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.