Sunday, October 31, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
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
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Its been a difficult year for us, losing Nakamura to St Louis. Luckily, we had Var step up and fill the void. Going into the season, we were very excited with our revamped lineup and knew people would be shocked to see Var on our lineup. Then GM Anka was unable to participate due to work load, and we had our State Champion Costin Cozianu step up in a big way. Then due to an unfortunate situation, we lost our rock, GM Serper for the season. However, after its all said and done, we are now looking a shot at the playoffs and looking for a championship.
We started off the season using a balanced lineup in week one and debuting Costin in week two, but things didn't go our way. Then, in week 3, GM Varuzhan Akobian came in and put a very impressive performance against GM Becerra to help lead the Sluggers to our first victory of the season. Var's enthusiasm was infectious, and I see why John Donaldson wanted Var on the Olympiad team so badly. Who needs cheerleaders when we have Var?
Unfortunately, in week 4, we suffered a close loss against our long time rivals, the Mechanics and we needed to stage a comeback to make the playoffs. From there on, we went undefeated, beating New Jersey and then drawing two more. Last week, we experienced our second ever win against San Francisco.
Despite going into the last week with only 4-5, we have actually scored the 2nd most points in the Western division, only short of Division champs Arizona.
Looking into our "1st" Playoff match, we are lucky that GM Nakamura is away cleaning up at the Cap D'Agde tournament and we won't have to face the deadly Triple GM lineup. On one hand, I feel that it helps our chances of scoring a victory, but on the other, I would like to face the best, only then we can see how good we are.
On Board 1, we see the matchup between long time friends, Yury Shulman and Varuzhan Akobian. They have been teammates, representing the US in various competitions, have played matches against each other, and also have had numerous training sessions together. Yury is the higher rated player, but Var has white, so its a toss up as to who will prevail.
On Board 2, we have Slava facing a big challenge in Ben Finegold. On this board, St Louis has the edge, as we have seen in the USCL, anything can happen.
On Board 3, young star Michael Lee faces IM Brooks. Brooks has been struggling this season, and Michael has looked better every match. I think Seattle has the edge here.
On Board 4, we have two underrated kids playing, Alex Guo and Spencer Finegold. It looks like Spencer will be looking to steer the game into tactical waters, where he's at his best, but in the end Alex has been remarkable this season, and he should be able to win this game too.
Given what we see, I feel like we have great chances to "advance" to the playoffs this year, but in the USCL, you never know what will happen.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
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.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
The Slugger's date showed up to the party (which coincidentally consists of chess games) on time, but what about Slugger?
Well, I've got to say....half of Slugger showed up on time, and the other half of the guy...well...wasn't quite there. Sorta like a hole in his heart, just...well, half-empty. Some might say that it's half-full, but....not quite. More like half-empty, but not half-full, because it seemed more half-empty than half-full...if you know what I mean. Or, actually, half-full might be a better descriptor, because half-full is a (w)hole that is half-empty, while half-empty is a whole that is half-full. Wait a second. I think I'm getting some things mixed up here. Isn't half-full and half-empty the....same...thing?
Well, as it so happened, alternate personalities Slava Mikhailuk and Alex Guo arrived a little bit late--10 minutes, to be precise. Ms. Destiny was not happy at all.
Board 3: FM Keaton Kiewra - FM Marcel Milat, 0-1!!
She certainly did not seem happier one and half hours later. FM Marcel Milat outmaneuvered FM Keaton "the Beaten" Kiewra to achieve a superior ending:
And we'll see whether the Sluggers can get a second date with Destiny
Sunday, October 10, 2010
On Wednesday, the Sluggers went into the match with every reason to win. Akobian heavily outrated his opponent, while the other three boards were evenly balanced.
As expected, Akobian cruised his way to victory rather surprisingly easy, due to a couple of major mistakes from his opponents, and accordingly, it seems rather presumptuous (another SAT word!) for Muscleman to be falling all over this game.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Going into the match of the interdivisional week, I must admit that I was rooting for Western division to get swept, and then Seattle would be the lone winner and take a giant leap in the standings. Of course, none of that was going to happen, but to my surprise, Seattle did indeed take quite a sizable jump, from second to last, to being one of the top four--at least for now, as Seattle had the best tiebreaks of all the other teams.
As for the match, I was a little uneasy about our chances. Seattle had better chances on the bottom two boards, while the top two boards faced strong New Jersey players GM Benjamin and IM Molner. Fortunately, everything turned out alright, with Cozianu and Slava getting past their missteps in the past two weeks, and bottom two boards performing as was expected.
Personal message to Professional Prognosticators: HAHAHAHAHA, WE WON!!!!!! Sorry, it just makes me a little bit more than amused to see Seattle completely stomping the predictions of naysayers, who were predicting a win for New Jersey, while instead, New Jersey nearly got swept. Looks like NJ is having a rough season.
Well, onto the match!
Board 3: FM Michael Lee - IM Albert Kapengut, 1-0
Michael Lee scored the first win of the match, continuing his latest winning streak. Nothing's stoppin' this USCL stud! With the white pieces, Michael Lee entered into a 1...e5 English, to reach the following position arising out of the opening:
From here on, Sinanan recaps the match for us.
Board 1: FM Costin Cozianu (SEA) - GM Joel Benjamin (NJ), 1-0
On board 1, Costin faced off against MVP points leader GM Benjamin.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Costin, he was one of the top junior Romanian prospects back in the early 90's. He stopped playing chess professionally to take up a career as a software engineer, which eventually led him to Seattle where he works for Amazon. He came to the attention of the Sluggers management in 2009 when he won the WA State Championship, ahead of Sluggers stars FM Michael Lee, NM Howard Chen, and yours truly. Oh yeah, and don't be fooled by the fact that Costin is "only an FM." Like many other players from Seattle, he just hasn't bothered to get his IM norms yet!
Before the game began, Costin beat the heavy Seattle traffic and arrived at the Chess4Life Center early to do some last-minute prep. for GM Benjamin. Cozianu is one of the few Sluggers who prefers to play 1. e4 instead of 1. d4 or the English, which he considers to be "closings" rather than "openings." It was no surprise when GM Benjamin responded with the Caro-Kann defense, which has been his weapon of choice against 1. e4 this season. Costin chose the quiet exchange variation, which followed theory until white played a novelty on move 8:
Costin chose 8. Bg5!? over the more popular 8. Bf4. Perhaps he was hoping to trade the Bishop for the knight on g8 should it develop to f6, which would weaken black's pawn structure. Benjamin didn't go for this though and seemed to equalize rather easily. In the ensuing middle game, black had the better chances due to superior coordination amongst his pieces. After 14. a4, white's knight on b3 became a target that Costin defended by interposing his bishop on b5.
White was forced to give up a pawn a few moves later but as compensation he was able to establish a knight on d4. As time pressure approached, GM Benjamin built up nicely on the kingside, while Costin countered in along the d-file. The critical moment occurred when black found a very nice exchange sacrifice to open up the kingside:
Here Seattle fans had reason to be worried. After 26. gxf3, black could have improved with 26...Ne5 instead of 26...Qh3, leading to a winning position. In the complications that followed, white had to find 28. Bxe5 Bxe5 29. f4, probably leading to a draw. Instead, Costin blundered:
GM Benjamin had about 2 minutes on his clock to find the crushing 28...Nf5! The point is that after 29. Rxd5, black has 29...Nh4!!, winning instantly.
Fortunately for Costin and the Sluggers, GM Benjamin played the second best move, 28...Bc5+. After 29. Kh1, black missed the last chance to win with Nf5. Costin took advantage of this missed opportunity and calmly played 30. Nf4, after which white is winning.
After a series of forced moves, white won a piece for a pawn and converted the ending cleanly. Nicely done Costin!
Board 2: IM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) - FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA), 1/2 - 1/2
On board 2, Slava was playing up against Molner, a very dangerous IM. Coming into this game, Slava was off to a slow start this season, having castled long after his first three starts. In Slava's defense though, he has played up in all three games, facing 2 GM's and a very strong IM. He came very close to beating GM Gurevich and held his own against IM Barcenilla and GM Becerra. As one of the Sluggers' all-time MVP points leaders, it is only a matter of time before Slava regains his form!
Slava seemed to have prepared well for this game, as he opted for a Lowenthal Sicilian instead of his usual classical Sicilian. Molner went for an early queen trade with 8. Qxf6, and the game followed theory until Slava played the rare 10...b5 instead of the more common 10...d5:
The point of this move is to create a square for the bishop on b7 and to take over some space on the queenside. Molner countered with Bg5 and captured on f6, giving black some weak doubled f-pawns.
I was discussing this position with NM Dereque Kelley during the match, and we went back and forth trying to decide how white can prove an advantage in this position. After doing some analysis with Rybka 4, we decided that the correct plan for white is to play f4, bring his King to e3, double rooks on the f-file and then switch to the c-file at some point one black has taken time to defend on the kingside. Molner instead went for a quick f4 break, exchanged on e5, and doubled his rooks on the f-file. Slava responded by putting his King on e7, king's rook on h7 to guard f7, and his other rook on c8 for play on the queenside.
Molner then played the aggressive 19. Rf6, threatening Rb6. However, after Slava responded with 19...d6, Molner played 20. Nd1?!, allowing 20...Rc2 with equality.
Here white had no choice but to retreat his rook back to f2, after which Slava traded into an even endgame and easily held the draw.
Final score: Seattle 3.5 - New Jersey 0.5
Overall, this was a great match for the Sluggers! Everyone played well throughout the evening, and we seemed to gain momentum after Michael Lee's big win on board 3. We were lucky to come out on top in the time-pressure scrambles on boards 1 and 4, and Slava scored a clutch draw on board 2 to clinch the match. We improved our match record to 2.5-3.5, which puts us in a 4-way tie for 4th place in the West. The next 4 weeks will be critical as we play 3 of the teams with whom we're currently tied. With the return of our new superstar from the Olympiad, GM Varuzhan Akobian, we hope to have another strong showing next week as we take on the L.A. Vibe!