USCL Week 9 preview/predictions
The ninth week of the USCL is upon us, and this year it takes on a whole new level of importance. The West has a small but significant edge in the interdivisional standings, up a full match point and five game points on the East. Nonetheless, the pairings on paper would seem to favor the East, so it's way too early for Arizona and/or Seattle to celebrate.
Of course, with just two weeks left in the season, Philadelphia, Arizona, and Seattle are hardly the only ones with their eyes peeled to the results of these matches.
The Eastern division race is perhaps the most interesting, as New Jersey, New York, and Manhattan could easily finish in any order - and Philadelphia can still sneak into the mix! The other two divisions each have one team clinching a playoff appearance - St. Louis in the south and Dallas in the West - and they have huge leads in their respective divisions. However, the race for the remaining playoff spots is hotly contested, especially after some big upsets last week. It will be a very interesting week!
New Jersey will be playing against the revitalized Seattle Sluggers, who returned to relevancy after a smashing win over the Rio Grande Ospreys last week, both putting them in a(n albeit tenuous) position to sneak into the playoffs and dealing a significant blow to Rio Grande's positioning. They still face a tough road to the playoffs, but they've taken the first step. New Jersey has pulled things together over the last couple weeks, overcoming a shaky start and stringing together four consecutive wins to lead the Eastern divisional race. The key one came last week, in an impressive win over the New York Knights, and now we're just one more good showing away from punching our postseason ticket.
|New Jersey Knockouts||Seattle Sluggers|
|GM Alex Stripunsky: 2656||1.0||0.0||IM Georgi Orlov: 2528|
|GM Joel Benjamin: 2634||1.0||0.0||FM Marcel Milat: 2357|
|IM Alexander Katz: 2380||0.5||0.5||NM Nat Koons: 2293|
|Ethan Klein: 2022||0.5||0.5||NM David Golub: 2270|
|Average Rating: 2423||Average Rating: 2362|
|New Jersey Total||3.0||1.0||Seattle Total|
IM Orlov's return has been the spark the Sluggers needed, sporting a 2800+ performance rating and earning an important win over GM Kovalyov last week. A consistent overperformer in the league, he'll need to continue his impressive streak against GM Alex Stripunky for Seattle to have real winning chances in this match. That's hardly an easy task however, with the GM finding his form recently. Alex came close last week to shocking reigning U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky, but that game fizzled out into a draw. Nonetheless, it was an encouraging result after a difficult start to the season, and this one is too big an ask for the Seattle leader.
GM Benjamin has had a great season thus far, as evidenced by the fact that he's currently atop the MVP standings. Joel is one of the highest rated board 2s in the league, and he has proven extremely adept at dispatching weaker players without too much trouble. Given the nearly 300-point rating edge in this game, it seems very unlikely that he won't bring home the full point.
IM Katz has had a pretty iffy season so far, playing a really bad game against IM Mandizha and spoiling a won one against NM Francisco. On the other hand, NM Koons has heavily overperformed in the league, though his last season was in 2006. He beat FM Miramontes last week in a marathon, culminating in the infamous K+B+N vs. K checkmate. This should be a relatively balanced matchup, and a pretty normal draw ensues.
Finally, Seattle's star NM Golub looks to continue his perfect season. At 5-0, he's playing not just for the team's playoff chances (which are, frankly, slim), but also for individual All-Star honors - much of which will depend on the upcoming two weeks. With a gigantic rating edge and the white pieces, he's undoubtedly looking for another full point here. However, "National Expert" Klein will certainly not be willing to roll over and die, and he's played excellently in the league thus far. Refusing to be outplayed by even near-2400s, as long as he stays over 10 minutes throughout this game I like his chances. After that, I'll be holding my breath.
Seattle does have some reasonable avenues to get through this match with playoff chances intact, but they'll be difficult to execute and NJ is the clear favorite here. Hopefully the match will go as it looks on paper!
The last two weeks were fairly good to me, getting 20/40 games and 6/10 matches right to bring my season totals to 72/140 games and 16/40 matches correct. Not so bad, though I'd like to see those a little higher. Let's try again!
|New York Knights||San Francisco Mechanics|
|GM Gata Kamsky: 2785||1.0||0.0||GM Vinay Bhat: 2555|
|GM Pascal Charbonneau: 2552||0.5||0.5||IM David Pruess: 2407|
|FM Whee Ky Ma: 2339||0.5||0.5||FM Andy Lee: 2361|
|FM David Brodsky: 2249||0.0||1.0||NM Vignesh Panchanatham: 2332|
|Average Rating: 2481||Average Rating: 2414|
|New York Total||2.0||2.0||San Francisco Total|
This should be a very interesting match, especially given the gigantic playoff implications for both teams. Add to this the interdivisional drama surrounding the final playoff spot, and this match will probably be the highlight of the night. GM Kamsky has white and a huge rating edge, which is pretty hard to argue with at that high a level. Fortunately for SF, they have a similar edge on the fourth board, though it is hardly as pronounced as Brodsky is probably still significantly underrated. Both the middle boards seem more evenly matched, though I have no idea who Whee Ky Ma is. A draw seems like a reasonable result for both of them.
|Manhattan Applesauce||Arizona Scorpions|
|GM Robert Hungaski: 2551||0.5||0.5||GM Mackenzie Molner: 2581|
|IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy: 2486||0.5||0.5||IM Mark Ginsburg: 2397|
|NM Levy Rozman: 2382||1.0||0.0||FM Pedram Atoufi: 2355|
|NM Ben Gershenov: 2210||1.0||0.0||WFM Amanda Mateer: 2113|
|Average Rating: 2407||Average Rating: 2362|
|Manhattan Total||3.0||1.0||Arizona Total|
Manhattan has cruised through a fairly easy schedule en route to solid playoff positioning, while Arizona has had a rougher time of it and is hoping that the West gets the wild card spot. Nonetheless, it's a little surprising that Arizona's managed to maintain an even record, given that they've been outmatched in several matches and had a few underperforming players. This week is their last chance to try and overtake Rio Grande for the top three spots, but I don't really see it happening. GM Molner has done very well this season, but playing black against another strong GM is always a difficult task. IM Ginsburg has also been fairly solid throughout this year, but I don't see him getting much more than the worse side of a draw in this matchup. Even the bottom boards aren't going to help Arizona out much, as they're solidly outmatched on both. This should be relatively smooth sailing for the Applesauce.
|St. Louis Arch Bishops||Los Angeles Vibe|
|GM Wesley So: 2751||1.0||0.0||IM Andranik Matikozyan: 2538|
|GM Ben Finegold: 2591||1.0||0.0||FM Mark Duckworth: 2316|
|NM Spencer Finegold: 2187||0.5||0.5||NM Daniel Mousseri: 2270|
|Julian Proleiko: 1954||0.0||1.0||FM Michael Casella: 2262|
|Average Rating: 2371||Average Rating: 2347|
|St. Louis Total||2.5||1.5||Los Angeles Total|
St. Louis' lineup is hardly as terrifying as some of their other choices, but frankly they shouldn't have too much trouble with Los Angeles whatever they do. Both their GMs should easily win, and though it would appear like Los Angeles has serious chances on the bottom two boards, NM Finegold seems to be seriously underrated and I would hardly call him an underdog in this game. That said, the Vibe should take the bottom board, given Casella's near-perfect record on the season and his huge rating edge here, so they might end up making this interesting if any of the Arch Bishops falter.
|Philadelphia Inventors||Carolina Cobras|
|GM Bryan Smith: 2560||1.0||0.0||IM Kassa Korley: 2486|
|IM Tom Bartell: 2448||0.5||0.5||FM Andrey Chumachenko: 2435|
|IM Richard Costigan: 2288||0.0||1.0||NM Ilker Bozkurt: 2383|
|NM Todd Bryant: 2201||0.0||1.0||NM Kevin Mo: 2334|
|Average Rating: 2374||Average Rating: 2410|
|Philadelphia Total||1.5||2.5||Carolina Total|
Philadelphia has always struggled on the top board, and this week... wait, what? Following a 3-week skid, the Inventors have added GM Smith and IM Panjwani to their roster - making it clear that they're not finished with this season yet. The return of IM Bartell should also help to spark this team. However, it feels like too little too late. In a strange turn of events, the Inventors have to look to their top boards for production as they are heavily outmatched on the bottom two, but I don't really think they can expect any more than 1.5/2 from them. This should be an interesting one to watch nonetheless, but I slightly prefer the Cobra's chances.
We'll all find out in just a few hours, starting at 8:30 on ICC (note the abnormally late start time). Our match against the sluggers starts half an hour later, at 9:00. Thanks, as usual, to our sponsors PokerStars and ICC!