USCL Week 1 preview/predictions

Aug 23, 2014, 9:05 PM |

The opening day rosters have been revealed, and they certainly have not disappointed. With the first week being divisional play, the opportunity to secure the early advantage is certainly enticing, and the teams have responded in kind. As last year, I'll be giving a semi-detailed preview of our match, followed by a brief prediction of the rest of the action on the same night. The usual disclaimers apply - everything is my own personal opinion and I hope I don't offend anyone.

New Jersey and Manhattan are kicking off the USCL action this year, and both teams are using the time-honored method of playing an underrated player on board 4 to make room for firepower near the top:

Manhattan Applesauce  New Jersey Knockouts
GM Robert Hungaski: 2551     GM Alex Stripunsky: 2656
IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy: 2486     GM Joel Benjamin: 2634
IM Farai Mandizha: 2478     IM Alexander Katz: 2380
Shaun Smith: 2065     Ethan Klein: 2022
Average Rating: 2395     Average Rating: 2423
Manhattan Total     New Jersey Total

 Manhattan had a lackluster start to the season last year, but strung together an incredible five victories in a row - with a combined 16.5-3.5 game score - in the second half of the season to convincingly win the division. This was largely due to the incredible play of GM Zviad Izoria, who put together an undefeated 7.0/8 record and won all 5 of his games in the second half of the season. This incredible score on the top board complemented their board 4 player, Ryan Goldenberg, extremely well, as he finished 8.5/10 in the regular season. The way they were finally stopped is telling - Goldenberg finally met his match against Nicolas Checa, while GM Izoria was unavailable for the pivotal quarterfinals match. As a result, New York won the match by the slimmest of margins. As you might notice at this point, Manhattan's lineup is devoid of both these incredible players. In fact, neither of them are on Manhattan's roster this year. Though they may be added later on in the season, for now someone else will have to step up.

The top board sees GM Hungaski take the white pieces against GM Stripunsky. Hungaski is hardly a stranger to the top board, though most of his play has been on the second one. On the other side, GM Stripunsky has played the top board for three different teams! A Kan sicilian is likely, and I don't imagine Hungaski being overly aggressive despite the white pieces. This will put the onus on Stripunsky to complicate matters, which also seems unlikely despite the apparent rating difference. A likely result is a draw after the typical hedgehog manuevers are exhausted without much point in further risk.

On the bottom board, "National Expert" Ethan Klein makes his league debut against Manhattan manager Shaun Smith. Apart from a monster 2012 season in which he won All-Star honors, Smith's results in the league have been disappointing if only slightly below his rating level. Used to trying to stave off much higher rated opponents, it'll be interesting to see how he makes the adjustment to being the rating favorite. He will also have the advantage of vast league experience, which is a highly underrated commodity. This should be a very interesting one to watch, but for all the hype I expect a relatively solid draw given the team compositions. This will take the fight to the middle boards...

On the second board, GM Benjamin has white against the young IM Ostrovskiy. With a 150 point rating advantage and the white pieces, this is the board that New Jersey will look for the full point on. Both these players have an uncompromising style, meaning that we should see some fire on this board. However, Ostrovskiy is hardly a pushover, and he'll be up for a fight right out of the opening. Anyway, whenever I think about head-spinning complications, this game comes to mind where the GM got the best of an extrodinarily complicated position. This game will likely be a similar story, though hopefully with a little less uncertainty!

The third board sees Manhattan's best chance to reel in the full point, with IM Mandizha taking the white pieces and a 100 point rating advantage against "IM" Alexander Katz. A very strong player with an aggressive style, IM Mandizha has maintained an excellent score in the league - on the second board! In fact, he's lost just one game in his entire 3-year league career. Not exactly encouraging news! I can't say I'm incredibly confident, but it would be a very strange thing to do to predict myself losing, so I'll save face and predict a draw instead :P. 

More seriously, the middle two boards are most likely where the fight will be settled. If either myself or Ostrovskiy manage to stave off our higher-rated counterparts, it will make it very difficult for the other team to mount a comeback. This match is extremely level, with both teams facing essentially the same situations (NJ has a relatively small rating advantage on the 1st board with black and a huge one on the second with white, while Manhattan has the same huge advantage on board 3 with white and the same small one on board 4 with black). It's hard to say anything with confidence - including GM Benjamin's first move!

I'll move on now to something less mentally taxing - predicting the results of the remaining Tuesday night matches! Again, I don't mean to offend anyone with these predictions, and I try to be objective as possible. If you have a different opinion, let us know in the comments!

Boston Blitz  New York Knights
FM Denys Shmelov: 2473 .5 .5 GM Pascal Charbonneau: 2552
NM Vadim Martirosov: 2381 0 1 FM Michael Bodek: 2502
NM Chris Williams: 2310 .5 .5 SM Nicolas Checa: 2396
NM Ilya Krasik: 2264 0 1 NM Gary Huang: 2358
Average Rating: 2357     Average Rating: 2452
Boston Total 1.0 3.0 New York Total

What league would be complete without a NY-Boston rivalry? Unfortunately, this time I think the situation is a bit lopsided. Shmelov is renowned for being a tough nut to crack, and I think he'll stay relatively solid and not give the GM much headway. I don't know much about Chris Williams, but he had a very nice season back in 2007 (!) on the fourth board. Despite this, I don't see him making much headway against the prodigy Nico Checa, and I would give Nico good chances at winning the game as well. On the other two boards, NY has a big rating advantage and the white pieces, both of which look like extremely precarious positions for Boston. Boston will put up a tough fight, but ultimately NY will make good use of their nearly 100 point average rating advantage and bring home the night's first match point.

New England Nor'easters  Philadelphia Inventors
IM David Vigorito: 2519 .5 .5 IM Tom Bartell: 2448
FM Steven Winer: 2419 0 1 FM Dov Gorman: 2400
FM Christopher Chase: 2411 .5 .5 NM Peter Minear: 2365
NM Andrew Liu: 2284 1 0 NM Angel Hernandez-Camen: 2231
Average Rating: 2408     Average Rating: 2361
New England Total 2 2 Philadelphia Total

In the other division action of the night, New England takes on the Philadelphia Inventors. Interestingly, this match is devoid of grandmasters, which is slightly unusual (but hardly rare) for the league. The top board sees IM Vigorito and IM Bartell going at it, with Vigorito taking the white pieces. I expect Bartell to have a suffer a little, but ultimately he'll hold the half point. FM Gorman had a phenominal year in 2012, tearing through the third board with ease, but struggled the following year when he had to move up to the second. For whatever reason however, I have a feeling that he'll turn it around this time and pull together a key victory. With Chase-Minear a relatively stagnant draw and the young Andrew Liu outplaying his even younger counterpart, that point will ultimately save Philly in this match.

Carolina Cobras  Atlanta Kings
IM Kassa Korley: 2486 .5 .5 SM Deepak Aaron: 2446
IM Jonathan Schroer: 2426 0 1 NM Damir Studen: 2372
NM Ilker Bozkurt: 2383 .5 .5 FM Kazim Gulamali: 2397
NM Kevin Mo: 2334 .5 .5 NM Richard Francisco: 2382
Average Rating: 2407     Average Rating: 2399
Carolina Total 1.5 2.5 Atlanta Total

This match should be a very interesting one, with the Atlanta Kings making their league debut against the Carolina Cobras. Though a historically weak team, if Atlanta was expecting an easy match they were sorely mistaken. For the first time since... well... erm... quite possibly ever? the Cobras have put together a lineup with a current average rating above 2400! Unfortunately I don't think it'll save them this time, as Atlanta's young squad should make a powerful impression in the league. Kassa Korley is probably Carolina's best chance to score, and realistically I think he'll have to for the team's chances. But Deepak is no joke, and I don't expect Carolina to take that one home. Damir Studen is a fun player to watch, and I expect him to bring home the match for Atlanta. The other two boards are likely to be relatively solid draws, though the bottom board really could go either way.

Connecticut Dreadnoughts  Miami Sharks
GM Alex Lenderman: 2701 ??? ??? GM Julio Becerra: 2626
GM Michael Rohde: 2512 .5 .5 GM Ron Henley: 2466
FM Leif Pressman: 2432 ??? ??? FM Eric Rodriguez: 2386
Yoon-Young Kim: 2116 0 1 NM Carlos Gaston Andretta: 2228
Average Rating: 2440     Average Rating: 2427
Connecticut Total 1.5 2.5 Miami Total

The top board here is a real showdown, with Lenderman being one of the strongest players in the league rating-wise while Becerra is THE strongest player in the league results-wise. Frankly, I have no idea what'll happen here, but both players will want a full point. The same goes for the third board, where two of the most dynamic third board players face off. I don't know how either of those boards will shape up, but I expect a point for both teams out of them. The second board has players I don't know too much about, but two GMs relatively close in rating with the slightly lower one taking white? Most likely a split point. Finally, Andretta makes use of his rating advantage and white pieces to take the match home.


Again, all these matches take place on Tuesday night, with the action beginning at 7 PM! Opening week never fails to provide a great deal of entertainment as teams and players work out the kinks, so this is one of the weeks you don't want to miss. See you again after our match!

-Alexander Katz