"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