Sunday, September 30, 2007

Week 6 Predictions

Look for me to regain my lead this week!

New Jersey ties Carolina 2 2

Miami ties Queens 2 2

Dallas ties Philadelphia 2 2

Baltimore over Tennessee 3

San Francisco over Boston 2.5 1.5

Seattle over New York 2.5 1.5

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Prediction Results -- Week 5

So I’ve lost the lead in the prediction contest for the first time this season. I’m quite certain it’s just a statistical anomaly though so expect to see me back on top soon!

Total after Week 5:

Ron Young (+12 This Week): 48
Arun Sharma (+9): 48
Josh Gutman (+8): 29

DAL over MIA 2.5 – 1.5

JG/RY: Correct +3

AS: Tie +0

NJ over NY 2.5 – 1.5

AS/RY: Tie +0

JG: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +0

BOS ties BAL 2 2

AS: Correct +4

JG/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

PHI over QNS 2.5 – 1.5

JG/AS/RY: Correct +3

SF over TN 4 0

JG: SF 3.5 – 1.5 +2

RY: SF 3 – 1 +2

AS: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +2

CAR ties SEA 2 2

RY: Correct +4

JG/AS: SEA 2.5 – 1.5 +0

Friday, September 28, 2007

Power Rankings -- Week 5

Midway through the season, there have certainly been many surprises (as there always are I suppose) in this season of the USCL. More than a few teams are probably in a position right now that few expected them to be prior to the season, but for the most part nothing has really been firmly decided in the playoff races and nearly every team still has a chance to fulfill their dreams if they can get things to go their way in the second half of the season. Next week will likely be very defining for the playoffs as it is all inter-league play (the last inter-league play of the season), and teams which can win while their divisional counterparts do not, will gain a huge footing in the playoff races. This is the way things look to me right now.

1st: Boston Blitz (4.0 – 1.0) (+0 from last week). Boston, despite sitting out two of their top three performers Shmelov and Williams, still had a fairly comfortable draw against their likely biggest challengers (at least in my view) for the division crown, the Baltimore Kingfishers using a very tough lineup. Although Boston no longer outright holds the best record in the league, to me they are still clearly the team to beat. (Win Division: 48%, Make Playoffs: 95%)

2nd: Dallas Destiny (4.0 – 1.0) (+0). Dallas regained their half game lead in the West in defeating an impressive Miami lineup and confirming what I believed last week, that they are likely the best team in the West right now. That they have regained their lead despite sitting their biggest asset (again in my view) Stopa out for two consecutive weeks is again something that really to me speaks well of their chances. (33%, 83%)

3rd: Seattle Sluggers (3.5 – 1.5) (+0). Seattle had a tough draw this week against Carolina and lost a little ground to Dallas. It’s still hard to overlook the overall hot streak Seattle has been on since their Week 1 loss, and they still have to be considered a big threat to win their division. The consecutive matches in Weeks 7 and 8 with Dallas are likely to being a big determiner of whether that will happen. (30%, 77%)

4th: San Francisco Mechanics (3.0 – 2.0) (+0). After the Mechanics’ unbeaten streak ended a week earlier, more than a few doubters seemed to crop up wondering if they still had it in them to win the division or even make the playoffs. They definitely sent a resounding message in that regard with their sweep this week, despite being a bit shorthanded due to players being away in Miami, against a plucky Tennessee team who despite having a poor record had really been anything but easy to beat this season. (25%, 71%)

5th: Baltimore Kingfishers (3.0 – 2.0) (+0). Baltimore had a pretty respectable result this week on paper, drawing the top team in the league. In actuality though, I think it might be hard for them to look on that result too positively as this was a real chance to make a statement that they were going to give Boston a serious challenge for the division title and with Boston resting their two lower board stars, the Kingfishers really probably were looking to win this match. It remains to be seen if they are able to contend with the very best lineups of Boston. (24%, 73%)

6th: Carolina Cobras (3.0 – 2.0) (+0). Carolina continues to surprise, especially Schroer, who had not performed well in his few league outings prior to this season, but so far is undefeated in four games and is in contention for league MVP honors. With this kind of balance and overall strength, the Cobras seem like a real threat against whoever they play. Once again, I’m still skeptical if they can long term hope to score well against the very best lineups of the top teams which will make it hard for them to win the Championship, but making the playoffs seems more than likely at this stage. (12%, 64%)

7th: Philadelphia Inventors (3.0 – 2.0) (+1). The Inventors got back on track this week, beating a very strong Queens lineup. They now have solidly placed themselves back on the playoff track, but like the Kingfishers, it remains to be seen if they can really challenge the Blitz, especially when they use their best lineups. (18%, 62%)

8th: New Jersey Knockouts (2.5 – 2.5) (+2). New Jersey got their first notch in the win column, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time with their hopes for this season seeming to be on the verge of getting away from them. They still have a lot of work to do as they need to put together more performances like their most recent one to have a shot at the playoffs. (8%, 44%)

9th: Queens Pioneers (1.5 – 3.5) (-2). Unfortunately the Pioneers could not keep up their momentum from the previous week and now find their season slipping away. While they still have an outside shot, they have really no margin for error, and it’s likely time for them to hold nothing back if they really want to make it (i.e. perhaps time to bring out the double GM lineups). (2%, 17%)

10th: New York Knights (1.0 – 4.0) (-1). The Knights may have finally put themselves in a predicament from which they likely can’t escape as they will probably need a perfect second half of the season (or very close to perfect) to have any shot at the playoffs. Once again, they are likely a team which could do that, but given the overall parity in the league, it’s really not a position any team in the league can appreciate being in. I would like to make one statement about the Knights in reply to a comment made at the Boylston Blog: "When do you suppose that the qualitative rankers are going to come to terms with the fact that the Knights are not a very good team?" Of course the term "good" is somewhat relative, but I prefer to look at the Knights' poor season up to this point more as a validation of just how strong the league has become as a whole that such a strong team on paper can be doing so poorly. Even if it doesn't happen this season, I still can't see a team with such a roster not being seen as a fairly serious threat to win the League Championship at the beginning of any future season and for that reason they will always remain a good team in my book. (0%, 9%)

11th: Miami Sharks (1.0 – 4.0) (+0). The Sharks, like the Knights, might also have put themselves in an unrecoverable situation, trailing in the playoff race by a full two games. They will also likely need a perfect second half of the season to have a shot, but again, I don’t think any team can realistically expect that. (0%, 5%)

12th: Tennessee Tempo (0.5 – 4.5) (+0). A match this week that Tennessee should just try their best to forget about and move on to the next challenge. Though I’m sure enduring this crushing defeat isn’t a good feeling, they must remember how competitive they’ve been overall this season, prior to this match, and not let that get away from them. Though I’m virtually certain they can’t recover to make the playoffs this season, they should still look for more things to build on for the future. (0%, 0%)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Week 5 Game of the Week

This year for game of the week we have three judges, all ranking their top five games. The games are then given anywhere from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most points wins the award. Also note that this year the winner each week will receive a $100 bonus prize. Our three judges are: IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and Jonathan Hilton. Click here for more details.


1st Place: FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 0-1

Greg Shahade: I have decided to start judging these games without using the help of a computer engine. I found that in the past I would see a good game then Fritz would spit out some line where the other side could have improved and gained an advantage, thus discouraging me from selecting the game, despite the enjoyment I felt while watching the game live. Isn't it a shame that the mighty computer could influence my decision over so much? (After making my official selections I ran through some of the games on the computer and probably would have even made different selections. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing? Comments?)

These USCL games are played under intense pressure, and if you pose enough problems for your opponent, even if they may be unsound problems, you stand a good chance of cracking their defenses. Schroer did just that this week. I remember that during the game I liked the way that all his pieces were surrounding the enemy king, although I didn't really see a knockout blow. 31....Nd3 was a nice finishing touch, although I do admit that White probably had the better game on move 31 if he had just played something normal such as 31. Rc1. However I appreciate the style of just haphazardly throwing pieces at your opponent's king, hoping that something will work out. Even though it probably shouldn't have worked, his opponent was in time trouble, and Black's position was still quite playable even if White played correctly. After a rough first two seasons in the USCL, Schroer is coming through big time for the Cobras in 07. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: This was quite an impressive tactical display by Schroer. One nice move was of course 28… f3! forcing Mikhailuk to jettison his e and c pawns to distract the Black Queen, but of course the likely best move was 31…Nd3! tearing open White’s King and punishing the overextending 30. h4? Though, as Greg stated, these ideas might not have been 100% sound, you have to have some amount of respect for the willingness to try them. This was a very important victory from Schroer to help the Cobras tie the Sluggers. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Looks like again I failed to chose the Game of the Week! I did consider this game very seriously as a top contender, but I felt the game was decided prematurely by Mikhailuk’s blunder 31. h4?? I believe after the simple retreat 31. Bg2 Black shouldn’t have much, because White has such a powerful dark-squared bishop. He can regroup with Qd1-d4 and force Black to either exchange queens or enter a passive position defending g7. The position is still highly unclear, and Black has a lot of tactical tries, but unless I am missing something egregious, White, isn’t in any trouble at all. With that said though, congratulations to Schroer on a very enterprising game! I really liked Schroer’s middlegame ideas of …Ne8 and …f5, and the maneuver …Ne8-c7-a6-b4 was indeed a good find as well. I felt Black did take advantage of the holes left by White’s opening play very well, so he should take credit for that! (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Mikhailuk vs Schroer: 9 points


2nd Place: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0

Greg Shahade: A nice attacking game by Molner; I have to admit I went back and forth between this game and the acutal winner for first place. It turns out that my decision made the difference between which game would be the winner. I still have no idea whether I made the right choice! In any case, the Knockouts will need play like this to keep winning matches. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: Molner finally notched his first victory in the USCL and couldn’t really have found a better time to do it as the Knockouts winning this match was extremely instrumental to their playoff hopes. Speared by the typical sacrifice 18. Nd5 along with 21. Ne6+!, Molner really froze Arnold’s pieces completely (as can be discerned by Arnold’s three pushes of his h pawn) and eventually crashed through his position with 30. Re7! (3rd place: 3 points)

Jonathan Hilton: I would have ranked this very fine specimen higher, but the “smashing the Najdorf” Nc3-d5 sac theme is already getting a bit worn after last week’s Keaton Kierwa game! Najdorf players need in the League: I am calling you to regroup and take vengeance for the sake of this noble opening! With Gelfand switching to the Petroff for the World Championship, the Najdorf needs to start showing its power and fury at the League level. Don’t succumb to the Nd5 sacrifice! My full confidence is in the Najdorf players, however – they are a very innovative bunch, and I’m sure they will come up with something! I hope to be judging a convincing Najdorf win each week by the end of the League… (5th place: 1 point)

Total Score of Molner vs Arnold: 8 points


3rd Place: IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 0-1

Arun Sharma: This was the first week in awhile where I did not feel one particular game was a no-brainer pick for Game of the Week, but to me this game seems like the most logical choice. In a fairly tame looking position after 18. Rad1 (where the spectators were claiming White was better due to his extra pawn and the semi-openness of Black’s King), Serper concocted a very nice, fairly deep combination brought on by moves like 18… Re8! and 20… Re3! which left Milman no choice but to liquidate into a very bad ending which Serper expertly executed with nice technique (moves such as 28… a5! and 37…b1 (Q) with the idea of answering 38. Bb1 with 38…Rb2+!); a very smooth, impressive win by Serper. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: This game just barely made my list. Although it seemed as if Serper completely outplayed Milman after sacrificing the pawn, it wasn't quite action packed enough for my crude tastes. With so many other violent attacking displays and strange sacrificial games being played, my heart led me to those games. (5th place: 1 point)

Jonathan Hilton: Not Ranked (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Milman vs Serper: 6 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Jon 5): GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 1-0

5 points (Greg 3, Jon 2):
IM Ron Burnett (TN) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 0-1

4 points (Jon 4): IM Robert Hess (NY) vs IM Mikhail Zlotnikov (NJ) 1/2-1/2

3 points (Jon 3):
IM John Donaldson (SF) vs FM Todd Andrews (TN) 1-0

2 points (Greg 2): NM Michael Lee (SEA) vs NM Craig Jones (CAR) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2): FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 0-1

1 point (Arun 1): FM James Critelli (QNS) vs IM Richard Costigan (PHI) 0-1

Monday, September 24, 2007

Remainder of Week 5 Predictions

Hopefully I can keep up last week's pace!

New Jersey ties New York 2 2

Boston ties Baltimore 2 2

Philadelphia over Queens 2.5 1.5

San Francisco over Tennessee 2.5 1.5

Seattle over Carolina 2.5 1.5

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Monday Night Prediction -- Week 5

This week might be a bit of letdown in terms of the star power when the Miami Sharks take on the Dallas Destiny as compared to the last two Monday Night Matches, but it definitely is of no less importance to the teams. The Sharks are already in a position where another defeat could make their playoff chances extremely slim, and the Destiny are in a fairly large battle for supremacy in the West. The boards seem to break down as follows.

Board 1: Becerra vs. Boskovic. Boskovic did surprise the fans in a similar situation, two weeks ago, in taking down Stripunsky in a very well played game by him. He did however lose a fairly tough game this last week. Becerra seems to be his usual self, doing what he’s always been doing – winning for the Sharks (though admittedly in fairly lucky though heroic fashion this last week). Becerra throughout the entire league has just been a terror to his opponents when he's had White so I think it’s easy to discern what I think on this board. (Edge MIA)

Board 2: Bartholomew takes on Martinez. Martinez is one player who really needs to get his league performance up to match the level of player he really is for the Sharks to have any chance at the postseason as he’s really been struggling since the beginning of the 2006 season. Bartholomew, though he’s only played three games in the league, has looked very solid in all of them, and so I think he has a fair advantage here. (Edge DAL)

Board 3: Moreno Roman vs. Zaremba. Moreno, like Martinez, has really struggled in the league thus far, just not being able to get on track. Zaremba, though a team member all three years, hasn’t been the most active of players for the Destiny, but has been quite solid when he’s played. I think this game is probably pretty level. (Even)

Board 4: Milisits vs. Socorregut. Two complete unknowns in the league as both are playing their very first match. It’s difficult of course to gauge this game based on that, but Milisits does have a small rating edge and the White pieces so I’ll give him a slight advantage. (Slight Edge DAL)

I’d be inclined overall to give a slight board edge to the Destiny, but as shown last week, I don’t generally decide things on that factor alone. One big thing to me this week though is that whatever kind of edge you might feel the Destiny might have on any of boards two, three, or four, I feel Miami’s edge on board one is likely larger than any of those, and based on that, I will call this a 2
2 tie.

(FM Ron Young predicts Dallas to win 2.5

Friday, September 21, 2007

Power Rankings -- Week 4

Here is how I think things stand after Week 4.

1st: Boston Blitz (3.5 – 0.5) (+0 from last week). Boston was finally nicked, but still remains to me, the best team by far in the league. They certainly still don’t have an easy road with many tough opponents coming up, especially their next week’s battle with the Baltimore Kingfishers, a team which Boston statistically has not fared very well against in the past (though their last encounter in the 2006 regular season finale was a rather important victory for the Blitz in crushing the Kingfishers playoff hopes). The simple fact may be that Boston’s only real worry, as has been expertly observed at the Boylston Blog, is having no answer to Charbonneau, and the creative ways to solve that difficulty mentioned there might what their players should be working on in the immediate future. (Win Division: 50%, Make Playoffs: 95%)

2nd: Dallas Destiny (3.0 – 1.0) (+1). Dallas fought Carolina to a tough standstill this week and is now tied atop their division with Seattle. Although the Sluggers currently lead them in game points, it seemed to me until this last week that Dallas was the second best team in the West behind the Mechanics and with the Mechanics defeat, I think Dallas is the fairest choice to be the top dog right now in the West. This is also because they seem to be throwing a wide variety of lineups at their opposition, really making effective use of the fact that they have 4 IMs on their roster and as I stated awhile ago in my preseason predictions, I feel this kind of flexibility will pay dividends in the long term. (30%, 78%)

3rd: Seattle Sluggers (3.0 – 1.0) (+1). Since their close round one defeat at the hands of the Blitz, Seattle has really been on a complete tear steamrolling their last three opponents and definitely silencing me on one of my worries about them (i. e. their inability up to this point to defeat the other best teams). They may very well be the best team in the West at this point, but just as I did with the Destiny last week, I won’t promote them there just yet, at least until they can give me just a tad more proof. (29%, 76%)

4th: San Francisco Mechanics (2.0 – 2.0) (-2). All good things must come to an end, and I suppose given how strong the league is, the Mechanics’ winning streak ending was inevitable. Of course, that really can’t be something that they can afford to have weigh on their minds at this point as they really must focus on stepping up their play to their last season’s pace if they want to think about winning the division or even making the playoffs since Dallas, Seattle, and Carolina all seem to be making strong charges to do the same. (23%, 68%)

5th: Baltimore Kingfishers (2.5 – 1.5) (+0). Baltimore’s fairly convincing win over the Inventors this week (albeit against a weakened lineup) was a nice demonstration of why I really continue to feel they are a team which is going to make some noise. This week’s big 1 vs. 2 showdown with Boston seems likely to determine if any team is really going to make a serious challenge to challenge the Blitz for the Eastern Division Crown (and not to mention of course an important match, as all are, to the playoff hopes of the Kingfishers). (23%, 69%)

6th: Carolina Cobras (2.5 – 1.5) (+1). Carolina has now established to me that they are a very solid team all around rather than a team which mostly made their living off the bottom two boards last season. While I still am somewhat skeptical if they have the overall firepower to really win their Division or the Championship, they definitely seem like very real playoff contenders. (15%, 62%)

7th: Queens Pioneers (1.5 – 2.5) (+3). Queens broke out of the board one funk in an impressive way and just in time to give them this very important win against the Knockouts. They still have some make-up work to do from their slow early start, but if they can continue to play as they did in this last match, they certainly have it in them to beat any team in the league and to make the playoffs. (11%, 41%)

8th: Philadelphia Inventors (2.0 – 2.0) (-2). A weakened lineup likely forced Philadelphia into their second straight rough defeat. While hopefully they won’t have to play any more matches without Kudrin, the East once again is so strong that no team can afford too many slip ups, and this week’s match with the Pioneers could be huge both in the standings and for their morale. (9%, 38%)

9th: New York Knights (1.0 – 3.0) (+0). Although once again New York I’m sure really wanted to win their match this week, a draw against the best team using their probable best lineup certainly can’t be considered a bad result. Again, like Queens though, the make-up they must do to compensate for their slow start really must begin soon as the season is nearly half over. (4%, 30%)

10th: New Jersey Knockouts (1.5 – 2.5) (-2). New Jersey ran out of miracles this week with their getting outplayed on the board finally catching up to them and handing them their first defeat. The Knockouts really don’t seem to have any holes in their lineups; it just seems in every match, the opposing team is playing a little bit better than them. I’m not sure if this has to do with preparation issues or what, but the Knockouts obviously must step things up quickly in some way if they want to be in the post-season. (3%, 27%)

11th: Miami Sharks (1.0 – 3.0) (+0). The Sharks finally managed to get on the board, albeit in much closer fashion than I think they would have liked. Of course, this was only one win, and they are going to need quite a few more before they can salvage their season. Whether they can do this really depends on whether their veterans, Lugo, Martinez, and Moreno Roman can play up to the level that they generally do irl as their recent league performances are not going to get it done. (3%, 15%)

12th: Tennessee Tempo (0.5 – 3.5) (+0). I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to endure defeats of the type the Tempo have been taking every week, especially after playing well enough to draw or win most of their matches. I really don’t know why the Tempo happen to be cursed with this problem, but of course they have no chance for success until they solve it. I do see many positives in their season this year compared to last as they have really been very competitive in all of their matches; much more so than the majority of last season. While it’s likely too late to salvage their current season (given they would need a long streak of wins to turn it around, and they are just not a team with the firepower to be able to do that), hopefully they have many things they can build on for the future. (0%, 1%)

Prediction Results -- Week 4

Finally two of the three of us managed to have a good week with myself and Ron Young both predicting five correct results out of six to give us a convincing lead over last year’s clear winner Josh Gutman. Here is how it looks at this point.

Total after Week 4:

Arun Sharma
(+15 This Week): 39

Ron Young (+13): 36

Josh Gutman (+2): 21

NY ties BOS 2

AS: Correct +4

RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

JG: BOS 3 – 1 +0

QNS over NJ 2.5 – 1.5

AS/RY: Correct +3

JG: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +0

BAL over PHI 3

AS/RY: BAL 2.5 – 1.5 +2

JG: Tie +0

MIA over TN 2.5 – 1.5

AS: MIA 3 – 1 +2

JG/RY: MIA 3.5 – 0.5 +2

DAL ties CAR 2

AS/RY: Correct +4

JG: CAR 2.5
1.5 +0

SEA over SF 3 – 1

RY: SEA 2.5 – 1.5 +2

AS: Tie +0

JG: SF 3 – 1 +0

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Week 4 Game of the Week

This year for game of the week we have three judges, all ranking their top five games. The games are then given anywhere from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most points wins the award. Also note that this year the winner each week will receive a $100 bonus prize. Our three judges are: IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and Jonathan Hilton. Click here for more details.


1st Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1

Greg Shahade: A heroic performance from Pascal. Pascal has always owned the Boston Blitz, and this week he came up with a new and creative way to win. The game was an extremely tough affair, with both players posing each other difficult problems throughout. It seemed as if it was going to be okay for Perelshteyn once he captured Pascal's final pawn. I admit that even I was telling everyone that Pascal had virtually no chance to win. As you can see I have a fantastic understanding of chess. Anytime that I am so wrong about the evaluation of a position, and a player proves me wrong by defeating one of the toughest players in the league, you've gotta give him props. Probably with perfect play it would have been a draw, but it's very hard to play perfectly. (1st Place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: For me the decision for first place wasn’t especially close as this game was quite well played and dramatic in basically every way it could be. With New York trailing the match 1.5 – 0.5 or 2 – 1 for the duration of the ending of this game, it seemed certain that the Knights only chance to salvage the match (and possibly their season) would be a win in this game. It appeared early in the ending that Charbonneau had a likely technically winning position but a far from easy task. Perelshteyn defended the ending very well though managing to win all of Black’s pawns which left most spectators declaring the game “dead draw” with some even commenting “This is boring why don’t they just agree to a draw already”. However their assessment was quite off as Charbonneau weaved a very nice mating net shocking the crowd (including the Commissioner who earlier had told me “He maybe has 1 chance in 100 to win this”) and pulling off a very nice save for the Knights. Though I’m sure New York really wanted to win this match, being able to draw against the Blitz, the unquestionable best team in the league at this point, shows what they are capable of. Once again, the Knights still have it in them to turn their season around, but their time is running short. (1st Place: 5 Points)

Jonathan Hilton: The reason I didn’t rank this game was that I thought White just misplayed the opening and got a very bad game. Kudos are due to Charbonneau for his winning technique of course; however, I think the cause for Perelshteyn’s loss is the fact that he opened up the queenside far too quickly in this highly positional English game. 19. c5? was a serious misjudgment. Black was simply better developed after White opened the game. Instead of 19. c5, White could have played more slowly – there were moves such as 19. e3, taking space in the center, or even 19. Nf3, trying to resolve some of White’s kingside issues by attacking Black’s lose pawns. I’m not even sure 19. gxh4!? followed by 20. Nf3 was that bad an idea. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Perelshteyn vs Charbonneau: 10 points


2nd Place: FM Keaton Kiewra (DAL) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: Kiewra made a bold choice with his striking 13. Nd5!? sacrifice, and the gambit paid off. Although Black certainly had many other defensive tries, I give my to prize to Kiewra for being willing to take the risks needed to outplay his opponent. Especially in the US Chess League, this kind of enterprising play reaps rich rewards more often than not! (1st Place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: A nice attacking game from Kiewra, which led to him defeating one of the most successful players of the past two seasons in the process. It's hard to find too much wrong with any of Keaton's moves, and while Oleg didn't defend perfectly, it's very difficult to play well when being attacked so viciously, especially in a 75+30 time control. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: I originally was going to give this game a 5th place ranking, but eventually decided to leave it on the bench. While I agree that Kiewra played nearly flawlessly, his piece sac isn’t exactly unique in that sort of position and in retrospect, the game was just a little too short and one-sided for me to warrant ranking it. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Kiewra vs Zaikov: 9 points


3rd Place: GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 1-0

Arun Sharma: Queens finally managed to erase their board one demons with this fairly dominating win by Stripunsky. Speared by the nice tactic: 16. Bg5! he neatly forced Benjamin’s King to stay in the center after which he never surrendered the initiative with mating threats and eventually expertly forced a win of decisive material. An impressive win by Stripunsky and the Queens team in finally demonstrating what I believed them to really be capable of before the season. Like New York they have put themselves in somewhat of a hole, but with more matches like this, they could definitely climb out of it. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Stripunsky dealt Benjamin a harsh blow in this game. I like the way he played it, luring Black’s king into the center and then opening the game. I felt he demonstrated a great deal of understanding of the middlegame and finished his opponent off with a great deal of accuracy. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: I didn't rank this game. I have to say I'm quite happy that this game didn't win Game of the Week (as it would have if I ranked it 3rd or higher). Both players made a gigantic blunder only a few moves before the end of the game, that could have completely changed the result. 32. b3 was a huge error (32. Rxh7 would win immediately), and Black could have tried 32....Rxd7 33. Qe6 Kf8 34. Rxd7 Qb1+ 35. Kf2 Qf5+, liquidating to an endgame where there is still some fight left. Of course I had the benefit of using a computer to find these lines, but they really aren't all that complicated. Yes the players were in time trouble, but that's not the problem of the above two games, whose winners managed to avoid such mistakes. There is just no way, in my humble opinion, that this game deserves game of the week. Alex did play a fine game, and had control from the beginning of the game to the end against a strong opponent, but you can't have such major oversights by BOTH players only 4 moves away from the end of the game to win this prize. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Stripunsky vs Benjamin: 8 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

7 points (Greg 3, Arun 2, Jon 2): IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 0-1

5 points (Jon 3, Greg 2): GM Gregory Serper (SEA) vs IM Josh Friedel (SF) 1-0

3 points (Arun 3): GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1/2-1/2

1 point (Greg 1): IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 0-1

1 point (Arun 1): FM John Readey (SEA) vs IM John Donaldson (SF) 0-1

1 point (Jon 1): IM Ron Burnett (TN) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 0-1

Monday, September 17, 2007

Remainder of Week 4 Predictions

Maybe this is the week I turn things around?

Queens over New Jersey 2.5 1.5

Baltimore over Philadelphia 2.5 1.5

Miami over Tennessee 3 1

Dallas ties Carolina 2 2

Seattle ties San Francisco 2 2

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monday Night Prediction -- Week 4

So for the first time in the USCL we have a double grandmaster duel scheduled in what I have a feeling will likely be the most watched match in the league’s short history. Based on the teams’ records an outsider might view this as a mismatch having in one corner the preseason, yet currently struggling, favorites the New York Knights who are treading very closely on the edge of a hole they very likely won’t be able to crawl out of should anything more go wrong. In the other corner, we have the red hot Boston Blitz, the only undefeated team in the league who including last season are a team which has been on a complete tear. While the records of these two teams may not be similar, there last season’s records weren’t exactly similar when they met in the semifinals with the Knights dismissing the Blitz’s regular season dominance with a fairly convincing win. Could it happen again here? Well let’s take a look at each board.

Board 1: Last week’s encounter between Bhat and Nakamura shattered the viewer record for any USCL game, and I have a feeling this week’s Nakamura vs. Christiansen battle may do one better. Not only two of the best players in the league (and country), but both with fairly aggressive styles, it seems likely we’ll be in for a very exciting struggle. I have a feeling Nakamura will be out for blood after his last week’s disappointment and that’s likely to add even more flavor to this game. I must as I almost always do, give the edge to the GM who has White though. (Edge NY)

Board 2: The second GM duel with Perelshteyn facing off against Charbonneau. When the two of them met last season, Perelshteyn had yet to lose a game in the league, but Charbonneau put an end to that in fairly convincing fashion. This of course is only one example of Charbonneau’s overall dominance of Boston since the league’s inception whether he has White or Black, and it seems foolish based on all recent events to discount history when evaluating any match. However, Charbonneau has yet to face Perelshteyn with Black in the league so who can be sure if he can continue to hold his mantra over them in this situation. Though I have to give the edge to Perelshteyn since he has White, due to the history I must think it’s only a very slight one. (Slight Edge BOS)

Board 3: Bonin facing off against Shmelov. This seems like an encounter which will be decided in large part what form Bonin happens to be in on this night as he seems to have some consistency issues, playing some great games and some fairly weak ones in the league. Shmelov on the other hand in his brief league stint has performed quite well so far and using current ratings, even has the rating edge in this game. Bonin does have White though, and given that this game might hinge on which Bonin shows up at the board, a factor I really am not prepared to speculate on here, I’ll just play it safe and call this one even. (Even)

Board 4: Finally we have Williams taking on Vicary. Vicary making her USCL debut and it really couldn’t be at a more important juncture for her team with them really unable to afford another defeat. Williams has looked very strong though in his first two games defeating two players (Lee and Wilson) who have very impressive league records and once again using current ratings, he seems to have a big edge there too. Boston definitely has to hold a fair edge on this board. (Edge BOS)

Overall, I’d be inclined to give a slight edge over the board to the Boston team, but of course judging by the fact that the Knights have seemed to have an edge over the board in all three of their matches and have yet to win one clearly shows there are other factors involved in any match’s result. Each week I’ve also picked the Knights to win also and somehow I haven’t scored any points in the prediction contest in those beliefs. It seems fairly certain based on my overall predicting record that if I choose to abandon them in that regard at this point that they’ll keep me scoreless in predicting their matches for spite by drawing or winning. Based on that and the fact that Charbonneau’s teams have shown a good ability to often rise above the odds especially in very important matches, I think I will call this a 2-2 tie.

(FM Ron Young picks Boston to win 2.5 - 1.5).

Prediction Results – Week 3

The fair non-impressiveness of us USCL prognosticators continues, but at least we seem to be making the contest amongst us interesting with our simultaneous lack of success.

Total after Week 3:

Arun Sharma (+6 This Week): 24
Ron Young (+9): 23
Josh Gutman (+4): 19

SF ties NY 2 - 2

AS/RY: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +0
JG: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +0

BOS over PHI 3.5 – 0.5

AS/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +2
JG: Tie +0

BAL ties NJ 2 - 2

JG/AS/RY: BAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

CAR over MIA 2.5 – 1.5

RY: Correct +3
JG: Tie +0
AS: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +0

DAL over QNS 3 - 1

JG/AS/RY: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +2

SEA over TN 3.5 – 0.5

JG/AS/RY: SEA 3 - 1 +2

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Power Rankings -- Week 3

These are my Week 3 Power Rankings. As always, all comments, suggestions, and flames are welcomed in the comments section.

1st: Boston Blitz (3 – 0) (+0 from last week). After Boston’s crushing victory this week, I don’t think there can be any doubt in anyone’s mind that they are the current best team in the league, and to me it would take a couple of major developments for that to change. While they are the obvious favorites that of course doesn’t mean that they will have an easy road given how tough the league is as a whole and the next few weeks should be very clarifying as to just how dominating a team the Blitz really are as they are facing a semi-desperate yet obviously strong New York team and soon after the previous year’s champions, San Francisco. Right now though, Boston seems to be firing on all cylinders, and I really wouldn’t be inclined to bet against them. (Win Division: 50%, Make Playoffs: 94%)

2nd: San Francisco Mechanics (2.0 – 1.0) (+0). Once again the Mechanics were on the verge of having their long run without a loss come to an end this week as it seemed at one point in their match that they could even be swept! However, in a league were there tend to be so many swings very late in tons of matches, the ability of any team to squeeze the maximum out of their positions when that situation arises is one who will clearly have great long term results, and I think that’s likely one unwritten area where the Mechanics really have excelled since the beginning of last season. (30%, 78%)

3rd: Dallas Destiny (2.5 – 0.5) (+0). Though Dallas defeated a tough Queens team, I’m not sure how positively they can really look on that win in the end given how close they were to losing in all of the boards besides board one. Of course, at the end of the day the result is really what counts and now Dallas is the division leader in the West, but before I promote them to my best team in the West, I’ll want a little more proof than a half game division lead. (30%, 78%)

4th: Seattle Sluggers (2.0 – 1.0) (+2). Seattle continued to hold their lore over Tennessee with a 3.5 – 0.5 rout (though like the lopsided matches between these teams last season, this one was really a lot closer on the board than the end score shows). Seattle continues to demonstrate why they were so successful last season, but as I mentioned last week, it still remains to be seen if they can win against the top teams, and this week’s showdown with the Mechanics could be very telling. (25%, 72%)

5th: Baltimore Kingfishers (1.5 – 1.5) (+0). Though Baltimore’s record at this point is only at par, I still really like their overall chances having played two of their three matches with a severely weakened lineup, and really outplayed their opponents this past week, failing to win only due to an unfortunate swindle. Assuming they can continue to use their best lineups, I’m pretty sure they’re a team which is going to make some noise. (18%, 60%)

6th: Philadelphia Inventors (2.0 – 1.0) (-2). The Inventors suffered a fairly rough defeat this week with the match going downhill early and just getting progressively worse as the night went on. They are certainly a better team than that lopsided score demonstrates, but there are just no free passes in the East, and they still very much have their work cut out for them. (17%, 58%)

7th: Carolina Cobras (2.0 – 1.0) (+2). Carolina definitely seems like they may be a team to keep your eye on now as their bottom boards have kept up their strong performance from last season and so far they are also performing much better at top, basically the exact recipe any team needs to make the playoffs. (12%, 60%)

8th: New Jersey Knockouts (1.5 – 1.5) (+0). The Knockouts once again managed a miracle draw this week and definitely seem to be a team who are especially adept at avoiding the jaws of defeat. However, to make the playoffs is going to require wins at some point, not just draws, and continually getting outplayed over the board as they really have in all three of their matches is something which tends to have a way of catching up to you on the scoreboard sooner or later. Once again, they really must step up their play if they want to be in the playoffs. (8%, 40%)

9th: New York Knights (0.5 – 2.5) (+1). New York finally managed to score this week, but probably can’t be too happy about it as they were really dominating the match at one point and given their start really needed a victory there. They are still a very explosive team, one which is still very capable of turning their season around, but they only have so much time to do so. It seems likely that this week’s big Monday night showdown with Boston will define what direction their season will take after this point. (4%, 26%)

10th: Queens Pioneers (0.5 – 2.5) (-2). Like Week 2 against Boston, Queens suffered another tough defeat this week, one where they could well have gotten a draw or win with just a slight change of fortune. I know, like New York, they are a very good team which is still capable of turning things around, but again they only have so much time to do so. It’s a fair shock that they are 0 – 3 on board one given their firepower up there, but that seems certain to be an anomaly that won’t continue for long and once it ends, Queens could be an entirely new team. Whether everything comes together soon enough for them to turn their current season around is another question entirely though. (3%, 22%)

11th: Miami Sharks (0.0 – 3.0) (+0). The Sharks just cannot seem to get anything to go their way. It’s obvious they are a much better team than their record shows, but the internal problems combined with a lack of luck hasn’t demonstrated it so far. As usual, their rock Becerra seemed to be as on as ever in this week’s performance, but as demonstrated last season, he cannot carry the team by himself. (2%, 10%)

12th: Tennessee Tempo (0.5 – 2.5) (+0). Once again, Tennessee seemed to have a very legitimate chance to score in their match this week when everything fell apart late and ended with them on the wrong side of a lopsided final score. Though they do seem to be playing better than they did last season (especially Andrews), being severely out rated every match combined with the fact that the fortune at the end of the match always seems to go against them doesn’t make for a good combination. (1%, 2%)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Week 3 Game of the Week

This year for game of the week we have three judges, all ranking their top five games. The games are then given anywhere from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most points wins the award. Also note that this year the winner each week will receive a $100 bonus prize. Our three judges are: IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and Jonathan Hilton. Click here for more details.


1st Place: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1-0

Greg Shahade: This game wasn't the best played game of the week, but it was definitely the most exciting and dramatic. We had the largest crowd in USCL history watching this game, including several strong players, even GM Gata Kamsky. Nakamura entertained the crowd by getting off to an incredible 71-1 time advantage yet somehow Vinay Bhat lived on the increment, managing to mix things up and actually win the game. The term "Game of the Week" doesn't indicate that the game must be the best played. Due to pure entertainment value and because of Vinay's heroic performance, this game gets the nod from me. (1st Place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: To me the decision this week wasn’t especially close as this game had so many things going for it. Aside from the actual game itself, there was the large pre-game hype around it along with the rather large audience it drew (which to my knowledge shattered any previous USCL game’s audience, even those of last year’s finals). The game itself also was fairly amazing in my view the way Nakamura garnered a near 70 to 1 minute time edge along with a material edge which had many spectators predicting Bhat’s imminent demise. But despite all the circumstances, Bhat managed to weather the storm, suddenly unleashing a strong attack against Black’s King, forcing Nakamura to sac the exchange to survive at which point Nakamura offered a draw which was declined and had the spectators scratching their heads asking “Why wouldn’t he take it, White can’t win this!” Just like the earlier assessment, this was again not the case as Bhat skillfully conducted the ending and won this amazing game. Another super impressive performance by the “invincible” Bhat managing to salvage a draw for the team when it looked at one point like they might be swept in the match and doing so with the most delicate moments in the game coming where he was under one minute on his clock against one of best blitz players in the world. (1st Place: 5 Points)

Jonathan Hilton: Vinay Bhat! Although the win was less than “convincing”, in my view any time anyone defeats Nakamura he deserves great laud. Both sides showed creativity in the opening and middlegame, but Bhat won due to his tenacity throughout the entire game, which was incredible given the situation on the clock. Coming back from being a pawn behind, Bhat out-calculated the former US Champion with fantastic attacking chess. He then proceeded to win a difficult technical endgame – rook and h-pawn versus lone bishop, a position that offers chances for both a win and a draw. Nakamura was dealt a rough welcome into the league! (1st place: 5 points)

Total Score of Bhat vs Nakamura: 15 points


2nd Place: IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) vs IM Blas Lugo (MIA) 1-0

Greg Shahade: An impressive game from Schroer, who outprepared, outcalculated, and outplayed the dangerous IM from Miami. The strength of Schroer's h-pawn, combined with his bishop on c3 was a sight to behold. So far this season Jonathan is doing what Carolina needs him to do. If he can hold down the fort on Board 2, the Cobras could surprise a lot of people this year, as their 3rd+4th boards (Zaikov + Jones) both made the All Star Team in 2006. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: A solid, very important first win in the USCL for Schroer highlighted by the nice (though fairly forced) exchange sacrifice 24. Rxd5 which totally stunted Lugo’s attack and left his Queen completely misplaced leaving him fairly defenseless against the simple marching of the h-pawn. (4th Place: 2 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Schroer uncorks the ambitious 24. Rxd5!!? exchange sacrifice which gives Black three possible recaptures. The sacrifice not only leads the h-pawn down the board to make a new queen, but it also leads the Carolina Cobras to a surprising victory over Miami! (4th Place: 2 points)

Total Score of Schroer vs Lugo: 8 points


3rd Place: IM Irina Krush (NY) vs IM Vince McCambridge (SF) 1-0

Arun Sharma: Although this game was a bit overshadowed by the game on Board 1 of the NY-SF match, I think it was a very smooth, well-played game by Krush which was of course very important to the match result. Though the end of this game, was quickened by some time pressure blunders from McCambridge, I still felt that Krush played quite well on the whole, nurturing a small edge for most of the game and quickly capitalizing when her opponent faltered.
(2nd Place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: A nice win by Krush. Throughout the entire game it felt as if she was control and would eventually win. In the end, she remained in control and mated McCambridge in the middle of the board. Please note that the other judges are redundant as I correctly chose the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place game in that order. Not only that but the 4th+5th place game, in voting order, were also correctly ranked by me. (3rd Place: 3 points)

Jonathan Hilton: This game wasn't ranked by Jonathan, although he did give it an "honorable mention." (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Krush vs McCambridge: 7 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

6 points (Jon 4, Greg 2): WGM Katerina Rohonyan (BAL) vs NM Victor Shen (NJ) 1-0

4 points (Jon 3, Greg 1): SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 1-0

3 points (Arun 3): GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) vs IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) 0-1

1 point (Arun 1): IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) vs IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) 1/2-1/2

1 point (Jon 1): IM David Pruess (SF) vs IM Jay Bonin (NY) 0-1

Monday, September 10, 2007

Remainder of Week 3 Predictions

Here is what is likely to occur (or perhaps to not occur given my record so far)

Boston over Philadelphia 2.5 1.5

Baltimore over New Jersey 2.5 1.5

Miami over Carolina 2.5 1.5

Dallas over Queens 2.5 1.5

Seattle over Tennessee 3 1

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Monday Night Prediction -- Week 3

So this week we have the two finalists from last year squaring off in what should be another stiff battle. Despite the pre-game hype around this match (especially the board one encounter), it does seem it will be tough for this match to beat the finals' encounter these two teams had in terms of excitement, but given how high the stakes in this match are (especially for the Knights), I wouldn’t think it’s impossible either. Let’s take a look at each board.

Board 1: Of course this is one game many of us have been waiting for, Bhat vs. Nakamura. The commissioner has pretty well broken down a few of the reasons why this game has been so anticipated, not even taking into account how important it is for the Knights not to suffer another setback (especially one which at this stage could be fatal), but who has the advantage? Bhat seems to have an aura of invincibility around him when he plays in the league, but if anyone could crack that, it seems like Nakamura could be the one to do it. Despite the rather large rating edge Nakamura seems to have, given the overall circumstances and that he has the black pieces, I think he has a small edge at best. (Slight Edge NY)

Board 2: Here we have Krush taking on McCambridge. Although Krush has had two results I’m sure she’s not happy with so far this season, she still should be by far the more in practice player and does have the White pieces. McCambridge has shown an ability to play some fairly inspired chess in the league, but who knows if he can display that side of himself tonight. I think this board is similar to the top one. (Slight Edge NY)

Board 3: Pruess taking on Bonin; Pruess had a solid performance Week 1 with the White pieces while Bonin I’m sure is still trying to forget his season opener. Pruess is generally always strong with White and just seems to be the more consistent player, especially in the league. Add in a rating edge of some sorts, and I really like the San Francisco’s chances on this board. It does seem that it will be very important for them to get a win here though as in my eyes, the other boards do seem more geared towards the opposing team. (Edge SF)

Board 4: Finally we have Herman taking on Young. Both of these players had an inauspicious start to the season with Herman losing and Young barely escaping with a draw, and it obviously would really behoove both players to perform better this week. Though we have only one game in the league to judge Young by so far, Herman overall despite his rough season opener last week really seems to be a pretty consistent player, something that many other board fours lack. Based on his performance last season and having the White pieces, I give him a fair edge. (Edge NY)

Overall, I do think the Knights have an edge when you go strictly board by board. Of course, I and most others have held that belief the past two weeks yet fortune has not been on their side to validate that belief while the Mechanics on the whole have been nothing but consistent since the beginning of last season. This match does however mean far more to the playoff hopes of New York due to the hole they’ve already dug themselves in this season and what a long shot it becomes for them to recover should they lose again here. Nakamura and Krush don’t seem to be the sort who traditionally will fail to rise to the occasion when such a challenge as this presents itself, and so I do think they’re likely to end the Mechanics unbeaten streak. New York wins 2.5 – 1.5

(FM Ron Young also picks New York to win 2.5 - 1.5).

Prediction Results – Week 2

A rather weak performance by all of us this week, but I suppose given the number of surprising results which occurred that was somewhat unavoidable. Here is how things stand.

Total after Week 2:

Arun Sharma (+6 This Week): 18
Josh Gutman (+6): 15
Ron Young (+6): 14

BOS over QNS 3 - 1

JG/AS/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +2

CAR over BAL 3 - 1

JG/RY: Correct +4
AS: Tie +0

PHI over NY 3 - 1

JG: Tie +0
AS/RY: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +0

TN ties NJ 2 - 2

RY: TN 2.5 – 1.5 +0
AS: NJ 3 – 1 +0
JG: NJ 3.5 – 0.5 +0

DAL ties SF 2-2

AS: Correct +4
RY: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0
JG: SF 3 – 1 +0

SEA over MIA 3.5 – 0.5

JG/AS/RY: Tie +0