Dallas Wins the U.S. Chess League!
By FM Robby Adamson   
November 30, 2007
dallasslide2.jpgThe Dallas Destiny topped the Boston Blitz in the finals of the 2007 U.S. Chess League in absolutely thrilling fashion in a match decided by a tiebreak playoff!  The anticipated match-up between the Boston Blitz, winners of the Eastern Division, and the Dallas Destiny, winners of the Western Division, did not disappoint the hundreds of onlookers (at least 200 at any one time) on ICC.  Both teams are to be commended for providing continued excitement over the course of over 6 hours of action.

    Before getting to the games, I want to preface my analysis by stating that there was a lot of pressure on both teams, and that it is unfortunate that either team had to lose. Because the match was decided by a playoff and blitz games, there were some errors made on both sides. However, given the circumstances, the quality of play was excellent and it was quite obvious both teams gave it their all.

    Both squads used lineups that had been successful throughout the year:

Boston Blitz                 Dallas Destiny

Board 1    GM Larry Christiansen        IM Drasko Boskovic
Board 2    FM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun        IM Davorin Kuljasevic
Board 3    NM Denys Shmelov            IM Jacek Stopa
Board 4    NM Chris Williams            WFM Bayarra Zorigt

    Boston and Dallas had very different team compositions. GM Christiansen leads the top-heavy Boston Blitz, and close behind was Jorge Sammour Hasbun, who is definitely IM strength, and possibly GM strength. On boards three and four, Boston used lower rated, but under-rated players. On the other hand, Dallas was perhaps the most balanced team in the USCL with 3 IMs and an underrated board 4.

    In the first match to finish, Larry Christiansen squared off against IM Drasko Boskovic on Board 1. Larry is impossible to prepare for because of his incredibly diverse opening repertoire. The Sveshnikov must have been a surprise for Boskovic since Larry doesn’t usually play this opening. Boskovic choose the tame 9.Nd5 rather than the sharper 9.Bxf6. After 24 moves, the game ended in a draw due to a three-move repetition.



    On Board 3 (and the second game to finish), IM Jacek Stopa played his customary 1.Nc3 and after a few moves the players reached an non-theoretical position after 1.Nc3 d5 2.e4 e6 3.g3!?. The game transposed into some sort of KID reversed. Although Black ’s position didn’t look that promising (14…Bb8 looked a little strange), Black  had a very solid position and defended well for a while. However, White  missed a few opportunities as time pressure became an issue and Black  snagged a draw with 46…Rd8!

Shmelov46...Rd8.jpg
Position after 46...Rd8


After finding this resource the game ended in a draw. After this game finished, the match was tied 1-1. 



    In a very exciting game, Jorge Sammour-Hasbun downed IM Davorin Kuljasevic on board 2. Kuljasevic played a thematic piece sacrifice in Tarrasch French after 15…Ndxe5!

Kulja15...Nde5.jpg
Position after 15...Nde5


 Black  got more than enough compensation for the piece sacrifice because White’s center disappeared and Black  had the two bishops and an attack.  Notice the funny placement of White’s rooks on g2 and h2. (I have never seen that before so early in a game). 

Unfortunately for Kuljasevic, he misplayed the attack and Jorge made effective use of the g-file and later cashed in on his 2 pieces for a rook endgame advantage.



After this victory, Boston only needed a draw on board 4 to clinch the USCL title.

Many watching on the ICC thought that Chris Williams had an edge on board four, and that therefore Williams- Zoright would be the final game of the 2007 USCL season. Bayarra Zoright played very well (though she did miss a killer 14…Nxe5) and actually was never in trouble. Chris Williams severely miscalculated later on with 50.Rxf7, though he was in bad shape by then anyway.



Just like last year, the 2007 USCL Champion would be determined by a blitz playoff played at a time control of five minutes each with a 5 second increment.  The rules for the tiebreak, ingeniously thought of by USCL Commissioner IM Greg Shahade, provided that the 4th boards for each team would face off in the first tiebreak match. The winner of that match advanced to play the 3rd board of the team of the opposing team. In case of a draw, both players were eliminated, with the proviso that in order for the first board to be eliminated, he had to lose the final match. The complete rules can be found on the website.

    In the first tiebreak match, Chris Williams got some redemption in defeating WFM Bayarra Zorigt.



    The second tiebreak match featured an amazing turnaround that would not have happened but for the fast nature of the blitz games. After being slowly outplayed by IM Jacek Stopa for a good thirty moves, Chris created complications when he sacrificed a piece with 30….Nhf4, and later found the sexy 36…Rf3!, and achieved a winning position.

Williams36...Rf3.jpg
Position after 36...Rf3


However, Chris succumbed to the pressure and lost when White ’s 2 rooks became active, aided by the active use of his king. 




    The board 3 match-up between Shmelov and Stopa was very sloppy. Shmelov misplayed the opening, and Black  had an advantage. However after a curious decision by Black  to lock up the center with 19…e5, White  seemed on his way to win, only to fall for 35…Nfxe4+ and lose! 



Such is the nature of blitz chess.

    Now that Dallas had the advantage, Boston’s Jorge Sammour Hasbun, who is a phenomenal blitz player, both on ICC and over the board, was called upon. However, Stopa defended very well and actually should have won the game.  After some winning attempts by both players, the game ended in a draw, eliminating both of them for advancing to the next game, but more importantly placing Boston on the brink of elimination.

 

The tension of the 2007 USCL Championship continued to build. Boston’s Larry Christiansen needed to defeat Dallas’s top 2 boards, Kuljasevic and Boskovic, while one of Dallas’s players had to defeat Larry. In a very interesting game with Kuljasevic, Larry was unable to cash in on what appeared to be a nice position.



However, Larry was able to defeat Kuljasevic the second time in an exciting Bogo-Indian.



With the clock approaching 2:00 AM EST, Christiansen, playing White , faced a well-rested Boskovic. Larry appeared to be unfamiliar with the Accelerated Dragon theory, and an equal position was reached. Just when it appeared that a draw would result, and the match would continue for at least one more game, Larry gambled with 36.b6!?

Larry36.b6.jpg
Position after 36.b6!?


  I am not sure if this is ultimately a mistake, but it appeared quite risky in that it left the pawn on b6 subject to attack by Black ’s king. Consistent with the aggressive b6 move, Larry instinctively played 41.Kg3!

Black  then erred with 43…g5?,  missing the simple 43…gxf4+, followed by g5+ and Black  has all the winning chances. Instead, after 43…g5, White  appeared to have salvaged a draw and some winning chances.

Bosk43....g5.jpg
Position after 43...g5


In a mistake that can only be explained by the lateness of the hour - 2:15 AM time in Boston, Larry hung a pawn with 49.Bc8? and went on to lose after 49…Bxe4.

Larry49.Bc8.jpg
Position after 49.Bc8


After winning the e4-pawn, Boskovic won a few moves later.



With the win, Dallas won the 2007 USCL Chess League Title! Congratulations to Dallas and all the other teams for producing exciting chess.

With the decline in adult chess nationwide, the USCL has sparked interest in local chess as well as chess enthusiasts online. I can not say enough good things about for the efforts of USCL Commissioner Greg Shahade, as well as the efforts of Arun Sharma, Jonathan Hilton (both judge games of the week), all of the team managers and volunteers of all the participating cities, and the Internet Chess Club for covering the games live.

Check out the numerous articles, interviews, and blogs of the various teams at www.uschessleague.com.

FM Robby Adamson is lawyer in Tucson, Arizona, and organizer of the Western Invitational Chess Camp,www.westernchesscamp.com.