|Week 8 US Chess League Recap|
|By Arun Sharma|
|October 24, 2009|
Week 8 of this fifth season of the USCL is now in the books. Despite all of the excitement this week, the playoff picture has hardly clarified. The race for the third and fourth spots in the East are just as open as last week, and the battle for the second through fourth spots in the West is also very much undecided. The variety of possibilities are fairly apparent from the standings. Click here for full results.
While we wait for week nine, let’s take a look back at what occurred in Week 8.
New Jersey Knockouts (6.0 – 1.0) vs Boston Blitz (6.0 – 1.0)
Many had anticipated this as a key matchup early in the season. Both teams have been on fire this season, with first and second place in the East almost certain to come to them.
Early on in the match it looked like Boston might jump out to an early lead. Neither side had much of an edge on the top two boards. But on on board four, Boston’s Andrew Wang seeming to develop a winning position already by move 15.
But judging a match by early trends is usually a mistake in the USCL. Despite their struggles on Board Four, young NM Victor Shen expanded well on an opening edge on three with a strong tactical sequence, soon developing a huge edge. New IM Marc Esserman fought valiantly, playing some great defense, but Shen refused to let him to escape, scoring a nice victory.
Despite seeming to hold at most the tiniest of edges out of the opening, GM Boris Gulko was performing what seems to be his custom in the USCL, grinding his opponent down without allowing any opportunity for counter play en route to an incredible 7 – 0 personal record in the League. What seems so amazing about Gulko’s games is that when one looks at them in the early middlegame, it always seems like his edge is minimal at best. Yet he has still managed to win every game and somehow when looking at the games afterward, you instead get the impression that his opponent was never really in the game! This fine effort was no exception.
With these two games heading towards New Jersey, Boston’s SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun tried everything he could make something of his small edge against IM Dean Ippolito. As often happens in these situations, he eventually tried too hard, losing a piece and the game. New Jersey’s Andrew Ng fought back valiantly from a bad position on Board Four, and after mistakes in time pressure, he also managed to score a victory, giving the Knockouts the shocking 4 – 0 sweep and command of the Eastern Division.
Dallas Destiny (2.5 – 5.5) vs Miami Sharks (4.0 – 3.0)
The two-time defending USCL Champions, the Dallas Destiny are in serious danger of missing the postseason this year. But they clearly showed this week that if they are going to go down, they will at least do so swinging. Despite a fair rating disadvantage against the two-time League MVP GM Julio Becerra on Board One, IM John Bartholomew played a relentless attack, refusing to quit even when it seemed like it would not amount to anything. Pressing on and on, he eventually broke through and scored a nice Game of the Week winning victory.
Despite this nice win, the overall match was far from clear with NM Eric Rodriguez scoring a dominating win over Adarsh Jayakumar to tie the match. On Board three, Dallas’s FM Keaton Kiewra seemed to be struggling against IM Alejandro Moreno Roman but played very creatively sacrificing two pieces (the first one with check!) to earn a surprising draw.
This left the entire match up to Board two where it seemed that IM Daniel Ludwig had a small edge for much of the game, but FM Bruci Lopez did what he does best, applying great attacking pressure, eventually forcing a perpetual to lead to a drawn match.
Chicago Blaze (2.5 – 4.5) vs Arizona Scorpions (4.0 – 3.0)
The two expansion teams from 2008 had met three times prior with all three encounters ending in the Scorpions’ favor. It seemed even prior to this match that the Scorpions’ mojo was destined to continue with Chicago’s top board, IM Jan van de Mortel, falling ill forcing a last minute replacement of him with a significant time penalty. However, the Blaze had to be somewhat comforted by the fact that his replacement would be Chicago’s unequivocal best performer, IM Angelo Young. Although Young is undefeated in the season, he had a lot of things going against him: this was his first time on first board, he was vastly out rated and he started with a time penalty. But he showed his mojo, scoring a big win!
That was the majority of the good news for the Blaze as IM Dionisio Aldama played a nice attacking game to even the score against newly minted IM Florin Felecan.
With David Adelberg winning a piece against NM Eric Rosen on Board Four and cleanly converting it, Chicago would need a win by IM Mehmed Pasalic against IM-elect Daniel Rensch to tie the match. But despite an extra pawn in the ending, he couldn’t quite convert. He had to surrender the draw, giving Arizona a narrow match victory.
New York Knights (3.5 – 3.5) vs Carolina Cobras (1.0 – 6.0)
The vastly outrated Cobras would attempt to play the role of dream wreckers against New York, with their playoff odds being so long. The Knights had a fragile hold on third place in the East, so a win would likely give them some breathing room and perhaps clinch their postseason spot. Obviously no less than a win was going to be satisfactory to them. GM Pascal Charbonneau played a strong game against IM Jonathan Schroer to get them off on the right foot, strongly demonstrating the value of full board pressure. With great threats on both the Queenside and Kingside, he really put his opponent in an unenviable defensive position. Schroer fought bravely, but eventually surrendered a pawn to try to alleviate the pressure. He ended up surrendering the game with it.
This, along with SM Gregory Braylovsky defusing FM Ron Simpson’s material sacrifices, nicely put the Knights in a great spot to score a victory. Despite a pawn disadvantage on Board Four, with Board Two seeming very draw oriented for much of the game, their fans were likely quite comfortable with the potential result. Unfortunately for them, things never seem to be that simple with FM Oleg Zaikov pressuring relentlessly in the endgame, eventually overwhelming IM Irina Krush.
Despite this disappointing loss, NM Raven Sturt fought back in the ending against NM Craig Jones to reach material equality, perhaps even gaining the better position at one stage. The full match point still seemed to be in the bag for the Knights. But once again, things rarely turn out the way one expects them to in the USCL, with Jones eventually winning the Pawn back and winning in a Lucena type Rook ending to tie the overall match. This is one of those games with so many twists and turns that it leaves the spectators shaking their heads and reminding themselves to never count any USCL result as over until it’s official.
Philadelphia Inventors (2.5 – 4.5) vs Baltimore Kingfishers (3.0 – 4.0)
This was definitely one of the most important playoff determining matches of the week, with the Kingfishers coming into it in fourth place in the East and the Inventors in fifth place. With both the top boards proceeding fairly uneventfully and ending peacefully, this match was destined to come down to board three and four. The Inventors looked to hold a big edge on both. One of these held true to form with WGM Jennifer Shahade winning an exchange early against Jared Defibaugh and converting with no difficulty.
But unfortunately for the Inventors, the other board did not work out as well. FM Ralph Zimmer fought back very creatively from a dubious position, playing a nice sacrifice which soon compelled IM Costigan to surrender his Queen and the game.
And with this tied match, the Kingfishers managed to stay a narrow half match point ahead of the Inventors for the final Eastern Playoff spot.
San Francisco Mechanics (4.0 – 3.0) vs Queens Pioneers (2.0 – 5.0)
With the Mechanics fighting hard for second place in the West, and Queens fighting for their very playoff lives, this match promised to be another hotly contested one. The Pioneers started well with a big win by GM Alex Stripunsky over GM Vinay Bhat. Stripunsky developed some nice play in the middlegame seeming to gain a good edge, but Bhat fought back equally hard, getting the game fairly level again. But with one of the Game of the Week Judges having put a hex on Bhat, he was jinxed, and eventually blundered in time pressure.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers this win was not nearly enough, and they were ground down slowly on the other three boards. Especially nice was IM John Donaldson’s smooth ending win against GM-elect Lev Milman.
Combined with two other endgame wins on the bottom boards by FM Daniel Naroditsky and NM Gregory Young, the Mechanics scored a strong 3 – 1 victory.
Tennessee Tempo (2.0 – 5.0) vs Seattle Sluggers (6.0 – 1.0)
The Sluggers have been on fire all season and even with a two match lead in the division, they showed no signs of letting up. They put forth their monster double GM lineup against Tennessee, who unluckily were without either of their GMs this week. Given their vast rating disadvantage on the top two boards, the Tempo had to be hoping heavily that their best performer this season, FM John Bick, would score a win for them on Board Four. But it wasn’t to be as NM Howard Chen played a nice attack to score a fairly convincing win.
With this early win by Seattle, it was hard not to call this match early in one’s mind given their huge rating edge on the top boards. Unlike most other matches this one actually did play out according to form with US Champion GM Hikaru Nakamura grinding down IM Ron Burnett, and GM Gregory Serper scoring against FM Todd Andrews.
With this resounding victory, the Sluggers are only a drawn match away from clinching the West.
We have several more good matches upcoming in Week 9, in particular a head to head battle amongst the current frontrunners for the final two playoff spots in the East, Baltimore and New York. There will also be a first against second rematch in the West, with Seattle taking on Arizona. The Scorpions need a win to prevent Seattle from clinching the division and to try to maintain second place in the West to potentially gain the very important draw odds in the Quarterfinals.
Be sure to catch all the action on Monday and Wednesday on the Internet Chess Club and follow the blogs and scores on uschessleague.com.