Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow US Chess League Week 8 Highlights: Playoffs Loom
US Chess League Week 8 Highlights: Playoffs Loom Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
October 16, 2010
ImageThis week's US Chess League matches had serious playoff implications in both divisions. The highly anticipated bout between the New York Knights and the top ranking New England Nor'easters ended in New England's favor, 2.5-1.5, thanks to a great win by IM Sam Shankland over GM Giorgi Kacheisvili. FM Braden Bournival wrote an interesting blog about the success of New England's season so far. 

Boston, New York, and Baltimore remain in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place, with Manhattan behind by a full point. The New Jersey Knockouts are holding on to their playoff hopes by a thread, but the Carolina Cobras and the Philadelphia Inventors have been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The playoff picture has somewhat cleared up in the Western Division, thanks to a decisive week (no drawn matches in the West). After a close win over the Chicago Blaze, the Arizona Scorpions are now comfortably in 1st place with a 6-2 record, and they have clinched a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Saint Louis Archbishops, with a powerful triple-GM lineup, defeated the San Francisco Mechanics 2.5-1.5. This win moves Saint Louis up to 3rd place, behind Chicago, while the Mechanics now share 4th place with the Miami Sharks, who beat the Los Angeles Vibe. The Dallas Destiny won convincingly over the Seattle Sluggers, but neither team will be able to make the playoffs without a little bit of help.

Visit uschessleague.com for more recaps, news, and lineups for next week! Here are the weekly awards:

Most Exciting Match
Winner: New Jersey Knockouts vs. Manhattan Applesauce

This match was really important, as both teams were trying to keep playoff hopes alive. The result was a drawn match where the top three boards all had serious complications while NM Arthur Shen of New Jersey was able to slowly and impressively outplay his opponent in an equal position.



Most Interesting Opening
Winner: GM Hikaru Nakamura (STL) - GM Josh Friedel (SF)

This game started out very unusually, so it was interesting to see how the Grandmasters developed their pieces and pawns without having theoretical knowledge of the position.

1.f4 g6 2.e4 d5!?
2...Bg7 3.Nf3 d6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 0-0 transposes to the Austrian Attack of the Pirc
3.e5 Nh6!?
This has only been played once before, but the idea is to play Bg4 and post the knight on f5. 3...c5 is the main move.
4.d4N c5 5.dxc5
5.c3 looks natural but after 5...Bg4 6.Be2 Bxe2 7.Nxe2 e6 Black gets a good French Defense where he's already traded off his bad bishop.
5...Nc6 6.Nd2 Bg4
7.Ngf3 leads to interesting developments 7...e6 8.h3 (8.Nb3) 8...Bxf3 (8...Nf5!? 9.Nb3 (9.hxg4 Ne3 10.Qe2 Nxc2+ 11.Kd1 Nxa1 is unclear) 9...Ng3 10.Rg1 Bf5 11.Bb5 Be7 and the position seems dynamically balanced) 9.Qxf3 Bxc5 10.Nb3 Bb6 looks very good for Black.
7...Bxe2 8.Qxe2 Qa5?!
8...e6 was probably the way to go, 9.Nb3 Bxc5! 10.Nxc5 Qa5+ 11.c3 Qxc5= and Black has very few worries.
9.c3 Qxc5 10.Nb3
White will get a get a good blockade square for his knight on d4.
10...Qc4 11.Qxc4 dxc4 12.Nd2 Na5 13.Ngf3+=
White is left with a very pleasant position, an opening success! See how the entire game played out:


Most Intriguing Endgame
Winner: GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) - IM Sam Shankland (NE)


After reaching a theoretically known and unbalanced endgame, IM Sam Shankland was able to outplay on of the top GMs in the United States.
1.c4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.e4 Bxe4
This piece sac was the main line in this opening until just a few years ago.
9.fxe4 Nxe4 10.Bd2 Qxd4 11.Nxe4 Qxe4+ 12.Qe2 Bxd2+ 13.Kxd2 Qd5+ 14.Kc2
This position that has been reached over 400 times. The game continued as usual--players traded queens early and reached an endgame where Black had three healthy pawns for a piece. This line went out of style because White had been able to play on in an equal endgame without risk, and Black had to play very carefully to avoid losing, making sure White didn't use his extra piece to the full extent.
14...Na6 15.Nxc4 0-0 16.Qe5 Rfd8 17.Be2 Nc5 18.Qxd5?!

I think this was a bad exchange for White, because Black's central pawns became very strong. Better would be 18.Rhd1 Qxg2 19.Rxd8+ Rxd8 20.Rd1 Rf8 (20...Rxd1 21.Qb8+) 21.Qxc5 Qxe2+ 22.Rd2 Qe4+ 23.Kb3 with a very unclear position.
18...cxd5 19.Nd2 Rac8
Black's pieces couldn't be better coordinated and he can now start to push his passed pawns forward without risk.
20.Rhc1 e5 21.Kd1
Better was 21.Nb3 Nxb3+ 22.Kxb3 g6.
21...f5!=+ 22.Ra3!
The only way to get the rook into play.
22...Ne6 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Rb3 b6 25.Rb5 Nc7 26.Rb3 Ne6 27.a5
27.Rb5 I think White should repeat moves here, although it is possible that GM Kacheisvili thought he needed to play for a win based on how the match was going. Another factor to consider is that Black can simply play 27...Rd8 28.a5 Rd6 with a slightly better position.
27...Nd4 28.Ra3 e4 29.axb6 axb6 30.Rc3 Rc5
Trading on c5 would be almost hopeless for White.
31.Nb1 Kf7 32.b4 Rxc3?
White gets huge chances to draw after this move [32...Rc6]
33.Nxc3 Ke6 34.Ba6?

Missing an opportunity. 34.b5! is much better as White's bishop stays very useful defending against the central pawns 34...Kd6 35.Na4 Kc7 36.Nc3 Kd6 (36...Nxe2 37.Kxe2 Kd6 38.Na4 d4 39.Nxb6 Kc5 40.Nc8 Kxb5 41.Nd6+ Kc5 42.Nxf5 g6 43.Ne7 Kd6 44.Nc8+ Ke5 probably leads to a draw) 37.Na4=; 34.Na4 b5 35.Nc3 Nc6-+
34...Nc6! 35.b5
35.Na4 Nxb4 36.Bc8+ Ke5 37.Nxb6 d4 is better, but Black still has good winning chances.
Heading to c4 to protect the b6 pawn if necessary.
36.Kc2 Ke5 37.Bc8 h5!
Removing access to the g4 square once Black pushes the f-pawn, meaning the white bishop won't be able to defend properly.
Obviously, the h-pawn will be lost after Bd7-e8, but IM Shankland might have already seen to the end of the game, realizing that the Bd7-e8 maneuver would take way too much time. 38.Bxf5 Kxf5 39.Nxd5 Nc4 40.Kc3 Nd6 41.Kd4 Nxb5+ 42.Ke3 Nd6 43.Nxb6 is possible, but the endgame is still winning for Black.
38...f4 39.Bd7 Nc4 40.Nd1 Kd4 41.Be8 Ne3+!
Trading off White's main defender, the bishop won't be able to stop the pawns by itself.
42.Nxe3 Kxe3 43.Kd1 Kf2 44.Bc6
44.Bxh5 d4 45.Bg4 e3 46.Bf3 d3-+
44...e3  0-1

Great endgame technique by IM Sam Shankland!

Best Move
Winner: GM Larry Christiansen

Best Move goes to GM Christiansen for the second week in a row, mainly because I was really impressed with the following combination:

A very nice shot where Black had to have had the 29th move in mind already.
27.Bxf2 Rxe3 28.Bxe3
Best was 28.Kh1 Rxd3 29.Rxd3 Nxd3 30.Qxd3 Qe5 31.Bg3 Qxf5 32.Qe2 with an unclear position.
28...Qxe3+ 29.Kh1 Nh3!
The point of Nxf2, and now smothered mate is threatened with Qg1+, as well as Nf2+, winning back material.
The only defense [30.gxh3 Qf3+ 31.Kg1 Bd4#]
30...Qxd2 31.gxh3 Re8-/+
Black emerged with a significant advantage that Larry was able to convert later on.

Update: Larry has also earned game of the week honors for his win.


Mystery Category: A Huge Upset
Winner: NM Carlito Agner

NM Agner of the Carolina Cobras produced on the largest upsets (if not the largest) in USCL history, with a great win over SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun of the Boston Blitz.


A very sharp King's Indian Defense allowed Agner the opportunity to create serious tactical threats against the White king, leading to a 352 point upset!

That's all for this week! Check back here every week for USCL highlights. Follow all Week Nine action live on the Internet Chess Club, and find pgn downloads, line-ups, blogs and Game of the Week details on uschessleague.com.

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

October - Chess Life Online 2010

Nakamura Falls to Ivanchuk in FinalsKaufman on the World Senior: Midpoint Update Zierk Golden at World Youth; Silver for Xiong & Troff Carlsen a Smash Hit in Nanjing Medal Prospects Bright as World Youth Approaches FinaleUSCF Affairs: Register to Vote & a Reminder to DelegatesWorld Youth Round 9: Zierk Wins Again; Xiong Wins Gamechanger Time for SPICE Cup at Texas Tech Nakamura Nails Hammer in QuarterFinals Khachiyan Atop Western States Open Again Troff Increases Lead at the World Youth; Zierk Clinches IM NormGM Kaufman on the 2010 World Senior: Arrival in ArcoWorld Youth Gallery and Update Juniors Excel in National Action Events GM Robert Hess on Top of the Boardwalk Open Larry Larkins: 2010 US Armed Forces ChampionNakamura on a Roll in Cap D'Agde Western States Underway US Chess League Week Nine Highlights: Frenzy for Playoff SpotsAction Packed Weekend Set for Skokie and Reno 11 Still Perfect at the World Youth The Response to Donaldson's Olympic Impressions GMs Hess and Van Wely to Play in Berkeley InternationalWorld Youth Underway USCF Email Server AlertBartell and Melekhina Share PA State Title Amanov Unstoppable at the Midwest Class Softball Icon Jennie Finch Visits the Dean of Chess US Chess League Week 8 Highlights: Playoffs Loom2010 Chess Olympiad: Final Impressions Register as a USCF Voting Member More on National Chess Day: From Alabama to Arizona US Chess Championships Return to Saint Louis in 2011 Daniel Steininger 2010 US Blind Chess ChampionUS Blind Championship Underway3rd Annual Schein-Friedman Awards AnnouncedKacheishvili Wins Continental Class Mike Goodall, Chess Promoter, Dies at 64 New US International Titles Ratified at FIDE CongressNational Chess Day Round-Up: From Freeport to Bakersfield National Chess Day Parties Kick Off!Happy National Chess Day!US Chess League Highlights: Week SevenContinental Class Kicks Off in VirginiaThe Scoop on Nuit Blanche The October Check is in the Mail Mauricio Flores Wins U.S. ClassNational Chess Day on October 9th: It's Official! Ukraine & Russia Take Gold; US Teams Finish Strong USA Falls to Israel, Women Sweep Peru US Chess League Highlights: Divisions Battle in Week Six