Minnesota Edges out Pittsburgh in Battle on the Ice
The Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers gave their all in another match against another strong team, but the small stuff matters, and the Minnesota Blizzard squeaked by, overcoming an early deficit to win 9-7.
The Blizzards brought only one Grandmaster (Mauricio Flores), but IMs Andrew Tang, John Bartholomew, and Sean Nagle posed a formidable challenge for the Pawngrabbers. Although Pittsburgh came into the match with a rating deficit in most positions, co-manager Isaac Steincamp's shrewd lineup of substitutes gave the team a chance for more focused preparation and ultimately brought the best out of Pittsburgh's roster. GM Alexander Shabalov was the only Pawngrabber to play all four games, and did not disappoint, scoring 3.5-0.5 on the night. On the other three boards, the night saw action from free agent GM Eugene Perelshteyn, FM Gabriel Petesch, and NMs Alex Heimann, David Hua, Tom Riccardi, Grant Xu, and Hibiki Sakai.
The Pawngrabbers learned from their defeat to the San Francisco Mechanics last week, going for the strongest start possible and taking the first round 2.5-1.5. GM Shabalov was the first to strike, demolishing a Grunfeld from GM Flores and winning an Exchange out of the opening. NM Riccardi's opening prep paid off as he followed up with a big upset against IM Nagle. From there it was clock mayhem on Boards 2 and 4; NM Heimann faced a difficult defense but escaped to a drawn rook ending in IM Bartholomew's time trouble, and IM Tang lived up to his bullet extroardinaire reputation, turning the tables on a time deficit to flag GM Perelshteyn in a drawn ending.
Unfortunately, Minnesota overtook Pittsburgh 3-1 in the next round, which ended bitterly as FM Petesch's last move went unregistered against IM Nagle, forcing a flag in a winning ending. GM Perelshteyn had too many weaknesses to defend against GM Flores in the Kings Indian, and NM Xu had to settle for a perpetual. GM Shabalov kept spirits alive with an incredible save against IM Tang, who nearly converted against a series of Shabalov-esque sacrifices before being forced into perpetual in time trouble.
Round 3, which brought in NMs David Hua and Hibiki Sakai, was another tough one for Pittsburgh. Shabalov was the only one to score, punishing a greedy pawn grab by IM Bartholomew on move 16. Heimann and Sakai were a little too outmatched against GM Flores and IM Tang; Hua produced a great middlegame against IM Nagle, but the latter managed to turn everything around in an early time scramble.
Like last week, Pittsburgh entered Round 4 in a difficult position, needing a 4-0 sweep to win and 3.5-0.5 to tie the match. Pittsburgh came back from behind to notch 2.5-1.5 in the last four games, but ultimately fell short. GM Shabalov dispatched the struggling IM Nagle as expected, while Hua-Bartholomew fizzled out to an early draw. NM Xu prepared a dangerous Morra line against GM Flores, but was done in by a move-order mix-up early on.
With the match decided, IM Tang looked to be crushing FM Petesch on Board 3, but the former overlooked an in-between move with 26...Qxf3??, handing Petesch a big swindle in time trouble. Nevertheless, Minnesota locked up the match by a narrow 9-7. It was a very close match, but unfortunately some chances (and flags) turned the wrong way. Kudos to Minnesota for their clutch performances this week!
Obviously, Pittsburgh has a big hill to climb over the rest of the season, but the last two matches have shown the Pawngrabber's resolve (and #nervesofsteel) in battling other top teams. Please tune in next Wednesday at 9 pm ET, as we face the Las Vegas Desert Rats!
As always, a shoutout to the official sponsor of the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, http://chesssummit.com!
- Beilin Li, Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers Co-manager