While I don't have quite the USCL presence that I once did, it's still a nice place to keep myself from getting too rusty in the time between tournaments. Couple this with being a fan and feeling supportive towards the cities I live/have lived in, and I'm just unable to fully quit even though it doesn't quite have the novelty for me that it used to. So far this year New England has been doing quite well, reaching a score of 2.5/3 match points. After my teammates carried the weight in our first 2 matches, I made my debut last week against GM Pascal Charbonneau. I was really looking forward to this game against a true USCL titan, and as far as I know the two of us are the only 2 players to have won 2 championships on 2 different teams.
It was a more or less even game the whole time, but with a couple key points. I am really mad at myself for playing 20. ... Rc7? in about 10 seconds. It looked like such an automatic move- prepare to double on the cfile, defend the potentially weak a7 pawn, get ready to bring my last piece into the game. However, as my opponent very accurately pointed out in his blog, 20. ... Be6! is a clear improvement. After this move, white has serious issues with his queen- she really has a hard time leaving d1, which will leave the f1 rook passive. Black will then be ready to pile up on the cfile and have a huge advantage (also 21. ... f5 is a threat, which white has to respond to). I'm not too upset for not playing Be6, mainly I was upset for trying to economize time when I had 20ish minutes left but playing an automatic move quickly, on the very move that could have changed the course of the game. After his equally automatic (but not equally poor!) response 21. Qb3!, the slight pressure that I thought I had earned from slightly outplaying my opponent vanished immediately, and if anything I was slightly worse. I was surprised that he repeated moves during the game (a decision he also calls into question on his blog), although I don't think I would have too tough a time holding it together.
Luckily for me, my teammates bailed me out from this oversight. I was particularly impressed by Lawyer Times, who made his all-time USCL debut. He got what looked to me to be a nearly winning position straight out of the opening, but then his young opponent did a quite good job of complicating the game. While the position was always objectively great for white, with low time and tactics flying everywhere the engine's +1.5 means a lot less than normal, because it all can be blown in one bad move. To Lawyer's credit, he navigated the somewhat murky waters extremely well without letting his resourceful young adversary get back into the game. Once he got the queens off it was all over, and this was the only decisive game of the night (although in my humble opinion boards 2 and 3 being drawn were both minor miracles for the black player).
Next up we take on the Cobras, and while I'm not in the lineup, I will definitely be watching. Go New England!
Best of luck to all,
GM Sam Shankland