With just hours until week 2 of the USCL kicks off, 8 teams prepare for a second week of divisional action, with early control of the playoff picture at stake. New Jersey takes on Philadelphia, last year's Eastern conference winners. However, Philadelphia faces a much more difficult task this year, losing their board 1 rock Sergey Erenberg, and last year's board 3 monster Dov Gorman being forced to at least board 2 this year. But as any fool with a remote knowledge of the USCL knows, to count anyone out is a very poor lapse in judgement.
A quick look at the rosters reveals a giant edge on paper for New Jersey, with NJ's board 3 at the same rating as Philadelphia's board 1! But Philadelphia has always successfully embraced the role of the underdog. Can they channel the Rocky spirit today?
On board 1 sees the aforementioned Dov Gorman taking on GM Joel Benjamin. Dov is clearly a very strong player (just look at his +6 record last year!), but he may meet his match here, being outrated by an unbelievable 278 rating points. It will be interesting to see whether Gorman decides to use his White pieces to create complications against the esteemed GM, or seeks to neutralize NJ's biggest rating edge by creating sterile equality. Either way, expect a tough fight in which the GM's vast experience in pretty much any situation proves supreme.
On board 2 the USCL veteran Albert Kapengut faces off against Peter Minear, who plays USCF events very often and maintains his rating around 2400. On the other hand, Kapengut plays almost exclusively the USATE and the USCL. Philadelphia will be looking for a victory here, but Kapengut has proved time and again that despite his infrequent play he can still successfully compete at a very high level. Expect the White pieces to neutralize any rust that Kapengut may feel, and a draw a fair result.
On board 3, longtime board 4 veteran Richard Costigan moves up to the third board, with the white pieces against Alexander Katz. With the white pieces, Costigan plays simple and logical chess, aiming for positions where he can claim a small edge and slowly outplay his opponent. Expect a slow manuevering game in which Black equalizes but cannot go for much more.
Finally, on board 4 the young prodigy Praveen Balakrishnan, who at just 11 years old is rated well over 2200, takes on a familiar opponent Karl Dehmelt. According to Praveen, the two have played at least twice before. Praveen is one of the few young players who regularly employs the King's Indian Attack, bringing him several important victories but also some quick devastating losses. Philadephia probably looks at this board as their best chance to collect a point, trying to make the small rating edge count in a double-edged position. However, Praveen is not one to simply roll over and die, so this is a game that could really go either way. I'll predict half a point here, but more because there's a 50% chance of winning and a 50% chance of losing!
And with that, NJ capitalizes on our big rating edge to earn our first victory of the season.
To make this post even more exciting and controversial, I'll predict the winners of the rest of tonight's action. As usual, my 5-minute predictions will definitely prove to be absolutely accurate. Right?
In the NY vs. Manhattan match, GM Charbonneau will be looking to avenge his loss last week, taking it out on GM Hungaski. Hungaski won't be willing to accept this, and will hold a draw. Vovsha was the victim of last year's GOTY, but with the White pieces won't allow Herman a dynamic position for the second draw of the match. NY's Michael Bodek has a huge rating edge over Rico Salimbagat, and with the white pieces will make it count, while Ryan Goldenberg will do the same for Manhattan. When all the fire on the board is put out, the NY cross-town rivalry will remain undecided with a 2-2 draw.
Boston takes on Connecticut in another close match, with both teams featuring a GM on board 1 and another very strong player on board 2. Boston's GM Perelshteyn will slowly but steadily make progress against GM Kekelidze, eventually taking home a point for the Blitz, while Bonin will be his usual solid self against Shmelov leading to a board 2 draw. Boston's Martirosov will make the white pieces count against the higher rated Leif Pressman, while Boston's new board 4 Jake Miller will demonstrate that his recent 63 point jump back into the master class was no fluke, and the Harvard student will successfully defend a worse position against Denker champion Kapil Chandran, earning an extra margin of victory for Boston, 3-1.
Finally, Baltimore looks to rebound from their 0-4 annihilation against Connecticut last week, and they are well poised to do that. Bregadze will take the white pieces and be close to a victory, but will have to settle for a draw against IM Vigorito, while Baltimore's Enkhbat will make his rating edge count against the rusty Winer. Defibaugh will settle for a draw in a better position against Riordan after seeing this, and Krause won't allow the talented Liu to create meaningful winning chances. Baltimore takes it home in an exciting 2.5-1.5 victory.
The matches start on chess.com at 7 PM Eastern Time - don't be late!
Of course, a big thanks to the USCL's sponsors Pokerstars and chess.com.