USCL 2012 Preview - East
If you are interested in the rubric based on which I'm evaluating these teams; or in my predictions for the Western Division, they can be found here. If you don't know what the US Chess League is, it is an exciting, professional league, with 16 teams representing 16 chess communities across the U.S.A, in which the majority of top American Grandmasters and young talents participate. You can find more info by checking the USCL website.
The East has probably grown stronger this year than last year-- and it's always been quite strong. Apparently the historical record in East-West matches is 45-44 in favor of the West, but I would be quite surprised if the East did not seize the lead in that rivalry this year-- we will find out soon enough as it is now Inter-division week. My general prediction about the difference in strength between the two divisions appeared to be borne out in week 1, when 7/8 eastern teams managed to field teams whose current ratings average out to above 2400-- while in the west only 3/8 teams managed that.
In general, I also think the east is more balanced-- meaning less disparity between their top teams and their bottom teams-- and thus it's much harder to predict which teams will come out on top, especially in individual matches. Thus, in drafting my fantasy USCL team, I did not draft many eastern players, as I did not see many opportunities for mis-matches. However, the players I was interested in were mostly grouped in two teams...
1st place - Connecticut Dreadnoughts
The Dreadnoughts are this year's expansion team, and they appear destined to follow in the approximate footsteps of the 2010 Nor'Easters.
Under-rated youngsters? They've got the best, as far as I could find in my scouting: Joshua Colas who was 2198 in January and is currently 2395!! I think this guy was the second best player to grab for Fantasy USCL, after someone on the Knights, and I grabbed him very high in our draft. But that's not all, they also have Kapil Chandran as a good up-and-coming youngster to man board 4. Plus, they have two other huge sources of under-rated power that don't come from kids: GM Kekelidze was somehow 100 points lower in January, as was Ian Harris, who I think will be their best board 3.
As to Big Guns, they have Robert Hess, #4 in the U.S. as well as a good value on Kekelidze. None of their players are proven USCL performers, as they are mostly a team of USCL newcomers. For their team-work and attitude, refer to my theory that winners are often going to have good team spirit. Robert Hess is a winner. I think manager Ian Harris is also a winner-- just look at the effort that was taken to assemble a very-well planned USCL team. I think that effort kind of speaks for itself: they must have put in a lot of time creating a terrific roster with plenty of power, good lineups, and flexibility, and that will show in a good attitude throughout the season.
Check out this lineup:
Hess-Kekelidze-Harris-Colas. Average rating 2516.
And they have plenty of flexibility, as Chandran can also perform creditably on four in this same lineup. Or when they don't have Hess, they could do:
Kekelidze-Sarkar-Otchiyev and then either Colas or Chandran on 4. These guys means business.
2nd place - New York Knights
The only player who I think is an even better value than Colas for Fantasy USCL is GM Alex Lenderman, who coincidentally, was first picked in our draft, by none other than GM Shankland. Lenderman is #5 in the U.S., and will often play on.... board 2!! He also has a good USCL record in the past.
New York also has fair under-rated value from Matthew Herman and Michael Bodek and Justus Williams on their middle boards, and three!! more powerful top guns in GMs Gelashvili, Kacheishvili, and Charbonneau. Their strongest lineups are along these lines:
Gelashvili or Kacheishvili - Lenderman - Herman or Bodek - Checa (or Bareyev if Bodek is on 3). This lineup will often sacrifice board 4, but is *insane* on boards 1-3. Or a more balanced lineup:
GM - Herman - Bodek - Williams. This lineup will usually have the advantage on 3+4, a slight disadvantage on 2, and a GM as good as any on board 1.
The team has great flexibility, since they have 4 great GMs-- though his rating is lower than the other 3, Charbonneau is a long-time clutch performer in the USCL, who can be substituted for any of the other three without significantly weakening the lineups. Since basically all their players (Katz and Barayev as well as Herman, Bodek, and Williams) are offering them extra value, they can run almost any lineup, and compete. I barely ranked them below Connecticut-- it's very close.
After this there is a gap to teams 3-8, all of which I think will also be close. But none of the remaining 6 teams can field a variety of 2450+ lineups and really challenge the top two teams over the course of a full season, in my opinion, though in individual matches, they definitely always have a good chance.
3rd place - Manhattan Applesauce
They have some good under-rated value in King and Shvartsman, either of whom would be a good include on a Fantasy team (I grabbed King who I know is improving very rapidly). But unfortunately they don't have the top guns to really take advantage of the rating room that King and Shvartsman provide them, despite Romanenko being a bit under-rated. So their best lineup is probably:
which you can see will be stronger on 3+4 than any other team in the East, but quite a bit weaker on 1+2 than Connecticut or NY. Or they can go with:
which again is very strong, but not at the level of the top two teams. Overall, I see the Applesauce having a really fun and great season this year, and making it into the playoffs while entertaining their fans.
4th place - New Jersey Knockouts
To me, New Jersey is pretty medium on all fronts. They have some under-rated youth in Shen and Wu. They have some top-gun power in Stripunsky and Benjamin. But not more than average for the powerful East. They should score close to 50%. I believe their best lineup is the one they already used in their week 1 victory:
Stripunsky - Kapengut - Shen - Wu.
A good lineup, of course. But you've seen stronger ones earlier in this article. I also feel they have a little less flexibilty than some other teams, though I think playing their best lineup in their first match is a good sign that they intend to win, and so I give them slightly better chances to make the playoffs than the following teams.
5th place - Baltimore Kingfishers
They have some decent supply of under-rated players, Kevin Wang being the best, but Defibaugh, Balasubramian, Selzler, and Zimmer each contributing several points to possible lineups. Their GMs are not as strong as some of the other teams, but they get them at a slight rating bargain. All of this could be the recipe for a very strong team, except that their most powerful lineups turn out to be pretty awkward, and so they are not able to really take advantage of the discounted ratings. They could almost compete with Connecticut and NY if they were allowed to run:
Huschenbeth - Marvelashvili - Wang - Balasubramian
But unfortunately, this lineups is illegal by 25 points, so what they can do is:
Huschenbeth, Margvelashvili, Zimmer, Selzler
Unfortunately they can't even get one of Wang or Balasubramian into this lineup by just a few rating points. Or another top lineup is:
Margvelashvili - Paikidze - Wang - Zimmer
Unfortunately they are just barely not able to get Balasubramian onto 4 in this lineup. I think this awkwardness in the way the ratings of their players match up will actually be costing them quite a bit over the course of the season, and they will fall just short of the playoffs.
6th place - Philadelphia Inventors
This team lacks in under-rated youngsters for boards 3+4. Erenburg is a fine top board, and Bonin and Bartell are both decent USCL performers. But none of these 3 is exceptional, compared to their competition. Will Fischer scored an unreal USCL-record 9.5/10 in his debut last season, but his rating has caught up by 150 points, and he will now have to compete with much tougher opposition, often playing board 2 instead of 4. Their flexibility is not amazing either, relying on Erenburg on board 1. I think this team is a step behind in power compared to New Jersey, Baltimore, and even Boston. But I think the Inventors have always had a very good team spirit and presence in the league, and I thus give them a slight nod to finish above New England and Boston.
7th place - New England Nor'Easters
Losing USCL-star Hungaski hurts them quite a bit. New England has some strong assets: Shankland is an above-average board 1. Andrew Wang is a good under-rated kid for board 3, and Ben Goldberg is probably a USCL over-performer. I think Ivanov gives them more flexibility to post strong lineups when Shankland is unavailable, and that Bournival could have a strong season. But still, the East is very competitive, and NE faces some awkwardness creating their best lineups:
Shankland - Riordan - Wang - Goldberg
It would be legal to have someone rated 2500 on board 2, but New England has nobody with that rating. Thus this lineups is a board 2 short of being one of the stronger lineups in the East. Or:
Shankland - Ivanov - Wang - Pellows
This lineup needs an underrated player with a January rating of 2100-2150, who is currently 2250 level or more. Then it would be a great lineup. Unless Pellows is secretly way better than his rating, this lineup is not on par with the top lineups in the East.
8th place - Boston Blitz
The Blitz are historically the best team in the USCL. But this year, their roster is a bit medium overall. They have no special young talents for boards 3-4. Jorge is incredible, and always outperforms on board 1-- but he is facing strong GMs, and can not be expected to overwhelm guys like Hess and Shankland and Gelashvili. Their overall power level is a bit below-average for the East.
Chances of reaching the Playoffs:
Connecticut 90%, New York 89%, Manhattan 45%, New Jersey 42%, Baltimore 40%, Philadelphia 34%, New England 31%, Boston 29%
Semis: Connecticut over New Jersey; New York over Manhattan
Eastern Finals: Connecticut over New York
USCL Championship: Connecticut defeats Dallas to become the third team in USCL history to win the League in their first season!
Don't miss this week's exciting USCL action. Week 2 is Inter-Division matches. Catch them Monday from 5:30-->9:30 pm Pacific and Wednesday from 7:00-->11:00 pm Pacific either on ICC or on Chess.com's live server. Mondays have Chess FM coverage and Wednesdays have Chess.com/TV coverage.