenkerPan-Am Youth Squad Heads to BrazilNew FIDE Titles for AmericansBullyproof Chess Arbiter Update: From the World School to Online TrainingUS Chess School Comes to Dallas US Women's and Juniors Closing Gallery Datta Wins Record Smashing U.S. Junior OpenThe Denker Turns 25 in Irvine, California The US Senior Open Returns to Boca Raton Berkeley International Returns in 2011Chess Boy Scouts Merit Badge Announced in Saint Louis Tatev Abrahamyan Wins 2010 US Women's Fighting Spirit Award Sevillano Triumphs in Agoura HillsA Perfect Storm Leads IM Sam Shankland to US Junior titleNietman and Walters Elected to USCF Executive Board Krush crowned; three-way tie atop Junior leaderboardMitkov Takes 2010 Chicago Class Krush and Zatonskih Tied in Women; Zhao Creeps Closer to Robson in JuniorsA Chess Mom on the US Junior Closed Zatonskih Maintains Lead; Robson Pulls Away in JuniorsYang and Liou Share Cadet TitleZatonskih Still Leads at the US Women's; Zhao FaltersLiou Leads the 2010 Cadet ChampionshipZatonskih and Zhao bring their A-GameKislik and Naroditsky Earn IM Norms in HungaryAdelberg and Ostrovskiy Take An Early Lead In CadetZhao Leads Junior Closed, Zatonskih and Krush WinUS Cadet Championship OpensHarper Leads Juniors; Favorites Break Streak at the Women'sDaniel Naroditsky Earns IM Norm in Hungary Stage Set for Epic Showdown at U.S. Women's ChampionshipFighting Chess in round 1 of US Womens and US Juniors Pairings Set for 2010 U.S. Women's and Junior Closed ChampsChess Talk with Yasser Seirawan The Scoop on the World Open A Parent's Perspective on Chess Camps July Grand Prix Update Vik(c)tors Top the World OpenNakamura to Comment on Opening Weekend of US Junior and US Women's The Origins of National Chess Day Laznicka Pulls Away at the World Open GMs Battle as World Open Merge Approaches Hilton on Arriving in Valley Forge The July Check is in the Mail The US Chess Scoop on Valley Forge: Part I