Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Generation

Time to look back on the season for the Seattle Sluggers. The first thing I would like to point out is that the Sluggers had only one lineup change adding Howard Chen replacing Andy May. Other teams made many more changes, mostly major upgrades on higher boards. The upshot was that as the season started the Sluggers were looking to have an experience factor on their side. To start the season the schedule had the Sluggers face San Francisco and New York right out of the gate, two teams the Sluggers have some history with. Both matches ended in ties with both matches going the same, Seattle wins on first board , loses on second and draws on the bottom two. It seems that the Sluggers lower boards weren't looking for the maximum in either of these two matches and let some superior positions slide. Arizona in the third round was a change as Michael Lee was able to produce a small bit of magic and win from a worse position, giving the Seattle side a win and starting them on a streak. Nakamura had returned and Josh Sinanan had found his stride, so in the fourth round a 3-1 win over defending champs Dallas seemed a harbinger of Seattle's growing confidence. Facing Tennessee's double GM lineup next the Sluggers got another surprise boost when Mikhailuk defeated GM Shabalov to go with Sinanan's victory, 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 was now their 3rd win in a row. In round 6 it was wins by Serper and Sinanan that propelled the Sluggers past Queens, followed by a win over Miami with Nakamura and Sinanan once again supplying the victories. In round 8 Tennessee used the No GM's lineup while the Sluggers had both of their big guns scheduled. The surprise of the match was 4th board Howard Chen providing a text book like example in winning over one of Seattle's previous nemesis' John Bick. At the point Seattle had won 6 matches in a row, had 7/8 match points and had clinched a playoff spot. Round 9 had the return of the Arizona team. The Sluggers lost on that night when Josh missed a tricky win and Marcel was not able to see through the complications, scoring only one draw on the bottom boards while Naka was held to a draw. No one honestly expected the Sluggers to win out in the regular season, this loss was likely a real make or break point for them, at least in my opinion. It seemed to me that the Sluggers were winning on the outside boards and holding fast in the middle, Seattle's opponents would feel the pressure on those boards and consequently the opponent's middle boards would strive for more. My feeling is that the Sluggers middle boards could count on some highly aggressive, perhaps even risky, play from their opponents and could use that knowledge with a little preparation. In round 10 Seattle saw the Chicago Blaze for the only time this season. Marcel did a fine job of winning on 3, but Sinanan muffed a seriously better position and lost and the match ended in a tie. Going into the first round of hte playoffs the Sluggers had a lot to be confident of, they were going to have their double GM lineup available and a level of confidence that was new to them. The match with Miami should be a perfect example for future USCL teams in team psychology. With a surprising loss by the best player in the league as the first result the rest of the Sluggers had to change their mindset with an air of distress while the Sharks players were benefitted in thinking that they only needed draws. The end result was both frustrating and distasteful for the Sluggers as they lost 3 1/2 - 1/2. My feeling is that the season wasn't a failure as in any sense. Yes, they expected more, but that's why we play them. Sinanan proved that he is quite a good fourth board, Chen was a very pleasant surprise as a fill in, Marcel proved to be valuable, Michael had his moments but would do well with more preparation, Slava was his usual self as a rock sometimes and a turtle at others , and both Nakamura and Serper had stellar years. If the Sluggers players are serious about team chess all they need to do is to have some preparation and having a plan for each match. The disappointing thing is that these were almost my exact same words from last year. So, on to next season...

Which brings me to... me. I am done. That's right kiddies, the evil HA81 won't terrorize you with big words, sematic probes or quotes from people older than Greg Shahade. When I started I figured that 3 seasons would be enough to know whether it was a continuing project/hobby or not. Well, the answer has been obvious to me for a while. My hope was to provide an alternative to the more standard blogs in the league, I tried to adopt the role of the "fan in the stands". It didn't seem to succeed, though not through a lack of trying. My identity turned out to be an issue with some people, though I suspect more knew than let on. By now everyone knows who I am and so there is no need in going into that. I would like to submit the words of the greatest William ever, "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Ok, since that is out of the way i would like to share an opinion (you didn't really think I would go gently into that good night?). For my money the best blog on the USCL is Arizona, but that is because they have 500 people doing it. While I congratulate the Scorps on their blog, I think it is simply ridiculous that more teams can't recruit players to write for them. Probably I am to blame because everybody is afraid to find a blogger like me on their doorstep, but think about it. If there were more active blogs it should increase interest. Teams could cross link back and forth in their blogs to get a better effect. Not only that but more responses should be appearing on blogs in order to give direction to the bloggers. This will meet with a lot of guffaws, but It seems to me that it will go a long way to increasing the popularity of the league if we could limit the trash talking and work to have complete understandable sentences. Just a thought. With that, no more Twitter, no more blog, no more rants coming to your local pc, no more HA81. I am requesting that Eddie remove my email from the Sluggers blog so that I can't get back on, that way if someone posts as HA81 we can be sure it isn't me. In that same vein, I won't be reading this any more, you are all on your own.

I want to thank all the Sluggers players from Giorgi, Nat, Loren, Andy, Slava, Eric, John, Katerina, Josh, Hikaru, Gregory, Marcel, Michael and Howard as well as Eddie. Thanks to all the other players in the league, to Bioniclime and of course to Greg/the Commish/ Dean Wormer. I will likely get reprimanded for forgetting somebody, but hey that's how it goes when you get to be 52.

People try to put us down,
just because we get around,
things they do look awful cold,
hope I die before I get old,
this is my generation, my generation babe,
why don't you all fade away,
don't try and dig what we all say,
I'm not trying to cause a big sensation,
just talking about my generation,
my generation

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Ever watch the weather forecasters and wonder how they got their jobs? I mean, they are either stating the obvious or giving a forecast that has no chance of being right. Think about it from their side. That is how I feel today. Last night the Sluggers lost to the Miami Sharks by 3 1/2 to 1/2. Guess Roy was right when he said "you're gonna need a bigger boat!"

Bd. 1 Everything else in the match has to be seen in the light of what happened here. Facing GM Becerra with the Black pieces GM Nakamura opted to take the unusual course of playing the Nimzovich Sicilian with 2... Nf6. Some GM's have a limited repertoire and will stick with their openings to the end, but Nakamura doesn't fit that category. Consequently, a lot of possibilities can be read into the choice of this offbeat line. My read was that Hikaru felt he needed to win for Seattle to get through, it was best to bypass the lines that Becerra was well versed in, possibly pick something that could turn sharp quickly. I would not fault Naka for taking such an approach, though in a team match it seems a bit speculative. Anyway, booking up on a sharp line in the Sicilian sure wouldn't be the last thing we would expect. The only problem is, it appears that Nakamura didn't brush up on the Nimzo sicilian and was just kind of winging it. The result was that he resigned on move 12. This must rank very high on the lists of total surprises in league history.

Bd. 2 Lugo was late to start, but considering the styles and repertoires of the 2 players the time element was not very critical. An exchange QGD appeared on the board, a line that is ok for Black but fits Serper's style well. The game turned into a bit of siege warfare on the c6 pawn, when Serper attempted to open a second front it proved useless. Lugo was able to keep equality very close until the end when Serper pressed too hard and ended up losing a knight and pawn ending.

Bd. 3 Lee faced a line in the Moscow Sicilian (3. Bb5+) that is fairly normal in the variation with a quick d5. Roman met this with surprising energy that netted him a pawn. Michael played hard to get through to an ending, though extremely short on time. Clock issues led to some interesting decisions by both sides, but Roman was able to keep at least the extra pawn. Struggling to eliminate all the q-side pawns Michael was surprised by a quick shift of White's attention to the g-pawn and the rest of the K-side sank with it.

Bd. 4 Another 3.Bb5+ Sicilian, this time with Black playing for a dynamic imbalance of the 2 B's for development. Chen did a good job of limiting Black's play for a long while and ended up with a good bind on the Q-side light squares. I would suggest to Howard that he investigate 2 things: first that he played Nb4-d5 too soon and secondly a plan of making the b7 point a focus with either Ra4-b4 or possibly getting the king to defend c4 and then pushing b4-b5 might work better. As it was the assault on the d6 pawn lacked enough umph to get through and Chen had spent all his resources in the effort, eventually holding a rook and pawn versus rook ending.

So, that's the Season for the Sluggers. For much of the season they relied on strength on first board to carry them and it did. When that strength failed, so did they. No bad luck, no misfortune, no calamity of errors. In this match the Miami players found a way to win the match and pulled it off. They were the better players and deserve full credit for the victory. Congratulations to Miami and good luck going forward.

There is no point in going into what the team needs or how it can improve. Time will dictate those terms for us. We can be sure that next season will be tougher because the Sluggers will recieve a first place schedule, likely to include matches with 2 of the best teams in the East to go along with the best efforts of the Western division competitors. But, that is what makes it fun.

Thanks this time to Eddie, Josh, Marcel, Slava, Michael, John, Gregory, Eric, Howard and Katerina for making it a lot of fun this year. And also Hikaru, who we would not have won the division without. Thanks and have a nice day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Preview of Seattle v Miami

Playoffs are finally here. After clinching a playoff spot a while ago, I've been looking forward to the playoffs. Winning the division is nice, its something that we've never done before, but thats not the ultimate goal. The goal is to win the Championships. To that end, lets look at the matchup this week.

Becerra vs Nakamura

This is a rematch of last year. We had the same paring last year against Miami, except this year we are the ones that have draw odds. Last year, we lost, and now we want redemption. If you watched last year's game, Becerra won thanks to a misevaluation by Hikaru. But what you didn't know was that Hikaru was playing from Europe, at 3AM in the morning there. As many of us know, latenight chess can turn ugly. We miss things, make stupid mistakes, and have horrid hallucinations. Thankfully, Hikaru is in Seattle this year and we won't have that problem. Hikaru should win this one.

Serper vs Lugo

This matchup was a surprise to me. I thought Miami was going to use Marcel Martinez on board 2, with Lugo on board 3, so, using Lugo on board 2 was definitely a surprise. Serper with has been almost perfect with white this season, only giving up a draw to Ehlvest. In fact, he's only lost one game this season, and that was with black. Serper should be able to put together a similar game to last week's well deserved Game of the Week.

Moreno Roman v Lee

This lineup beat Arizona 3-1 last week, so I guess thats why Miami chose to go with it. Moreno Roman finally won a game this season, after going 0-2-1. He seems to be working off the rust after not playing in a tournament since the Miami Open in 2008. Michael is a young up and coming player that needed a break, after playing almost every week in the beginning of the season. Hopefully the break will provide a huge boost to him, and this matchup should be very interesting. I have no idea what will happen with this game.

Chen v Rodriguez

Seeing Eric on board 4 was no surprise. He's been stellar, losing only one game this year to Chicago's Young. This will be a tough game, but Howard does have the white pieces. Howard is hard to beat as white, so I'll hedge my bet and predict a draw here.

Well, all we need is a draw to advance, and hopefully we can get it from our top two boards. With a boost from Howard and Michael, we hopefully won't need to rely on draw odds, though it gives us a big psychological edge in which both Rodriguez and Moreno Roman have to push for a win.

Elsewhere in the West, I think San Fransisco is going to advance 2.5-1.5.

Eddie Chang

Sunday, November 8, 2009

People Get Ready

At last, the playoffs are here! That special time that we have been hoping and waiting for, the Playoffs. My feeling is that there is no debate about the playoff teams being the best 8 in the league and it has worked out to have some interesting matchups right out of the gate. It is imperative to remember when predicting playoffs that some teams will have draw odds, so that does "skew the view" as it were. Here's how I see it.

New Jersey vs. Baltimore - The Knockouts had missed the previous two seasons with late season let downs, but not this time around. They started fast and only had one misstep. Their strength has been outstanding play on the top 3 boards. Baltimore was the first USCL champion, but has fallen to the bottom of the East the past 2 seasons. They have a well rounded lineup that hasn't found a rhythm for their matches. If we take the first board matchup as a wash, then the Knockouts have some advantage in the middle while the Kingfishers have the advantage on 4th. So, for the Kingfishers to win the match they have to get extra performances from the middle two boards. I could see the Kingfishers putting up 3 draws on 1-3 and winning on 4th board, but I wouldn't be on it. New Jersey has too much going.

Boston - New York - This one is a lot closer than most people might realize. Check this out, looking at points by board for these two teams: board 1 both teams had 6, board 2 Boston had 4.5 New York 4, board 3 is at 5.5 each and board 4 Boston has 7.5 and New York 6.5. As I suggested prior to last weeks match both teams have substituted liberally, New York kept GM Kachieshvilli, filled in boards 2 and 3 then moved Norowitz to 4. Boston has gone with a completely new group. To be honest, I like the Knights in this matchup. We have to remember that Charbonneau was once a feared Blitz killer. to the point that Boston had put a bounty on him. Actually, the games where the Knights are black will be key, if they stay even on those boards their chances are pretty good.

Arizona and San Francisco - The Scorpions have made the playoffs and will be greated by one of the best teams in the league. Arizona has surprised the best teams this season, but more pointedly have placed themselves in the annual Western Conference free for all. The thing is the Scorps have to win against the Mechanics, so they have to find a board to win and then play tough on the other 3. This is a real hill for them especially with Bhat on 2nd and the improving youngsters on 3 and 4.

Miami - Seattle - the other half of the backyard brawl in the west. Ok, so Seattle and Miami aren't really "backyard" distance, the thing is these teams have been very closely matched in the past few seasons. You know the old saying about familiarity, well this would be an example. Taking the view of Seattle, the matchup that really jumps out at me is second board. Serper with white will be a demon for Lugo. If Seattle gets a point there it is pretty reasonable to think that Nakamura will hold, which leaves it to Lee and Chen to get one draw. In the first place Nakamura might still be stinging from losing with black to Becerra in last years round 1, then we add that Chen has been a bit of a surprise with his solid play and finally Lee is due to break out of the bad luck he has had in the league. Bottom line, Seattle can afford an accident on a lower board and Miami can't.

That's all for now. Thanks to eveyone and be sure to follow the Sluggers match on Twitter, look for HA81chess. ttyl and have a nice day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spirits in the Material World : Interview with HA81

Glancing either way up the street it is safe as no autos are approaching. Crossing the street to the arranged location strides follow briskly. Stepping through the door glanced around the room. A head moved, it was unmistakably him. There was a nod of affirmation. A voice asked what the order was and a finger was pointed at a donut. Picking up the cup and plate then proceeding towards the face. Standing to offer his hand the plate and cup were place on the table. As the tablet come out of the bag it was clear no one else was within ear shot. A quick sip and the interview started

MI: Good morning, Thank you for agreeing to do this
HA81: My pleasure, I am always at the disposal of the media
MI: you are looking well
HA81: Thank you, the climate seems to favor you as well
MI: I have grown used to it. Down to business. First question, how did you come to blog for the Sluggers?
HA81: Well, saw an ad in the newspaper, sent in a note, got a call, talked to a guy, sent a sample, bought the guy a coffee and talked to another guy, did a small dance and finally got the gig. Yeah, that's about it
MI: I see, has it been worth the effort?
HA81: Well, I don't get paid if that is what you are asking. Otherwise, it has been fun and kind rewarding in a way.
MI: How so?
HA81: Like anything else, the feeling of accomplishment. In this case that there is some element of an audience out there that reads my stuff.
MI: What is your view of your audience?
HA81: Not sure how you mean that? What do I think constitutes my audience? Well, they are kind of like me.
MI: Ok, I see. What I meant is how do you see your interaction with the readers?
HA81: Yeah, right. That was part of the talk with the guy. There was no clear direction given to me about what or how to write, as long as I didn't use foul language. So, I kind of had to work my way along. At first I was doing the "news at 11" standard, you know "he put his rook on the 7th and it proved to be very good there", crap... er stuff like that. Then I noticed that everyone was doing that and probably better. So, I tried a different tack. I played on several teams that won the local team league...
MI: is that the old Puget Sound League?
HA81: yeah, the PSL. I think I was on 8 winners in 10 years or something. Anyway, I remembered how my teams would approach matches and I attempted to share that. It seemed like a good idea and it was WRONG! I got no feed back at all as well as finding out that nobody on the team read my stuff. So, I kind of had to go back to the standard crap, but this time I didn't tailor it to fit what was expected or normal, I put my own feelings and emotion into it. The end result is, half of the league tells me to stop ranting.
MI: Ok, so you don't see the rest of the league as part of your audience? How do you feel about the rest of the leagues reaction to your blog?
HA81: The rest of the league is more than welcome to read my stuff and leave remarks. You know that the bloggers are a big part of the league because the blogs are the conduit to the fans. . Bioniclime does a really great job of getting interest from around the league and Ron Young figured out the jumble deal, that stuff is really fun. I mentioned this in a previous post that our league has fans who are players, not just folks who pretend to know what it is like to play, and part of the deal doing the blog is to create a forum for the fans to react and interact. Ok, how does it make me feel? Well, you see I write my stuff from the perspective of a Sluggers fan and so other people around the league aren't going to understand or appreciate that as much. I find my stuff is real different from the other bloggers. I get along with the other bloggers I have talked to. So, with all of that aside I would say that I see the rest of the league in 3 groups: a whole bunch of chess players who are just that, like me they are chess players, second group is a small cluster of agitators who figure they can get 20 seconds of the spotlight by telling me what a bozo i am or that one of the Sluggers should feel humiliated for losing to a lower rated player or something, third group would be players who get involved in threads that they are incapable of understanding because to be honest these people are third from the left on the graph of human evolution, you know the first ones who don't have their knuckles dragging...
MI: Uh, are you sure you want to depict part of the audience that way?
HA81: yeah, sure, why not? He knows who he is.
MI: Not afraid of making enemies?
HA81: Enemies? I am half Irish, I started out with enemies. Besides, it is only a freaking game after all.
MI: You know, I have noted that your blog involves a bit more controversy than the others, do you think that is related to your writing style or your content?
HA81: That is a very good question. Yeah, my style of writing is a bit more flamboyant than some of the others, but isn't the color I bring a positive? As for content, that's a big bag. At the core of it, any controversy on the blog is based in confrontation. My feeling is that the controversy isn't derived from differing points of view. No, the simple fact that I try to hold the responders to a standard - no free pass for imbicelic insults or saying things that have no thought behind them - that causes controversy. In this regard, we are talking about groups 2 and 3 in my previous comment. I invite people to take shots at me, but do some thinking about it... make me work for my counter remarks. As for any controversy concerning my run ins with titled players, I would say that there is a pecking order in the league, I am at the bottom of it but won't allow that to prevent me from standing up. To be honest though, I have no idea why this is even a topic because this stuff never makes it to the league, I mean there isn't any "McLaughlin Group" to debate the pros an cons regarding differences.
MI: I see, yes. You said that your writing is different from the other bloggers, how so?
HA81: Let me try this; how many times do you see predictions? How many times do you see post match wrap ups? Yeah, so everybody posts late Sunday or early Monday and then on Thursday. So, the first thing I did was write a post about how the other bloggers were kind of letting down, nex t thing I get a comment from Elizabeth Vicary. So, I kind of got a little momentum there. I started trying little things to change up how the blog was coming across, I still had to write match wrap ups though. I guess it is just looking for something new to try.
Mi: Why have you kept your identity concealed?
HA81: No one has asked me who I am
MI: So, it is as simple as that? If someone asked you your name you would tell them?
HA81: No
MI: Well then, you are actively remaining anonymous?
HA81: Uh, I don't see how it makes a difference? I am not a famous name, my name doesn't appear in Chess Life, I don't play in any of the big opens or the Amateur Team events, so if I use my name everyone will just wonder who the heck I am. That is anonymity as well, isn't it?
MI: I don't know about that. Having a real name on the blog would seem to give it more respectability, after all you yourself have commented about "anonymous" posters...
HA81: I can see where this is going. I have not used my "real name" for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it keeps a bit of intrigue in the writing. Your next question is going to be about the hypocrisy of me keeping a secret identity yet denouncing others for replying on the blog anonymously, right?
MI: Ok, lets say that would be next question...
HA81; that is easy. How often do I go onto the "Anonymous" blog and tell them that they aren't a good enough player to write about the USCL? Hmm? Never, because they aren't on any blog of their own. More simply try this, If I go onto ICC and ask about HA81 there is a chance someone will say "oh yeah, that fool who blogs, he is an idiot", but if I ask about Anonymous, there won't be anything. Does that help?
MI: Well, no not really. Why don't you announce your identity? What will it take?
HA81: Simple. This is America, if I get a good enough offer I will reveal who I am. That is the difference.
MI: Ok, moving on. Have you done any other writing?
HA81: Oh my yes
MI: Well? Such as?
HA81: Uh, I write checks, notes to my aunt, short set of instructions for co-workers...
MI: No, I mean have you done any other chess writing
HA81: ... term papers, small snipets of poetry... (pauses) Of course! I have written elsewhere about chess
MI: (slight bit of impatience) Ok, what else have you written?
HA81; (waves his right forefinger) No, what you mean is where can you find my identity. Sorry, not going to work today. Why don't we talk about the Sluggers?
MI: Very well. The Sluggers have had a good season this year, what has been the difference from past seasons? Is it Nakamura?
HA81: Well, there have been a few things. First off, Serper has played quite well this season and that has been a boost. Also, Sinanan on fourth board has done a tremendous job. Both of those guys should get a lot of credit for the teams success. Nakamura is great, but still only one point. Where he makes a difference is in the minds of the other players. The lower boards on the Sluggers kind of get the feeling that they should try to play up to his standards and that acts as motivation. Great for the team.
MI: Have you ever thought about playing for the Sluggers?
HA81: (rolling his eyes) Yeah, sure. All Star 4th board for the Sluggers!. I thought about it, then realized that I have a job I have to be at on Thursday mornings, I would probably be good for 30 to 35 moves and then it would be my bedtime. Besides, I have really good tv on Wednesday nights.
MI: I see. Who is your favorite Slugger player?
HA81: Oh, I don't know. I have known Eric (Tangborn) since we were both teens, I always root for him. Slava plays so hard it is hard to ignore him. I would say one of them.
MI: That is a bit of a surprise, I would have thought one of the GM's
HA81: No, not me. Sorry.
MI: Do you have any ideas of how the Sluggers could increase their popularity?
HA81: Yeah, I have a couple. Talk to the local high school chess coordinator and arrange a match, say 2 weeks before the season, between one of the better high school teams and some of the Sluggers. It wouldn't have to be any of the titled players, just the guys holding down 3rd and 4th board maybe. Set it up like a real internet match, with the Sluggers at home and the high schoolers at their place. I think that would draw some attention. Also, I had an idea to have some of the old time players from Seatte or the Puget Sound play a similar squad of Sluggers, but at a mall. You could have banners or something. Play it up to the public.
MI: Where do you see the league going and how do you percieve your place in it?
HA81: Uh, that is tough. I do not have any information about official league direction and am certainly not privy to the inner workings, so what I say is totally off the cuff. I have heard rumors that there is more expansion in the works, that could work really well. If the league got to 16 teams they could set it up like the 1960's NFL where there were 2 Divisions and 2 conferences in each division, so 4 conferences of 4 teams. Then for a 10 week schedule arrange it so that the teams play each other twice and then each team in one conference plays each of the teams in one other conference, then rotate which conference plays which on a yearly basis. For example, if a team came to LA you could have a Pacific conference with Seattle, San Francisco, LA and Arizona, then you could have a Southern or Dixie conference with Miami, Dallas, Tennessee and Carolina. Year one each of the Pacific teams has 6 matches against their conference brethern and 1 game each against the teams in the Southern conference. 10 games! That would lend itself to direct rivalries and give that a boost, also if the teams in a conference are all in the same time zone it would relieve a bit of the situation where New York is starting at 9 PM wondering if they will get 5 hours sleep before work the next day and Seattle is playing at 6 PM coming almost directly from work without time to freshen up. That would seem a positive to me. Another thing I can see is having 3 boards with a rating limit and the 4th board being strictly a junior or possibly a senior board. I am not thinking that teams could aim to pick up points by having Lenderman or Robson playing off the top 3 boards, instead it would seem likely that each team could recruit 1 or 2 aspiring local high school players and include them in the team. If little Bobby came home and told his parents that the local USCL team wants him to play, it is likely that Bobby's parents will have to find out what USCL stands for, but after that it is like free marketing. Those are just a couple of thoughts. As for my place in it? Probably very minimal if any. This season is likely it for me, I think that my contributions to the league are about done. My efforts would start to become routine and mundane, which is the furthest thing that I am aiming for. Probably just a fan and from where I live and watch the matches not many folk can here me yelling and cheering.
MI: Very surprising. From your writing my feeling is that your are one of the most passionate characters in the USCL and you are saying that you will walk away?
HA81: Yup, walk away with a perfect record no wins, no losses no draws.
MI: Ok, well that is about all I had. Do you have anything you want to share with the readers?
HA81:Yeah. When are we going to have USCL trading cards? Why don't we have an All Star match? Really want to spice things up, you could add an element of randomness like, Round 3 next year the teams can play their 4 players in any order! Or Round 5 we don't have prematch color allocations, each game draws lots for colors!! Or how about something like Sunday night on ICC the managers of paired teams compete in a trivia game to determine who gets to decide colors? Why did Greg stop doing his weekly video recap? Creativity, that is what this league needs more of.
MI: Very good thank you again...
HA81: One final thing. If any of the readers has an idea of who I am, not the Commish or anybody who I have revealed my identity to, then leave a comment with what you think my name is and why. I am certain that at least one person out there knows me, but I would bet it is an older person because all the clues I have left are from the before time. Thank you

Thursday, November 5, 2009

You Got That Right

"I like to drink and dance all night,

comes to a fix not afraid to fight,

you got that right,

Said you got that right

Sure got that right"

For the first time in their short history the Seattle Sluggers have won the Western Division regular season crown. Last night they scrapped out a 2-2 tie with Chicago in a very convoluted match. The title had actually fallen into the Sluggers hands earlier as San Francisco's 2-2 result with Dallas as well as Arizona's surprise 3-1 loss to Miami had finished before the end of the Sluggers' games. Let's try to pin down what happened in the Sluggers games last night.

Serper - van de Mortel started out 1.c4 Nf6 and worked itself into a Botvinnik English with c5. Black played to control d4 and Serper tried something a bit new with a quick Bg5. After some tussling over the d4 square and Black putting up e6 and f5, White could claim the advantage because of better rook coordination and a b6 pawn that was under observation. After a couple of minor tactical skirmishes from which Serper won a pawn he settled for a rook on the seventh and f/g/h pawns versus an h6 pawn and a passer on the b file that had the black rook in front of it. A small bit of technique brought the point to Serper.
Felecan vs. Mikhailuk saw Slava facing the Rossolimo line with an early Bxc6. Once again Slava built a solid formation, but spent a lot of clock in doing it. White advancing h4 must seems to have upset Slava as 26... Rg7 turned out to be almost an immediate loser. Possibly Slava should have sought to sit tight, make a few quick moves to get some time back and work from there, but alas he didn't.
Milat - Pasalic saw a line of the Paulsen that was popular in the 60's, so I am not sure if Marcel had something prepared or was just going with a hunch. By move 20 the game had turned into an ending with White having 4 pawn islands to 2 for Black, but White's c-pawn was a passer. Pasalic appears to have relied on the "simplicity" of the position too much and allowed Marcel to activate a rook on the seventh and then allow White's otherwise piteous Bd3 to jump to c4 and become a monster. Black then lost the a pawn and in an effort to mix things up missed a pin that won a piece. Nice work by Marcel
The Rosen - Sinanan matchup on board 4 is one that I am sure most of us can relate to. Rosen played for an K-side rollup right out of the opening, but was too mechanical about it. Josh played nice simple moves to get equality, then a superiority in the center. After 18...f5 White's forces appear to be stumbling around trying to find each other. The game then turned into a spitting contest, White on the a1-h8 line and Black down a8-h1. This was simply winning for Black because the only defense White could offer on the white diagonal was with pieces covering squares whereas Black had a heavily defended pawn on g7 to limit operations on the black line. Josh further increased his advantage with the second very good move he played 29... Rd4. After that White's Bb2 is completely blotted out and whatever White's 2 rooks might be worth is more than offset by the activity on the long white line. At this point Josh had 18 minutes and Rosen less than 3. Move 31 Josh missed an easy crusher with 31...Rxf4 which plays on the overwork of White's Rf2, this is the cleanest line as White can't even try Kf1 to escape. Later Josh missed another easy try when he played 36...c4, where I think that 36...b5 threatening c4 seems much better. I say this for a couple of reasons: after b5/c4 Black will have Bc5 coming and White's attempt to block with d4 is taken e.p., second is that 36...c4 37.bxc4 Qxc4 removed the Black Q from the long diagonal and allowed White to get his pieces moving, and lastly White is very short of time and looking for any easy moves which immediately include simple captures like 37.bxc4. The final blow followed in an almost logical manner, Rosen took the f5 pawn and pressured g7 to which Josh responded by taking the f4 pawn, instead playing Bc5 will dramatically limit White's play and a line such as 38. Nxf5 Bc5 39. d4 Qd5 40. Ng3 Bd6 will see material equality restored, but with White back in the box on that long diagonal. At move 39 Josh correctly avoided 39. Qe6 Qxe6 40.Rxe6 Bd7 41.Bxg7+ Rxg7+ 42. Nxg7 but the damage was done and all Rosen had to do was avoid losing on time. So, a tie match.

Congratulations are due to the Sluggers players and manager. They found a way to win 6 matches, tie 3 and lose only 1. At the start of the season Seattle was one of the teams in the West with chances to win in the regular season primarily because the Sluggers could field 2 GM's. The uncertaintity with the Sluggers was consistency on the other boards, but each of the players has responded by winning or drawing crucial games. This is not a team of 2 GM's, but 4 players all looking to get whatever is necessary to win matches. So, now to the playoffs!

Here is my quick take on the playoffs. In the east New Jersey faces Baltimore and Boston gets New York. New Jersey has been the class of the league from the start and with a chance to field 3 2500 rated players present a formidable challenge. Baltimore is back in the playoffs after a couple of down years and with 2 GM's of their own could pose a real challenge to the Knockouts. Boston is the defending Eastern conference champ and remains a true monster of a team. Twice this season they got shut out, yet won 7 other matches which is only surpassed by Jersey's 8. New York has been a real roller coaster team this season. Still, the Knights have 3 GM's on the roster and it wouldn't surprise many if they got on a roll to the finals. New Jersey and Boston are the favorites considering the draw odds, yet I would suggest that if New Jersey doesn't win on second board or Boston on third either result could be a shock.
In the West, Seattle faces Miami while San Francisco will battle Arizona. The Scorpions have the toughest road as playoff newbies. A disturbing sign is that after defeating Seattle in week 9 the Scorpions were firmly in second and talking about chances at first if Chicago could pull off an upset, yet at the end they find themselves in third. My feeling is that Arizona will regret losing the draw odds to the Mechanics, but having beaten both of the division regular season winners Arizona is full of surprises. Seattle and Miami is a rematch of last years first round match, but with roles reversed. The Sluggers would do well to consider the model of Dallas: take no undue chances, look to get a win on one board and then work to force the other team to beat you. This might be the exact perfect model for the Sluggers, especially with Nakamura playing.
Ok, that's all for now. There should be a special post later this week. Thanks to all the readers and anyone who follows on Twitter. ttyl and have a nice day

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

Week 10 is upon us as it always does, but this time there is much less noise in the background. Out of 8 playoff spots we know 7 of the teams for certain and the 8th only needs to avoid tripping up. So, you say to yourself, why should we watch the matches for round 10 if things are already determined? Well, 2 reasons. The positioning of teams in the western division is uncertain. The second reason is that the teams that are out of the playoffs will most certainly have something to say about the playoff setup and be sure that those teams would love nothing more than to be involved by beating a contender. The cross conference matchup is Tennessee and Baltimore. The Kingfishers are on the verge of the 4th playoff spot in the East, while the Tempo have seen the ground slide beneath them. Baltimore looks like they are coming with a playoff ready lineup and should be the favorites. Tennessee can cause trouble if they get points from the middle 2 boards. New Jersey faces Queens. It seems that the Pioneers should be a power in the East, but have been under a cloud since a round 1 fingerfehler cost them a match with Boston. New Jersey is looking to keep form for the playoffs, while Queens needs some outside help to get in. The Knockouts are likely to be everyones favorite in the match, yet looking at the players it would seem that the only thing NJ has over Queens is confidence. Philadelphia is the team that is hoping for a Tennessee upset as it would increase their chances of getting in. Still, the Inventors have to be aware that they are facing a Carolina team that has found itself in the past few weeks and has nothing to play for other than the upset. Possibly the most interesting match this week is Boston - New York, because they will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. I wonder if the Knights are doing a little bit of lineup swapping to create a bit of doubt. You have to admit, if the Knights win this week what each team will be looking to change for round 1 of the playoffs. Dallas plays San Francisco in what is basically a rivalry match The Destiny are out of the playoffs, but as 2 time defending champ they aren't going to wimper their way out of the season. For the Mechanics there is some chance of better placement for the playoffs and they have opened the wildlife exhibit by have a Wolff and Bhat on the top boards. Miami gets the Scorpions this week as both teams look to sharpen up for the playoffs. Miami will be seeing the Sluggers next and probably looking to find a couple extra teeth for that match. Arizona is in second in the West and wants to win to keep that placement. Last match is the Sluggers and Chicago Blaze.

Seattle is fielding a moderate lineup with Serper, Mikhailuk, Milat and Sinanan. Chicago counters with the 3 IM's van de Mortel, Felecan and Pasalic with Rosen on 4th. Board 1 will be quite interesting as van de Mortel has played above his rating this season and Serper has been very steady. Sinanan looks like a solid favorite on 4th boad, though a similar situation happened last week. To me it looks like the place the match will be decided is in the middle. Slava and Marcel have both shown strength that has surprised some folks. Slava just needs to get comfortable quickly and not fall behind on time, while Marcel is just rounding into playing shape. I don't know what the rules are as far as Marcel's playing in the playoffs, but the other 3 are certain to see action. The Sluggers could fall out of first place with a loss and Arizona win or third if the Mechanics get a blow out. Chicago has played with great spun the whole season and none of the Sluggers or their fans should look beyond that. I like the Sluggers to win the match.

You may have noticed that I didn't pick winners in any of the other matches, reverting to my old form. Just nostalgia I guess. So, I will be posting after the matches.

Thanks this week to Patrick Wolff and Vinay Bhat for being good sports, to all the 3rd board players in the league... they get no respect, to the Commish, Mulfish and all the readers. ttyl and have a nice day