USCL Eastern Division Playoff Preview

USCL Eastern Division Playoff Preview

| 0 | Chess Players

It's playoff time, in the US Chess League!!

The most exciting chess event in the US is sponsored by Pokerstars and involves four board matches between 16 teams representing a variety of American cities. For more info check here or here. My goal today is to give you a preview of what we are going to see from the four eastern teams who will face off in the playoffs starting on Monday. And what the prospects for qualifying for the Finals are for each.

Before I get into the odds, here's an interesting detail. In each playoff match, one of the teams chooses if it wants white or black on the first board. In the first round, all four teams with the option chose white on 1+3. Why? There are two main possibilities: a lot of bd 4 matchups are tossups anyway. And white is most valuable at higher levels (as explained here in the second part, Plan for the Round). But board 2 is often about as strong as bd 1 on these top teams, so i think bd 4 has more to do with these decisions than bd 1.

1. New England Nor'Easters (Draw odds; White on 1+3)


4. New York Knights

Best Lineups

New England has a thousand different lineups that are pretty close;  Shankland is their best player, and should play as much as possible in the playoffs. Beyond that, they'll get to adjust their lineup based on their opponents. So we'll follow their thought process and look at NY first: (the first rating is the current USCF rating; the numbers in parentheses are the league ratings used to determine max rating average. they are typically from Sept 2009)

Kacheishvili 2617 (2590)
Lenderman 2634 (2574)
Charbonneau 2553 (2560)
Herman 2360 (2310)
Getz 2355 (2318)
Ostrovskiy 2377 (2098)

Lend/Charb/Getz/Ostrov = average rating of 2480

Best lineups are definitely Kachi/Lendi-Charb-Getz/Herman-Ostrovskiy
When they have white on 3 they can consider Herman, but when they have black they are more likely to play Getz (also Herman has work). So I think in the first round they will go with Getz.
It's harder to say who will be used on board 1. Lendi and Kachi have bad memories of Shankland (here, the clever reader will be thinking of a joke I'm leaving out) and either way will have a tough fight on their hands. For the team, it's hard to choose between Alex the Loan Shark and Giorgi the Bear. I suggest they go with Kacheishvili, because he's a more experienced professional, better at playing against someone you've lost to, probably better at drawing, but it's basically a toss-up that doesn't change the odds much.

Ostrovskiy and Charbonneau have powered NY with 5/6 and 5.5/6 respectively. They both have white and will win. So, N.E. needs to win bd 3 and bd 1 to advance from draw odds.

Obviously, NE wants to play Shankland who lead them to a win over NY last time. Then, since they are losing on 2 and 4, they need to come up with the player who gives them the best chance to win with white on 3-- looking at play so far this year in the league, thats Bournival.
Their bds 2+4 need to average 2350 then ((Shank+Brad)/2 = 2450). That leaves their best option as Hungaski-Theil. (despite the 2009 ratings, and VDM's good play this season, Hungaski is *even* better).

Best lineup for this week: Shankland-Hungaski-Bournival-Theil with current ratings weighs in at:
2559+2535+2395+2219/4 = 2427

Match Outlook

The NY lineup is fearsome and should win, though it's a close match. Hungaski is a great player who once I thought about it has a decent chance to match up against Charbonneau. If he can steal Charbonneau's second draw, it'll be terrific news for NE. NY 53%-NE 47%. Now, if Shankland reads this blog and sees that I'm counting on him to win if NE is going to advance, the pressure will cost him. Sam will read this. -12% to NE right there. 65-35.
Finally, we have to factor in magic. NE consumed a power boost that lasted all season. They have played consistently out of their minds, so we give them +11% for magic. New York meanwhile was cursed. By all rights they should be easily the second best team in the East, but in the second half of the season a hex was cast on them by the boyfriend of a USCL player from a rival metropolis. They did not win a single match, a futility reminiscent of the SF 'nics. The hex costs them another 12%

Odds of advancing:
New England 58%
New York 42%

2. Boston Blitz (Draw odds)


3. Baltimore Kingfishers (White on 1+3)

Best lineups

Boston's best lineup is Larry Christiansen on 1, then either Sammour-Hasbun or Perelshteyn on board 2 (both have been excellent USCL performers), Marc Esserman on 3 (another consistently good USCL performer, who, if he had played more, would have meant an even stronger season for Boston this year), and Grant Xu on board 4. Shmelov spent a season in hell (just being honest, I know what that feels like too, as I've played pretty badly in the USCL for a few years), and weighs in at the same rating as Marc, so unless Marc has fled the cold weather in Boston, he should definitely play. If he's not available, they will probably resort to replacing Esserman and Xu with Martirosov and Rabin on 3+4. This is also a very strong lineup, since Martirosov has played well this season. Rabin is a bit more of a question mark; I am guessing he's not actually much better than Xu.

Larry 2663 (2590)
Sammour 2603 (2590)
Esserman 2519 (2464)
Grant Xu 2089 (1888)


subbing on bds 3+4, gives
martirosov 2248 (2235)
rabin 2193 (2173)
= 2423.75

For Baltimore I would suggest
Erenburg 2646 (2590)
Larry Kaufman 2473 (2444)
Ray Kaufman 2368 (2306)
Balasubramanian 2234 (2231)

Zimmer (2271) in place of Balasubramanian raises this lineup to 2440, but my gut says to go with Bala. Interestingly my pick for "best Baltimore lineup" has *never* been used by the team in the regular season. Maybe there's an intensely exothermic chemical reaction I don't know of that goes off if those four are in the same room, and that's why they have had to avoid it; but more likely they've been saving it up as a surprise for the Playoffs!

Match Outlook

Erenburg made clear he is one of the league's premier players this season, definitely one of the top 4 guys along with Julio, Hikaru and Pascal. He played 8 games for his team, with a 2794 performance. Had he played vs. Carolina in week 3, he might have joined that select group (trivia: what do those three players have in common?). With white he's a serious, confident favorite, despite Larry having a fine season. Balasalubraramaniana is also a solid favorite on board 4 against the Grand Xu. However, the middle boards have big advantages for Boston. Larry held against Erenburg two weeks ago. Erenburg will go after him again and may win the game. But even then, Boston goes through off draw-odds.

Odds to advance:
Boston 63%
Baltimore 37%

Note: Baltimore has several lineups that come close to this in strength-- though Erenburg is irreplaceable (eg using Enkhbat on board 2). Eugene Perelshteyn (who could take the place of Larry or Sammour) is at the Spice Cup, so if one of the four Boston players in my "strongest" lineup is not available, Baltimore's chances will jump to 50% despite the draw odds.

Eastern Championship

New England v. Boston
Now Eugene comes back, and they throw him into the lineup in place of Sammour to mix things up. Surprise value is lost on New England because they read my preview. They also switch their lineup and use a thing of beauty: Vigorito-Hungaski-Bournival-Cherniack. They have never used that lineup bc it averages out to 2400.25-- above the league's 2400 max. However, league rules actually say "2. Every match consists of four roster members whose average rating is no more than 2400.75"
Wow! Holy Lineup, Batman! After winning the league championship, Vigorito thanks me first in his acceptance speech for pointing out they could run this lineup. At the same time, Arun comes running in saying I got my math wrong and the lineup is not legal (I did not triple-check), and tries to wrest the trophy from Vigorito. It all comes down to David's preparation for that unexpected over-time match.
Meanwhile, before New England can win the championship they have to face a Boston team playing 2 more GMs than they do. Boston has white on 1+3. The Undisputed King of Chess Rap does his best to avoid the sharp sword of Marc Esserman. The opening preparation of that game will be crucial, but as a fan of both parties, I will say no more. Boston are clear favorites. The flexibility and passion that got New England through the regular season matters less in the playoffs; what matters more is your absolute best lineup. Boston's best is a 65-35 favorite against them. Ooops, factor in New England's power boost, and we get:

Odds to go through:
Boston 54%
New England 46%

Boston (draw odds) v. New York (white on 1+3)

Presumably if NY got here, it means Kacheishvili or Lenderman drew Shankland. Now all they need to do is keep the same guy in the lineup (it's not a team event, after all) and get one more draw out of him. Also, did I mention Pascal Charbonneau is on the NY team?

Odds to go through:
New York 59%
Boston 41%

New England (draw odds, white on 1+3) v. Baltimore

If New England got here, Shankland won his game, and New England sticks with him and the King on board 3 (my WOW lineup is better against Boston, but would also be fine here). Sam really wants to play Erenburg, and Baltimore does not have the fire power on boards 2-4 to give New England many problems

Odds to go through:
New England 77%
Baltimore 23%

New York (white on 1+3) v. Baltimore (draw odds)

If this matchup occurs, then all three eastern playoffs matches will involve the team with draw odds losing. New York has several strong lineups, they don't depend on any one player. I don't see how they could not win this match.

New York 71%
Baltimore 29%

And, in a feat reminiscent of economics, the odds of each of the four Eastern teams to reach the USCL Finals are:
New England .58[(.46)(.63)+(.77)(.37)] = .58(.2898+.2849)= 33.3326%
Boston .63[(.54)(.58)+(.41)(.42)] = .63(.3132+.1722) = 30.5802%
New York .42[(.71)(.37)+(.59)(.63)] = .42(.2627+.3717) = 26.6448%
Baltimore .37[(.29)(.42)+(.23)(.58)] = .37(.1228+.1334) = 9.4424%

Stay tuned for a Western Division Preview, which will also include some longer arithmetic determining each team's chances at *winning* the USCL Finals.

Also keep in mind that we have two teams highly dependent upon one player being available. Boston's chances plummet if Esserman is not available, as do Baltimore's if Erenburg is unavailable. I'm sure Erenburg will be available, I hope Esserman will be. Because I want to watch his games!!

Look forward to some awesome clashes! The playoffs are when we get to see the league's superstars face off against each other, as the teams that have advanced to the playoffs have more superstars and are more likely to play them in these do-or-die matches. And please be mildly polite when attacking me for the rude way in which I may have said that you or your favorite player or team is likely to lose. How else will you teach me to be more polite in the future?

IM David Pruess


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