|Seattle Sluggers Win US Chess League Title|
|By Kostya Kavutskiy|
|December 7, 2012|
The US Chess League Championships on December 1, Saturday featured two teams who had never before reached the finals, the Philadelphia Inventors and Seattle Sluggers. Going into the match I thought Philadelphia were the clear favorites, as they won both of their playoff matches handily while Seattle had just barely edged out previous opponents. However Philadelphia wasn't able to play up to their usual standard, and Seattle won the match quite convincingly.
The critical game for the match was on board three, between Philadelphia's FM Dov Gorman and NM Joshua Sinanan. The Inventors were likely counting on Gorman for the victory, but he made a slip in the opening and got into a worse endgame, which he even ended up losing.
On board one GM Sergey Erenburg did not manage to get an advantage against GM Varuzhan Akobian's solid Caro-Kann defense, and the game was drawn after 24 moves.
Winning the match for Seattle was NM Roland Feng, who outplayed IM Richard Costigan and scored the first point of the match:
NM Roland Feng (SEA) – IM Richard Costigan (PHI) 1-0
White has two powerful bishops and a more active rook, but winning still requires some good endgame play: 31.Kf2! A strong and patient move, understanding that the a6 pawn isn't going anywhere and that the king should have a role in the game. This move also sets a trap which Black falls into... 31...Rc6? (31...Rc1 Would have kept the game going, but White's advantage is practically decisive anyways.) 32.Rxd5! Black loses a central pawn and the game is more or less over, NM Feng converted the advantage with ease: 32...Rc2+ 33.Bxc2 Bxd5 34.Bxg7 Kxg7 35.Ke3 Kf6 36.b3 Kf5 37.Bxe4+!
A simplifying combination to take the game into a trivially won king & pawn endgame. 37...Bxe4 38.g4+ Kxg4 39.Kxe4 h5 40.d5 Black resigns 1–0
This win put a lot of pressure on Fisher, who was the only player on Philadelphia's side with any kind of winning chances, but he was unable to convert the following endgame against IM Giorgi Orlov:
IM Giorgi Orlov (SEA) – SM William Fisher (PHI)
After an interesting middlegame struggle the players reached the following endgame, where Black, with two passed pawns and a more active queen is close to winning. At this point Orlov had a decision to make regarding the queenside counterplay (if White doesn't attempt to create a passed pawn Black will simply roll their pawns down and win the game). 58.b5!? A good practical decision, and I suspect Fisher missed the point of this move. (58.bxc5 Qxc5+ 59.Kg2 h4 is good for Black, as we will soon see a key difference between this position and the game continuation.) 58...g4? Allowing White to save the game... (58...Qd4+ looks best, for example 59.Kg2 (59.Qe3+ Kd6 is winning for Black, he threatens to take the c4-pawn, and if 60.Qxd4+ cxd4 the White king cannot stop all of Black's passed pawns) 59...h4 60.Qc2 Qg4+ 61.Kh1 Qh3+ 62.Kg1 Qe3+ 63.Kh1 Ke5 with excellent winning chances for Black, whose king and queen are very well placed.) 59.Qe3!
The point of playing b4-b5, as now the queen exchange leads to a draw, where both sides must keep their king close to the enemy pawns to stop them from promoting. If White had a loose pawn on c4, the Black king could simply take it and the rest would be simple. But the threat of a4-a5 and b5-b6 forces Black's king to shuffle around the queenside squares, and no progress can be made. 59...g3+ The only way to prevent a queen exchange, but with only one passed pawn White's defense is much easier. 60.Qxg3 Fisher tried to win for some time, but never got any more chances and the game was eventually drawn. ½–½
On board three NM Sinanan was never in any danger of losing, meaning that Feng's win was likely to be the decisive victory, but Sinanan even managed to win, giving the Seattle Sluggers their first ever USCL Championship Title.
Stay tuned to uschessleague.com as they will soon be announcing the 2012 All Star teams, as well as the 2012 Game of the Year contest.