Surfers Still Perfect After Week 4!
The battle for California was not an easy road; this last week had both sides of California trash-talking, as the San Diego Surfers from Southern California took on the Northern California-based San Jose Hackers. After a tough match, the Surfers emerged victorious, winning the match 10-6, a huge boost to both our standing in the PRO Chess League and also as the dominant team in California!
We needed a lot from all of our players to make up for Dreev's absence, but no one disappointed. GM Melik Khachiyan replaced Dreev and had an amazing match; he scored 3.5/4 on Board 1! The rest of the lineup, which included IM Keaton Kiewra, IM Joshua Sheng, myself, and FM Craig Hilby were able to get a few points apiece in order to bring the Surfers to another victorious week. We had some "help" from the Hackers: GMs Mamedyarov and Daniel Naroditsky did not play for the Hackers this week, but they still had a tough lineup, as strong GMs Rauf Mamedov and Zviad Izoria paired up with IM Kostya Kavutskiy and NM Faik Alekserov to complete the Hackers lineup. On paper we were outmatched by rating, but some of our players played some brilliancies to keep the Hackers at bay!
We also streamed live commentary with IM John Watson and FM Kyron Griffith, but this time we were also able to get some pre- and post-game interviews with all of the players! Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rq4ZOlGTwg
And now a recap of the match!
This week, the PRO Chess League had a different format for the pairings: have the top boards play the lower boards first, so that by the final round it will be the top players playing each other for the match. Hence Josh and I played the GMs, and Keaton and Melik played the lower boards. Josh had some very good chances to win against Mamedov, but in time pressure was unable to find the win and blundered a mate. I was slowly outplayed by Izoria after missing some chances, but Keaton and Melik were able to win, thus tying the match after the first round at 2-2. Definitely some missed chances for the Surfers, but there were plenty of games left.
In his game, Keaton played an interesting opening that apparently he concocted before the match with Craig Hilby, and it shut down White's play early in the game until Black had everything he wanted.
This round was the turning point of the match. So far no one had been really outperforming, but in this round, while Keaton and Melik again beat their lower-rated opposition, Josh and I rose to the occasion as we swapped our GM opponents. Josh played a masterpiece against Izoria, winning in exciting fashion. The game was actually featured by the PRO Chess League, and I have to put it here because it was a sight to behold:
I ended up drawing a long battle against Mamedov when both of us missed chances, thus shutting down the Hackers in Round 2. After this round we were up 5.5-2.5, a huge lead halfway through the match. Now as the differentials between the players decreased, we had very good chances to cement the match victory.
Our manager, Keaton, substituted Craig for himself for Rounds 3 and 4. This round was another pivotal round: had a couple more games gone to the Hackers, we may have been in trouble going into the last round. Josh beat Kavutskiy in an interesting Sicilian, but the other 3 games did not have as good of news. Craig had the toughest opposition: facing Mamedov with Black, he pulled out his preparation only to be surprised by Mamedov's own preparation in the Giucco Piano! He lost a tough battle, thus making the match 1-1. I got nothing against Aleskerov's QGD, and Melik had gone into a slightly worse endgame against Izoria. Alekserov had a chance to win as I blundered in time pressure, but played one move too fast and allowed me to secure a draw in the pawn race. Melik proved to be a tough opponent for Izoria. Melik found a lot of tricks to slowly liquidate the position until it seemed to be heading for a draw. But because of the match situation, Izoria continued fighting for the win, and unfortunately overpressed his position until he was forced to resign.
A very close round, and we were lucky that it went our way, as going into the final round, we now lead 8-4, meaning we had already clinched a draw! And due to the pairings format, each board played the equal board on the other team, thus making it a very exciting last round.
The finale: the GMs would play each other, the IMs would play each other, and there would be plenty of interesting battles on all the boards. A draw out of 4 games was very likely, but still difficult. All of San Jose's players looked to beat us. Alekserov was the first to finish, and he got exactly what he wanted. He played the Wing's Gambit against Josh Sheng and won a beautiful attacking game, leaving us with only 3 games to prove a draw. Early in the round, it seemed Melik would be the one to secure the draw, as he had traded the queens off and went into an almost symmetrical endgame versus Mamedov. But things turned sour for Melik, and he became slightly worse. Meanwhile, Kostya sacrificed a pawn against me to get an attack, and Craig had gotten his prep for Izoria, managing to win an Exchange from the opening! It was by no means simple; Izoria had 2 pawns for it. Every game was dynamic though, which was bad news for us: they could go either way.
Unfortunately for San Jose, going 4-0 wasn't meant to be. Mamedov's advantage floundered after a couple of unambitious moves and Melik got the upper hand, pushing Mamedov in a better endgame until only a draw or a win was possible. Mamedov offered a repetition, which Melik took to secure the match, bringing the score to 8.5-5.5, thus winning the match for San Diego!
Craig and I were still playing, but we had already seen that the match result was no longer in contest. Kostya's attack ran out of steam, and I was able to crack open his king until he was mated. Izoria managed to push one of his passed pawns all the way to the second rank, but it could not get past that, and Craig secured a draw in another pawn race. The last round had gone 2-2, but it was more than enough for the Surfers.
10-6! We had won again, against a team that some have said is the best in the PRO Chess League. Perhaps next time San Jose will think twice before letting Mamedyarov rest...
This win puts the Surfers on 4-0, the only remaining perfect team in the PRO Chess League! I had a blast participating this week; nerve-wracking for sure, as I had a couple of close calls, but nonetheless very exciting and full of action until the end.
Next week we face the Hamburg Swashbucklers in an inter-divisional matchup. It'll be a little earlier than usual: 11:30 AM PT on February 11, where we will fight to continue our streak. Look for us there!