USCL Week 9 Recap/Week 10 Predictions


Well, it ain't over until its over, but it's pretty much over. NJ suffered a very disappointing loss against the New York Knights to effectively end our playoff hopes. It certainly didn't seem like this would be the end result, but some creative play by Matt Herman in a completely lost position ended in a complete turnaround, earning him the win over GM Joel Benjamin to take the match despite an unfortunate mouseslip error by Nicolas Checa. It was a strange loss for NJ, as the bottom boards managed to deliver (which has been quite rare this season) against the typical much higher rated opposition, while it was the top boards who faltered in the critical match.

The first game of the night to finish was GM Alex Stripunsky's loss to GM Tamaz Gelashvili. Choosing a double-edged line in which black collects several pawns for the piece, GM Stripunsky failed to find the correct moves at 2 consecutive critical moments and was quickly swept away.

In the meantime I was facing an uphill battle for a draw, though I wasn't ever in particularly serious danger apparently. After a stupid opening decision followed by some strange play I found myself in a cramped difficult position, following which I decided to sacrifice a pawn for some activity which proved sufficient to hold the game.

Nicolas Checa ran into an incredibly well-prepared Haik der Manuelian, who clearly knew the first 25 moves or so of the game. Unfortunately on move 23 Haik played too quickly and accidentally inverted the move order of the winning combination, letting Black way back into the game. However his time advantage proved to be very important as he slowly built up another great-looking position, which anticlimactically ended as Checa unfortunately mouseslipped away his queen in severe time pressue. While takebacks are common in such situations, league rules stipulate that if a player is under 3 minutes (which Checa was at the time), takebacks will no longer be given, and so the result stood. 

With this huge turn of events, it seemed as if NJ had the win (and thus virtually a playoff berth) in the bag. GM Joel Benjamin simply smoothly outplayed Matt Herman, but the wily player proved extremely resourceful making the position as complicated as possible. Eventually GM Benjamin needlessly let himself slip into time trouble, and this proved to be the decisive factor as he missed several clear wins and finally even lost the game.

Herman is, of course, known for these wily swindles. One of the more memorable ones kept NY alive in the 2011 playoffs against Boston, where NY pulled off two giant swindles on the lower boards to advance to an eventual championship win:



Playing White in this position, Herman needed a win to keep the season alive. Yet in 3 short moves, Black could have put the Knights away with the simple 3-mover 43... Rh3 44. gh Be1 45. Kg5 Qg6#! Instead Black played 43... Qf6? and went on to lose the game. 


And so, despite NJ being the only team not currently in a playoff seeding that isn't mathematically eliminated, given that a playoff berth would require NY to lose to Philadelphia AND NJ to execute a dominating win over Manhattan (a clean sweep would likely be necessary), with near certainty NJ will be left out of the playoffs for the 4th consecutive year.

Despite this, as NY demonstrated against us quite well, it is definitely not over until it's over. NJ will certainly be looking to do its part by defeating Manhattan, if for no other reason than pride. Manhattan will, of course, be responding in kind as the division is still within NY's reach and the first round draw odds are a huge huge advantage in the playoffs.

Manhattan Applesauce  New Jersey Knockouts
GM Zviad Izoria: 2624     GM Alex Stripunsky: 2651
IM Farai Mandizha: 2453     GM Alex Fishbein: 2601
FM Rico Salimbagat: 2259     NM Alexander Katz: 2362
NM Ryan Goldenberg: 2348     John Michael Burke: 2163
Average Rating: 2421     Average Rating: 2444
Manhattan Total     New Jersey Total

Despite practical elimination, NJ is still unveiling a double-GM lineup and enjoys a sizable overall rating edge. The top board sees a rematch between GM Izoria and GM Stripunsky, their earlier meeting resulting in GM Stripunsky getting the better side of a draw. With effectively little on the line for NJ, GM Stripunsky will hardly be pressing against the possible league MVP with black and a draw results. GM Fishbein has white against the dangerous IM Farai Mandizha, who is coming in hot with a great season thus far. However with the white pieces and the playing strength edge, the GM will win this matchup. On the third board I have Black against FM Salimbagat, who despite the higher title has a signficant rating disadvantage. I'll certainly be going all out for the win here on the off chance that NY falters against Philadelphia. Finally John Michael Burke plays for only the second time this season, with an uneviable pairing playing against Ryan Goldenberg (who could also be the league MVP with some help). Burke had a disappointing season debut but is a very strong and solid player, and gets back on track here with a draw against a much much higher rated player. 

And so NJ gets to end the season on a 3-1 high note, but it's all for naught as NY takes care of business...

Philadelphia Inventors  New York Knights
FM Tom Bartell: 2496     GM Tamaz Gelashvili: 2699
FM Dov Gorman: 2362     IM Irina Krush: 2531
NM Peter Minear: 2385     IM Akshat Chandra: 2395
FM Karl Dehmelt: 2260     NM Nicolas Checa: 2267
Average Rating: 2376     Average Rating: 2473
Philadelphia Total     New York Total

I want to be an optimist here. I really really do. But I simply can't see any way that Philadelphia wins this match (I'll find a way to predict it anyway). With nothing to play for other than pride, a huge average rating disadvantage, and no titled players, Philadelphia's lineup pales in comparison to NY's triple titled-player lineup on every single board. FM Bartell has White against GM Gelashvili. Bartell has hung in there with some of the strongest players in the league (Stripunsky, Izoria, etc.) with some close losses and a big upset win over GM Holt, but the challenge hardly gets easier this week against GM Gelashvili, who lost last week to GM Izoria and is undoubtedly hoping to rebound (somehow Tamaz never loses in the league to anyone not from Manhattan???). In the spirit of completely unfounded optimism I'll predict that FM Bartell uses the White pieces to neutralize the GM's playing strength edge and manages to draw. The newly crowned GM Krush plays white against FM Gorman. GM-elect Krush had a disappointing outing, on the wrong side of the GOTW against FM Eric Rodriguez, but with the white pieces against FM Gorman who has faced a difficult transition to the second board from the third, I have to give her the nod here. But because optimism, another draw ensues. 

Peter Minear (who apparently no longer gets the SM distinction) has White against the very young IM Akshat Chandra. The latter is a ridiculously good player, especially considering he's 14, and has had good results this season. But Minear can be tricky when he needs to be, and with the top boards facing great challenges, manages to come away with the full point. I'm not exactly sure how to justify this prediction - let's say IM Chandra is too tired to play after playing 3 norm tournaments within a short span. Finally Nicolas Checa looks to avenge his mouseslip from last week, taking the white pieces against FM Karl Dehmelt. With the smallest rating differential Philly really needs this board if they want a chance in the match. Win for Dehmelt based on Checa overextending due to his disappointing loss last week and FM Dehmelt takes advantage. 

So, of course, everything breaks right for Philadelphia and they manage to defeat NY 3-1, but this leaves NY with just enough margin to edge us out based on the average rating tiebreak. It's not a good feeling when you actively try to fix the results to get you into the playoffs, but even then you just can't do it. Oh well.

Connecticut Dreadnoughts  New England Nor'easters
GM Robert Hess: 2636 1 0 GM Alexander Ivanov: 2624
GM Michael Rohde: 2548 1 0 FM Steven Winer: 2409
IM Jay Bonin: 2436 1 0 NM Mika Brattain: 2364
Jason Shi: 2173 .5 .5 NM Andrew Liu: 2296
Average Rating: 2448     Average Rating: 2423
Connecticut Total 3.5 .5 New England Total

In the other division, NE has draw odds in the "Who will have draw odds next week" match, with both teams trotting out appropriate lineups. But this time it's Connecticut's time to shine, with GM Robert Hess running GM Alexander Ivanov into his fabled time pressure and taking full advantage of it to start off the night. FM Winer has had a great season, but falters in the face of GM Rohde in a high-pressure match. Finally, IM Bonin removes all doubt by taking the White pieces, not hanging a piece, and defeating Mika Brattain in a long grind to put Connecticut suddenly atop the division. Jason Shi ices it with a draw against Andrew Liu in "garbage time". 

Baltimore Kingfishers  Boston Blitz
GM Niclas Huschenbeth: 2610 .5 .5 IM Steven Zierk: 2543
IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat: 2492 .5 .5 SM Denys Shmelov: 2465
NM Jared Defibaugh: 2297 0 1 NM Vadim Martirosov: 2349
Jeffrey Chang: 2116 .5 .5 NM Daniil Mosiyenko: 2181
Average Rating: 2379     Average Rating: 2385
Baltimore Total 1.5 2.5 Boston Total

Finally, in the "let's avoid last place" matchup, unsurprisingly neither team is using their strongest lineup with both teams using players that are making their debut, presumably just to give them a chance to play in the league. I don't see the top board being particularly exciting, with both teams having a very strong player on the board and neither having any need to risk anything meaningful. On the other hand, this is also the time that you see some of the most entertaining games, since both players realize losing hardly affects anything being both out of the playoffs and playing an unrated game. The second board is the same story, with the very solid Denys Shmelov neutralizing a strong IM in what should be a somewhat more entertaining game, but a draw nonetheless. The third board should provide excitement in this match, with Defibaugh undoubtedly going to take the white pieces and want to get an attacking game, made all the more exciting given that both players should be somewhat less afraid of sacrificing material. Despite this Vadim remains calm and defends well, eventually refuting an unsound sacrifice and collecting the full point. The final two players I just don't know anything about, though I expect a fighting game from the two of them as they are both playing for the first time this season (thus having to wait a long time for their next chance). The draw prediction more means that there's equal chances rather than a draw should be the actual result. Anyway, Boston ends up being the one that saves face in a small victory. 

The final matches of the regular season for the Eastern conference take place starting at 7 PM on Tuesday night, with plenty of excitement still around as teams jockey for draw odds in the upcoming playoffs. Wednesday night sees similar scenarios for the Western conference, though those matches hold only division winner significance rather than mathematical chances of the playoff teams changing. 

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-Alexander Katz