Chess Is Tough In The USCL!
By Steve Farmer 9-16-13
Last year Arizona won the Western Division Semi-Finals and this year they start out the season with one drawn match and then two losses back to back. This is a tough start to the 2013 season, if the Scorpions are to have a chance at getting to the playoffs they will have to perform miracles and dust off the voodoo dolls of the other teams in the league to get some help. Still, this does not mean that there is not going to be some exciting chess in the matches to come.
Take this week's match against the Dallas Destiny. I thought that Arizona would take this match, knowing how Dallas likes their Rock 'n' Roll music and their make-out parties, I felt that the Scorpions would finally get on the winning path. But alas, such is not the case, Dallas implemented a new strategy: all music is to be of a volume below conversation level and their weekly make-out parties have been suspended until after the division championship, this was bad news to Arizona Fans.
My pre-match predictions were once again shattered to bits. On Board 1 there was a big battle between Mackenzie Molner and Conrad Holt with theoretical implications, these are two exceptional people and players. I predicted Mac to win that one - WRONG! On Board 2 I had Lev Altounian to draw his game (of course, I can never go wrong with this prediction). On Board 3 I had it as pretty much a toss-up, the veteran WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia against the young FM Jeffery Xiong - I predicted a Draw but possibly a win for Anjelina - WRONG! When you see an Albin Counter Gambit on the board the betting tables are already closed! And on Board 4 I predicted WFM Amanda Mateer to beat Travis Guenther who was rated 1976. I got this one right, but just barely, in what has to be the most exciting game of the match.
It was an interesting battle to watch. First off, Anjelina started her game with Jeffery Xiong several minutes before the rest of the team got started. They started out with 1.d4 d5, 2.c5 e5 - the Albin Counter Gambit. I feel there are good gambits out there and bad ones, unfortunately I put the Albin Counter Gambit in the 'bad' category. We older players have had to adapt at using the computer to aide in our learning but the younger crowd literally uses the computer as more of an appendage, a natural extension of their person. They will study main lines deeply and thoroughly, yet with these off-beat openings they only need to find one line to commit to some sort of memory. So, for against the Albin you have a line, against the Latvian you have a line, against the Kalashnikov you have a line etc. You will not be well booked in all the variations, of course, but you will have a working knowledge of what you are up against, and that is how Jeffery handled this opening, he played one of many lines that holds onto the pawn and eventually catches up in development. Now, this defense from Anjelina is not new to me, she played it in the recent US Women's Championship just a few months ago, this may have also helped Jeffery to look at this opening once again. The Albin in the past has served Anjelina well, but this league is probably a bit higher in playing ability than she may have thought. I will credit her with this; she fought long and hard to make things tough on her young opponent.
Play on the top two boards was pretty level. The players for both teams played rather conservatively. In the middle game phase there was little room for either side to take chances to seize the initiative or to gain a clear advantage. When Mackenzie Molner realized Arizona was drawing the game on board 2 and losing the one on board 3 he strived to get an advantage but Conrad was able to get a protected passed c-pawn. When on board 4 it looked like Amanda was in some trouble (and boy was she - what a game!) Mac decided to double down and try to make something happen out of a completely level position. He shurgged off several lines that would have kept the game level, instead trying whatever he could to sneak out a win. I just wasn't in the cards and Conrad played accurately and managed to score the point.
The most exciting game, by far, was on board 4 between Amanda Mateer vs Travis Guenther. Travis played what I like to call the double-hole defense, that is to say he fianchettoed both his bishops in what resembled a Pirc Defense by playing a fairly quick ...a6, ...b5 and ...Bb7. To me, Black's position just looked terrible, but that was just a surface observation on my part, in fact he was doing just fine, maybe White was a tiny bit better throughout the opening, but nothing crushing.
I am used to seeing Amanda play pretty much 'clear' or 'simple' positions but this one was, for lack of a better term, very ugly and messy! All sorts of strange geometry were at play in this game. Looking at this game you wonder how such an innocent looking young lady could get into such an ugly cut and thrust battle!
I present this game to you, dear reader, so that you can try to make sense of it. In particular, check out the amazing sacrifice that Amanda found at move 20. She finds a very nice combination that, if she had more time available, would have been followed by more combinations to put Black at a serious disadvantage. As it turned out, both players were mutually pissed off at the time on their clocks and even more chaos ensued! Enjoy the game!