Oct 21, 2010, 9:20 PM |


By IM Levon Altounian


This is exciting! Not only I get to write an article about the Week 9 Match against the monster St.Louis team (how else do you describe a team that has 2 US Champions and  a mere 2600 GM on board 3?) and officially declare our win of the super-competitive Western Division with 1 round to spare!

Their traditional line up with GMs Nakamura, Shulman, Finegold remind me of the Great Recession 2008. Remember when the Banks were supposedly regulated, CEO’s had a cap on their payout yet things still got out of hand? The USCL overall wonderful system of having a rating cap at 2580, mixed with finding ways to enhance chess and push everyone towards having the best players on their teams reminds me of that same system of pre-2008. All was nice and cozy in the world of USCL until St.Louis showed up this year and made a 3 Super-GM team. And not just super-GMs but people like Nakamura on the team. They did not need a 5-year old as Mark Ginsburg reminded us in his article (see the article below) and instead…. had Ben Finegold’s son. Money talks so to speak.  However, when money has power, Karma steps in too. As scary as St.Louis team is, they still have to fight hard in round 10 to qualify into the Playoffs, while Arizona is already in.

Don’t get me wrong- St.Louis Chess club and its Founders and members in short 3 years proved United States can and will be one of the strongest Chess Centers in the world and I immensely enjoyed playing there at the 2010 US Championship. But USCL is not a US Championship and I hope next year some rules will be reconsidered by Greg Shahade.

I figured if Chicago, Miami and others can do it, we can do it too!

So how did we stack against St.Louis in this match? A bit of a gamble that I would call Arizona Gambit (though as Robby correctly reminded me- hard to have a great team against their line-up no matter what you put up. When the cap is 2400 and they legally sport a 2521 rating… life cannot be easy.

Let me copy Mark Ginsburg’s point count system for how we were “supposed” to score as to how we actually ended up at the final critical juncture. Strange math of chess: 0.3+0.3+0.4+0.7 ends up sometimes greater being greater than 2.0 with the right ingredients.

BOARD 1: GM BARCENILLA-GM NAKAMURA. Logically: 0.3- Ends 0.8 (final position).

Very experienced Rogelio Barcenilla vs Naka. What is funny is that Naka is scary on ICC and tournament play because he plays a very strange chess, calculates like crazy and makes people uncomfortable. Just look at his games with D. Gurevich. Game 1- he can lose a pawn, but Gurevich doesn’t want to get into tactics and misses the chance. Game 2- Gurevich decides he will get into tactics, loses a piece. Fixes it back by positional means, then sees white move rooks back and forth in most illogical looking way and when he is finally fine- gets mated in 1 move as soon as tactics start again. But in real life Naka  is a normal guy with usual normal looks and last time when I saw him- very lovely girlfriend . He doesn’t need introduction. It is enough to say that when Kasparov talks about new generation of chess players, he mentions Nakamura together with Magnus Carlsen, while Peter Svidler says “Naka is bad for ICC” How can we put aside Naka fear and just play chess? I would suggest everyone to carry his picture to all USCL games and put on the laptop while playing. The rest of my plan you can imagine and interpret in your own way…….I was going to do so had I been playing this week. Keeps things in perspective. I have great respect for “Barci”myself. I totally agree with Mark that one of the things that is scary about Naka is his speed and usual accuracy (and sometimes inaccuracy). I was hoping Rogelio will remember his bad loss to Naka from last year (if he is like me- stuff like that eats you for the whole year) and would have done some self-therapy.  It started with the half-joke opening Mark ( once again) mentioned as a joke  describing Barcenilla’s opening powers in one of his old articles ( 1e4-c5 2 c4!!). For some strange reason Naka was 30 min late. Unfortunately it started looking bad for us somewhere on move 8….. It started looking like a repetition of the 2009 encounter- Barci playing slow, getting into trouble and Naka starting with 45 minutes and 15 moves or so later…. having 46 minutes! Then the real magic started. Naka played some moves that I could not figure out, looked like a mouse slip even and soon his edge seemed more of a general edge than anything exact. 5 minutes later when I returned, Barci had “helped” Naka go from slightly better to almost losing. 4 pawns and a rook vs Rook and  Bishop. I couldn’t help but feel that Barci was getting more and more confident as things were getting simpler and in blitz type chess he feels right at home too. Barci can’t lose but can he win? It seems like he didn’t try hard and was happy with a draw. Drawing Naka is extremely hard and only the best get to draw and beat him. Still very good if you ask me!

BOARD 2: IM ALDAMA- GM SHULMAN. Logically: 0.3- Ended: 0.9 (final position)

The “Arizona Gambit” main character-Dionisio Aldama. Our secret weapon for this match.

Aldama is not as accomplished as Yuri Shulman (also the rating difference- 300+ points!) but 2 things worked in our favor, as we all hoped: First, Aldama is a very dangerous tactician and secondly, Yuri is playing very badly on USCL this year. This was a classic match of a “Russian positional chess” vs “Tactical Cuban chess” My biggest fear was not the rating difference (having played both players numerous times) but the colors. Tactical chess works well against higher rated players with White but is highly unsuccessful when Black. Last time I saw a tactical guy beat a higher rated “Russian chess guy” was Bareev (2700+FIDE) lose with white against a 2500 rated Sevillano when trying to win the Las Vegas Tournament 2009. This game also didn’t start too well for us: in a normal line of Benoni  (Aldama’s new favourite) white seemed to get an upper hand. But the bad time management by Yuri + the tactical prowess of Aldama soon turned the tables around. Then the unthinkable happened: In a winning position Aldama played too fast, made some very simple mistakes… and agreed to a draw in a position where the only question that was there was: does Black win or does White get a chance to draw? The reason- he wanted to insure we win the Division. Great result again but I was seriously hoping we can knock St.Louis out!

BOARD 3: IM RENSCH-GM FINEGOLD. Logically: 0.4, Ended:  0.3.

Danny in my opinion was a good match against the ever-ellusive and dangerous Ben. Danny is aggressive, well prepared and ready to go for it. The opening was normal too (Danny didn’t want to repeat the strange line he played against Pruess) but I have a nagging feeling that not only Ben was sure this line would take place but also Danny was not sure which set-up to implement. They actually had exact my position against GM Amanov from the Week 8, but Danny was down 1 move. Soon, black was fine and then I have a feeling Danny blundered that he is losing an Exchange. The rest was not fun to watch or play.

BOARD 4: MATEER-FINEGOLD. Logically: 0.7, Ended: 0.5

Amanda had to win if we were to have any chance to draw or win the match. Finegold repeated the line  of his dad, that worked so well for Daddy Ben in the previous week. Somewhere on move 15 White was winning already in that game and by employing the 2 b3 move. I recall when I played 2 b3 twice in tournaments, both my 2000 rated opponents wrote down 2 g3 instead and then looked at the board and with great seriousness asked me “are you sure? I think you accidentally moved the wrong pawn on the wrong side”. Finegold got a nice game, as Amanda was not sure what to do and which structure to employ. I think the pressure on her to win also had a say in her opening moves. At that moment, looking at all 4 boards I had a bad feeling…. But just like other games, Amanda recovered, fixed the problems and in mutual time pressure proved she is capable of overcoming issues. Finegold blundered, then blundered again and it was all over.That made me very happy because 4 months ago she survived against me a horrific position by making “computer-like” great moves and without making any bad moves I ended up worse and drew. Seeing this game now I don’t feel “alone”. Great job!

In conclusion- great job guys, today’s draw I view as one of the highlights of what our team is capable of and I am personally proud to be a member of this wonderful team.

As Greg Shahade put it- “St.Louis was lucky to escape with a draw!” and I could not agree with him more.

Next match against LA doesn’t matter at all for the Playoffs, so lets see if we go 4:0 or 0:4 on that one and no matter what- stay tuned for the Playoffs! We plan to win the Finals but don’t tell it to others please. Yet.