Before the lineups were posted, we were pretty scared of a Naka/Shulman/double-Finegold lineup, against which we were going to go with Var/Mikhailuk/Lee/Guo anyways. A win could be expected on fourth board, but the other three...? Not too sure. Shulman was probably going to win his game, and whether Var could pull off a win, and whether Lee could hold his own against Finegold, was a little speculative.
But instead, we had the Shulman/Finegold/Brooks/Finegold lineup, which is substantially weaker. We would expect a win on fourth board; Var's chances of a win on first board greatly increased because Shulman's USCL play so far has not been too stellar. We'd hope for the best on second board, and FM Lee now had good chances for a win on third board (Brooks USCL record has also not been too great)
Which is what happened.
Board 4: Spencer Finegold - Guo, 0-1
Given the firepower of Nakamura and Shulman on the top boards, I wouldn't have been surprised to know that Spencer prepped some crazy line against me, which might actually be credible. So the best thing to do was to play some wacko sideline to steer Spencer into unknown territory (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 b6!?), and ended up getting into a dubious position with the black pieces. Interestingly, the resulting position was rather easy to play and did not present many difficulties for Spencer, and thus he was able to exchange down into the endgame position shown above.
At this moment, Spencer blundered with 43.Nd7??. My only guess as to why this happened is simply that the move was played too fast. At this moment, I had around 16 minutes to Spencer's 56 minutes. This was probably 30 seconds...
Board 2: GM Finegold - FM Slava Mikhailuk, 1-0
Slava's been playing tough opposition all season, and this match was no exception. Slava got the Black side of a IQP position:
White is threatening Nd5. which will get him out of the unfavorable pawn structure. Black needed to play 21...Nxe3, giving up the IQP pawn structure but getting the two bishops. After 21...Nxe3, the position is about equal. Black played 21...Qb8, and after 22.Nxd5, pressure on the IQP is lessened and a target is borne on d5. White now has the much better position, and White played well to achieve a great position. Even before Black gave the exchange in a bid for counterplay on move 27, White already had a domineering position (my computer gives White a 1.19 edge...). White converted the point convincingly.
In the above position, Black is under very strong pressure from White. The knight cannot move because of Bc7, Be8 and Rd8 are stalemated...all of White's pieces are just really active. My computer engine gives White a 1.19 score +/-...it's a pretty tough position and I wouldn't blame Slava for playing 27...Ne7, which gives up the exchange to Bc7.
Board 3: GM Akobian - GM Shulman
Varuzhan played a fantastic game against Shulman, almost garnering him GOTW honors! Varuzhan went into a gambit line, and gained tremendous positional pressure,
Varuzhan has an ideal position! All of Var's pieces couldn't be better placed.
Varuzhan let all heck break loose with 21.Nxf6!, Qxf6 22.Bxe5 Qf7 23.Bxc6. Unsurprisingly, Akobian soon won the exchange, leveling the material balance. Akobian then ran his extra c-pawn down the board to get a winning position
In the process of running the c-pawn down to the 7th rank, the queens were exchanged, but simply 39.Rxf8 Kxf8 40.Rd8+. The pawn promotes, and it's all over. Wow.
Board 3: FM Lee - IM Brooks, 1-0
So at this point, Seattle was up 2-1, but we needed more than 2 to get past draw odds. It was on this game that Seattle fans were most scared on. Michael had been gobbling piece....after piece....
First, Brooks dropped a pawn in the opening on the fifth move (a little rusty, maybe?)...
Then Brooks gave up a pawn, another pawn, and the exchange! 15...Na5!? 16.Qxc7 Ba6!? (another pawn? ok!) 17.Bxd6 Rxd6!? (I think I'll take that too...if you don't mind :D), 18.Qxd6. At this point, Michael was already up three pawns, so perhaps a little caution is called for, and instead 18.Qxa5?. Taking the knight instead of the rook eliminates any danger from that piece, but I guess a rook....is a rook.
At this point, the players in the skittles room knew that Michael Lee had the better position (he's only up...three pawns and an exchange), but that the path to the win would be tricky. Brooks definitely had some counterplay - definitely not enough to win, but certainly not ignorable. The trouble started in the following position:
So the files are wide open for attack! All the obstacles that are left on the middle files are now...Michael Lee's pawns (by the way, Michael Lee took yet another pawn on e4). Brooks knocked them out of the way with 26...Nxe3! 27.Qxe3 Re8, gaining back...some material. Then Michael Lee almost lost his marbles when Brooks had a chance to come back
Michael Lee had played 30.Rc5, which is dubious, but it's tough to find a consolidating move in this position. Brooks had a chance to play 30...Qh4+! 31.Kf1 (Kd loses to Qf2), Qf6+ and if 31.Ke1/Qh4, with a draw (Kf1 Qg3 32.Bb7!!) Unfortunately, that wasn't enough for STL, who were down 2-1 at this point, so unfortunately, Brooks had to do something else to try for a win (note that if Finegold had drawn his game with me, Brooks would simply force a draw at this point, and STL would go to playoffs because of draw odds. Wow, we got lucky in this match...).
But the bad thing is that....Brooks doesn't have anything else besides Qh4+. 30...Ne4 31.Bxe4 Qxe4 32.Rf1 and to be frank....there's not much you can do with two pieces! Michael found his way out of the complications and out of time trouble, to clinch the match for Seattle!
To be honest, the Sluggers got a little lucky this match. First, we had to be grateful for Nakamura's absence during this critical match, and second, the Sluggers got a win on fourth board, where Spencer had every right to expect a draw. If the Sluggers got a draw on 4th board instead, Brooks could've easily forced perpetual at some point, and it'd be all over.
But that's not to say that the Sluggers were always lucky. As I pointed out in my earlier posts, we were actually pretty unlucky during the season. I can point out at least a couple...Friedel-Akobian...Sinanan-Gupta...Slava-Becerra (a draw would've clinched the match against Miami). Nevertheless, the effort to make the playoffs was made possible only by everybody's effort, as the Sluggers needed every. single. point. While it is true that GM Akobian, FM Lee, and myself are the only ones with + scores, and have collectively scored more than half of the team's points, just look at the standings! Seattle got in only because of tiebreaks, by 3.5 game points. Every draw mattered. And let's not forget the fans who came in on the week 10 match (and on every other week, for that matter) - you guys make the matches worth playing.
Next week, the Sluggers are playing the Arizona Scorpions, fighting against draw odds. Interestingly enough, Arizona picked the white colors, hoping for better chances on board 1 with the white pieces, and possibly looking at my 0% record with the white pieces. Though, draw odds definitely aren't something to be too afraid of. There're plenty of teams in the past who've made it to the Championship match despite fighting draw odds (Miami comes to mind...). In fact, the Sluggers may have a weird psychological advantage because Arizona might be content in playing for draws on all boards, while the Sluggers will slug it out no matter what happens.
Should be an exciting match this week! By the way, sorry for the late post. College applications are extremely annoying. And speaking of college apps, I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't apply to Berkeley cuz of the weirdest arts requirement ever, but that's for another discussion. But before I sign out...St. Louis, you might want to know that I'm applying to the UW in St. Louis....just saying :D