Friday, September 17, 2010

Michael Lee gets a win!

Holy cow, there were four drawn matches this weekend! Which means that my predicting rate for the Wednesday matches were just 50%. Given my relatively crude methods, I'd say 50% is pretty darn good. The 'secret formula' will soon be released.

Unfortunately, a 50% prediction rate also means that my method predicted the Seattle - SF match correctly. Despite having a higher average rating, Seattle gets upset by San Francisco. Incidentally, this week seems to be the week of the upsets.
  • Ron Simpson's upset over Gulko
  • Cobras gets their first break, this time against the New Jersey Knockouts
  • St. Louis's Fourth Board gets their first 0.5 point of the season
  • Michael, though getting his sixth black game and a pretty bad losing streak, gets his first win (good for you, brothuh!)
  • Pruess upsets FM Cozianu

...and Friedel upsets Akobian. Just as in week 1, Seattle's upper boards lost.

Seattle has been on a pretty unlucky streak so far. Anyone else notice the string of blunders in the Sluggers' matches?

  • Week 1: Michael Lee blunders a pawn to Felecan (so it started with you...FM Lee)
  • Week 2: Michael Wang drops a pawn to Nick Thompson, and later, Slava gives up a clearly drawn position (albeit, forced by the team situation)
  • Week 3: I blunder two pawns. Katerina drops a piece. By the luckiest of circumstances, Seattle wins.
  • and Week 4: FM Cozianu blunders an exchange.

Honestly. I'm not sure blunders happen that often to the other teams. But despite the blunders, all four matches have been pretty darn close. Which is, in a way, a good thing. Despite the blunders, the Sluggers can still make their opponents fight every inch of the way towards the win. Of course, now the blunders just need to go away.

Board 2: FM Cozianu - IM Pruess, 0-1

The first game to finish was board 2. In an French Advanced, Pruess plays the rarely seen line, 3...b6!?, leading to interesting play. Seems like you can play practically any variation in the French. Thereafter, a relatively normal French ensued.

(after 17...Rfc8)

A normal French pawn structure except for the queenside pawns. Black will seek counterplay on the queenside, probably taking aim at White's b2-pawn so as to undermine support for c3. White's plan should be to generate kingside counterplay through a pawn demnonstration, or to seize and hold d4 as an outpost for his pieces. With both objectives in mind, the right idea was probably 18.g4, to drive away Black's KN and then Be3, to exchange the dark-square bishops so as to firmly plant a knight on d4 (as a side note, this plan could have been implemented earlier, when instead of 16.Bf4, White should continue 16.Rd1, g4, and then Be3). In addition, the exchange of dark-square bishops would either bring black's pawn to b6, closing the b-file, or undermine the isolated a-pawn.

Instead, Costin played 18.c4?!, to which 18...Nb4! comes as a strong reply because Black now has the possibility of putting a strong knight on d5. c4 also loosens up the q-side pawns, and consequently, Pruess managed to rev up tremendous queenside pressure, to soon reach the following position

(after 23.Ne4)

Black clearly has the better position, because of all his piece activity on the queenside, while White's on the kingside is lightyears behind. Pruess played 23...Nc2, and Costin tried 24.Ra4?, dropping the b-pawn but trying to give Black a hard time converting his better position. Of course, 24.Ra2 is an alternative, but things already look a bit desperate for Costin. A slight inaccuracy a few moves later hastened the end.

People shouldn't interpret this one game to mean that FM Cozianu is a terrible player. Mistakes near the end were due to Costin's 15-minute late arrival, so Costin can play much better than he has this week.

Board 3: FM Zierk - FM Michael LEE 0 - 1

YAHHHH, YOU ROCK MICHAEL! Finally, a win :)

For this game against Zierk, Michael deviated from his usual Sicilian and selected the sharp Dragon. Michael deviated from mainstream Dragon early on, with ...Qb6?! instead of the more usual ideas such as ...a6 to get the b-pawn moving.

(after 9...0-0)

Zierk responds 10.Nf5, followed by Nxg7. Following the weakening of the dark squares, Zierk launches the bayonet h4-h5, while also castling queenside. The game naturally turned into a sharp middlegame with both sides coming close to each other throats.

(after 19.Qxd6)

In the above sharp position, Michael should play 19...Bc4, with a sharp middlegame position that will most likely end in a perpetual. Instead, Michael played 19...Be6?, allowing Zierk's reply 20.hxg6, when Black cannot capture with the f-pawn because he hangs the Bishop, or with the h-pawn because of Qh2, leading to mate on the h-file or substantial material loss. After 20...Qa1 21.Kd2 Qxb2 it was Zierk's turn to return the favor:

(after 21...Qxb2)

Although my computer suggests 22.Na4, simply Rdb1 would be enough for a win, forcing the liquidation of queens into a winning endgame for Zierk, which he usually converts convincingly. Amazingly, Zierk blundered away the game with 22.Qh2?? Looks like Zierk forgot Qh2 wasn't a check? Michael slams down 22...Rfd8 (check) 23.Nd5 cxd5 23.Qxh7+ Kf8 24.e5!? Qd4+ and after a couple of checks played by Michael, the game was all over.

About time you got a win, Michael!

With Board 2 and 3 finished, there remained Michael Wang and Akobian.

Board 4: Wang - NM Liou, 0.5 - 0.5

In response to 1...e5 against the English, Wang went into a Botvinnik, which is a worse version than the KID because now Black's bad bishop is outside of the pawn chain. However, Yian exchanged his knight for Wang's bishop, allowing Wang doubled e-pawns, which is, in my opinion, good for White because the e3-pawn covers the previously weak d4-square, and could later support d3-d4.

(after 17...Rad8)

Black is obviously preparing for the break d5. To prevent it, there is the interesting 18.Nd5!?, just stopping the idea right in its tracks. Another possibility is 18.Qh5, which will provoke 18...f6 when Wang will finally have something to play for on the Kingside. 19.g4 and g5 will follow, to undermine Black's kingside.

Instead, Wang played 18.b5. I'm not too sure what the idea behind this was...after 18...d5 19.bxc6 bxc6 20.cxd5 cxd5 21.exd5 Nxd5 22.Nxd5 Bxd5 23.Bxd5 Qxd5, Black clearly has the better game, because of his possession of the d-file and a legit weakness to work against, in the d3-pawn. Liou ended with a pawn up in a rook endgame, but despite being under a minute for the rest of the game, Wang was able to prevent Liou from converting the win, thus securing a draw on board 4 for Seattle. Nice job Michael!

Now for the Game of the Week.

Board 1: GM Friedel - GM Akobian

Ya know, I think that the Game of the Week prize is a JINX. It is pretty well documented that the finalists in the Game of the Week contest almost always do badly in the week following their victory. I remember last year a funny series when the winner of the GOTW beat the winner of the previous GOTW, and that happened several times in a row. Even this year, Yury Shulman was the winner of the first GOTW, and then the winner of the second GOTW Felecan beat Shulman. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples. Hmmm, maybe that's why I played like crap in the match against Miami? Anyways, more GOTWs should be given to Arizona then!

Maybe the "GOTW jinx" explains why Akobian lost to Friedel. Perhaps it was unfortunate that he placed in Week 3 GOTW.

At any rate, Board 1 was the critical game for this week's match. Akobian got the worst end of a complicated French. For such a hugely complex game, I'm not going to pretend like I know everything that's going on, so I'll only present the most interesting and critical positions of the game with brief comments.

In a Ngf3 Tarrasch (versus the more commonly seen Ne2 line), Akobian ran his a-pawn down the board, which Friedel decided to ignore.

(after 12.bxa3)

In the game, Akobian played 12...c4, which is in hindsight, may not be the best move, since it later became hard for Akobian to drum up queenside counterplay versus White's kingside pawn storm. Thus, my hunch is that 12...cxd4 would be better, because it opens up more lines on the queenside.

Akobian won back the a-pawn, and shuttled his king over to b8. Nevertheless, Friedel launched a pawn storm on the kingside.

(after 29.g5)

Initially, I thought that White had a great game, because White has a raging kingside initiative. But as I look at the above position again, it seems that Black should be able to hold the position. White's a-pawn is sticking out like a sore thumb, and Friedel's kingside attack, though menacing, is also double-edged, because the attack opens up lines that lead directly to the White king.

In the game, Akobian played 29...Nf8, moving the knight back to where it was a move ago, leading to a loss of time. Later in the game, the knight on f8 didn't have that much to do, so 29...Nb6 should be considered, in a bid for a queenside initiative in response to White's attack on the kingside.

As lines opened up on the kingside, tactics started emerging. Black's pawn structure is in shambles.

(after 36.Ne3)

Akobian played 36...Ne6 in the game, which invites White to chomp on all of Black's weak pawns. I think that 36...Ne6 might have cost the game. A better alternative might be 36...Qd7 and forcing White to allocate resources to attack the f-pawn further. So if 37.Qh3, then 37...Ng6, striking at White's own weaknesses. Eventually, Black will of course capture White's a-pawn.

After 36...Ne6, Friedel got the better of the tactics. After Akobian let Friedel have both of his f-pawns, Friedel suddenly got two passed pawns. In the tactical portion of the game, this would be extremely significant, as White could now sac his rook and get away with it, because both of his pawns would be on the sixth rank, and unstoppable.

(after 44.Qxd1)

By now, Black is already lost. As the course of the game shows, 44...Rxf7 was not possible. As for 44...Qxc3 45.Qf3 Qxf3 46.Kxf3 Rxf7 Whtie is obviously winning the endgame.

So the big question: where did Akobian go wrong? I think that Akobian made the correct strategic decisions, but at one point let his opponents take both of his f-pawns, thus giving White an important card: the passed pawns. In the ensuing tactics, the passed pawns was the ultimate factor in tipping the balance in favor of Friedel---and San Francisco.

Of course, if you have a different opinion, comment on this post!


Tough match, tough luck. At a 1-3 record, the Sluggers aren't off to the greatest start they've had so far. As a 5-5 record is the minimum for qualification for playoffs, Seattle's going to have to do some serious buttkicking for the rest of the season, but I wouldn't put it beyond us.

As for my prediction method, please welcome...

DA COIN! Or to put it more precisely, the state quarter of North Dakota. Yah, it's kinda random, but seriously, it was the first coin I found in my backpack, so why not?

As highlighted by the matches on Wednesday, there is an evident flaw in my system. I only flipped the coin once, with heads being the team with the white color, and tails being the team with the black color. Initially, I ruled out the possibility of draws because they really don't occur that often. A modification shall be released for Monday match predictions.

Go Sluggers!

--Alex Guo

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