USCL Week 9 Preview/Predictions
(Sorry there's a bit less substance this week, this weekend was verrrrrrry long and I'm still tired)
The season is beginning to draw to a close, and this week no fewer than seven teams are staring potential elimination in the face. Just before the penulimate week begins, just 3 teams (NE, Dallas, SF) have punched their ticket to a playoff berth, and only 1 (Carolina) knows that their November will be USCL-free. Such parity is rare for any league this late into the season.
Facing off in what may well determine a playoff spot, NJ's up and down season crescendos into a rematch against the New York Knights, who has dipped from their lofty perch atop the division to a tie for the final playoff spot with us.
|New York Knights||New Jersey Knockouts|
|GM Tamaz Gelashvili: 2699||GM Alex Stripunsky: 2651|
|SM Matt Herman: 2424||GM Joel Benjamin: 2640|
|FM Michael Bodek: 2484||NM Alexander Katz: 2362|
|NM Nicolas Checa: 2267||Haik der Manuelian: 2032|
|Average Rating: 2469||Average Rating: 2421|
Both teams have risen to the occasion, using super-powerful lineups just when they're needed most. NJ is repeating the same lineup that brought us back into the discussion way back in weeks 4 and 5, when we scored back-to-back wins over Los Angeles and Manhattan to claw back to an even score. Unfortunately for us, NY is using such a strong lineup that it's practically unfair, trotting out the highest average rating seen by any team this season. Regardless, with both teams hoping to practically punch their ticket with a big win, undoubtedly 4 fighting games will be seen here.
The top board sees GM Stripunsky playing his 5th match of his very successful season, currently sitting on 3.5/4 defeating GMs Khachiyan and Ivanov, as well as IM Bartell, with his sole blemish being a draw against GM Izoria (who is also having an incredible season). This week, however, represents a bit of a step up as he takes the black pieces against GM Tamaz Gelashvili. A very dynamic player, GM Gelashvili has defeated GM Becerra as well as IM Esserman in a GOTW-winning effort. Last week, however, he suffered a setback losing to the aforementioned GM Izoria. Last time these two players met the result was the 2012 GOTY runner-up, which should tell you off the bat that this will be a very exciting game to watch. Expect a very exciting draw as both players are hot right now.
NJ's sole rating advantage comes on the second board, where GM Benjamin has the white pieces and a huge rating edge against Matt Herman. GM Benjamin is 3.5/5 on the year with no losses, playing the top board 3 times and the second board twice. Herman, on the other hand, is having a very difficult season mustering just two draws over 5 games. This is a game we absolutely have to win if we want to have a shot in this match, and the GM delivers.
I play against my strongest opponent yet in FM Michael Bodek, who at just 15 is just under 2500 USCF and needs just one more norm for the IM title (he has already surpassed 2400 FIDE). With the black pieces this is not exactly a fun pairing to have in what is, to date, our most important match of the season. I'm still not playing up to my level while Bodek is playing way above his, so yep. But keeping with my "never predict a loss" philosophy this game will clearly be a draw.
Finally Haik der Manuelian gets a rematch against Nicolas Checa, this time with colors reversed. Nico is a unbelievably good player especially considering he's freaking 11, but he just squeaked out a win in their week 1 encounter - and that time he had the white pieces. This time Haik has the white pieces and will do fine with them, staying solid and ensuring that Nico doesn't get too many chances to complicate the game, eventually getting a well-earned and important draw.
With that NJ will win (ok, did you really expect a different prediction) and need only avoid collapse in the final week to earn a playoff berth.
|Philadelphia Inventors||Manhattan Applesauce|
|FM Tom Bartell: 2496||0||1||GM Zviad Izoria: 2624|
|FM Dov Gorman: 2362||.5||.5||IM Farai Mandizha: 2453|
|NM Peter Minear: 2385||1||0||FM Rico Salimbagat: 2259|
|FM Michael Shahade: 2210||0||1||NM Ryan Goldenberg: 2348|
|Average Rating: 2363||Average Rating: 2421|
|Philadelphia Total||1.5||2.5||Manhattan Total|
Manhattan punches their ticket with a win over the all-but-eliminated Philadelphia Inventors. Izoria has had a monster season thus far and will prove too much for Bartell to handle. IM Mandizha is hot off back to back wins over GM Charbonneau and IM Kannappan, but somehow I feel like he won't get too much against Gorman and a draw will result. Minear has had a very good season and continues it, winning with white over the lower rated player. Finally, Manhattan's other big star Goldenberg who's basically won everything pushes the Applesauce into the playoffs with a win over (Not Greg!) Shahade, using the white pieces to be behind only his teammate Izoria in the MVP race.
|Baltimore Kingfishers||Connecticut Dreadnoughts|
|GM Niclas Huschenbeth: 2610||1||0||GM Mikheil Kekelidze: 2576|
|GM Larry Kaufman: 2401||.5||.5||IM Justin Sarkar: 2512|
|NM Jared Defibaugh: 2297||0||1||FM Leif Pressman: 2374|
|FM Ralph Zimmer: 2244||1||0||Jason Shi: 2173|
|Average Rating: 2388||Average Rating: 2409|
|Baltimore Total||2.5||1.5||Connecticut Total|
Baltimore keeps their playoff hopes alive with a huge win over Connecticut, though they will still need help in the final week to complete a huge comeback. GM Huscenbeth smoothly outplays GM Kekelidze, lets it slip a bit, but eventually manages to crash through in an equal position late into the night to win the match. Finishing before that will be a fairly lifeless draw between GM Kaufman and IM Sarkar, while the bottom boards trade wins with black as FM Pressman defuses Defibaugh's tactical thrusts to emerge with a strategically winning position and FM Zimmer simply outplays the young Jason Shi en route to a 2.5-1.5 victory that keeps them in the hunt.
Matches are, as usual, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights here on chess.com, with accompanying commentary on chess.com/tv. With just two weeks left in the regular season, this is definitely one you don't want to miss. Thanks, as always, to our sponsors Pokerstars and chess.com, and hopefully my next post will be about our big win over NY!