Tonight was the first night of the 2012 season of the US Chess League, and wow were these matches close!
Two out of four matches were drawn:
Philadelphia Inventors v. Baltimore Kingfishers
Board 1- Erenburg (Phi) v. Enkhbat (Bal): with white and a 200-point rating edge, Erenburg should be quite a big favorite. He appeared to have an advantage on the board as well, but Enkhbat played terrifically to keep his pieces active headed into the endgame, even at the cost of sacrificing a pawn, and was able to hold an extremely valuable half point for his team.
Board 2- Paikidze (Bal) seemed to get an excellent position here as well, but 2011 all-star Will Fisher (Phi) apparently had a great understanding of how to use the weak light squares, and effortlessly turned the position to a draw.
On boards 3+4 the two teams traded white wins, for a final score of 2-2
Manhattan Applesauce v. New York Knights
This was a bloody 2-2 if ever there was one. New York's extremely young board 4 got into trouble straight out of the opening, and Alex King (Fantasy USCL gold, might I mention) was relentless in trying to put him away. Meanwhile on board 3, Zaikov's plan never lead anywhere, and Michael Bodek evened things up with a very smooth black win for NY.
Meanwhile on the GM boards, Lenderman (NY) had a nagging advantage from the opening against Milman (MAN), while Romanenko(MAN)-Gelashvili(NY) was impenetrably complicated. Suddenly, Romanenko broke out of the complex restraint Gelashvili was trying to create with pawn advances, and then Gelashvili was unable to defend his weaknesses.
Lenderman was able to eventually convert a fantastic endgame to even the match. Here is the final flourish:
While the other two matches were decided by the barest of margins:
Boston Blitz v. Connecticut Dreadnoughts
One of the funniest things I ever heard in a work place was someone grinning while leaving early one afternoon: "Last in, first out!" Of course he was generally a hard-worker, which, along with the charisma, made it funny rather than awkward. Sammour-Hasbun (Bos/Prov) could have borrowed that line after his performance today. He made his opponent, top GM Robert Hess wait a very long time (55 minutes) for him to show up and make his first move. He did not make his fans wait very long to see him grab a half point for Boston against his higher rated opponent, after a pretty quick equalizing variation from a Berlin Defense.
Unfortunately for Boston, they were still at a rating disadvantage on the other boards as well, plus they had two blacks. Boards 2 and 3 were vicious and imbalanced battles. Board 4 where 1980 Joel Hanks (Bos) had to defend black against 2250 Kapil Chandran (Con) was the calmer affair. Playing a 1950 on board 4 allowed Boston to stack their top 3 boards, and put a lot of pressure on Chandran to deliver on board 4 for the Dreadnoughts. And for a while Hanks played perfectly: not too ambitious, solid, correct moves, leaving him with a very nice, at least equal position. But eventually he got low on time, and started moving about somewhat aimlessly, and fell apart.
The other two hard-fought games also went extremely long. Ultimately GM Kekelidze (Con) beat IM Zierk (Bos) (an incredible game!) and FM Gulamali (Bos) beat WIM Yuan (Con), leaving Connecticut with a 2.5-1.5 win, and making Connecticut the only team in USCL history with a perfect match record.
New Jersey Knockouts v. New England Nor'Easters
Arthur Shen (NJ, bd 3) and Ben Goldberg (NE, bd 4) got off to very nice big white advantages immediately it appeared. Meanwhile, GMs Stripunsky (NJ) and Ivanov (NE) seemed to have a pretty calm and balanced affair on board 1, while the board 2 game saw FM Bournival and IM Kapengut burning time early on as their game promised crazy complications.
The first game to be decided was Shen, who coasted to an easy win. Next up, Ben Goldberg's advantage grew to the point where it was clear he would win. As Stripunsky v. Ivanov seemed quite likely to be a draw, the decision in the match came with the following move:
and when the GM battle did indeed finish in a draw, New Jersey had won their opening match 2.5-1.5.
All of these games were highly instructive, so if you missed the live excitement, I encourage you to play through them here.
Stay tuned for more action tomorrow evening, as the Western Division introduces itself, starting at 5 pm pac / 8 pm est. Remember that Chess.com/tv coverage is viewable for free for all, you just need to log in to your account!
See you there~
PS: Bonus Puzzles for those who like them: