USCL Week 3 preview/predictions
Though the Knockouts have garnished only half a point from the first two matches, a win tonight would vault us right back into the middle of the division and well in the playoff hunt. With New England struggling at 0-3 and Boston just a point better at 1-2, it is a big opportunity to make up some lost ground.
All this is because this week the league has entered interdivisional play, meaning that a win could potentially move a team up an entire point over the rest of the division. However, the new playoff rules put teams in the rather interesting situation of having to root for their divisional rivals, as the division that performs the best during the interdivisional matches will be rewarded with an extra playoff spot! This makes the action tonight especially interesting, as last night's matches did little to clarify that situation (the Eastern division and the Western divisions both brought home 1.5 points, while the Southern is right behind with 1.0).
Our matchup is against the Atlanta Kings, one of the expansion teams this year. They have a very balanced roster, which they are demonstrating tonight as their fourth board is just 27 points below their top one!
|New Jersey Knockouts||Atlanta Kings|
|GM Alex Stripunsky: 2656||1.0||0.0||IM Carlos Perdomo: 2400|
|GM Joel Benjamin: 2634||1.0||0.0||NM Damir Studen: 2372|
|IM Alexander Katz: 2380||0.5||0.5||NM Richard Francisco: 2382|
|Ethan Klein: 2022||0.0||1.0||NM Michael Corallo: 2284|
|Average Rating: 2423||Average Rating: 2360|
|New Jersey Total||2.5||1.5||Atlanta Total|
At a quick glance, this may look like a serious mismatch. It is highly unusual to see one team's third board currently higher rated than the other's top one! However things are not so simple, as both Atlanta's bottom two boards are on fire and will seek to outweigh NJ's impressive advantage on the top 2.
GM Alex Stripunsky, the face (fist?) of the Knockouts, gets the White pieces for the first time against IM Carlos Perdomo. Perdomo will be playing in his first league game, and he's struggled recently in OTB play dropping to "just" 2387. Stripunsky, on the other hand, will be playing in his 55th (!) league game, and has a nearly 300-point rating edge to boot. Combined with the white pieces, it would be craziness to guess the GM won't win this game. I'm not that crazy. NJ will go up 1-0 here.
On the second board, Damir Studen has won both his games this season against impressive (IM Schroer and FM Pressman) competition, but will have his work cut out for him this time as he goes up against the other fist (face?) of the Knockouts, GM Joel Benjamin. Another game that looks extremely lopsided on paper, Atlanta's chances to win the match more or less will rest on Studen not losing this game. Unfortunately for Atlanta, this type of matchup is Joel's specialty, and NJ's 1-2 punch will result in a full 2 points from the top boards.
On the third board, Alexander Katz has white against Richard Francisco, who is also 2-0 on the year (against Kevin Mo and Jason Shi). Atlanta will definitely need him to move to 3-0 if they want to have a reasonable chance in this match. Despite the white pieces, a draw would be a perfectly acceptable result here, leaving the heavy hitting to the GMs. That is exactly what will happen, and the 2600s will take care of the rest.
Finally, Michael Corallo makes his league debut against "National Expert" Ethan Klein. All the trumps may seem to lie with Atlanta on this board, with Corallo on absolute fire recently (he's raised his rating almost 100 points to 2360 - over the span of 3 weeks!), a 350 point rating advantage, and the white pieces. But Ethan is never one to be counted out (at least until he gets into time pressure)! Don't be too shocked if Ethan pulls off... well... one of the biggest upsets... in the history of the league... ok I guess you can be a little shocked. Fortunately for NJ, we should have enough firepower on the top three boards to overcome a loss here, but we'll definitely be looking to Ethan to demoralize Atlanta early!
And with that, NJ will find themselves right back in the playoff picture, overtaking both Boston and New England to jump right back into the divisional discussion.
Last week my prediction powers took a vacation, as although I got 9/20 game predictions correct, I once again guessed just 1/5 match results correctly. That brings me to 17/40 games and 2/10 matches correct this year - hopefully that'll improve this week!
|New York Knights||Miami Sharks|
|GM Gata Kamsky: 2785||0.5||0.5||GM Julio Becerra: 2626|
|SM Matt Herman: 2439||0.0||1.0||FM Marcel Martinez: 2474|
|FM Michael Bodek: 2502||1.0||0.0||NM Tony Arencibia: 2251|
|FM David Brodsky: 2249||1.0||0.0||NM Carlos Gaston Andretta: 2228|
|Average Rating: 2494||Average Rating: 2395|
|New York Total||2.5||1.5||Miami Total|
Becerra isn't getting much luck with pairings, as his first match was against GM Lenderman - the lowest rated of his opponents! Bungling a won yet albeit meaningless game last week against GM Le Quang Liem, Becerra is on just .5/2 so far this year, and is now greeted by the US Champion GM Kamsky. This time he'll come through yet again for Miami and neutralize NY's biggest threat. Matt Herman lost to Marcel Martinez in 2010 with reversed colors and a board lower. Martinez has dropped a rating point since then, while Matt has gained more than 100. However, the white pieces are too much of an advantage, and Matt will end up doing something a bit too crazy for Miami's point. Bodek, who has got to be one of the highest rated board 3s like ever, will strike back for NY. Finally, Brodsky will win to bring the match home for NY (booooooo)
|Rio Grande Ospreys||Carolina Cobras|
|GM Andrey Stukopin: 2631||1.0||0.0||IM Kassa Korley: 2486|
|GM Holden Hernandez: 2582||0.5||0.5||NM Ilker Bozkurt: 2383|
|Jeffrey Serna: 2074||0.0||1.0||NM Kevin Mo: 2334|
|WIM Daniela De la Parra: 1999||0.0||1.0||NM Craig Jones: 2232|
|Average Rating: 2322||Average Rating: 2359|
|Rio Grande Total||1.5||2.5||Carolina Total|
Carolina finds themselves in the rather unusual situation of being the rating favorites, as Rio Grande is using an extrodinarily strange lineup. In what must be an availability issue, the Ospreys have elected to put their bottom 2 boards on, well, the bottom 2 boards, where they will face very difficult tasks being outrated by several hundred points. GM Stukopin will simply outclass IM Korley, but it won't be enough as Bozkurt becomes the quiet hero of the night by neutralizing GM Hernandez. Carolina's bottom 2 boards will finish off the match, making full use of their absurd rating edges.
|Manhattan Applesauce||St. Louis Arch Bishops|
|IM Victor Shen: 2510||1.0||0.0||GM Wesley So: 2751|
|IM Eli Vovsha: 2510||0.0||1.0||GM Varuzhan Akobian: 2758|
|FM Andrew Shvartsman: 2432||1.0||0.0||WGM Anna Sharevich: 2367|
|Shaun Smith: 2065||0.0||1.0||Jacob Wilkins: 1909|
|Average Rating: 2379||Average Rating: 2446|
|Manhattan Total||2.0||2.0||St. Louis Total|
IM Victor Shen, despite playing against a world-class GM, has guaranteed his victory to the world. Good enough for me. GM Akobian is also a pretty decent player, and has the white pieces, so he'll equalize the score. Shvartsman had a very frustrating loss last week in a game he could have easily won - this time he won't be quite as forgiving. Unfortunately for Manhattan, Victor Namath Shen's incredible win will be insufficient to carry the match, as Wilkins will strike back on the bottom board to save the half point for the Arch Bishops.
|Dallas Destiny||Connecticut Dreadnoughts|
|GM Conrad Holt: 2664||1.0||0.0||GM Mark Paragua: 2588|
|IM Jeffery Xiong: 2542||0.5||0.5||GM Oliver Barbosa: 2579|
|NM Francisco Guadalupe II: 2351||1.0||0.0||SM Joshua Colas: 2400|
|NM Karthik Ramachandran: 2257||1.0||0.0||NM Yoon-Young Kim: 2116|
|Average Rating: 2454||Average Rating: 2421|
|Dallas Total||3.5||0.5||Connecticut Total|
With Rio Grande in big trouble on paper, Dallas has a golden opportunity to seize full control of their division before the season even really gets underway. They will take full advantage of this chance, as Holt does something like walk his king to b6 or finish with 110 minutes to bring home another point, while both the bottom two boards deliver for Dallas to put the match beyond question. IM Xiong gives up another token draw because why not.
How accurate are my predictions this week? We'll find out in less than 2 hours! Interdivisional play is always exciting to watch and the nuanced storylines add even more intrigue to the rivalries, but all this is amplified this year as teams fight not only for division placement, but also for the coveted bonus playoff spot. Don't miss out!