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USCL week 9 recap

Cryptochess
Oct 22, 2015, 12:11 PM 1

The ninth week of the league has come and gone, and with just one week remaining in regular season play, astoundingly just two teams (Miami and San Diego) know they will be staying home for the postseason (wait, don't we all stay home?). New England kept their division title-hopes alive with a draw against co-leader Manhattan, but allowed the New York Knights to crawl back into the division lead after their win against Philadelphia, who lost control of their destiny.

...Speaking of destiny, Dallas came out and made a huge statement this week, whitewashing a superstrong Minnesota team that included super-GM Wesley So. Some have guessed that this was the strongest lineup to ever be 4-0ed, and a bit of cursory research appears to agree. Unfortunately for the Blizzard, that likely puts an end to their rookie season, but they really are quite strong and are likely to make a strong impression in future years. Dallas, on the other hand, will appear in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, and their knockout punch this week gives them great chances to win the Western division again.

...Speaking of knockouts, can you say BRAAAAAAAAAAAANDON Jacobson? After defending a somewhat unpleasant-looking position for a bit, he shifted to the attack and scored a huge victory to eliminate the Miami Sharks and clinch New Jersey's third postseason appearance. By the way, despite being a half point behind the leaders, New Jersey has somehow accumulated the most game points of any team in the league, and it's comlpetely realistic for them to obtain one of the bye slots (or even the division, if a few results go right for them). By the way, Brandon has a 4.5/6 score on board 3, which would surely put him in the discussion for top board 3 of the year...

...at least it would, except for the fact that Levy Rozman has put up the same number of points -- in one less game. The Manhattan player continued his torrid pace this week by blowing our own Steven Winer off the board, who had also given up just a single half point prior to this week. That loss was devastating to us because it invalidated our entire match strategy, which was to score on the bottom two boards and try and somehow weather the 2-strong-GM storm that the Applesauce put forth.

But more on that a bit later, as it would be very very strange to be talking about top board 3s without mentioning the legendary Elliott Liu, whose relative inactivity hasn't stopped him from going a perfect 7-0 on the third board, officially "pulling a Caruana". The incredible performance has vaulted Las Vegas into the playoffs in their inaugural season, and they probably have their sights set on getting a rest next week. By the way, Liu is currently leading the MVP race, which spans every board. Possibly the greatest debut season in league history, even ahead of Kannappan's cleanup in 2012, though we'll have to wait and see how the Desert Rats finish up the year. 

Alright, I'm more or less out of contrived ways to link team names together, so on to some actual chess. Manhattan put forth a truly terrifying lineup this week, with 2 strong GMs (Izoria, Kacheishvili) manning the top boards, already-mentioned powerhouse Rozman on the third, and young but underperforming Nakata on the last. We simply didn't have the firepower on the top boards to match this ridiculously strong combination, so we went with a seemingly unusual match strategy, opting for a very balanced lineup and hoping to work from the "bottom up"

Manhattan Applesauce  New England Nor'easters
GM Zviad Izoria: 2638 1.0 0.0 SM Mika Brattain: 2452
GM Giorgi Kacheishvili: 2672 0.0 1.0 IM Alexander Katz: 2464
NM Levy Rozman: 2378 1.0 0.0 FM Steven Winer: 2425
Akira Nakada: 2035 0.0 1.0 NM Siddharth Arun: 2228
Average Rating: 2431     Average Rating: 2392
Manhattan Total 2.0 2.0 New England Total

This didn't exactly go according to plan, but you can't argue with results! Rozman was the first to strike, after Winer played a line that modern theory (with the aid of computers) has pronounced dead:

A brutal example of how computers have drastically affected opening theory, and as early as move 7! Kudos to Rozman on his excellent preparation in a quite rare line.

Obviously, this was a devastating result to our match plans, as now we would have to cobble together points on the top two boards -- where we were massively outmatched -- while we absolutely had to win on the lower board. Fortunately, Arun was up to the task, though not without a typical board 4 hiccup near the end!

So the match drew level with the top two boards still in play, where we seemed to actually be doing relatively ok. Mika had a very solid position and a massive time advantage, while I thought I had a perpetual in hand. But, unfortunately, Izoria found a way to break through and collect material with a nice tactical trick -- having been on the receiving end of his resourcefulness many times, I can authoritatively say that he tends to do this :(

UPDATE: Congratulations to GM Izoria for winning Game of the Week with the below effort!

This left me needing to win my game to save the match, but for once I didn't demonstrate my total lack of technique, and managed to pull together a nice victory in probably one of the best games I've ever played. Of course, I was aided by the fact that my opponent began the game trying to win due to his massive advantage in strength, but I'll take wins any way I can get them!

Apologies to my opponent for showing him on an off day; I'm sure he'll flatten me in response next time we're paired again. Anyway, the win saved us a crucial half match point, and kept our bye hopes alive -- a win next week against cross-town rivals Boston will clinch it for us, and a draw will give us some chance of snagging it anyway (if New Jersey fails to beat Philadelphia). The match is hugely important for Boston as well, as they're right on the edge of playoff qualification, and they'll definitely be looking for the playoff-clinching match victory. It'll be a very interesting contest!

Of course, all of next week will see very interesting contests, with Connecticut-Miami probably being the only match that doesn't have serious playoff implications. The matches:

Tuesday, October 27th

1. New Jersey Knockouts vs Philadelphia Inventors 7:00 PM EST
2. Carolina Cobras vs Atlanta Kings 7:10 PM EST
3. New England Nor'easters vs Boston Blitz 7:20 PM EST
4. New York Knights vs Manhattan Applesauce 7:25 PM EST
5. Miami Sharks vs Connecticut Dreadnoughts 7:30 PM EST

Wednesday, October 28th

6. Minnesota Blizzard vs Lubbock Tornadoes 8:00 PM EST
7. Dallas Destiny vs St. Louis Arch Bishops 8:15 PM EST
8. San Francisco Mechanics vs Rio Grande Ospreys 8:30 PM EST
9. Arizona Scorpions vs Seattle Sluggers 9:00 PM EST
10. Las Vegas Desert Rats vs San Diego Surfers 9:15 PM EST

New York-Manhattan is perhaps the most important match, as the two are currently tied for first in the Eastern division and they're basically playing for a bye. New Jersey-Philadelphia is no less interesting though, as New Jersey can still realistically finish anywhere from 1st to 4th, and Philadelphia requires a win and a lot of help to get into the playoffs. Also miraculously alive are the Carolina Cobras, who pulled together a huge upset last week over the Dreadnoughts to keep their playoff hopes alive; Atlanta is almost in the same boat in that they really need a win to have realistic chances (if they draw, they need Boston to lose and Philadelphia to not win). Connecticut-Miami is not very interesting in that Miami has been eliminated and Connecticut will almost surely be in the postseason (they'd need to lose 4-0 and have Atlanta win 4-0 to miss out), but Connecticut will still be looking to secure the 5th seed. 

The action is just as intense in the Western division, as the remaining 3 playoff spots could very realistically go to any of the 5 non-clinched non-eliminated non-Minnesota teams. San Francisco currently leads the pack at 5.0/9, but Rio Grande is just a point back and will definitely be going all-out for the match victory, though even a win doesn't secure their playoff hopes. Seattle and Arizona are both on even scores, half a point behind the Mechanics, and their match is crucial for the rest of the standings as well -- a drawn match means that Lubbock and Rio Grande are both in must-win situations, and margin of victory will become a serious concern as well. Speaking of Lubbock, they're the other team on 4.0/9 (along with Rio Grande), but I believe they control their destiny in that a sufficiently dominant win (i.e. at least 3.5-0.5) should clinch them a playoff seat. Finally, the last team technically "in playoff consideration" is the Minnesota Blizzard, but unless I'm missing something they need way too many things to happen: a 4-0 victory, a 4-0 loss for Arizona, and a sufficiently high rated Lubbock lineup that the 11-point gap in average rating is overcome (this requires something like Lubbock's lineup being at least 110 points higher in average rating than Seattle's lineup, which is not exactly likely). 

For more on the playoff picture, see Grant Oen's analysis here: http://www.chess.com/blog/AtlantaKings/us-chess-league (some things might be slightly inaccurate, e.g. I don't see how NJ clinches >=3rd on a draw considering they're half a point back, but almost everything here is correct). 

Some cute moments from this week's games:

Don't forget to tune in next week on ICC for the final installation of the regular season, and visit uschessleague.com for all the information you could possibly want about the league! 

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