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!

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