US Chess League Week 7: Nor'Easters and Destiny Pull Away
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
October 14, 2013
USCLmainlogo.jpgIn Week Seven both sides of the league faced off against one another for the second time this season, featuring intense inter-conference match-ups. This time the Eastern Conference got the better of it, winning 4.5/8 matches.

Manhattan Applesauce shock
ed the St. Louis Arch Bishops with a shut-out, while the New England Nor'easters gave up only a half-point to the up-and-down Los Angeles Vibe. Manhattan is still fighting for the top spot in the Atlantic Division while the 6-1 Nor'easters seem to have a firm grip on the Northeast Division.

Meanwhile, the divisional leaders in the West have started to really stand out. The San Francisco Mechanics were the only team to win from the Pacific Division, and they now have a 1.5 point lead in the standings, while the Dallas Destiny and Miami Sharks have all but clinched the two playoff spots in the South Division.

Here are this week's full results, followed by the full divisional standings:

Boston Blitz vs. San Francisco Mechanics (1.5 - 2.5)
Arizona Scorpions vs. Connecticut Dreadnoughts (1.5 - 2.5)
Baltimore Kingfishers vs. Seattle Sluggers (2 - 2)
Los Angeles Vibe vs. New England Nor'easters (0.5 - 3.5)

New York Knights vs. Miami Sharks (1.5 - 2.5)
Carolina Cobras vs. New Jersey Knockouts (1.5 - 2.5)
Philadelphia Inventors vs. Dallas Destiny (1.5 - 2.5)
St. Louis Arch Bishops vs. Manhattan Applesauce (0 - 4)

Western Conference South Division Dallas Destiny (6 - 1) Miami Sharks (6.5 - 1.5) St. Louis Arch Bishops (3.5 - 3.5) Carolina Cobras (0.5 - 6.5)
Pacific Division San Francisco Mechanics (4.5 - 2.5) Seattle Sluggers (3 - 4) Los Angeles Vibe (2.5 - 4.5) Arizona Scorpions (2 - 5) 
Eastern Conference Atlantic Division New York Knights (4 - 3) Manhattan Applesauce (3.5 - 3.5) New Jersey Knockouts (3.5 - 3.5) Philadelphia Inventors (2 - 5)
Northeast Division New England Nor'easters (6 - 1) Connecticut Dreadnoughts (4 - 3) Boston Blitz (3 - 4) Baltimore Kingfishers (2.5 - 4.5)   

As usual for the USCL's Game of the Week contest, the winning games were some sharp encounters -- here is my analysis of what took place:

FM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) - GM-elect Irina Krush (NY) 1-0 (Game of the Week!)

Rodriguez 1.jpg

22.Qh4!? Instead of choosing a more opportune moment to exploit Black's dark-squared weaknesses, FM Rodriguez went for it all with this sacrifice. Objectively not perfect, but the practical pressure of defending against mating ideas was enough to overwhelm one of America's newest GMs. 22...hxg5 23.Nxg5 Be8 A necessary move to defend the f7-pawn. Now it seems like White has no real ideas here and the attack has been stalled, but 24.Rad1! Simply bringing the last piece into the game and putting some pressure along the d-file. Rc4!
Rodriguez 2.jpg
A very strong defensive move, now Black can potentially create some counterplay of their own. 25.Qh6 White has threats of Rxd5 and Nh7, with Nf6+ coming next. 25...Qa4 Not a bad move, threatening to trap White's queen with Rh4, but missing a much stronger continuation.

25...Rf4! seems like the refutation of White's sacrifice. Not only does Black cover the vulnerable f6-square, but they set up counterplay against the f2-pawn. 26.Nh7 is simply met with 26...Qc2! White has no convenient way of defending f2, as Rf1 simply runs into Rxf2, and Black is winning. Without the possibility of Nh7 White just has no way to generate threats and eventually Black should be able to consolidate the extra piece and win.

26.b4! Preventing Rh4 and renewing the threats of Rxd5 & Nh7 (26.Rxd5 is still met with 26...Rh4!) 26...Qxa3? A serious blunder, giving White a chance to win on the spot. (26...Rf4 was necessary, and White should probably give a perpetual check with 27.Qh7+ Kf8 28.Qh6+ as escaping by 28...Ke7 is quite dangerous on account of 29.Nh7).

Rodriguez 3.jpg
27.Nh7? Returning the favor! 27.Rxd5! was simply killing. I wonder if Rodriguez saw this idea but only after playing Nh7 and didn't think to reverse the move-order. 27...exd5 (27...Rxd5 28.Nh7+- and mate) 28.e6! The threat of Qh7+ and e7# is too strong.) 27...Qxb4? Another decisive mistake, but this time Rodriguez was able to find the winning continuation... (27...Qc3 was Black's last chance to hold the balance, keeping the rook on e1 under attack -- the fight continues after 28.h3! since White still has some tricks to go after the f6 square, such as Re3, but with perfect play Black should be able to defend against everything -- a hard task in time pressure!) 28.Nf6+ Nxf6 29.exf6 Qf8 30.Qxf8+ Kxf8 31.Rxd8 Rf4 32.Rc1

Rodriguez 4.jpg
Losing the bishop on e8, Black resigned. 1-0

IM Justin Sarkar (CON) - IM Levon Altounian (ARZ) 0-1 (2nd place GOTW)

Altounian 1 (1).jpg

In this position IM Sarkar made a grave error with 10.d6? Most probably overlooking 10...Bb7! A powerful shot, deflecting White's queen away from the c3-pawn. 11.Qxb7 (11.Qg3 Nxf6 is pointless for White, who's already close to hopelessly lost, but objectively this was preferable to what happened in the game.) 11...Qxc3+ 12.Kd1 Qd4+ (The immediate 12...Rb8 would run into 13.Bb2!) 13.Kc2 Rb8!

Altounian 2 (1).jpg
The key move, defending the rook with tempo. 14.Qf3 Now 14.Bb2 doesn't work on account of 14...Qxf2+ and White loses their queen. 14...Qxa1 15.dxe7
Altounian 3 (1).jpg
After winning Black's bishop White technically won't be down a lot of material, but their kingside development leaves much to be desired. This is already completely winning for Black, who can drum up a lot of counterplay with their queen. 15...Qxa2+ 16.Kd1 Qa4+ 17.Ke1 Bxe7 18.fxe7 Qb4+ 19.Bd2 Qb1+ 20.Ke2 Ne5 21.Qd5 Qd3+ 22.Qxd3 cxd3+ 23.Ke3 Kxe7-+

Altounian 4.jpg
With three pawns and an active rook against two underperforming bishops, Black was able to win quite effortlessly. In the current position Bxd3 is met with Rb3, so White's chances were pretty much non-existent. IM Altounian took advantage of his opponent's mishap in the opening and didn't make any errors to win a fine game. 0-1

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