USCL Week 5 preview/predictions
New Jersey currently sits in third place in the Eastern division, but with this positioning hardly secure every match becomes a little bit more important from here on out. Our match tonight is against the Carolina Cobras, who are currently at the bottom of the Southern division. However, with a significantly improved squad over previous years, they remain within serious striking distance of the leaders, particularly the 3rd-place Baltimore Kingfishers who they are only a point behind.
This will be the second edition of interdivisional play, which is taking on a secondary meaning this year as the division performing the best during these weeks will earn an extra playoff spot. The first of these, week 3, didn't produce any clear frontrunners. The Western division grabbed the early lead, but are just half a point ahead of the Eastern division, who is just half a point ahead of the South. Thus teams will be placed in the rather awkward position of having to root for their division rivals, while simultaneously trying to gain ground on them.
|Carolina Cobras||New Jersey Knockouts|
|IM Kassa Korley: 2486||0.0||1.0||GM Alex Stripunsky: 2656|
|FM Andrey Chumachenko: 2435||0.0||1.0||GM Joel Benjamin: 2634|
|IM Jonathan Schroer: 2426||0.5||0.5||IM Alexander Katz: 2380|
|NM Joshua Mu: 2252||0.5||0.5||Ethan Klein: 2022|
|Average Rating: 2400||Average Rating: 2423|
|Carolina Total||1.0||3.0||New Jersey Total|
This is one of the strongest lineups Carolina has posted in the last half-decade, though NJ isn't exactly fooling around. The (re)acquisitions of IM Kassa Korley and FM Andrey Chumachenko have vaulted the Cobras from the worst team in the league to a serious playoff contender, mostly because this is the first time in a while that they can form a lineup with a >=2400 average. Unfortunately their results haven't shown it to date, and they need to establish themselves here if they want to make a serious push for the postseason.
IM Korley gave GM Julio Becerra a difficult time last week, but was ultimately forced to succumb in a highly complex endgame. This week his task doesn't get much easier, as he will have to contend with GM Alex Stripunsky. Though IM Korley has pretty good results in the league bouncing between the 1st and 2nd boards, it is notable that all of his scoring is against players around or lower than his rating. When he plays against the stronger GMs, such as Becerra, Stukopin, Gulko, etc., he has a lot more trouble getting on the scoreboard. On the other hand, this is a matchup in which GM Stripunsky thrives, even though he's had a lot of trouble posting full points this year. This isn't an easy one to predict, but Stripunsky will break his drought and score the important win.
I have to admit I have no idea who FM Chumachenko is, but when you've got a GM with a 200 point rating edge and the white pieces, it's hard to predict anything else. Joel will play yet another offbeat opening, not get much out of it, but somehow everything will go crazy and he'll be the one walking out of the forest alive. 2-0 NJ.
IM Schroer is playing on the third board for what appears to be the first time in his life, which is notable considering he's been part of the league literally since the beginning and has been the face of the Cobras for several years. Despite having played over 60 games in the league, only 3 or so were against non-titled players (!!!). Thus it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to being the rating favorite, something that doesn't appear to have happened since 2007 (besides his loss to Studen earlier this year). On the other side I'm just not having a good year, but a solid important draw here would go a long way towards turning that around. Hopefully that will be the case.
Finally, "National Expert" Klein returns to face NM Joshua Mu. Mu has had decent results in the league, but doesn't seem to have played in over a year. Klein has been an integral part of the Knockouts so far, fending off Corallo in an important draw against Atlanta to ensure our only match win didn't go up in smoke. This time he will be faced with a similar scenario, where not losing would instantly boost our chances significantly. It is interesting to draw parallels between this match and the one against Atlanta, where board 3 was relatively evenly matched on paper, our opponents had a big rating edge on board 4, and our double-GM lineup had the advantage on the top two. However, with the colors reversed from that match, a very different story may emerge. With White and the momentum, I don't see Klein faltering in this game.
With this, NJ will establish themselves in solid playoff position and earn a (albeit small) margin of error in the important upcoming three weeks that will effectively make or break us.
My predictions last week were, well, not inspiring. Just 7/20 games correct and 1/5 matches brings me to a total of 36/60 games and 5/20 matches, which is a pretty good record picking games but a pretty horrendous one picking matches. Oops. Oh well, somehow I'll catch up this week.
|Connecticut Dreadnoughts||New York Knights|
|GM Alex Lenderman: 2701||0.5||0.5||GM Gata Kamsky: 2785|
|GM Oliver Barbosa: 2579||0.0||1.0||SM Matt Herman: 2439|
|SM Joshua Colas: 2400||0.0||1.0||SM Nicolas Checa: 2396|
|NM Yoon-Young Kim: 2116||0.0||
|NM Qibiao Wang: 2320|
|Average Rating: 2449||Average Rating: 2485|
|Connecticut Total||0.5||3.5||New York Total|
Last week someone said that Kamsky quit the team. This is why you don't believe random people on the internet. The top board is definitely going to be a clash to keep an eye on, as this is a rematch from the US Championship tiebreaks and both participants are over 2700. That's a big number. Anyway, Lenderman has White and probably won't want to go too crazy against the reigning champion, so a draw ensues. On board 2 Matt gets white, but he gets to play a strong GM this time. Eh. I think I've learned not to pick against Matt with white, but at the same time it's really really difficult to seriously predict Matt is going to draw a game. That doesn't leave many other options! Nico Checa has white against Josh Colas in yet another battle between two absurdly strong kids. Though Josh's style of "blitz out every move and trick you" is pretty well suited to the league, it's just hard to take it too seriously. Last week I predicted NY would get blown out, but with Qibiao taking advantage of a huge rating edge and white on the bottom board, this time NY will be the one doing the blowing-out. Of course now they'll get blown out. Go figure.
|Baltimore Kingfishers||Manhattan Applesauce|
|GM Akshayraj Kore: 2543||0.5||0.5||GM Robert Hungaski: 2551|
|IM Levan Bregadze: 2530||0.5||0.5||FM Andrew Shvartsman: 2432|
|IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat: 2450||1.0||0.0||FM Rico Salimbagat: 2286|
|NM Mark Ashland: 2068||0.0||1.0||NM Levy Rozman: 2382|
|Average Rating: 2398||Average Rating: 2413|
|Baltimore Total||2.0||2.0||Manhattan Total|
Both of these teams have even records and are aiming to establish playoff position, and this is a tough one to predict. Though Manhattan has a significant rating edge, this is coming from the bottom board where they have white and a 300 point advantage. Tough to not predict an Applesauce point there. However, IM Enkhbat will respond for Baltimore, taking advantage of their big rating edge and white pieces, to send the fight to the top two boards. The two evenly matched GMs will, well, have an even match, while the second board is tricky as both players are having excellent seasons thus far (Shvartsman's 1-1 record hardly tells the story as he botched a completely winning position against Shmelov). I'll go the principled route and say that white balances the 100 point rating difference and a draw ensues, thus deferring the playoff fight for both teams.
|Philadelphia Inventors||Rio Grande Ospreys|
|IM Tom Bartell: 2448||0.0||1.0||GM Andrey Stukopin: 2631|
|FM Rodion Rubenchik: 2329||0.0||1.0||GM Holden Hernandez: 2582|
|IM Richard Costigan: 2288||0.5||0.5||WGM Katerina Nemcova: 2362|
|NM Todd Bryant: 2201||1.0||0.0||Jeffrey Serna: 2074|
|Average Rating: 2317||Average Rating: 2412|
|Philadelphia Total||1.5||2.5||Rio Grande Total|
Ok, I have no idea how Philly keeps pulling it off, but somehow they've stormed off to a 3.5/4 record and control of the Eastern division, despite being heavily outrated in all their matches. But this is going to be a very tough one to keep the streak going in. They escaped defeat at the hands of our double-GM lineup through strong play on the bottom boards, but this time they're even outmatched on those boards! A lot will depend on whether Costigan is solid enough to hold a draw, at least giving Philly an opportunity to make something happen. Serna has played exactly like what he is - a mid-2000 level player - while Bryant is having a very good season so far. I feel like the margin of victory will be greater, but the second I say that Philly will somehow win so I'll leave it at 2.5-1.5.
|New England Nor'easters||Dallas Destiny|
|GM Alexander Ivanov: 2589||0.5||0.5||GM Julio Sadorra: 2685|
|SM Mika Brattain: 2453||0.0||1.0||IM Jeffery Xiong: 2542|
|FM Steven Winer: 2419||0.5||0.5||NM Francisco Guadalupe II: 2351|
|NM Greg Kaden: 2170||0.0||1.0||NM Karthik Ramachandran: 2257|
|Average Rating: 2408||Average Rating: 2459|
|New England Total||1.0||3.0||Dallas Total|
NE let us off the hook last week, and their playoff dreams are fading fast. Unfortunately for them, Dallas isn't fooling around, once again trotting out a 2450+ lineup. Ivanov was solid last week with black and he'll be solid again with White, but won't get any serious advantage and a draw will be the long result. Brattain spoiled a beautiful position last week with several strange decisions, allowing us to escape with the important draw that ended up saving the match. Xiong, however, won't give him a winning edge out of the opening, and this time the strange decisions will combine into a loss. Guadalupe is having an incredible season thus far, but Winer is a solid player and they will draw. However, Ramachandran will deal the killing blow on the bottom board, effectively crushing the Nor'easters postseason dreams.
Hopefully some of this stuff will actually happen this week, but we'll find out in just a few hours! As usual the games will begin at 7 PM on ICC; hope to see you there!