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US Chess League Week Nine Highlights: Frenzy for Playoff Spots Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
October 23, 2010
USCLmainlogo.jpgWeek nine of the 2010 US Chess League Season was intense, as many teams fought for their chance to get good seating into the playoffs, or at least, make the playoffs! The Western Division leader Arizona Scorpions faced off against the Saint Louis Archbishops, who again fielded their "patented" 3 GM line-up. The match was drawn, which means that Arizona was able to clinch the Western division title! The three remaining playoff spots remain unfilled, and while the Los Angeles Vibe are eliminated from playoff contention, the other six teams all have serious chances to make the post season, and they're all playing each other next week! As pointed out on the USCL website, Week 10 will basically be the first round of the playoffs for the West-win and you advance, draw or lose and you're out!

The battle for the postseason in the Eastern Division is much simpler-the New England Nor'easters, Boston Blitz, and New York Knights are all guaranteed a playoff berth (New England clinched the division title this week). The last spot will go to either the Baltimore Kingfishers or the New Jersey Knockouts, and guess what, they are playing each other!

Visit  http://www.uschessleague.com/ for more recaps, news, and next week's lineups.

And now for some weekly awards:

Most Exciting Match
Winner: Chicago Blaze - Miami Sharks
2-2 tie
Both of these teams knew they could very easily not make the playoffs, but a win in this match would greatly increase their chances of qualifying, and this was definitely reflected in the games, as everyone was playing for a win right from the start. GM Becerra defended a slightly worse position for a long time, but waited for the right moment and launched a powerful counterattack against GM Gurevich's king.


GM Amanov, fresh off his win at the Midwest Class Championships, was able to thoroughly outplay GM Gonzalez, winning due to a strong attack down the h-file.


FM Martinez carefully defended against IM Felecan's dangerous attack, and started to grab material at the right time, soon forcing resignation due to a lack of attacking forces.


Even NM Rosenthal, a sizeable underdog on board 4, declared his violent intentions early by playing the dangerous Smith-Morra gambit. However NM Rosen was able to take White's initiative away and crash through on the kingside to round off a very exciting match!


Most Intriguing Opening
Winner: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) - Sasha Kaplan (BAL)

Ruy Lopez: Marshall Attack


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5!?
The Marshall Attack, one of the most popular and explored variations at the top level in recent years. Black sacrifices a pawn for extremely active piece play. Lately many games in this line have ended in a draw, either with a perpetual in the middle game or through a complicated endgame where neither side can play for a win.
9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d4
The main move, other tries that have been played by strong players include: 12.Bxd5, 12.d3, 12.Re1 and 12.g3
12...Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Re4
The second most popular move (15.Be3 is most common, other tries are 15.Qf3, 15.Qd3, 15.Bxd5 and 15.Qe2)
15...g5 16.Qe1
A rare continuation, more popular is 16.Qf1 but 16.Qf3 and 16.Qe2 have also been played by strong players.
1-0 Motylev, A - Tkachiev, V 2005 - continued 16...Nf6 17.Nd2 Qh5 18.Qd1 Qxd1+ 19.Bxd1 Nxe4 20.Nxe4 Be7 21.Bxg5 Bxg5 22.Nxg5 h6 23.Ne4±
17.Nd2 Nf6
1/2-1/2 Anand, V - Bacrot, E 2006 continued 17...h6 18.f3 Kg7 19.a4 Bxe4 20.fxe4 Rae8 21.axb5 axb5=
18.f3 Rae8 19.Rxe8 Rxe8 20.Qf2 h6N
Not a prepared novelty, IM Kaplan had already used about 30 minutes for the game.
A thematic move, White tries to make use of his rook on the a-file
21...Bd3 22.Ne4
otherwise Re2
This move makes a lot of sense, removing White's best defender, but I think IM Kaplan missed White's 24th move (22...Kg7 was best, but after 23.axb5 axb5 24.Ra7 Re7 25.Rxe7 Bxe7 26.Nxf6 Bxf6 27.Be3, White is a healthy pawn up, no typical Marshall Attack compensation in this endgame)
23.fxe4 Rxe4 24.Bxg5!+-
The refutation of Black's play. The point is to give the White rook control of the 1st rank (24.Qxf6?? Re1+ wins)
The best try
25.hxg3? hxg5 and Black is fine, note that 26.Qxf6?? loses to 26...Qxg3+
25...Kf8 26.hxg3 Ng4 27.Qg2 Qxg2+ 28.Kxg2 hxg5 29.Bh5 Nf6 30.Bf3 Re6 31.axb5 axb5 32.g4+-
Obviously we are well passed the opening now, but this position was practically forced after 22...Bxe4?! -- A serious opening success for White, SM Sammour-Hasbun forced resignation in 10 more moves.

Most Interesting Endgame
Winner: GM Yury Shulman (STL) - IM Dionisio Aldama (ARZ)
After 42 moves, the players reached the following position:
This endgame is very unbalanced. White has a rook for a knight and 2 pawns, and a slightly safer king. Black has three connected passed pawns on the queenside, while White has one in the center.
Otherwise Nd4, where Black would have absolutely no concerns
43...Nb4 44.Qd8+ Kg7?
44...Rf8 45.Qxb6 Qa2 covering e6 is only slightly better for White.
45.Rf3! While this move looks very unnatural, allowing Black to bring White's king out, what's important to realize is that the rook on f7 is Black's only defensive piece, so trading it off would mean an even more exposed Black king. 45...Rxf3 46.Kxf3 46...Qa2 47.Rd1 Qf7+ 48.Kg2 Nc6 49.Qxb6+- Black has no compensation for the exchange.
With a rook on f7, Black can harass White's rooks and think about pushing his pawns. The defense of the 7th rank and pressure on the f-file makes it a great piece.
46.Rf1 Nd3
I guess GM Shulman saw no other choice and decided to just give back the exchange and relieve the pressure on f2,although (47.Rf3! is not as strong as before, but still the best move. It was probably even harder to play it here as Black can actually take advantage of White's king position. 47...Rxf3 48.Kxf3 Ne5+ 49.Kg2 Qxe4+ 50.f3! otherwise Black can give a perpetual 50...Qd5 51.Qxa5±)
47...Qxd3 48.Qb2+!?
48.Qxc5 Qxe4+ 49.f3 Qb4 Where Black can play for a win without any risk. The text move is better practically as White retains chances to win, thanks to his e-pawn.
48...Qd4 49.Qxd4+ cxd4 50.Ra1 Rd7! With an unclear endgame
49.Re1 c4 50.Re3 Qd6 51.Qc3 Qc5 52.Re2 a4 53.e5 Qd5+ 54.f3 Qd3!
Trading the queen's off, leading to a good rook endgame for Black
55.Re3 Qxc3 56.Rxc3 Rf5?
56...Ra7! 57.Rxc4 a3 58.Rc1 a2 59.Ra1 Kf7 with very good winning chances
Winning this game would mean winning the match, but this is too optimistic, White should have just taken the draw (57.Rxc4 Rxe5 58.Rxa4=)
57...Rf8 58.Rxc4
58.Kf3 Ra8 59.Ra3 c3 60.Ke2 is probably drawn as well
58...Ra8 59.Rc2 a3 60.Ra2 Kf7 61.Kf3 Ke6 62.Ke4 Ra4+ 63.Kd3
IM Aldama most likely took a draw here to tie the match and clinch the division title for Arizona, but Black still retains serious winning chances in the endgame 63.Kd3 g5! 64.fxg5 Kxe5 This looks completely winning to me, but maybe I'm wrong. What do you think? Leave a comment below!  ½-½

Best Move
Winner: IM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) - GM Ben Finegold (STL)
In this position,
IM Rensch played the very strong looking 24.Rxe6!? Only to be shocked with 24...Bd5! (24...fxe6? 25.Bxe6+ Kh8 26.Bxf5+- with much much more than compensation for the exchange--the e-pawn is incredibly strong) 24...Kh8 25.Rd6 Nxd6 26.exd6 Rxd6 27.Bxf7 is approximately equal) 25.Bxd5 Rxd5 And the White rook is trapped without the strong light-squared bishop backing it up, great awareness by GM Finegold! 26.g4 fxe6 27.gxf5 Qf4 (27...exf5-+) 28.fxe6 Re8 29.Qg3 Qf5 30.Qg4 Qxg4+ 31.fxg4 Rxe6-/+
And GM Finegold went on to win this endgame--a nice technical effort, which was actually one of my initial considerations for Most Interesting Endgame.

Mystery Category: Mate in One!

There were two games this week that ended unexpectedly due to one of the players missing a mate-in-one!

In this position, from the game FM Keaton Kiewra (DAL) - NM Christian Tanaka (LA)
Black was much better, but in the mutual time-pressure White definitely had chances to draw. FM Kiewra played 46. Qg7+ (46. Qg4 was best) and after 46...Kh5 played 47. Qxd4?? missing 47...Qh3#

In the game IM Jay Bonin (PHI) - GM Alexander Striupunsky (MAN)
The players reached an endgame where Black was very close to winning. IM Bonin played the only move that didn't lose on the spot, 42. Rc7+
After which he was probably stunned that GM Stripunsky played the "natural" 42...Kd4?? (42...Kb4 was winning), and promptly checkmated him with 43. Rc4#

That's all for this week! Check back here every week for USCL highlights. Follow all Week Ten action live on the Internet Chess Club, 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/

June - Chess Life Online 2010

Bryan Smith Wins Philly International as World Open Kicks Off Karpov's Big Think Searching for Food at the World Open L.A. Vibe Prepares to Join US Chess League IM Bryan Smith Leading Philadelphia International 2010 US Junior Open Set for Houston, July 23-25Juniors Storm Philadelphia International Chess Adventures in VietnamFields set for 2010 U.S. Women's and Junior Closed Champs New York International: Ehlvest and Harikrishna TieHBO Real Sports to Feature Brownsville Chess Success Story The US Championship in Black and White Copper "Norm" State Recap Norm-Hunters Charge New York International A Chess Dad's Philadelphia StoryNew York International Set for Marshall Chess Club June 18-22USCF Promotes National Chess Day, October 9Fun & Chess in Las VegasGareev Wins National Open Akobian Surges Ahead in Las Vegas Akobian, Lenderman and Kekelidze Perfect as National Open Merges Fridman Tops G/10 as Las Vegas Chess Festival BeginsMolner Leads Norm-Bonanza at Copper State Searching for Diane Savereide Moving up the Ladder: A Class Player on Gaining 200 Rating PointsA Three-Way Tie at the Capablanca Memorial in Santa Clara Norm-Hunters Emerge at Copper State International Copper State International Begins! An Interesting Chess Sacrifice Curtis Winter's Junior Grand Prix Odyssey A Parent's Perspective on the Chicago Open The June Check is in the Mail Van Wely Wins in Chicago as Norm Season Begins The Road to GM Continues US Champion Kamsky Video Interview