For my final post of the season, I'll be predicting the entire playoff bracket (with oddly "accurate" numbers :P). Half of the USCL teams have managed to earn a coveted playoff spot, namely the:
New York Knights
New England Nor'easters
San Francisco Mechanics
Los Angeles Vibe
These 8 teams will be playing in a single-elimination tournament to determine a final champion. Each division contributed 2 teams to the playoff picture, but after this week only 1 team per division will remain. The division winners (bolded) earned the first-round advantage of draw odds, the right to advance on a 2-2 tie. Given that about 25% of all matches end in a 2-2 tie, this alone tilts the balance heavily in favor of the division winners.
The first round of the playoffs pits the divisional qualifiers against each other for what will be their third match on the season. Unsurprisingly each team is putting forward one of their best lineups, each team's average rating being at least 2400 (remember, the under 2400 average rating requirement is based on previous official ratings, not the current ones, allowing for monumental actual average ratings).
|New York Knights||Manhattan Applesauce|
|GM Tamaz Gelashvili: 2699||GM Robert Hungaski: 2541|
|IM Irina Krush: 2531||IM Farai Mandizha: 2453|
|IM Akshat Chandra: 2395||FM Rico Salimbagat: 2259|
|NM Nicolas Checa: 2267||NM Ryan Goldenberg: 2348|
|Average Rating: 2473||Average Rating: 2400|
|New York Total||Manhattan Total|
The playoffs kick off with a huge New York-Manhattan match. Like each of the other matches, these teams have already played twice - trading dominating 3.5-0.5 wins. Manhattan's came at a critical time in the season, bringing the previously dominating New York Knights back down to earth and vaulting into the division lead with 2 weeks to go. The Applesauce kept up their huge second-half surge with wins over Philadelphia and NJ to put any doubt of their division win to rest. Needless to say, having won 5 consecutive matches to return from a 1.5-3.5 hole, Manhattan is the "hottest" team going into the playoffs. However, this match has some notable differences - New York is playing a somewhat stronger lineup than they did in their week 8 debacle, while Manhattan's lineup has the notable absence of near-MVP GM Zviad Izoria. GM Gelashvili is perfect with White on the season, with some very nice wins, and adds to his collection with a win over the much lower rated GM Hungaski. IM Mandizha is also having a great season and will look to strike back against now-GM Irina Krush, but the latter will be content with a draw and won't have too much trouble achieving it. Ryan Goldenberg is just ridiculously good and adds to the win column over the struggling Nico Checa, but Akshat Chandra proves the difference as he uses the white pieces to demolish FM Rico Salimbagat (who hopefully won't mouseslip!).
NY wins the match: 60%
Manhattan wins (or ties) the match: 40%
|Connecticut Dreadnoughts||New England Nor'easters|
|GM Robert Hess: 2636||GM Alexander Ivanov: 2624|
|GM Michael Rohde: 2548||FM Steven Winer: 2409|
|FM Leif Pressman: 2374||NM Mika Brattain: 2364|
|Jason Shi: 2173||NM Lawyer Times: 2261|
|Average Rating: 2433||Average Rating: 2415|
|Connecticut Total||New England Total|
Connecticut is another team that is coming into the playoffs "hot", scoring 3.5 match points in their final 4 matches to march into the playoffs. New England, on the other hand, was simply dominating the league with a 6/7 start before slowing down with just 1/3 in the final stretch. However, the important points came in the final week, where NE drew with Connecticut in order to earn draw odds in this match. The matchups are extremely similar in this match, with GM Hess-GM Ivanov and FM Winer-GM Rohde being the exact same games (with same colors even!) as the final regular season match. The only differences are that FM Leif Pressman replaces IM Jay Bonin on the third board, while Lawyer Times takes the place of Andrew Liu. GM Hess-GM Ivanov was a fairly uneventful draw last week, and they duplicate the result here. FM Winer-GM Rohde has already happened twice on the season, with the GM following the time-honored strategy of winning with black and drawing with white... wait, that's a little backwards. Anyway, the last match was decided by a late blunder by FM Winer, who this time will be satisfied with a draw if he doesn't have much of an edge out of the opening (which is exactly what will happen). FM Pressman is having a great season thus far, with 2.5 points over 3 matches - all with black. With a much more dynamic style than IM Bonin's, who was unable to crack Brattain's defenses in either of two games, Pressman manages the full point. Unfortunately for Connecticut, Times is an incredible 6-0 on the season, and with White will roll over the young Jason Shi - a player who is playing well above his level, but nowhere near where Times is at the time (haha).
Connecticut wins the match: 36%
NE wins (or ties) the match: 64%
|Dallas Destiny||Miami Sharks|
|GM Conrad Holt: 2639||GM Julio Becerra: 2619|
|FM Jeffery Xiong: 2485||GM Renier Gonzalez: 2510|
|NM Ruifeng Li: 2348||FM Eric Rodriguez: 2348|
|NM Ryan Moon: 2182||Vlad Yanovsky: 2130|
|Average Rating: 2414||Average Rating: 2402|
|Dallas Total||Miami Total|
Dallas shot off like a bullet to start the season, beginning an incredible 5-0 before slipping to the Seattle Sluggers. They quickly recovered with another 2 wins, but lost a key match to St. Louis to set up a dramatic finale against the Miami Sharks for the division title. Miami had kept pace to begin at 4-0 before going down against Dallas, which would be the only match on the season they would lose. Half a point back in the final week, Miami completed their comeback with a 3-1 victory over Dallas to win the division. GM Becerra won on board 1, but this was due solely to GM Holt needing to win to save the match and thus overpressing a drawn position. This time in the absence of this being necessary a draw will result. MVP Xiong returns in a rematch against GM Gonzalez, again with black, but this time doesn't get to show his heroics and he draws for the first time this year. FM Rodriguez is having a great season, last week providing the spark for Miami with a win over FM Alec Getz with black. This time he even gets a somewhat easier pairing against Ruifeng Li, and will win once again to clinch it for Miami. Ryan Moon takes advantage of a strange mistake by Yanovsky in a position where not much is happening to save face, but not the match as Miami completes their big comeback with a semifinals spot.
Dallas wins the match: 44%
Miami wins (or ties) the match: 56%
|Los Angeles Vibe||San Francisco Mechanics|
|GM Melikset Khachiyan: 2602||GM Vinay Bhat: 2555|
|IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti: 2491||GM Daniel Naroditsky: 2570|
|NM Madiyar Amerkeshev: 2328||FM Yian Liou: 2491|
|NM Craig Hilby: 2246||Siddharth Banik: 2192|
|Average Rating: 2417||Average Rating: 2452|
|Los Angeles Total||San Francisco Total|
LA backed into the playoffs with a losing record, due to Seattle being unable to match the same level they played at last year and Arizona losing some critical matches at the wrong times. This was the weakest division in the league this year, with a combined 18-22 record. SF controlled the division pretty much from the outset, with their playoff positioning never being in any serious doubt. On the top board GM Melikset Khachiyan takes white against GM Vinay Bhat. The former is well-known on chess.com for his video series, while the latter plays little tournament chess nowadays other than the league. White should get an edge here but I don't see it being enough to win. Draw ensues. IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti plays against GM Daniel Naroditsky - these are two of the brightest prospects for the future of US chess. The somewhat older, somewhat higher rated, and higher titled Naroditsky has the white pieces and will make them count. I don't know very much about Madiyar Amerkeshev, but I don't see him managing to beat FM Yian Liou who is nearly 2500 - I'll say a draw since that's all Liou will need to win the match. Siddarth Banik has played very well this season, now taking white against Craig Hilby. I know little about the later, but he seems to be one of those 12-year old or so 2250s that everyone just loves to play against. I guess another draw since they're both young and roughly the same strength. SF has too many outs here for LA to realistically win this match.
LA wins the match: 28%
SF wins (or ties) the match: 72%
This makes the semifinals New York-New England and San Francisco-Miami. Note that there are no draw odds this year in the semifinals. In the event of a tie, the match will go to the exciting blitz playoffs previously unique to the championship match.
So because we're in the predicting mood, let's predict the lineups also!
|New York Knights||New England Nor'easters|
|GM Tamaz Gelashvili: 2699||GM Sam Shankland: 2673|
|SM Matt Herman: 2424||FM Steven Winer: 2409|
|FM Michael Bodek: 2484||NM Mika Brattain: 2364|
|NM Nicolas Checa: 2267||NM Lawyer Times: 2241|
|Average Rating: 2469||Average Rating: 2422|
|New York Total||New England Total|
NY will definitely want GM Gelashvili back in the lineup if possible, and will certainly want the young Nicolas Checa to man the bottom board despite his recent struggles. The middle two boards are a bit more difficult - both the Krush/Chandra and the Herman/Bodek combos are just really good. On NE's side, GM Shankland has actually not had a good season thus far, but NE will probably want him to meet Gelashvili should they get through to the semis. The remaining lineup looks the same as it did this week - the Winer/Brattain/Times set is quite good as Winer has been performing quite admirably on the second board and Times has just kept winning over and over again on the last.
With this predicted matchup, GM Gelashvili had a really nice GOTW winning effort over GM Shankland last year, but this time slows down into a draw. Matt Herman has had a poor season so far, but that hardly matters when he's played the hero to send NY into the playoffs. One of those players who really seems to deliver when it counts, I see him making it complicated enough that Winer falters (possibly overplaying Herman's time pressure) and Herman once again gets to be the hero of NY. FM Bodek drew Brattain from a winning position last time around - this time he converts. And Checa gets back on track, holding the on-fire Lawyer Times to an "insurance" half point. No tiebreaker here, as NY convincingly takes it 3-1 to earn their 4th championship appearance.
NY wins the match without tiebreaker: 41%
NE wins the match without tiebreaker: 34%
NY wins the match in a tiebreaker: 15%
NE wins the match in a tiebreaker: 10%
|Miami Sharks||San Francisco Mechanics|
|GM Julio Becerra: 2619||GM Jesse Kraii: 2567|
|GM Renier Gonzalez: 2510||GM Daniel Naroditsky: 2570|
|FM Eric Rodriguez: 2348||FM Yian Liou: 2491|
|NM Carlos Gaston Andretta: 2128||Siddharth Banik: 2192|
|Average Rating: 2401||Average Rating: 2455|
|Miami Total||San Francisco Total|
Miami was far more fearsome earlier in the season when they still had GM Quesada, allowing them to play monster GM Becerra on board 2. Unfortunately for them, those days are now gone. Regardless, they will definitely want GM Becerra in the lineup, as well as their second GM Renier Gonzalez (GM Quesada's replacement), who is still quite strong even if not at Quesada's level. Rounding out their lineup is FM Eric Rodriguez who has had a great season, and Carlos Andretta who has been solid on board 4. On SF's side, they will probably want more or less the same lineup as this week, with the possible (probable?) change of switching out GM Vinay Bhat for GM Jesse Kraii.
In this predicted matchup, GM Becerra has been a huge name in the USCL for, well, pretty much forever. From GM Kraii: "I would rather play Satan himself than Julio [Becerra]!". Enough said. GM Naroditsky strikes back with a win over GM Gonzalez, who doesn't play very much compared to the hyperactive Naroditsky. FM Rodriguez-FM Liou should be a fun match, with a draw as a result. The final board will see Banik, who is having a very capable season on the last board, pushing for but not finding a win, and a draw results. For the first time, this means that a semifinals match will head into a blitz tiebreaker!
For those who don't know the procedure, the board 4s for each team play each other in a 5-minute blitz game with 5-second increment. The loser is eliminated (both are eliminated on a draw), and the winner (or their board 3 in the event of a draw) plays against the other team's board 3. Once a player is playing against the other team's board 1, a draw no longer eliminates both players, instead resulting in colors being switched and another game played. The tiebreaker ends once a team's board 1 is eliminated, at which point they lose the match. (For example, Andretta and Banik could draw their blitz game, resulting in them both being eliminated. Then Rodriguez could defeat Liou and GM Naroditsky, at which point he plays against GM Kraii. Should they draw, they'll switch colors and play again. Then Kraii defeats Rodriguez, but loses to GM Gonzalez. Miami would win the match).
In this tiebreaker, Banik is a young underrated kid who is probably very comfortable with playing online blitz. Just based on this I expect he'll win. However FM Rodriguez is a much stronger player and will defeat him in the next game. Rodriguez-Liou will be even more fun to watch in a blitz game, with Eric's dynamic style being better suited to the fast time control than Liou's. GM Naroditsky is ridiculously good at blitz, sporting a 3135 blitz rating on ICC at the moment, and will take down Rodriguez and Gonzalez in short order. He'll put up a good fight against Becerra, possibly with a draw or two along the way, but with the increment the stronger player will win and the match will come down to the board 1s. "I would rather play Satan himself than Julio [Becerra]!" - enough said. Miami advances to the finals for the 4th time in their history.
Miami wins the match without a tiebreaker: 24%
SF wins the match without a tiebreaker: 36%
Miami wins the match in a tiebreaker: 29%
SF wins the match in a tiebreaker: 11%
|Miami Sharks||New York Knights|
|GM Julio Becerra: 2619||GM Tamaz Gelashvili: 2699|
|GM Renier Gonzalez: 2510||SM Matt Herman: 2424|
|FM Eric Rodriguez: 2348||FM Michael Bodek: 2484|
|NM Carlos Gaston Andretta: 2128||NM Nicolas Checa: 2267|
|Average Rating: 2400||Average Rating: 2473|
|Miami Total||New York Total|
In a rematch of the 2009 championship, the New York Knights and the Miami Sharks face off in the final match of the USCL. GM Becerra, FM Rodriguez, and SM Herman would return from that match to play again 4 years later, with the later two moving up a board since then. That match went to an intense tiebreaker, where IM Alejandro Moreno Roman nearly took down the entire Knights team before having his run ended by GM Giorgi Kacheishvili, who then proceeded to dismantle the remaining Miami squad to bring home the gold. In the regular games GM Becerra took down GM Kacheishvili, but this time he'll have a somewhat more difficult opponent in GM Gelashvili, who defeated him earlier in the season with different colors. With the white pieces a draw will be the result. Herman will have a difficult assignment in GM Gonzalez, who won't stand for the tricks and methodically outplay white until white's position cracks, but the wily Herman will escape the pressure and pull away with a half point. FM Rodriguez-FM Bodek should be another great matchup, with an exciting draw the result. Finally, Nicolas Checa puts dreams of a repeat tiebreaker to rest by taking down the significantly lower rated Andretta to give New York their third USCL title!
NY wins the match without a tiebreaker: 35%
Miami wins the match without a tiebreaker: 25%
NY wins the match in a tiebreaker: 25%
Miami wins the match in a tiebreaker: 15%
And so the overall chances of each team winning the 9th edition of the USCL (rounded to make whole numbers):
Manhattan Applesauce: 15% (They're somewhat unfortunate that GM Izoria is not in the lineup this week, meaning their chances are lowered since they may have trouble getting past the first round)
New York Knights: 21% (Since I began playing in the league, every year I don't play for NY they win a championship. Go figure.)
New England Nor'easters: 14%
Connecticut Dreadnaughts: 6%
Miami Sharks: 13%
Dallas Destiny: 13%
San Francisco Mechanics: 14% (This may seem a bit oddly high since I predicted them to lose to Miami, who has lower chances, but this is due mostly to the fact that they have great chances to win their first match while the other ones are much closer)
Los Angeles Vibe: 4%
You may notice that most of the percentages are very close to each other - that's a result of the league being very competitive this year. Most of my predictions are based on some very small margins - only a couple of matches have better than 60-40 odds IMO. The regular season may be over, and half the teams may be home for the winter, but there's still plenty of exciting chess left to witness.
As always, thanks to our sponsors PokerStars and chess.com, and to the league.
Until next year,