This week, the Sluggers jumped a few places to secure fifth place, based on tiebreaks. The average rating of our opponents is....hm, 2398, which is about 15 points lower than most other teams in the West. The difference in rating is simply because the St. Louis Archbishops sorta skewed the averages, so after week 10, Seattle's opps Average Ratings should be around 2410.
As was pointed out on uschessleague.com, Week 10 sees the unusual phenomenon of three matches being essentially playoff matches. That is, the teams in places 2 to 4 have draw odds, while the teams in places 5 to 7 must win in order to move on. What's even more unusual is that all of these teams have either 17.5 game points or 18 game points, with the exception of us, with 19 points.
Luckily, we won the match against San Francisco 3.5 - 0.5, giving the Sluggers 19 game points and fifth place in the West. That means that the Sluggers could potentially leap to second place in the playoffs!
In the match against San Francisco, the Sluggers were in better positions on all the boards.
Board 1: GM Varuzhan - GM Josh Friedel, 1-0
Board 1 sees the rematch between Var and Josh. Last time, Josh won against Var with the white pieces, but this time, Varuzhan played well and scored a great win against Friedel, garnering him Game of the Week honors (about time somebody from Seattle got a GOTW!).
In a Nimzo, Friedel made a structurally weakening move 9...g5?!, which is, in all likelihood, quite dubious because it weakens the kingside pawn structures, and Friedel does not have his dark-squared bishop. Varuzhan later capitalized on Friedel's kingside weaknesses with 25.e4!.
An extremely strong positional pawn sacrifice! Var gets his knight back into the game, and right into the thick of Friedel's kingside weaknesses. Varuzhan continued developing pressure to reach the following position:
(after 32. Qb3)
In the above position, it becomes very difficult to defend all of Black's weaknesses, which include c6, e4, h6, and later on, g6, a7, and g4, while Var's pawns are easily defendable. Unsurprisingly, GM Varuzhan converted the point cleanly.
Board 4: NM Liou - Guo
Before the game, I had prepped for a French Tarrasch, but clearly, Yian came prepared and opened with 1.d4. Duh! Yian plays the Dutch, so he'd be fine playing on the white side of it as well.
The game steered into a Leningrad Stonewall. It was a Kingside attack vs. Queenside attack. Yian's first mistake probably came with an incorrect exchange of pawns.
Yian played 22.cxd5?, to which the simple 22...cxd5 essentially kills White's queenside attack, as there is no target on the queenside and if the c5 knight moves, Nc4, Rc8 and there is no penetration on the queenside, or if there is, Black's kingside attack will certainly come faster.
But after 23.Ba3, I returned the favor with 23...Qe8?, allowing a tactical shot.
24.Nxe4! Nxe4 25.f3 and Yian is back in the game. Instead of 23...Qe8, better would have been 23...b6 and then 24...Nc4, with the better position and good chances of quickly breaking through on the kingside. Or even 23...Bf3 first, before Qe8, with a similarly crushing attack.
Instead, 24.Rfe1? and now 24...Bf3, after which there is not much more to say.
Board 2: IM David Pruess - FM "Micky Mouse" Mikhailuk, 0-1
Slava pulls off a nice win with several good sacrifices along the way.
Slava plays the interesting pawn sac 12...Rg8!?, with Benko-like compensation. In return for the pawn, Black gets...the h-file, but is perfectly justified because open lines against the king are key in this kind of position, as seen when the game developed to the following position
Slava utilizes the h-file in sweeping fashion with 22...Nxh2! and obtains a winning position. The game continued 23.Kxh2 Bd6 24.Rg1 (24.Kg2 Rdg8! -+ 25.Kf2 Bxg3 26.Ke3 Rd8! Black will win substantial material, in view of the coming mating threat) Rh8+ 25.Kg2 Rxg3+ and soon wins the Queen, and with it, the game
Board 3: FM Lee - FM Naroditsky, 0.5 - 0.5
Surprise, surprise. FM Robby Adamson correctly predicted a boring English. Lee-Naroditsky went into an opposite-colored bishop ending, in which Naroditsky blundered a b-pawn. Thus, Michael had the better position all the way till the end, when he felt insecure about his King and Bishop and accepted a draw, though in actuality, the position was winning. Perhaps Lee just didn't feel like grinding Naroditsky down that night?
(after 39...Rh5, drawn)
"Oh well," said Lee, "at least now it looks like I gave SF a consolation draw! :)"
The final week.
And the Sluggers now get to meet their best buddies, the St. Louis Archbishops.
Who just happen to be 2500+ rating, on average. But considering what happened this past Wednesday, St. Louis's "oh so mighty" triple GM lineup were, in the commissioner's words, "very lucky to get away with a draw" (italics mine - added for emphasis). Initially, I thought it was some sort of conspiracy to get Seattle out of the playoffs, but FM Michael Lee has convinced me otherwise. Instead, it now becomes overwhelmingly clear that Arizona's chessplayers just played dumb chess. Period. Granted, draws against Nakamura and Shulman, both U.S. Champs, is extremely impressive, but seriously, taking two draws on two boards in two winning positions has to mean that somebody's fighting spirit is a little less than mediocre.
Too bad that doesn't diminish the fact that there's two monsters on board 1/2. But it does mean that the Sluggers also have a good shot at beating St. Louis.