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.