A friend challenged me to prove that chess was a “real” sport. After spouting out the usual spiel about chess he simply told me to state a sports cliché that applied to chess. “Win or go home!” I blurted out, only to realize that the USCL teams were staying home whether they won or not. “You’re only as good as your last game” , didn’t seem correct considering how the Sluggers tumbled into this years playoffs. “You gotta take them one at a time”! Aha!! There was my cliché. “No” my friend shook his head, “that’s not a sports cliché, that’s what a divorced woman tells her lawyer”.
“Finding a way to win” is my cliché for the Sluggers. Getting into the playoffs was something of a victory for the Sluggers to start with, considering they lost their final two matches, yet exiting without so much as a whimper would still be disappointing. Once it was certain that they were in the playoffs it didn’t really matter which team they were going to face, the Sluggers were going to be underdogs and search for a formula to succeed in a do or die match. First off the Sluggers need an idea of how they are going to win a match, where the points are coming from. Second, they have to be prepared for that goal. Last, they have to believe that “they” can get it done. These points alone won’t win any match, but they will get the Sluggers into a situation where they have a fair chance to win.
Facing Miami right now is no easy feat. They are a team that has found it’s rhythm and has been rolling. In such a situation the players on a team are hampered by questions of inaccuracy or failure, they simply follow what seems to be correct. This is a great advantage for any team that enjoys it. The Sluggers must realize that they aren’t facing a vastly more talented or experienced team, they are facing a group of players that don’t think they can lose. It is exactly that “don’t think they can lose” attitude the Sluggers have to take advantage of. I am pretty certain Miami will want White on the odd numbered boards as Becerra on first is their best player and Osmany Perea on third has been the engine for them recently. Becerra is one of the very best players in the league. A couple of important points though; Serper has done pretty well against him in league games and Becerra has been the recipient of a couple of gifts in recent matches. So, he is not infallible. Perea with White plays an unpretentious style that aims to let the opponent make mistakes, so the key to playing him is to sit tight and make him try to come across the board. Board two is most likely going to be Bruci Lopez and fourth Matan Prilleltensky. I would expect Lopez on board 2 as he has been there during this run for Miami. He plays an active style seeks out complications. If I was Eddie Chang I would call up Eric Tangborn and ask him if he remembers a game Eric had against Bill Schill in the Washington Junior back in 1976 and if Eric has that game score tell him to study it and be prepared to play the White side. Ok, just kidding, I really doubt Eric has any 30 year old game scores. Prilleltensky is a rookie who has done well in the matches he played and seems a natural player. The bottom line for the Sluggers is this: they have very good chances of not losing on first board and have to find a way to not lose on third. If Miami wins on third board the Sluggers have to win 2 games with White which would be extremely difficult. We will have to wait and see what lineups are posted.
Now let’s talk a little about the other playoff matchups. If people were surprised that Miami won the West then they must be proclaiming the end of the world with Carolina coming out on top. The Cobras were shuffled back into the Eastern Division this year with the expansion and took top honors. They face a resurgent New York Knights team that was left for dead after the Sluggers beat them in week 6. I was one of the earliest advocates of the Cobras chances to make the playoffs, but I suspect school is out. Carolina might pick up a point on second board if Krush over presses or doesn’t take Zaikov seriously, but I don’t see a place where they can win a second game. So, they have to pick up 2 draws on the other 3 boards. It is a funny thing, but the Knights don’t have to worry about losing they have to worry about drawing. That works really well for them. The Queens – Boston match has taken on a “Family Feud” aspect with all the talk emanating between Krasik and Lenderman. As a straight match between teams I would pick Boston, but there are those pesky draw odds. We all know that the Boston boys are real full of themselves, but this might just be too much. The other match in the West is San Francisco and Dallas, the past two USCL champions. My natural inclination is to say that whichever team wins a game first wins the match, but SF has draw odds. That works to their advantage if games are drawn. I think it helps Dallas as they can slowly play for a point and be ready to take advantage of any overly aggressive overture by one of the Mechanics. This is a stylistic problem, reminiscent of Lasker – Capablanca St. Petersburg 1914.
Finally a personnel reflection. There has been some chatter about East coast bias in the league and I would like to weigh in on this. I read Ilya Krasik’s latest gem and must say how wonderful it must be to learn how to write by using “The National Enquirer” read and play. A truly fine piece of creative non fiction that is well worth the effort it takes to discern its true meaning, really. My only problem is that I thought it was better to write in a slightly more modern style, less “Tarzan see insult, Tarzan not like insult”. I am not condemning his style. No, not at all. I am upset that none of the East Coast elite were of a mind to let me know that I should communicate with them in this style. You know, shorter words, fewer sentences, more grunts highlighted by grunts! Yeah, that’s it. With all the clamor that this received from the folks back East I feel empowered to try and descend, I mean ascend, to that level. Oh I can’t do it, there must be some genetic deal with those guys. Thanks