USCL week 4 Preview/Predictions
Week 4 brings inter-conference play to the USCL, with the first of two such weeks pitting the coasts against each other in what could throw the division standings into chaos.
NJ takes on the Los Angeles Vibe, another strong team that has gotten off to a disappointing start. Consistently fielding actual team averages of well over 2400, LA is a tough fight for anyone, and hardly the team we particularly want to be facing when we really need to start getting back on track.
|New Jersey Knockouts||Los Angeles Vibe|
|GM Alex Stripunsky: 2651||GM Melikset Khachiyan: 2602|
|GM Joel Benjamin: 2640||IM Andranik Matikozyan: 2577|
|NM Alexander Katz: 2362||IM Larry Remlinger: 2373|
|Haik der Manuelian: 2032||Nicky Korba: 2160|
|Average Rating: 2421||Average Rating: 2428|
The urgency of the match is not lost on either side, with both teams trotting out one of their strongest possible lineups for this key match. Los Angeles has had some help due to similarly disappointing starts from both Seattle (0.5/3) and Arizona (also 0.5/3), putting them at 2nd place in the Pacific division despite a 1/3 record. But both Seattle and Arizona are incredibly dangerous competitors, with the former being defending USCL champions. NJ sits dead last in the Atlantic division with just .5/3. Some help last week from the rest of the Northeast division has kept us within a point of 1st place, but without putting points on the board all the help in the world won't save us.
On board 1, GM Alex Stripunsky makes his season debut, bringing huge firepower to the top board when it was needed most. Stripunsky has been a staple of the USCL since its inception in 2005, has won GOTW, and has been an All-Star on the 1st board. His opponent is the also very strong GM Melikset Khachiyan, who is also no stranger to the USCL having played since LA's inception in 2010. He can also boast not only a GOTW win, but the winner of the 2011 GOTY competition. An interesting fight lies ahead, but the stronger GM will take the white pieces and collect the point in NJ's time of need.
GM Joel Benjamin plays on board 2 (!!), taking the black pieces against IM Andranik Matikozyan. GM Benjamin has also been NJ's leader since 2007, though seeing him on board 2 is rare. He'll hardly have an easy time against the strong IM Matikozyan, whom I believe has at least one GM norm. Likely this one will fizzle out into a draw.
I play on board 3 against IM Larry Remlinger, a remarkable player who was regarded as having more promise than Fischer (!) in his junior days, but gave up chess to pursue a living. Later on he returned to chess, earning his IM title at the age of 52 (!). Defying the stereotype that high-level chess is for "young" players, he's played against many names you might recognize (Larsen? Polgar? Svider? Fischer?) from both "old" and "new" times. On the other hand my play has been very unimpressive lately, yet oddly solid, without really much of what it takes to win a game. Despite this I haven't lost a game in quite a while, and if I'm not going to win or lose there's only one result left.
Finally, on board 4 the young Haik der Manuelian returns to play against Nicky Korba, who apparently has already started a "career" in acting (at least I'm pretty sure this is the same person, it would be kind of awkward if it wasn't D:). Haik is quite a solid player and will hold a draw, making Stripunsky's debut this year doubly successful as he brings home the match for NJ!
And now, of course, this post wouldn't be much fun if I didn't embarrass myself again by making a terrible attempt to predict all the remaining matches! Yes, all! Normally I just focus on the Eastern matches, but now all the matches are Eastern matches so whoohoo. With sincere apologies to English teachers around the world:
SF starts the action against NY. Go SF. Bhat and Charbonneau are kind of similar players in that they don't play very much tournament chess, and the USCL is really their main source of serious chess. Similar players play -> draw. Herman wants revenge against Naroditsky, but in view of his loss last year he'll play more solidly... not. Herman's answer to this will be to sacrifice even more material, and somehow this will randomly work out in his favor and he'll win. Akshat has apparently abandoned ICC (:() which I can only assume means he's improving his chess more (or maybe he just took a self-imposed leave since he'll NEVER EVER EVER GET back together 3000 AGAIN). I don't know, whatever. Shiny IM title is shiny but won't collect the point. Draw. Finally Alex King will hardly lose his game and bring back the match for NY (booo). 2.5-1.5 NY. Well, SF can't stay perfect forever (erm, right?).
Manhattan starts half an hour later against Arizona (go Arizona), who at just .5/3 is in the same boat as us needing to win. You know, whoever wants it more? Molner holds a comfortable draw against Hungaski, Altounian... well, I don't think we need to say his opponent's name to know that's a draw, Goldenberg moves up to board 3 in a decision I'm sure Manhattan wasn't thrilled about making, and Adamson takes full advantage with a win, and Mateer plays some stuff that somehow fizzles to a draw when she realizes that's all she needs. Arizona brings it home with 2.5 points.
Seattle is in the same boat as Arizona (and division too. But more boat), needing a win desperately. Philadelphia finds themselves in the very confusing role to them of being rating favorites. GM Anka, whoever this is, beats Bartell on board 1 (hey GM has to count for something), Gorman can't bring down Collyer on board 2 and has to settle for the split point. Seattle's hero of last year, Sinanan, continues his hero-y ways with a win over Minear, and Feng holds a simple draw against Costigan where there's little to play for. Seattle brings home 3 points and tightens up the division.
New England kicks off the Wednesday night action against the Carolina Cobras, in what has to be a record average rating differential of 193 points. I simply can't see NE blowing that high a rating advantage. Ivanov on board 1 has a 360 point rating advantage. 360. 360. 360. I don't know if that's a board 1 record (Craig Jones vs. Jorge Sammour-Hasbun maybe was bigger?), but holy mother of the mother of god. And he has white. Ivanov's trademark time pressure won't save Carolina, and Ivanov easily brings home the first of several points of the night. IM Vigorito has only a slightly smaller rating edge of over 300 points, and Carolina will drop to 0/8 on their top 2 boards. At least the bottom 2 boards are interesting matches on paper, but Liu and Times still have rating edges. Ah, what the heck, NE goes full circle with Ivanov at the center (oho 360 i'm so clever) and sweeps Carolina.
Miami looks to continue their so far perfect season against the Boston Blitz. Mark LaRocca calls this match a draw, thus Miami probably wins about 3-1 or something. Ok, the actual games. Esserman had a strange victory last week against us that apparently got some GOTW love, but Quesada won't drop material and will coast to victory. Why must Marc be black again :( Sevian faces a huge challenge in Becerra, but he'll be up to the task and a not-too-interesting draw will occur. Rodriguez and Shmelov will draw as the grinder can't find anything to grind, and the 2000s face off on board 4 in a who-knows-what's-going-on match in which I guess I'll take the white pieces. Thus the match ends in a draw. Oh wait. Bah. LaRocca wins again.
Dallas also wants to continue their winning ways against Baltimore, but Baltimore wants to not continue their not-winning ways against Dallas. Board 1 sees very strong GMs going at it, which of course means a draw. Kaufman shows that GMs are still GMs, but Xiong shows that 2500s are still 2500s and another draw ensues. Defibaugh passes through danger but then cracks against Ruifeng Li, and Sarah Chiang will appear despite being submitted late to hold the match-winning draw. Dallas becomes the only remaining undefeated team with a 2.5-1.5 victory.
Finally, Connecticut wraps up the action against St. Louis, attempting to hold on to their early divisional lead. Kekelidze faces the uneviable task of meeting Akobian, who St. Louis trots out again after a week 1 loss to Conrad Holt. No upset here this time, as Akobian shows he's 2700 USCF for a reason and grinds down Kekelidze. Kannappan has already removed a GM with Black this season, and with white will look forward to taking down his second. Repeat MVP anyone? Jay Bonin has white this time and thus becomes a fearsome opponent, outplaying Neimer when his play is overly ambitious and striking back for Connecticut. Unfortunately Jason Shi is on the wrong side of the upset prize this week, and Wilkens brings home another $50 clinching a 3-1 St. Louis victory.
Stuff stuff something something thing, match starts at 9:00 PM on chess.com - you know you want to watch! Thanks also to our sponsors PokerStars and chess.com, and hopefully my next blog post won't be titled "USCL Week 4 recap: Onto the Hail Marys".