Dallas Destiny Captures 2008 Title
By Jonathan Hilton   
December 7, 2008
The stars of the U.S. Chess League final, Bayaraa Zorigt and Davorin Kuljasevic, celebrate.
On Saturday night, December 6, after six exhausting hours of play, the Dallas Destiny became the first-ever repeat champions of the U.S. Chess League. The Dallas Destiny and the Boston Blitz went 2.0-2.0 in the traditional four-board matchup followed by a strenuous marathon blitz tiebreak that delighted spectators and fans of both sides.  The tiebreak, whose bottom-up elimination-styled format allowed it to run for nearly two hours, finally ended when Dallas second-board IM Davorin Kuljasevic defeated Boston's first board, GM Larry Christiansen, with the Black pieces around 9:00 PM EST. In that minutes that followed, the Internet Chess Club looked akin to how I'd imagine an Internet forum on New Year's Eve at midnight. League fans from around the country burst into an instant messaging free-for-all, showering the ICC with laud and congratulations for Dallas. 


Some weeks ago, at the start of the play-off season, the Dallas Destiny seemed to many an unlikely bet to capture the championship. With a 6.5-3.5 record in the regular season-and a mere 53% win rate-they were third out of the four teams in the Western Division that qualified for the playoffs. Their opponents in the play-off, the Boston Blitz, had been third in the Eastern Division with only a 6.0-4.0 record. Yet these two teams strung together match victories when they counted the most, thus thumbing their noses at those fans and pundits who had already counted them out. Throughout the entire season both teams had confidence in their ability to succeed. I remember seeing a comment made by the head coach at the University of Texas at Dallas, IM Rade Milovanovic, after someone predicted another team would win the League this year. "The defending champions are always the favorite," he cautioned. Meanwhile, the Boston Blitz weren't afraid to publicize the match beforehand on Facebook. They listed it as an upcoming "Sporting Event" and sent invitations to chess players across the Internet-including myself-to attend. 

The showdown began at 3:00 PM EST, two hours earlier Texas time. Within just the first hour of play, it looked as if the Dallas Destiny were headed for a Dallas Disaster. Top board IM Marko Zivanic was getting "blitzed" in a thunderous attack by GM Larry Christiansen, and FM Igor Schneider was getting both squished and squashed by Boston's NM Marc Esserman. By late afternoon, it became apparent that neither player's position had long to live. 


If this bashing on Board 1 wasn't bad enough, here is how Esserman finished off Schneider on Board 3:


Thus Boston had prevailed in both its White games. If they could hold a draw on just one of the remaining two boards, the title would be theirs. By the time Boston had secured victory on both Board 1 and Board 3, however, it had begun to look as if that much-needed draw would not come from their fourth board game. WFM Bayaraa Zorigt of Dallas, who had defeated Boston's Ilya Krasik earlier in the season, was about to put an end to an incredible string of five consecutive wins. Zorigt, who had beaten four masters the previous week in the UTD Invitational, developed her pieces to good squares and took advantage of weak squares Black was saddled with in the opening. By move 33, Black was staring at a mate-in-seven, which he played out only partway. 


This shifted the entire weight of the League championship onto IM Davorin Kuljasevic of Dallas and nearly 2600-rated Sammour-Hasbun of Boston. Kuljasevic, playing White in this Board 2 matchup, had pressure on Black's queenside. He was also gaining a large time advantage on the clock. Could USCL hero Sammour-Hasbun hold the draw and save the day? After a valiant struggle to defend his queenside, Sammour-Hasbun finally cracked under pressure and allowed Kuljasevic to mop up all his queenside pawns: 


Kuljasevic, Davorin (2528) - Sammour-Hasbun, Jorge (2576) [D45]

USCL Boston vs Dallas Internet Chess Club (13), 06.12.2008

Annotations by Jonathan  Hilton 

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.g4  

A popular line these days.  

7...Nxg4 8.Rg1 Nh6!?  

A rare move, but Sammour-Hasbun has a particular follow-up in mind.  

9.Bd2 f5!?  

As far as I know, this is a novelty. The idea is to stop White from playing e3-e4 and to gain control over the e4 square. Previously, Black had tried posting his knight on f5 to defend the g7 pawn, something which didn't work out well for Black in Shirov-Dreev, 1993: 9...Nf5 10.e4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 Be7 12.0-0-0 Nf6 13.Bd3 g6 14.Bc3 0-0 15.h4 Qc7 16.Ne5 when White had a lot of pressure for his sacrificed material, making the position rather unclear. Shirov, however, thrived in the complications and won. 

10.Rxg7 Qf6 11.Rg2 Bf7 12.0-0-0 Nf8 13.Bd3 Ng6 14.cxd5!  


Position after 14.cxd5


This move shows the problem with Black's development scheme. White has regained his pawn and gained a lead in development; now, he is able to open the c-file, and Black's rooks are not yet connected.  

14...cxd5 15.Nb5 Bd7 16.Nxd6+ Nxd6 17.Rb1 Rc8 18.Qb3 a6 19.Ne5 Bb5 20.Bxb5+ Nxb5 21.a4 Nd6 22.Qb4  


Position after 22.Qb4


White has further developed his initiative over the past several moves. Black has defended well, particularly by exchanging off the light-squared bishops, leaving White with only one member of the bishop duo. White is penetrating on the queenside, however, and by this point Sammour-Hasbun was close to time-trouble.  


22...Nxe5 23.dxe5 Qxe5 24.Bc3 Rxc3 25.bxc3, when White is better, may have been forced. 


From here on out, the White is clearly winning. Black manages to castle, but he is too late.  

23...0-0 24.f3 Nd6 25.Qxa6 Nc4 26.Nxc4 Rxc4 27.Rc1 Rxc1+ 28.Bxc1 f4 29.exf4 Qxd4 30.Qxe6+ Rh8 31.Rd2 Qxa4 32.b3!


Position after 32.b3

Black resigns 1-0 


This could only mean one thing: the match would move to the blitz playoff extravaganza! In this wild blitz circus, the match is decided by a process of elimination. First, the fourth boards play; the loser is eliminated, or a draw eliminates both players. In this case, WFM Bayaraa Zorigt repeated her victory over Ilya Krasik. This meant she went on to face Boston's third board, NM Marc Esserman, who has a reputation as a strong blitz player. Much to the excitement of those watching on the Internet Chess Club , Zorigt gained a sizable advantage in the opening. As pointed out by the spectators the in-between move 18.f4! instead of 18.Rxh8+ would have secured White's positional dominance.


Position after 17..hxg4


The moment of truth, however, came on move 23, when both sides were beginning to get dangerously low on time. Black's 23...b5 led to a position in which White could have dealt Black a tactical blow: 


Position after 23..b5


24.Nb6!! Nxb6 25.Rd8 Kh7 26.Qxf7+ Qg7 27.Qxf3 would have left Black helpless. After missing this golden opportunity, Zorigt was slowly outplayed as both players survived off their five-second increments. 

The blitz fest continued as Esserman went on to face Dallas's third board, FM Igor Schneider, whom he defeated. This gave the advantage to Boston. It also meant, however, that blitz invincible IM Davorin Kuljasevic got to step up to the plate. Kuljasevic destroyed Esserman's Dutch Defense and then defeated Sammour-Hasbun from the Black side of the Exchange Slav. This meant Boston's last card had to be played: the king of clubs, GM Larry Christiansen. Christiansen, who can give masters five minutes to one minute time-odds in blitz-and cream club players at rook or even queen odds-is an Internet Chess Club blitz legend. But Kuljasevic was on a roll, although he did fail to press what looked like a positional advantage with White in his first game. Draws don't eliminate either team's Board 1 player, who must be defeated in combat, so they played again with colors reversed. Kuljasevic counter-struck with vengeance in their second game, in which he had the Black pieces. Although at some point along the way Christiansen had an undeniable advantage, Dallas Destiny's second board fought to keep both tactics and hope alive, eventually finding a perpetual check. Then, the unimaginable happened: Christiansen's king waddled into checkmate!


Position after Qe3+


White is fine after 31.Kg2 Qd2+ 32.Kg1 Qe3+, draw. If 31...Qe2+ instead, White can step back to h1 with confidence, since Black's queen has taken its eye off the c1 square. Instead, however, White played 31.Kh1??, and after 31...Rc1+ 32.Bf1 Qf3+ 33.Kg1 Qxf1, White was in checkmate. You can play through the entire game below.


It's been a long road for the Dallas Destiny to become the first-ever repeat U.S. Chess League Champions. They lived the entire regular season out of the limelight, only to burst once again onto the stage for the Semifinals and, tonight, the Finals. The Dallas Destiny isn't in the U.S. Chess League for glory alone, however; its real staying power comes from the friendships of the team members themselves. "Our team members are a close-knit bunch and ultimately I think this is what carried us through the playoffs and final against Boston," said team captain IM John Bartholomew, who has sought all season to just step back and allow his teammates to perform. Bartholomew continued, "I would point especially to the performances of Bayaraa Zorigt and Davorin Kuljasevic, who were simply phenomenal this season." With an encouraging coach like Bartholomew, one can only think that the future destiny of Dallas will continue to burn brightly.

The U.S. Chess League is sponsored by pokerstars and is generously hosted by the Internet Chess Club. For more on the U.S. Chess League including links to blogs, video and All Star and Game of the Year Results, go to the official website.