USCL Week 6 Wrapup

USCL Week 6 Wrapup

| 5 | Chess Event Coverage

It was a great week to play Black as everything got more cloudy in week six of the United States Chess League (USCL). Some of the top teams fell, and several divisions had the bottom of the standings inverted at week's end.

Overall, the Black pieces came out victorious 16 times - exactly 50 percent of the games - whereas White only won eight contests. All three Game of the Week nominations went to Black wins, and in one match between two potential playoff teams, San Francisco (3.5-2.5) and Miami (4.5-1.5), White was completely shut out. Black ran the tables 4-0 (creating a tied match).

The Sharks began the season with four wins in four matches, but have stumbled since top player GM Yuniesky Quesada has sat out. Their replacement, GM Julio Becerra, is of course more than capable, but slotting him first means their domination of board two has ended.


GM Julio Becerra

The unexpected absence of Quesada also created a humorous lineup mishap for San Francisco. GM Jesse Kraai asked to play board one, specifically to avoid contesting Miami's usual number two, Becerra. Lineups are revealed simultaneously, and with Quesada out, Becerra took over board one, meaning Kraai's planning backfired.

"I would rather play Satan himself than Julio," Kraai said. 


GM Jesse Kraai

Becerra got he psychological and actual win against Kraai, who offered two minors for a rook but never got full value. GM Vinay Bhat, dropping down to board two, got even by offering a pawn and not stressing about getting it back right away. His win over FM Marcel Martinez was a rare near-miniature in that the queens were traded on move eight.

On the lower boards, FM Eric Rodriguez employed a Marshall Gambit-like sacrifice to win IM David Pruess' queen and break through his fortress attempts. From there, the score ended back at level when Siddharth Banik eventually found a tactic after Denis Mederos' unambitious opening.

The other big news was the first loss of the Dallas Destiny (5-1). They were trying to become the all-time best team off the blocks, but lost 2.5-1.5 to the defending Champion Seattle Sluggers (2.5-3.5). In 2011, the Chicago Blaze began 8-0 in the regular season before eventually becoming the runners-up.


In the Seattle-Dallas match, IM Giorgi Orlov moved to 3-0, and all three wins were against grandmasters! His off-center Stonewall Formation against GM Cristian Chirila eventually led to a complicated skirmish where the rook roamed around too much for the minor pieces to handle.


IM Giorgi Orlov

The next two boards saw a pair of talented youngsters get wins - one for each team. FM Jeffery Xiong beat GM Emil Anka amidst commentators speculating if Xiong was even an underdog. Xiong now leads the MVP race. But tiny FM Roland Feng tipped the scales back toward the Pacific Northwest by winning on board three, creating the decisive margin. The Sluggers were in the basement for much of the year but after two wins in a row suddenly find themselves tied for second and only a game behind the Mechanics for tops in the Pacific Division.

Miami's adversity has allowed the Arch Bishops back into the playoff conversation. After dropping their opening two matches, St. Louis (3.5-2.5) has three wins and a tie since, getting back above .500 for the first time all year.


This week they continued their march by beating Arizona (2-4), who fell from second to fourth in the division. Two wins on the middle boards and two draws on the outside boards made the score 3-1, and IM Vitaly Neimer's win over FM Robby Adamson is the first Game of the Week nomination (castling on opposite sides never hurts when you are going for excitement!).

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The other win came from IM Priyadharshan Kannappan, who is only a half-point behind Xiong in his quest to repeat as USCL MVP, something only Becerra has been able to do.

Los Angeles (2.5-3.5) joined Seattle in leaping over the Scorpions. The Cobras (0.5-5.5) were hoping a more modest rating deficit than usual would allow them to notch their first win, but the Vibe dispensed with that idea by winning 3.5-0.5. IM Larry Remlinger takes the second Game of the Week nomination for his thematic exchange sacrifice 15...Rxf3!, after which White's pieces were muted for the final 20 moves.


IM Larry Remlinger

In Tuesday's matches, the Manhattan Applesauce (2.5-3.5) jumped from last to a tie for second by winning a drawless match 3-1 over the Connecticut Dreadnoughts (3-3). GM Zviad Izoria has only won twice this year, but those are both of the matches his team has converted - this week he spoiled GM Robert Hess' season debut.

On board two, GM Robert Hungaski faced a curious system from the veteran IM Jay Bonin. In one of the rare White dominations this week, Hungaski parlayed more harmonious development into a sparkling and forcing final combination. Black resigned in view of 31...Qd7 32. Qa8+ Qd8 33. Rc8, when he loses both the queen and rook while trying to avoid mate.

New England (5-1) and New Jersey (2.5-3.5) also played a match with four wins, with three going to New England. With the win, the Nor'easters stretched their lead in the Northeast Division to a full two matches.

The wildest affair was on board two, where IM David Vigorito survived the complications long enough for GM Alex Fishbein to blunder a piece.


IM David Vigorito

Fishbein lost the initiative after 40. Rg1. Among the myriad of possible tactical alternatives was 40. Nxe4 or 40. Rxd5. The former looks imposing, with discovered checks seemingly to follow, but Black has the equally-deft resource 40...Rxg2+! 41. Kxg2 Qf2+ since the knight is now pinned. The position leads to a long mate, so perhaps simpler still is 41...Qg6+ 42. Kh2 Bxe4 43. Qb2 Rg7, which both stops mate on h8 and forces an unstoppable invasion on g3 or g2.

Instead, the second option 40. Rxd5 leads to equality, since Black has nothing better than 40...Rxg2+ anyway. After 41. Kxg2 Qf2+ 42. Kh1 Qf3+ a draw would be the result.

Another team that stretched its lead with a drawn match was New York (4-2). Their split with the Blitz (3-3) moves them even farther ahead in the Atlantic Division.

On board one, GM Tamaz Gelashvili's knight sacrifice obliterated IM Marc Esserman's center, and threatened a deadly invasion on h2. White could not find an adequate way to stop the threat. The Knights' top board earns the final Game of the Week nomination.


GM Tamaz Gelashvili

In the final match, Baltimore (2-4) beat Philadelphia (2-4) by the score of 3-1. Both teams remain in last place in their divisions.

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Week 6 Standings


FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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