USCL Week 7 preview/predictions

Oct 7, 2014, 2:39 PM |

Once again the recap article is missing, because I just haven't had time this week to devote to writing one. Take it from me - organizing events is surprisingly time-intensive. Organizing events involving middle schoolers? Yep.

Anyway, it's been proven by now that I'm not very good at predicting matches, so writing these articles doesn't require quite as much time. Add to that the fact that the matches start in... 2 hours... and it would be a good idea to predict matches before they actually occur. 

Our match tonight is against the Rio Grande Ospreys. Two consecutive big wins, over the Carolina Cobras and the formerly-division leading Philadelphia Inventors, have catapulted us from the outskirts of playoff position to just a point out of the division lead. With Manhattan just a half point back however, the season could still easily swing either way. On the other hand, Rio's playoff position is relatively secure, following a gigantic win over the Dallas Destiny, who many (including myself) were pointing to as being the best team in the league. That win threw the Western division into chaos, and the top spot is now wide open for them to grasp. Hence this match has big playoff implications for both teams! To add to the drama, there remain just 2 weeks of interdivisional play left, and the Western division is currently clinging on to a 1-point lead over the East in the race for a 4th playoff spot. Certainly an extremely important match!

Rio Grande Ospreys  New Jersey Knockouts
GM Andrey Stukopin: 2631 0.5 0.5 GM Alex Stripunsky: 2656
GM Holden Hernandez: 2582 0.0 1.0 GM Joel Benjamin: 2634
FM Robert Miramontes: 2221 0.5 0.5 NM Dmitriy Volkov: 2371
WIM Alejandra Guerrero: 2110 0.0 1.0 Aaron Jacobson: 2139
Average Rating: 2386     Average Rating: 2450
Rio Grande Total 1.0 3.0 New Jersey Total

Both these teams have been putting together very similar lineups, focusing on the 2 GM+2350+2050 combination - a slight compromise between the perennial "3 strong players+board 4 sacrifice", often known as "GGGg" after the USATE controversy (or, more recently, known as "St. Louis"), and the "four 2400" balanced lineup. This time, however, Rio apparently had trouble marshaling their mid-level players, and have been forced to compromise their bottom boards even more than usual. Of course Miramontes and Guerrero are still strong players, but with the option of Nemcova on the third board it's hardly their most potent lineup. 

Nonetheless, the top 2 boards are seeing two huge GM matchups. Rio is, again, sending out GM Stukopin to the top board. He's had a very successful season thus far, scoring 4.5/6 for a 2695 performance rating. However, with the exception of a fairly boring draw against GM Holt last week, he's heavily outclassed his opposition. Things won't be so simple for him this week, as he'll find himself sitting across (well, figuratively) from GM Stripunsky. Stripunsky's season has been less than stellar so far, struggling to win games against weaker players and being upset by IM Kassa Korley. This is a tough one to call, but I don't foresee a great deal of exciting chess in this game.

The second board matchup is only slightly weaker than the top one, as GM Benjamin has white against GM Hernandez - both rated around 2600! Joel's position on board 2 has been very fruitful throughout his USCL career, as he really excels at taking care of business against weaker players. His record when facing titled players is not quite as impressive, but this likely stems from the pressure on him to win basically every time. This time he'll be put in the rare position of not necessarily needing to go crazy for the full point, though I'm sure that won't stop him. GM Hernandez's year has been pretty disappointing for the Ospreys, smoothly outplaying NM Bozkurt but basically getting destroyed with White against FM Rubenchik. This board should be more fun (or panic-inducing, or more likely both) to watch, but I'm going to say Joel gets the job done.

FM Miramontes is making his USCL debut tonight, and the last few months have not been kind to him. Since January he's plummeted from 2300 down to 2222, certainly something that cannot be encouraging to either him or his team. NM Volkov has two draws on the season, a miraculous escape against SM Mika Brattain that played a big part in saving that match, and one against FM Rubenchik last week. Dmitriy's opening knowledge in that game was impressive, given that he hardly ever plays tournaments anymore. I'm not exactly too comfortable making a prediction in this game since I know absolutely nothing about Miramontes, but I like Volkov's chances if he gets to a normal middlegame position. That said, I'm more willing to say "better side of a draw" than "win with black", so there's that.

Finally, Aaron Jacobson had an even more miraculous escape last week against IM Costigan, in which the veteran inexplicably abandoned his winning attack to go into a worse ending. Before that, he had a huge win with black against recent phenominon Carissa Yip, which was the other key score to save the match against New England. This time he's actually the rating favorite, something that's pretty rare for a ~2100 on board 4. WIM Guerrero has played just one game in the league, a losing effort in the Accelerated Dragon in which White simply took a pawn, held on to it, and nursed it to victory. Games between 2100s are always difficult to call, but seeing as how Aaron has been bugging me to let him play White I'll assume he has some good reason. 

Probably I'm being over-optimistic here, but I really like our chances on all four boards tonight. Hopefully this will bear out!

And now it's time for the week 7 edition of "will Alex predict a Philly match correctly?". Last week I went 9/20 picking games and 2/5 picking matches (my 4-0 Philly prediction apparently had the desired effect, but doesn't help my stats much :P). That brings my numbers up to 52/100 games and 10/30 matches, still reasonable but meh.

Atlanta Kings  Philadelphia Inventors
SM Deepak Aaron: 2446 1.0 0.0 NM Peter Minear: 2365
FM Daniel Gurevich: 2393 0.5 0.5 FM Rodion Rubenchik: 2329
NM Damir Studen: 2372 1.0 0.0 IM Richard Costigan: 2288
NM Richard Francisco: 2382 1.0 0.0 FM Karl Dehmelt: 2255
Average Rating: 2398     Average Rating: 2309
Atlanta Total 3.5 0.5 Philadelphia Total

Atlanta is going for the "all 2400" lineup I mentioned before, while Philly seems to be using the "all 2300" lineup that hasn't fared quite as well in this league. Their secret sauce wasn't enough last week, and they had a stronger lineup then too. Minear on board 1 is just not a recipe for success (no offense Peter), and though Atlanta doesn't quite have the firepower to convincingly blow Philadelphia away, they have big rating advantages on every board. I've said this before, but Minear is just not good with Black - I don't see Atlanta not getting a full point here. Their other white, Damir Studen, also outclasses his opponent. Dehmelt is hardly to be underestimated (he came within a hair of beating GM Benjamin recently), but Francisco remains a tall order for any board 4 in the league. Finally, Gurevich is stronger than his USCF rating appears given his recent play abroad, but seeing as how 2 consecutive 4-0s would probably be a USCL first I'll hedge a bit. Of course now Philly will 4-0 because bah.

Miami Sharks  New England Nor'easters
GM Julio Becerra: 2626 1.0 0.0 IM David Vigorito: 2519
FM Marcel Martinez: 2474 0.5 0.5 SM Mika Brattain: 2453
NM Oscar Maldonado: 2209 0.0 1.0 FM Christopher Chase: 2411
John Salisbury: 1998 0.0 1.0 NM Andrew Liu: 2284
Average Rating: 2327     Average Rating: 2417
Miami Total 1.5 2.5 New England Total

Becerra is finally starting to not play 2700s, but he's performed very well against them anyway. Except for a weird fluke in which he didn't beat GM Liem up a piece (in a game that was meaningless to the match by that point), he's once again proven why he's a 3-time MVP. Now he can return to his "smash 2500 GMs because why not" ways. FM Martinez will solidly hold SM Brattain, but I'd be surprised if he got more than that. Unfortunately, the rest of the Sharks might as well be playing 2700s - Salisbury had a remarkable upset last week, but repeating the process is just too big an ask. FM Chase somehow manages to win games despite playing very strange openings, and seeing as how strange openings seems to be a good strategy for beating low masters, he'll provide the match-winning point. Either that or he'll lose in 15 moves. Who knows.

St. Louis Arch Bishops  Boston Blitz
GM Wesley So: 2751 1.0 0.0 IM Steven Zierk: 2543
GM Le Quang Liem: 2785 1.0 0.0 IM Samuel Sevian: 2571
NM Matthew Larson: 2251 0.0 1.0 NM Vadim Martirosov: 2381
NM Spencer Finegold: 2187 0.0 1.0 NM Ilya Krasik: 2264
Average Rating: 2494     Average Rating: 2440
St. Louis Total 2.0 2.0 Boston Total

Boston's season is basically over, given that they're 2 full points out of a playoff spot that may not even exist. Nonetheless, they have a strong enough roster to play spoiler in the final weeks. They'll have a tall order here against St. Louis, since they simply cannot touch the dual-2700 wield. Zierk is a strong player, but he's just not going to be able to compete with a 2750 and black. Sevian has a better chance, since at least he has White, but I can't seriously predict him pulling off an upset here. Fortunately for Boston, they have big advantages on the bottom boards. That said, this is a very optimistic prediction for the Blitz, since realistically all the Archbishops need is one of their young masters to hold on.

Dallas Destiny  New York Knights
GM Julio Sadorra: 2685 0.5 0.5 GM Gata Kamsky: 2785
GM Conrad Holt: 2664 1.0 0.0 GM Pascal Charbonneau: 2552
NM Karthik Ramachandran: 2257 0.0 1.0 NM Qibiao Wang: 2320
NM Atulya Vaidya: 2165 0.5 0.5 FM Aravind Kumar: 2201
Average Rating: 2443     Average Rating: 2465
Dallas Total 2.0 2.0 New York Total

This could easily be a championship preview, as these two are looking like the best teams in the league right now. Kamsky found his form last week, systemically demolishing GM Ivanov in typical Kamsky fashion, though GM Sadorra is strong enough to not just get rolled over. GM Holt on board 2, especially with White, is ridiculous. You almost don't even need to look at his opponent to call that a full point. Qibiao is moving up to board 3 for the first time, but NY retains a big advantage on the bottom two boards. Somehow they'll get 1.5/2 on those, though I'm not entirely sure how, and the match will end in peace.

As usual, a huge thanks to our sponsors PokerStars and ICC!

-Alexander Katz