Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sluggers vs. Miami in playoffs

Last night the Sluggers lost to Miami 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 and so ended their third season and second entry into the playoffs. It was a typical example of how the season has gone for the Sluggers. a disjointed struggle.

Having won the Western division the Miami squad was heavily favored to advance, mostly because they had draw odds. What it boiled down to was that no matter how the double GM lineup did for Seattle the Sluggers were likely to struggle on the bottom two boards. The first point in the scenario didn't materialize and the second likely shouldn't have.

Serper's game was the one that went closer to expectation than the others. Playing 1.c4 and 2.g3 as he did when he arrived on the international scene Serper played the Botvinnik formation against Lopez' King's Indian setup. Serper showed his expertise in rubbing out any Black play while playing a textbook king side assault with pieces. A very fine technical game. On fourth board Andy May ended up in a side line of the Max Lange / Scotch Gambit as White. I doubt Andy knows this, but the Max Lange was all the rage in the Northwest for about 4 years in the mid 70's. For my part, I was surprised to find that the players followed a recommendation from GM Dzindzichashvilli up to move 14. Kd2 where the GM claims a slight advantage for White. It might be that a GM can play the White position for an advantage after 14. Kd2, but I would be more likely to seek play with 14. d4 as 14...Nxf3 15.Bxf3 activates the Bishop, keeps a slight space edge and works to make something of the exposed Black King. For example 14.d4 Nxf3+ 15. Bxf3 a6 16. Nc7 Rb8 17. Nd5+ with 0-0 and Re1 on the cards looks good. As the course of the game went Andy seemed to go completely passive and ended up in a completely passive position. After giving up his h-pawn to get some activity the roof just came down on Andy. Michael Lee on board 3 was slated to have the toughest time. His opponent Perea is still a bit of a mystery as far as just how strong he is. Michael played a main line of the Kings Indian and followed accepted theory for quite a while. Michael ended up a pawn to the good, but without realistic winning chances. Before the match if anyone had said that Seattle would get 1 1/2 out of the lower 3 boards most people would think the chances of a Slugger victory quite good. Well, here is where the typical Sluggers scenario comes into play. Nakamura played the Breyer defense in the Ruy Lopez against Becerra and achieved a reasonable position. My feeling is that this was a bit of an odd choice as Becerra plays the Lopez from both sides and isn't going to find many problems in it that are outside his realm and considering the number of different defenses Nakamura could play there might have been a more pointed choice. Still the real shocker came just into the middlegame when Nakamura gave up a piece for 2 pawns. There might be some deep underlying nugget that we all missed, but it would seem that it was deep enough that Naka missed it too. This was almost like handing a point to Miami. I would say it was disappointing, but the circumstances and sequence just left it bewildering. As I said, very typical of the Sluggers play this season. One final point is that the first board encounter was basically played out before any of the other players had escaped the opening. This is important because the other 3 Sluggers really pulled up their socks and made a run at the Sharks. I would like to congratulate Serper, Lee and May for showing the heart that seemed missing from the Sluggers for parts of the season and thank them for confirming that there is a lot of fight in the players representing Seattle.

So, no more Sluggers this year. It is possible that the rest of the playoffs will be exciting as the finalists from last year Dallas and Boston now face the 2 surprise division winners Miami and Carolina. I can't say that I really like any of these teams, but I would expect Dallas to do well.

So, til next season. See Ya!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Western Division semi: Miami vs. Sluggers

“No matter how often you are defeated, you are born to victory” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s playoff time in the USCL and Monday we see the fun begin. The Sluggers come into the playoffs on a 2 match losing streak, the first team to make the playoffs with a sub 500 season record. They face a red hot Miami Shark squad that was able to win the Western Division in the final regular season match. The Sharks have a solid lineup led by two time league MVP Julio Becerra, plus they will have draw odds. Not an easy task for the Sluggers. There isn’t a pundit around that will pick the Sluggers to win the match and I am not one to break ranks. What I will do is describe how the Sluggers can win.

The draw odds add a peculiar dynamic to the match. On its face this would seem to suggest that each of the Sluggers players must play to win, while each of the Sharks will play to draw. Such a scenario would benefit the Sluggers, I feel, because it is easier to play for a win from the start than a draw. I doubt that any of the participants will fall into such thinking, so it is a simple matter that Seattle can’t tie the match. They have to win it. In a previous post I offered a scenario in which the Sluggers would have chances to defeat the Sharks, but I was unaware of Nakamura’s availability at that time. With Nakamura available the Sluggers can use the double GM lineup and improve their odds. The reason for this is simple; in my previous review of the match I felt it imperative that Seattle not lose with Black on boards 1 and 3, with Nakamura they are possibly a favorite to win on 1 with Black. If that does happen then the Sluggers just have to find 1.5 more points. Serper was defeated by Lopez in Week 1 of the season, but Gregory had Black in that game. I feel certain that Lopez will have some special preparation for Serper’s lines in the Kings Indian, but even so Serper is likely a favorite. Board 3 is tough for Seattle as Perea is just the type to give Lee trouble. I speculated that the best way to play against Perea, at least in a team event, was to sit tight and see what he can create. Michael is still a young player and it will most likely be difficult for him to play tight. That said, any score that Seattle gets on this board is gravy. On 4th board Andy May faces Prilleltensky. My impression is that Prilleltensky has altered his approach as he played the Sicilian in the past, but in 2 league contests this year played 1.e4 e5 and then the Rubinstein French as Black. If Andy can resolve himself to play in a determined manner rather than any kind of all out style, I think he will do very well.

So, my scenario is 2.5 points out of boards 1,2 and 4. Now for a bit of thinking. You know what made Miami so much better this year? The bottom 3 boards aren’t watching Becerra and relying on him so much. My opinion is that Bruci Lopez coming back to Miami from Baltimore shifted that dynamic and it has worked great for them. So, just speculating here, what happens if boards 1 and 2 tilt towards the Sluggers early? Perea might not be too disturbed, but putting him in a must win situation will be interesting. The situation on board 4 could be even more up in the air as Prilleltensky might be in a pressure situation. This is the kind of thing where team dynamics come into focus and Seattle will have to make the most of it.

Ok, that is it for me. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and watch the action on Monday!