Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Midnight Rider

“I’ll do it!” Truly the decision was not momentous, but also not easy. My word has to be worth something. Still, times that your team makes an initial appearance in the finals are extremely sporadic. Usually, only once per team does that happen. So, it is now or never. Please dear readers forgive me for my transgression.
As I spied the scores my mind went blank. Not that blankness that writers use in literature to suggest a loss of moral compass, nor that painful blankness that comes when you can’t remember your ATM pin. Not hardly. This was the blankness of easy acceptance that something so totally improbable had happened. Yup, seeing the score of Seattle’s victory over Arizona seemed to defy the past and at the same time define that matters had worked themselves out. I was not able to watch the Arizona match, a night time job can do that to you, so I didn’t find the excitement of going to the final that should naturally accompany this result. Yet, it is because they are in the final that I am once again in your company.

I want to say that the “easy acceptance” part of that was the result of the previous weeks match with Dallas. I feel compelled to start out by saying that I don’t understand why this match didn’t get more recognition. To start with, Dallas is a star studed (pardon the pun) lineup with plenty of history. Remember though, part of that history was a tied match in the wildcard round of the Sluggers first season of 2006 that sent the Sluggers to the conference finals. You may remember that the match was at 2-1 for Dallas when Seattle’s Slava Mikhailuk was able to create a path to victory which tied the match. Dallas won the USCL the 2 seasons following that, so maybe this preempted a three peat? Anyway, events in the 2012 match could only be matched by a batch of Hollywood script writers, that is if they had the propensity to see the beauty and greatness of team chess. Seattle’s star first board had fallen dramatically and cast immediate doubt on the Slugger’s chances. This was certainly not a new scenario for Slugger’s fans to witness. This was offset by a fourth board effort from the Slugger’s Lessler which would even the match. Matters would be decided in the middle. There was a sort of weird relationship between the games. As Orlov slowly found a bit to play with on second board, Sinanan was sliding into passivity on third board. With draw odds it looked as if Dallas had matters well in hand with advantage on third board. Seemingly Dallas went into a holding pattern to see if events on second board could be swung around. I have no clue what was going on in the Dallas player’s heads… winning on third board was enough to advance. Yet, events on second board did seem to evolve towards Dallas and at the same time the third board flipped almost completely. Now, with Seattle having a winning position on third board we all considered how to get a positive result on second. Literally, the result of either game and consequently the match changed with every move. On second board the Holt went into “last ditch” mode and fell into a lost position. As if the fog totally was gone Josh drew on third board and Seattle had pulled one out. These kinds of things are produced in major sports and offer a glimpse of how exciting team chess can be. I do not know how all of this excitement was able to escape more attention, but it did. Note to Eddie and Dean Wormer: find some more excitement in this thing.

So, to the final. My initial feeling is that these teams are very similar. Neither rely on under rated kids or college students. Traditionally both rely on grit over flash. In the current season though, Philadelphia has defined themselves as a power team that looks to roll over opponents. Seattle surprised by making the playoffs in what looked to be a heavily stacked western division. We have in the final what could be the start of a dynasty in Philadelphia and a “Rocky” like underdog in the Sluggers. Yeah, I wanted to get that one in to annoy our Philly friends! Each of the 4 matchups presents a unique perspective on team chess. Here’s what I see.

First board will be a matchup of superstars. Both are around the 2700 mark and have plenty on their resumes to talk about. Neither of them is an easy out and will come well prepared. Such is the world of professional chess. I guess giving White an advantage is about as good a marker as any, but I doubt it is enough to expect either to win.

Fourth board is the “classic” in the group. Philadelphia has IM Richard Costigan, one of the few in the league who can remember first hand the “Telephone League”. Seattle brings Roland Feng who was still in knee pants when the USCL started. This is one of those “fast or slow” things. The longer the game goes, the more likely it is for Costigan to have an advantage. What we always have to think about is how much of a surprise will the kid be for the IM?

Each team finds its “non-star” star player on third board. I don’t know much of anything about Dov Gormon, but he seems to have pulled plenty of weight for the Inventors this season. Josh Sinanan has done more than what could be expected of him this season and did so last season as well. I think that this could be decided stylistically. With Black Josh is going to play pretty solidly, well he plays solidly with any color, and will have to be careful not to go too passive. My intuition is that Gorman has an advantage here, but Sinanan has been beating the odds all season.

Second board might be the most interesting. At first glance it appears critical for Phily as NM Miller has a lower rating than IM Orlov as well as much less experience. The thing is that Miller has been holding draws with Black against higher rated opponents this season. His solid play has been a real bonus for the Inventors and could be a key to the final. This will be very interesting, to me at least, because Orlov is well trained and extremely crafty. It is very possible that he will arrive with something unexpected in his pocket and will get a small opening advantage with a large time and psychological advantage. Both sides fans will be well advised to use this game as an initial barometer for what result might be at hand.

Ok, lets just suppose that everybody plays way beyond what we expect and all 4 games end in draws, what to expect then? All them boys on the East Coast think they are really great blitz players and some of them are right. What they might not expect is that we have chess clocks up here in the northwest and we have been practicing. My suspicion is that if it comes to that Seattle has a tiny edge. Not anything against you boys on the other coast, its just that these kinds of things tend to work out for the underdog. At least I hope so.

That’s it for me. The next time you see me will be… don’t know. After this the Sluggers won't have any "firsts" to look forward to, so my motiviation is gone. Oh well.

Good Luck to all the players and lets hope for a fun match. Out

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