Philly & Seattle Fight for US Chess League Championship
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
November 26, 2012
USCLmainlogo.jpgWhether the  Philadelphia Inventors or the Seattle Sluggers emerge as the 2012 US Chess League champions, it will be a first in the league's eight-year history. Neither team has ever won a championship previously, or even reached the USCL Finals. Let's take a look at the semifinal victories of Philadelphia and Seattle (Philadelphia & Arizona had draw odds- a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Seattle also had draw odds):  

Manhattan Applesauce - Philadelphia Inventors 1-3

Once again Philadelphia proved themselves fully deserving of the best record in the league, using a solid but deadly lineup to defeat the Manhattan Applesauce. They were led by GM Sergey Erenburg, who held a long endgame against GM Vladimir Romanenko.

Erenburg has played every game this season, and with a performance rating of 2717 he is easily one of the most reliable top boards in the league. Philly's FM Thomas Bartell and FM Dov Gorman scored wins, clinching the  match (since they only needed a tie to advance). Bartell won for the third straight week in a row, this time against IM Eli Vovsha, after winning an exchange early in the middlegame. Gorman, who came in second place in the 2012 MVP contest, outplayed NM Andrew Shvartsman in a game that ended up being the runner-up Game of the Week.

Here is the decisive moment from Gorman's win:

NM Andrew Shvartsman (MAN) - FM Dov Gorman (PHI) 0-1
Shvartsman-Gorman 1.jpg

It's clear that Black has the better position, with a strong knight on e5 and a safer king. FM Gorman energetically converts the advantage, starting with

Placing a nail in White's position (those h-pawns are tactically annoying), but more importantly securing the f3-square for Black's knight. 
28.g3 Qa5!

Winning the important d5-pawn, and White's king is fairly miserable on h1.
29.Qd4 Nf3

Here we can see the disharmony of White's pieces, as Qc4 loses to Nd2.
30.Qb4 Qxd5 31.Rxg4
Shvartsman-Gorman 2.jpg

White could meet all the discovered checks with Be4, but now that is impossible and Black's threats are very real.
32.Qc4 was the only way to continue the game, but still after 32...Qxc4 (32...Qe5 is stronger, although not that simple.) 33.Rxc4 Nd2 34.Rxf5 Nxc4 35.Bxc4 Black should win here, as the h3-pawn is quite annoying for White to deal with.
 32...Qxf5 33.Re4
33.Rf4 Qxc2-+

Not the only winning move, but one that highlights White's back rank problems. The MVP knight is saved and the game is over.
34.Qc4 Qxc4 35.Rxc4 Nd2 0-1

Seattle Sluggers - Arizona Scorpions 2.5-1.5

The Western semi-final, Seattle-Arizona was a much closer match. GM Varuzhan Akobian looked to be in trouble against IM Mackenzie Molner, but a blunder by Molner allowed Akobian to simplify into a winning endgame:


After 33...Qb4! White has no way of stopping Black's pawn, and will have to give up at least a piece.

In the game Molner played 33...Qe7, and after 34.Qxf4 b2 35.Qxb8 (the queen on b4 would be protecting this rook) Qe4 36.Qe5+ Akobian gave back the rook but with two extra pawns the win was not in doubt.

Although this game was crucial, the real hero for Seattle was NM Joshua Sinanan, who upset the higher rated IM Shahin Mohandesi, to win GOTW:

Joshua Sinanan (SEA) - Shahin Mohandesi (ARZ) 1-0

sinanan-mohandesi 1.jpg

Bringing the king over to the queenside is sometimes a good idea in positions with reduced material, but in just a few moves White is able to exploit the position of the king through simple tactics, making me believe this decision was too ambitious and quite dubious. (25...Nc3 seems solid enough, preventing b5 for the moment. The position is still unclear but Black should be able to hold. However we must keep in mind that IM Mohandesi was likely looking to win, seeing as how Arizona needed to overcome draw odds in order to win the match.)
26.b5 Kd8?!
Likely missing White's 28th move, as this idea totally backfires on Mohandesi. (26...Nc3 was necessary now, with the idea of: 27.b6 axb6 (27...Nxe2+ 28.Kf1 looks complicated but let's trust Houdini's opinion that White is winning here) 28.Qxb6 (28.axb6 Nxe2+ 29.Kf1 Nc3 is very unclear, as White's king is quite vulnerable now. Black has ideas of Qc6-h1+) 28...Qb5! Forcing a queen trade, after which Black's king is quite well placed, and after 29.Qxb5+ Nxb5 Black is likely holding here, but White's position is to be preferred with the outside passed pawn.)
27.b6 axb6 28.Qa8!
sinanan-mohandesi 2.jpg

All of Black's pieces seem to be unfortunately placed. Also White's passed pawn now becomes a major attacker and decides the game.
28...Kc8 29.Qxd5! Qxd5 30.Nxb6++- is the simplest win.)
29.axb6+ Kc8

29...Nxb6 30.Nxb6+- with an extra piece for White.
It's all over now, Qxb7 loses to Nd6+
30...Kc7 31.Ba5+ Kc6 32.Qxb8 Qxb7 33.Nxe5+ 1-0

Board two was drawn to clinch the match for Seattle, but irrelevant, as Seattle held draw odds and only needed to score two points in order to advance.

The finals take place on Saturday, December 1st, with live coverage on ICC and
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