“I’ll do it!”
Truly the decision was not momentous, but also not easy. My word has to be worth something. Still, times that your team makes an initial appearance in the finals are extremely sporadic. Usually, only once per team does that happen. So, it is now or never. Please dear readers forgive me for my transgression.
As I spied the scores my mind went blank. Not that blankness that writers use in literature to suggest a loss of moral compass, nor that painful blankness that comes when you can’t remember your ATM pin. Not hardly. This was the blankness of easy acceptance that something so totally improbable had happened. Yup, seeing the score of Seattle’s victory over Arizona seemed to defy the past and at the same time define that matters had worked themselves out. I was not able to watch the Arizona match, a night time job can do that to you, so I didn’t find the excitement of going to the final that should naturally accompany this result. Yet, it is because they are in the final that I am once again in your company.
I want to say that the “easy acceptance” part of that was the result of the previous weeks match with Dallas. I feel compelled to start out by saying that I don’t understand why this match didn’t get more recognition. To start with, Dallas is a star studed (pardon the pun) lineup with plenty of history. Remember though, part of that history was a tied match in the wildcard round of the Sluggers first season of 2006 that sent the Sluggers to the conference finals. You may remember that the match was at 2-1 for Dallas when Seattle’s Slava Mikhailuk was able to create a path to victory which tied the match. Dallas won the USCL the 2 seasons following that, so maybe this preempted a three peat? Anyway, events in the 2012 match could only be matched by a batch of Hollywood script writers, that is if they had the propensity to see the beauty and greatness of team chess. Seattle’s star first board had fallen dramatically and cast immediate doubt on the Slugger’s chances. This was certainly not a new scenario for Slugger’s fans to witness. This was offset by a fourth board effort from the Slugger’s Lessler which would even the match. Matters would be decided in the middle. There was a sort of weird relationship between the games. As Orlov slowly found a bit to play with on second board, Sinanan was sliding into passivity on third board. With draw odds it looked as if Dallas had matters well in hand with advantage on third board. Seemingly Dallas went into a holding pattern to see if events on second board could be swung around. I have no clue what was going on in the Dallas player’s heads… winning on third board was enough to advance. Yet, events on second board did seem to evolve towards Dallas and at the same time the third board flipped almost completely. Now, with Seattle having a winning position on third board we all considered how to get a positive result on second. Literally, the result of either game and consequently the match changed with every move. On second board the Holt went into “last ditch” mode and fell into a lost position. As if the fog totally was gone Josh drew on third board and Seattle had pulled one out. These kinds of things are produced in major sports and offer a glimpse of how exciting team chess can be. I do not know how all of this excitement was able to escape more attention, but it did. Note to Eddie and Dean Wormer: find some more excitement in this thing.
So, to the final. My initial feeling is that these teams are very similar. Neither rely on under rated kids or college students. Traditionally both rely on grit over flash. In the current season though, Philadelphia has defined themselves as a power team that looks to roll over opponents. Seattle surprised by making the playoffs in what looked to be a heavily stacked western division. We have in the final what could be the start of a dynasty in Philadelphia and a “Rocky” like underdog in the Sluggers. Yeah, I wanted to get that one in to annoy our Philly friends! Each of the 4 matchups presents a unique perspective on team chess. Here’s what I see.
First board will be a matchup of superstars. Both are around the 2700 mark and have plenty on their resumes to talk about. Neither of them is an easy out and will come well prepared. Such is the world of professional chess. I guess giving White an advantage is about as good a marker as any, but I doubt it is enough to expect either to win.
Fourth board is the “classic” in the group. Philadelphia has IM Richard Costigan, one of the few in the league who can remember first hand the “Telephone League”. Seattle brings Roland Feng who was still in knee pants when the USCL started. This is one of those “fast or slow” things. The longer the game goes, the more likely it is for Costigan to have an advantage. What we always have to think about is how much of a surprise will the kid be for the IM?
Each team finds its “non-star” star player on third board. I don’t know much of anything about Dov Gormon, but he seems to have pulled plenty of weight for the Inventors this season. Josh Sinanan has done more than what could be expected of him this season and did so last season as well. I think that this could be decided stylistically. With Black Josh is going to play pretty solidly, well he plays solidly with any color, and will have to be careful not to go too passive. My intuition is that Gorman has an advantage here, but Sinanan has been beating the odds all season.
Second board might be the most interesting. At first glance it appears critical for Phily as NM Miller has a lower rating than IM Orlov as well as much less experience. The thing is that Miller has been holding draws with Black against higher rated opponents this season. His solid play has been a real bonus for the Inventors and could be a key to the final. This will be very interesting, to me at least, because Orlov is well trained and extremely crafty. It is very possible that he will arrive with something unexpected in his pocket and will get a small opening advantage with a large time and psychological advantage. Both sides fans will be well advised to use this game as an initial barometer for what result might be at hand.
Ok, lets just suppose that everybody plays way beyond what we expect and all 4 games end in draws, what to expect then? All them boys on the East Coast think they are really great blitz players and some of them are right. What they might not expect is that we have chess clocks up here in the northwest and we have been practicing. My suspicion is that if it comes to that Seattle has a tiny edge. Not anything against you boys on the other coast, its just that these kinds of things tend to work out for the underdog. At least I hope so.
That’s it for me. The next time you see me will be… don’t know. After this the Sluggers won't have any "firsts" to look forward to, so my motiviation is gone. Oh well.
Good Luck to all the players and lets hope for a fun match. Out
The Sluggers have advanced to the Championship match after
clinching an important victory the Arizona Scorpions! As with so many other
matches this season the result was anything but clear for the whole duration of
On board one, the Sluggers unleashed GM Varuzhan Akobian(2697)
on IM Mackenzie Molner (2511). GM Akobian’s 4.Bg5 reply to the Grunfeld and IM Molner’s
replies quickly gave the game an improvisational tone. At move 12 White
appeared to have the initiative as Black’s king had been forced to move to f8
in awkward fashion and the c4- and c5- pawns gave a loose impression. But as
play continued it became clear that White’s own army was not sufficiently
coordinated to exploit these factors.
Play continued in an unfavorable direction for the GM Akobian
when IM Molner struck with 17…Nb6 18.Qb3 c4! Forcing White to continue 19.Bxb6
(19.Bxc4? Nxc4 20.Qxc4 Ba6 -/+) 19…axb6 20.Bxc4 when after 20…Bd7! Black had
acquired the bishop pair tremendous pressure on the weakened queenside pawns at
the cost of a pawn. Yielding him more than enough compensation.
Around this moment, the situation on board one was not favoring
the Slugger’s and it appeared that Black could be holding the initiative. But
the Sluggers were to receive excellent news as NM Josh Sinanan (2263) had just
won yet another game this season on board three where he was paired significantly
up against IM Shahin Mohandesi (2399). In this game, Josh succeeded at
building a substantial advantage on the clock and acquired a somewhat easier to play
position in the middlegame thanks to his queenside pawn majority. After a maneuvering phase, no side had succeeded at gaining anything
substantial but a couple of errant King move’s by Black (25…Ke8?!, 26…Kd8?)
gave White the time he needed to reposition successfully and advance the queenside
An important improvement would have been 26…Nc3! Forcing White
to react to the threat to the b-pawn with 27.b6 (27.Na3? Nxe2+ 28.Kg2 Nc3 =+) 27…axb6
with the idea of 28.Qxb6 Qb5 = or 28.Qa8
Qa7! 29.Qc6 Qd7 30.Qxb6 Qb5 … here too however, White could have gained an
advantage after 28.axb6! Nxe2+ 29.Kf1 Nc3 30.Qa8 Qd8 31.Qb7 += Instead, Black
blundered with 26…Kd8 overlooking a strong reply by White. Josh correctly
played 27.b6! axb6 28.Qa8! when Black clearly had to concede material. Soon
after, Black resigned. A marvelous upset!
On board two, IM Georgi Orlov’s (2523) game seemed
predictably headed towards a draw as IM Levon Altounian (2493), handling the
White pieces, had not managed to create anything serious with the c3-Sicilian. Early
on, IM Orlov improvised with 9…Nb6!? After a long think, IM Altounian replied
10.Bd3?!(perhaps 10.Bb3 +=) allowing Black to play enterprisingly with 10…Nb4! harassing
the bishop and eventually capturing it. Though White tried hard to encircle around
the e6-pawn, his own d4-pawn was far too weak. Finally, several moves later,
Black crashed through on d4 only long enough for White to simultaneously crash
through on e6 keeping the material balance, and further reducing material. Soon
a draw was agreed and the Sluggers were ahead 1.5-0.5. A win on either board
one (GM Akobian – IM Molner) or board four would secure the match as would
draws on both boards. But by now, GM Akobian’s position had further deteriorated.
After 30…f4! by IM Molner, Black was dangerously close to cashing in on his
opportunity to play …Bf5 and roll the b-pawn forward winning material. Attempts
to capture the pawn on b3, such as 31.Rxb3, were doomed to failure. Example:
31.Rxb3 Rxb3 32.Bxb3 Ra1 + 33.Kg2 Qe7! -+ (with the idea of 34…Qe1). However,
with the clocks dwindling down and Akobian having a small but significant clock
advantage (7 minutes to 2) it was still possible to cross one’s fingers and
hope for the best while on board four, events were also unfolding in an
On board four the young Peter Lessler (2177) was valiantly holding
on with the Black pieces against Arizona’s NM Dipro Chakraborty (2306). Right
away, Peter was able to deploy his pieces sensibly in the face of a King’s
Indian Attack setup. But with White slowly creeping up the kingside and Black
facing the usual issues of how to achieve an active plan, it seemed that Peter
was in real danger of being eventually outclassed. Throughout a protracted
maneuvering face, the game at times seemed to favor White (NM Chakraborty) and other times appeared to be balanced. Despite sorties such as 22.Nf6!? and a spirited effort on White’s
part, Peter always seemed to be holding on just enough to begin generating
queenside play and not suffer any real damage to his position. After an important knight exchange and the move 27…Rb2! it was clear Peter
was standing up to the master after all and any result still seemed possible.
Nevertheless, the situation still looked quite dangerous for the Sluggers -
hoping for two draws or a victory on some board still seemed like a miracle.
On board one, it still seemed that if GM Akobian would somehow avoid losing material
his winning chances may not be significant. But then, a reversal of fortune
took place! After GM Akobian’s 33.Rc6, IM Molner, who had less than two minutes on
the clock, played 33…Qe7? Overlooking that after 34.Qxf4 b2? (as played in the game)
White simply had 35.Qxb8! capturing the rook for free! All of this occurred in
the game. Amazingly, Akobian was now up a full rook and wasted no time
whatsoever in giving back some of the material in order to acquire an easily
won position. Instead Black was very close to winning the game with 33…Qb4 intending …b2,
when White cannot complicate the game for long. IM Molner’s mistake was no doubt prompted partially by GM Akobian’s tenacity and the pressure of the unusual opening and match circumstances. The complicated position had
paid off and suddenly the Sluggers had qualified for the Championship!
And what of board 4? Did Peter Lessler pull it off? After a
missed win by White at 54.Qf4? (54.Bxg6! fxg6 55.Qxg6+ Kh8 56.Qf7! +-) Peter’s
infiltration broke through and within a short handful of moves Black was up a
pawn (after 58…Nxc4) with a winning position. Peter had nearly finished off his
game in victory when he made an important mistake 76…Nxa5? Grabbing a second
pawn, but giving White enough time to organize a defense with 77.Ba4! Instead
Black could have won with 76…Nd4+ 77.Kd1 Kb7! White cannot play 78.Bxf7 due to 78…Nf5,
with the idea of 79…Ne3+ (and there is no Ba4) He is therefore helpless to find
a useful move. The game could continue 78.Ba4 Ka6 79.Be8 kxa5 80.Bd7 Nf5 and
there is no Ba4. Instead after 76…Nxa5? 77.Ba4! Black lost his two pawn
advantage. Still the game should have been easily drawn but a last-minute
oversight by Peter (83…Ke7? Instead of 83…Nxg5 =) gave White an opportunity to transpose
to a winning king and pawn ending. As soon as the point was revealed (87.Kh5!
gaining opposition), sadly Peter’s magnificent efforts were revealed to be not enough
and he had to resign.
The Sluggers’ play, as a whole, left a strong impression during
this match. All boards refused to be budged. Helped by a bit of good luck, the players
pounced on opportunities and never gave Arizona an opportunity to think they
had it in the bag. This continuous pressure, no doubt, contributed very nicely
to the Slugger’s victory. Congratulations Sluggers and good luck in the Finals!
Monday night’s match ended in defeat for the Sluggers: 2.5 –
1.5. Despite a substantial deficit in ELO Average (almost 80 points) the
Sluggers appeared to be teetering close to a drawn or even won match at various
points during the match.
The most important game of the match turned out to be on
board two where the Slugger’s FM Marcel Milat had White against IM Keaton
Kiewra. Marcel was able to establish quite a nice position in the King’s Indian
using the older continuation of 10.g3 in
the Bayonet Attack. This choice paid off nicely since by move 15 (15.Bxe4!)
White already had the initiative and a pleasant light-squared bind. For a long
time, Marcel possessed the bishop pair and a potentially devastating dominance
on the light-squares while IM Kiewra appeared to only be looking for some
counterplay. But with very resourceful and accurate play (27….Rxb7! 28.Qxb7
e4!) the game once again looked very unclear and dangerous for both sides.The players continued to trade accurate moves
back and forth (29.Rg3!, 30…Be5!) when finally Marcel made a decisive misstep
in the form of 33.Kh3 whereupon 33…e3! Was lights out as would have been 33…Rf5!.
Instead, had Marcel played 33.Kh1!, analysis shows that it
is Black who must play accurately to compensate for his material deficit. Note
that the bishop on e5 can not capture on g3 because of Qg7 mate. The move 33…e3
could, in this case, be dealt with effectively via 34.Rg2 Qf3 35.Qc6 as 34…Qf3
is not check. Instead Black would carefully need to play 33…Qb2! Followed by 34.Rd1
Bxg3 35.hxg3 Rf2 36.Qg7+ Qxg7 37.hxg7+ Kxg7 with an equalized ending.
With this slight misstep, a game which appeared to even
having winning chances for the Sluggers ended in defeat and the remaining
boards were under pressure to produce a +1 result in order to tie the match, or
+2 result (of 3 games) to win the match. But this did not seem like too
terribly unlikely. On board one, IM Slava Mikhailuk was defending the Black side
of a dangerous looking attack on his kingside arising from the Sicilian. IM
Zhanibek Amanov wielded the White pieces and was proceeding down the board, but
Slava was remaining alert and gradually finding decent activity for his pieces.
After some back-and-forth mistakes (18…Bb7? Was mistaken and
should have been met with 19.Qf2! rather than 19.Rf2? for example) Black had
just about equalized when he made a critical oversight and played 26…Bxg7?
27.Rxf7 Qe2? Aiming to tie the queen down to e3 so she could not capture on g6.
But Amanov quickly revealed a combination which Slava had overlooked: 28.Rxg7+!
Kxg7 29.Qe5+ Kg8 30.Bd4 and the mate threats on g7 and h8 were far too much to
cope with. Instead, Slava could have
played 26…Bd6! Whereupon 27.Qh3 (or 27.Qh4) can be met with 27…f5! amazingly
solving Black’s defensive problems. Thus here too, equality was close at hand
just before a tactical mistake spelled defeat for the Sluggers.
This game wrapped up not too long after Marcel’s and thus
the Sluggers had scored 0/2 where 1/2 or even 1.5/2 had moments ago seemed
feasible. But the Sluggers were not to be counted out! NM Josh Sinanan played
quite smoothly and cashed in on a couple of inaccuracies (20…c5? in particular)
by FM Eugene Yanayt to gain a healthy extra pawn with big winning chances. Still
after some back and forth inaccuracies for both sides, FM Yanayt missed an
opportunity to nearly equalize the ending with 35…Nh5+ when the check buys just
enough tiem to coordinate the Black forces and avoid conceding any extra
material. Instead after 35…Nf5 36.Rd7 White was back on a healthy path to
victory and before long had regained his extra pawn, thereby obtaining a pair
of protected passed pawns on the queenside. The game ended in checkmate and the
Sluggers still had a chance to equalize the match.
It looked like this just might happen as on board three the
Slugger’s FM Curt Collyer had gained an extra pawn against FM Konstantin
Kavutskiy and appeared to have winning chances though it never quite looked
like he would be able to break White’s resistance. Curt Collyer again sprung
his 1…b6 defense and managed to, again, acquire quite a decent position! By
move 15 (15…Nb4) it was already clear that White had not managed to gain much
of anything out of the opening. The long maneuvering struggle which ensued
remained mostly balanced though for a while it appeared that White had modestly
better chances. At one point in the game, both players faltered severely, and
Black should have ended up down a piece. This occurred after 30…Bb3? When White
missed the opportunity to play 31.Qd3! threatening Qb5 and simply planning to
meet 31…Bxa4 with 32.Qc4 b5 33.Qxc6. There is no adequate solution to this move
and Black could have lost the game. Instead, FM Kavutskiy played the more meek
31.Bc2? and Black had attained full equality. A further serious mistake by
Kavutskiy (36.f4?) simply blundered away a pawn and gave Black substantial
winning chances. Tragically, Curt missed his chance when he played the quite
natural recapture 63…Nxb5 instead of cleverly using the king to capture the pawn
with 63…Kb6! 64.Kf2 a3! 65.Nc1 Kxb5 66.Ke3 Kc4 67.Kd2 Nf5 68.Kc2 Nxd4 69.Kb1
Kc3! -+ With the idea of 70.Ka2 Kc2 -+. Instead after 63…Nxb5, the slight loss
of time for the king’s penetration was enough to allow White to hold the draw.
Though he fought to the very last, Curt was unable to finally make anything of
his extra pawn and the game was finally drawn.
A disappointing loss for the Sluggers but as the playoff
seat had already been secured – the Sluggers will play on next week! Best of
A tough loss for the Sluggers against St. Louis this week!
Sadly, Seattle never managed to get into a groove and had clearly lost
positions before the 20th move had been reached on both of the
boards where Seattle wielded the Black pieces. The first of these was board
I’ve heard it said that the result of board one is disproportionately
a good predictor of the entire result of the match, possibly because of its
effect on team morale. If this is true, then players in St. Louis must have
doubled their resolve when GM Ben Finegold accumulated a nice advantage in the
opening and then profited from an early but quite understandable mistake by FM
Costin Cozianu (16…Ne8?) to immediately gain a winning advantage on the
queenside in the form of an extra pawn which was passed and already threatening
to march down the board.
Instead Black’s best chance may have been able to keep the
balance through grabbing the pawn 16…Qxb4!? While it would seem that White
would be able to gain much from attacking the queen, in fact after 17.Rab1 Qa3!
Black is able to get away with capturing on a2, and aiming to trade heavy
pieces as quickly as possible. The alternative 17.Rcb1 Rac8! Forces 18.Qxc8
Qxb1+ 19.Rxb1 Rxc8 20.Rxb7 and Black can achieve a holding ending after 20…Rc1+
21.Bf1 Bxf3 22.Nxf3 Nb6! With adequate counterplay threatened in the form of …Nc4,
…Ne4, and then a knight coming to d2. But all of these lines look extremely difficult
to see at the board, and it’s understandable that Costin tried to hold the 7th
rank and harass White’s queen instead beginning with 16…Ne8 – but White was able
to capture two pawns and was able to consolidate one of the extra pawns too
easily. A rapid loss for the team Seattle.
On board three, FM Curt Collyer also suffered very early on
against IM Levan Bregadze. Curt used his system of an early ....b6, provoking
the opponent to take space in the center. White fully ouccpied the center with
e4, d4, and c4 pawns, but with the strong play 7…Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 d6 Curt managed
to keep White’s strategic plus down to its bare minimum. Strangely, White gave
up most of his space advantage when he played 12.dxe6?! which is probably just
an anti-positional mistake. No doubt, White was counting on generating
sufficient active play with his bishop pair but had Curt simply replied 12…fxe6
13.Ng5 (this was the move Curt feared) 13…Qd7 – it’s not too clear what White
will have and left to his own devices Black will play …e5 with a fine position.
Perhaps White would have tried 14.f4 but Black has many ways to hold the
balance. An attractive one is 14…h6 15.Nf3 Rae8, with the intent of playing a
sharp thrust …e5 on the next move.
Instead, Curt, fearing Ng5, played12…f6? Intending to recover the pawn on e6 at
a later time. But White accurately burst through the position before Black had
time to bring about a reasonable turn of events and by move 15 it was clear
that White would be pressing home a winning kingside attack. The game was
abandoned on move 22 when Black had the unhappy choice of surrendering his
queen or being checkmated.
These two early losses could not be fully atoned for on the
boards where Seattle had White. NM Josh Sinanan’s game against Matthew Larson
was well-played by White who coped with a barrage of rapid moves fired off by a
well-prepared opponent. Larson (rated around 1918) fired off the first 22 moves
of the game (!) a full eight moves after Josh appeared to be aware of the “theoretical”
moves. Josh remained calm and found one good move after another until finally
Larson began to slow down around move 23. The fruits of Black’s preparation
were a significant advantage on the clock and an opponent who had already
expended much more nervous energy on the game, but finally the difference in
playing strength made itself known and just four short moves after the storm of
preparation had ended White had already achieved a winning position (27.Rd3 +-).
It also appears that White had a chance to gain a decisive advantage a couple
moves earlier with 25.e5! Qf8 (only move) 26.Bf1! and Black is losing by force -
all variations end in winning attacks or in material losses for Black which
lead straight into easily winnable endgames.
FM Slava Mikhailuk’s game on board three with White against 19
year-old IM Priyadharshan Kannappan did not go as well. Rating’s wise this was
the closet game of the match with Slava holding slightly fewer ELO points. Here
too, Black appeared to be very well prepared and a striking feature of this
game is how intimidatingly fast IM Kannappan was moving. By the end of the
game, Black’s clock appeared to almost never have been utilized, meaning that
the 30-second increment was enough for Black to make all of his moves. Slava’s
English fell into some troubles, but with accurate play Slava had just about
managed to stabilize the situation. But, uncharacteristically, Slava lashed out
with a risky pawn jump 19.d4? which I believe must have contained a
miscalculating on Slava’s part. If I had to take a guess I would say that after
19…cxd3 20.Bb2 Nec4 21.Bd4 Nd2 (all of which occurred in the game) White may
have believed he had 22.Rfc1+ Kb8 23.Bxd3 but later discovered that Black would
have 23…Nb3 in the final position. Instead 19.Nf3 !?, for example, would have
been enough for White to eventually exchange pieces and complete his
development (Ra2-c2, Bb2). Ultimately 19.d4? ended up being a mistake so grave
that it cost Slava an exchange. Slava fought hard to salvage the position but a
lost exchange was just too much.
The match ended 1-3 for the Sluggers. A tough match indeed!
The Sluggers win! This was an exceptionally
close match in which the advantage ebbed and flowed – from looking about equal,
to sharply worse for the Sluggers, to nearly winning for the Sluggers, to
sharply worse for the Sluggers, to suddenly winning and won for the Sluggers.
See for yourself!
Boards one and two were looking shaky right
from the start. On board one we had FM Costin Cozianu (2508) handling the White
pieces against GM Joel Benjamin (2646). Clearly, a draw here would be an
excellent result but Cozianu’s opening play left something to be desired right
from the get-go. Costin used the Worrall Attack, a setup against the Ruy Lopez
featuring Qe2 and Rd1. Strangely, he then followed up with 11.d3 when the
placement of the rook seemed to call for 11.d4 – but the real enigma is why
both players seemed to feel that 14.Nxe5 led to an acceptable compensation for
Black. When I raised this question (including to Cozianu!) I mostly heard
groans related to the Marshall Gambit – but this is most certainly not a
Marshall Gambit position!
There are several factors in White’s favor. He
will not find it necessary to play g2-g3. After the suggested 15…Bd6 (Cozianu)
White can play 16.Qh5! (on 16…g6 17.Qf3!) – notice that unlike the Marshall Gambit White
has activated his queen very early (whereas in the Marshall White must play
Rxe5 and then Re1 in reply to …Bd6 – he then struggles to include his queen into the affairs on the kingside).
There is no question of Black achieving …Qh4 and this means that White does not
to weaken his king’s front with g2-g3. What’s more in the Marshall Gambit White’s
knight lives in b1 for quite some time, but here it is just a move away from
hoping to e4. All-in-all Black is forced to prove that his piece play can be
turned to account on the kingside and I just don’t see how this is going to
take place. And if you’re still not convinced, just look at the alternatives! …
White instead played 14.d4 after which he was saddled with an isolated pawn and
Black’s space and majority on the queenside was impressive. A pawn in exchange
for some pressure may have been a better compromise for White (and quite
possibly- advantageous for White).
Fast forward a few moves and Black had achieved
an outstanding position. NM Josh Sinanan, observing the game, immediately recognized 20…Ba3! as a very
strong move which would have exploited the unpleasant arrangement of White’s pieces on
the queenside and creating the simple threat of …Bb2, White would have probably
found this position highly unpleasant and needs to find 21.Be4 and hope for the
Instead 20…Bd6?! was played by GM Benjamin
followed by a spirited attack – from here both players played excellently.
Black built his attack and at the same time set all kinds of dangerous traps
for Cozianu, but Cozianu was able to hold his ground and draw the game. This
was an unexpected delight to all of us who had been following the game (and
rooting for Seattle) since the opening and the strength of the opponent seemed
to indicate that this game was headed toward disaster! Not so!
Board two was an even more hopeless cause
from the outset but miraculously ended in a draw. FM Slava Mikhailuk (2415) was
paired way up with the Black pieces against GM Boris Gulko (2590). White
coasted straight to an overwhelming advantage somewhere by move 18 or so and was playing his
moves fairly rapidly adding to the fright which we all experienced while
watching the game and which must have ruffled Slava as well.
White went ahead a pawn at move 21 with
21.fxe5 giving him a 3-0 central pawn majority (!!) Black also had weaknesses on
the queenside and a knight out of play. This is the Grunfeld at its worst! By
move 35, White had a full two pawns advantage, every one of the remaining Black
pawns was seriously weakened, and the Black pieces were barely holding onto
their blockade. White also held four minutes on the clock to Black’s two (30
seconds are added every move).
Black faced overwhelming odds but
continued to play the most precise moves which did not immediately lead to
disaster. Everything was in excellent shape for White and it was just about
time for Slava to resign before a very innocent mistake meant that White had to
part with the fruits of all of his efforts. That mistake was the seemingly
inconsequential 43.Rff2 when after 43…Qd3! White suddenly found that he could
not prevent perpetual check no matter how he tried. Had White tried 47.Be5+ Kh6
48.Rxh2+ Kg5 49.Rxh7 Black would draw with 49…Qxe4+ 50.Kg1 Qe1+ … a miracle!!
White was forced to accept a draw and this drastically altered the situation in
the match. Instead, White could have put the game away with 43.Rb8+ Kg7 44.Rfb1
with an overwhelming position. For example 44…Kf6 (trying to prevent e7) meets
45.e7! … 1-0! A great game by GM Gulko
which was spoiled by very bad luck and a spirited resistance by Slava.
And a good thing that Slava pulled through,
because the situation on boards three and four where we were looking for at
least that one win couldn’t have gotten more disturbing. Board three was an interesting game full of little Catalan
motifs. White was the Slugger's FM Marcel Milat's game against FM Carsten Hansen. This game was also the closest in terms of ELO points (Marcel having a 59-ELO point advantage). Black always looked close to equality but never managed to dispell the pressure on the queenside pawns. Little by little, Marcel seemed to be guiding the Sluggers to an important victory - a victory which seemed necessary to at least equalize the match given the dire situation on board four. But just as it seemed that Marcell would go a comfortable pawn up and wrap up the effort neatly, Marcel decided to sacrifice a piece! (39.Rh1?). Instead, 39.Nb7 Nxa4 40.Rh1 is very strong. Marcel's piece sacrifice led to three pawns for a piece with still very dangerous pressure on the Black position. The maneuver 41...Nc8! followed by 42...Nd6 would have been enough to careen the game towards a simple draw for Black, but in time pressure we all quite liked Hansen's quick-thinking defense 41...Nxa4!? immediately returning the piece for two pawns and holding a rook ending down a pawn. Very quick thinking! The last touch was 52...f5+! when White had to accept that the two pawns were useless in bringing about victory. Marcel continued to do his very best but luckily it became unimportant for him to win the game because of the dramatic events on board four....
The decisive game proved to be board four, where Black (the Slugger's FM Curt Collyer, 2294) magically found himself in a perfect
King’s Indian position after opening the game with … 1…b6! With the colossal
gap in ratings (White was Vince Klemm, 2073) and Black stretching out in the center and on the kingside, this
game had been chalked up by the gang as 0-1 almost as quickly as it had begun.
But things did not at all proceed smoothly, and unable to land a serious strategic blow,
Black found himself being ripped apart by the exact same chronic weaknesses
which tend to characterize the King’s Indian in its saddest moments – and with
nothing serious in the form of a compensating attack. White was just a move or
two away from forcing resignation but instead veered off track at the last
moment giving Black’s pseudo-attack the right to exist. What amazing fortune,
because the unexpected draw on Marcel’s board meant that Collyer’s game held
the entire result of the match. Who could have guessed that he would emerge
from this position unscathed! Congratulations must be paid because
Collyer’s position was by no means easy. Rather than fold or launch a hail-mary,
Collyer was able to get his attack close enough to success to profit from White’s
inaccuracies. Suddenly, Collyer had won the game, and with it the match was
secured in Seattle’s favor. Go Sluggers!!
So I looked at Bioniclime's simulations, and wow, STL and NJ have 0% of making it to the post-season. Shucks.
But then, I looked at Seattle's chances of making the post-season, and then I didn't really feel so good.
0.339%. Uh-mazing. Which means it would be hilariously funny if we did end up making the post-season. Like, what would Seattle do. Hm. Sweep STL. Sweep the Vibe. And then knock currently #4 Dallas out of the post-season. Hm. What if Dallas goes 0-4 against SF Mechanics and Miami Sharks. Oh, that would put Seattle into the post-season.
I like where this is going. We just need to sweep STL and the Vibe.
1. GM Hikaru Nakamura - FM Cozianu
HAHHAHAHAHAHAHAA. Oh shnaps. what the ****. $#!@. Actually, not all hope is lost. Apparently, Hikaru is performing like a 2163. Heck. What the crap is that? Even lil' big gun Roland Feng has a higher performance rating than that. Oh, and as a matter of fact, now that I think about it, a kid who JUST graduated from elementary school has a higher performance rating. AND, he's from Seattle!
Holy cow. I just glanced at Roland's performance rating. It's 2326. That's actually pretty good. Shnaps. Future star material right there.
Haha. But this is only Nakamura's second game of the season. As if he's been saving 'it' for Seattle. haha, maybe not...though I'm interested in knowing why he hasn't played any more games.
As for the rest of the boards, I guess the popular opinion would be that SEA loses on board 2 and wins 3+4. But if we just get a draw on either 1+2, we got the match.
And then there was that time when Seattle still made the playoffs with a 4.5-5.5 record. Maybe the chips will fall our way again. Who knows. It's called Luck.