USCL Week 5 Wrapup
At the halfway pole in the United States Chess League (USCL), one team now stands above all others, and every division has a sole leader. The week had plenty of theoretical endings - they were not always handled correctly, but that gave fans a chance to learn from the mistakes.
Thanks to winning their head-to-head matchup in week five, Dallas (5-0) is the final team remaining with a perfect score. In a battle of 4-0 squads, the Destiny beat the Sharks (4-1), who were using a lone-GM lineup for the first time this season.
Normally, GM Yuniesky Quesada mans the top board for Miami, but this week he sat, moving their longtime number one, GM Julio Becerra, back to the front. This left strong FM Marcel Martinez to move up to board two, but he could not score against GM Giorgi Margvelashvili, a new recruit to the Dallas lineup.
One win apiece on the lower boards gave the Destiny the win, 2.5-1.5, and a one-game lead in the South. The split should have come from two draws, but instead two unlikely finishes occurred. First, on board four, the players were contained on their own respective sides until Travis Guenther allowed an unneccesary breakthrough by putting his knight on b5.
But moments later, teammate NM Ruifeng Li improbably won with knight and two pawns against rook to make the final margin in favor of the Destiny.
New England (4-1) is atop the Northeast Division and still holds the best record in the Eastern Conference thanks to a split with Connecticut (3-2). The drawn match ends the Nor'easters run of three straight wins but they have still yet to suffer a loss.
GM Mikheil Kekelidze transitioned his Benko pawn sacrifice into the typical long-term initiative on the queenside.
GM Mikheil Kekelidze
Eventually the thrust ...c4 loosened White's position, and after breaking through, the second player kept plugging away until winning the queen endgame. The yeoman effort notched him a Game of the Week nomination.
Fortunately for New England, NM Lawyer Times saved his team with a second-rank invasion and mate on board four.
Two matches this week produced four decisive games. In New York - Philadelphia, the Knights (3.5-1.5) won three of them to stay on top in the Atlantic Division. The Inventors (2-3) momentarily fell out of a playoff spot.
Last year's USCL runners-up, the Inventors' lone bright spot was the play of FM Dov Gorman against SM Matt Herman.
FM Dov Gorman
His 16. Nxe6 set the stage for a rook and two pawns versus two minors position, after which his pieces dominated Herman's counterparts. Despite being the team's namesake, Black's knights occupied tame positions on a3 and a2, and Herman was never able to conjur one of his famous attacks. The game is the second Game of the Week nomination.
Staying in the Atlantic, New Jersey (2.5-2.5) kept going in their climb up the tables. They won for the second consecutive week, this time beating Manhattan (1.5-3.5), who won in week one but now only has one-half point from the last four weeks.
Having a three-time U.S. Champion on board two is quite a benefit, and the Knockouts needed all of GM Joel Benjamin's experience to coolly rebuff the onslaught of IM Dmitry Schneider.
Black fell lower on time, but found the right path out of the complications. Schneider kept chucking pieces, but eventually ran out of offerings and had to resign. The defensive effort warranted the third Game of the Week nomination.
In other action, the Pacific Division came together like an accordion after the leading San Francisco Mechanics (3-2) lost for the second straight week. They still lead, but both Arizona (2-3) and L.A. (1.5-3.5) caught up by a half-point in their four-board drawn match.
Defending Champion Seattle (1.5-3.5) got off the mat in a big way by beating San Francisco. The final score was 3-1 and came without a loss. With the match already clinched, WFM Megan Lee played tenacious defense and held a draw after 116 moves with rook against queen (an endgame that GM Boris Gelfand converted in the current FIDE Paris Grand Prix).
Carolina also honored their fallen past teammate FM Ron Simpson, who died this week. The Cobras (0.5-4.5) got on the scoreboard by winning two and losing two against the St. Louis Archbishops (2.5-2.5).
FM Ron Simpson (photo courtesy TheChessDrum.net)
Boston (2.5-2.5) and Baltimore (1-4) played four draws to split the match.