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!

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