Monday, October 29, 2007

Week 10 Predictions

The last major opportunity to close Ron Young's lead as after this there are only five playoff matches to predict!

Boston over Philadelphia 2.5 1.5

Queens ties Baltimore 2 2

New York over New Jersey 2.5 1.5

Tennessee over Carolina 3 1

San Francisco over Dallas 2.5 1.5

Seattle over Miami 2.5 1.5

Power Rankings -- Week 9

So only one week remains in the regular season, but the way things stand, it’s quite certain that the last week will contain plenty of excitement as virtually the only thing truly assured is that Dallas will win their division, with all other spots still quite undecided. We’re quite fortunate that I (yes me, what a shock that I did all the work in that regard like I do for everything, rather than our esteemed commissioner) was able to schedule matches which will wind up being huge in Boston vs. Philadelphia, New York vs. New Jersey, and Miami vs. Seattle. As it’s postseason or bust time, these rankings will be based nearly entirely upon each team's chances in that regard.

1st: Dallas Destiny (7.0 – 2.0) (+0 from last week). Last week I wasn't completely certain if Dallas really deserved the top spot, but now I don't think there can any debate about this; as noted above, Dallas has clinched their spot in the Semifinals and the only things that remain for them (at least in the regular season) is what role they might play in seeing who gets draw odds in the Wildcard round and possibly the ability to choose their color in the Finals should they reach that (which they are guaranteed to have with at least a draw, but might not have with a loss). (Win Division: 100%, Make Playoffs: 100%)

2nd: Boston Blitz (6.0 – 3.0) (+0). Another result which I’m sure disappointed the Blitz this past week, but it’s not something that really changed the situation much as the Blitz have clinched their playoff spot and even if they had won this past week, would still need only a draw to clinch the East division. Though they are quite favored to take the spot, they do have to be somewhat worried as they seem to have run into a cold stretch in this last part of the regular season, obviously not the form they’ll want to be in during the postseason. (72%, 100%)

3rd: Philadelphia Inventors (6.0 – 3.0) (+0). So there will be no ghosts in the closet to keep the Inventors out of the playoffs like last year. A celebratory situation, no doubt, but they have little time for it at this stage as they must do everything to win the next week’s rematch with Boston to make their lives far easier in the postseason. I could say more, but I've devoted plenty of attention to the Inventors in my public apology so I'll move on now. (28%, 100%)

4th: San Francsico Mechanics (5.0 – 4.0) (+2). The defending champions, with another smooth win, have managed to assure they won’t repeat the unfortunate happening that fell upon their predecessors, the Kingfishers, in the year after they won the Championship. Though they won’t three-peat as division winners, they have a very good shot to get themselves draw odds in the Wildcard (which is a virtual lock with a draw) and though they’ll have to face draw odds this time rather than have them in the Semifinals (should they reach them), it does seem natural that everyone needs to be playing from behind at some point. (0%, 100%)

5th: Seattle Sluggers (4.5 – 4.5) (+0). Another fairly rough loss for Seattle and suddenly their playoff birth is treading on thin ice. They still are a lock to make it with a draw (though another loss will leave them on the outside), but barring some nice help from the Destiny, they will likely have to take on the Mechanics once again facing draw odds (the quandary which ended their last season), an unenviable assignment for any team. (0%, 69%)

6th: New Jersey Knockouts (4.5 – 4.5) (+1). The Knockouts have a leg up on their two competitors for the final playoff spot in the East, but it’s still going to be far from easy as New York seems to excel in this playing from behind situation, and a draw is not even enough to guarantee them that spot (though Baltimore will need to win by 3 – 1 or better against Queens to make it not happen). While they are obviously in the best position to get that last spot, it promises to be anything but easy, and they really must put the maximum effort into preparing for this challenge. (0%, 55%)

7th: Miami Sharks (4.0 – 5.0) (+3). Will Miami be this year’s Cinderella story? Well perhaps in one sense as despite fielding the weakest lineup (rating wise) in league history along with a myriad of internal problems (which caused them all sorts of time penalties), they managed to knock off a tough Carolina team and put themselves to be in the playoffs with a win. To get that win might be a rather hard challenge given the way Seattle has dominated them so far in the League, but Miami definitely should have some amount of momentum on their side after this last win, and hopefully no further internal problems will plague them next week when it’s all on the line. While I’m not sure (especially with the internal problems) that they’re a better team than the Knights or Kingfishers, very simply they have a much simpler task than those two teams to make the postseason (as they need no outside help) so I’m putting them higher in these rankings. (0%, 31%)

8th: New York Knights (4.0 – 5.0) (-4). Once again, how things can change in one week! The Knights went to being a team which was probably favored by most to be in the postseason to a team which must win and get a bit of outside help to make it. But as noted above, New York has a tendency to shine when it's do or die time so it wouldn't surprise me at all to see a super performance from them in the final week when they'll have to go home for the winter without one. (0%, 28%)

9th: Baltimore Kingfishers (4.0 – 5.0) (+0). The Kingfishers still have a tough road to make the playoffs as strangely despite having the better first tiebreak, they actually have fewer scenarios in which to make the playoffs than the Knights. While both teams need to win, a Baltimore win is not sufficient with any New Jersey victory or a larger New York win (and the narrowest of Baltimore wins makes a New Jersey draw undesirable as well). New York, on the other hand, with any win as long as Baltimore scores fewer game points than them are automatically in. So due to needing more "outside assistance", Baltimore has some long odds to be in the postseason. A difficult spot for sure, but obviously far better to be alive than not. (0%, 17%)

10th: Queens Pioneers (3.5 – 5.5) (+1). Unfortunately, Queens will not be the Expansion Team turned Champions in their first season. It’s too bad that Queens really couldn’t seem to find a way to play consistently as they really have such a strong lineup. Although we won’t see them in the postseason this year, this was only their first year, and I would expect to see them back and stronger next season with a year’s experience under their belts. (0%, 0%)

11th: Carolina Cobras (3.5 – 5.5) (-3). Last year’s Cinderella story will not pull off a similar act as Carolina is unfortunately out of that picture now as well. A tough past few weeks for them as it really seemed early that they were definitely a team to watch out for having two such strong lower boards and playing much better than previous seasons up top. Unfortunately, the League is just so strong that it’s easy for any good team to lose matches without too much bad fortune. Like Queens, keep a watch out for them next season though. (0%, 0%)

12th: Tennessee Tempo (2.0 – 7.0) (+0). It looks as though Tennessee’s role as a spoiler has also ended for the season, but the Tempo still have so much to build on this season as they really showed themselves to be a far more competitive team than their first season with almost no blowout losses and so many near victories. Hopefully they can only continue to get better and start really surprising the prognosticators (like me!) next year. (0%, 0%)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Prediction Results -- Week 9

An especially non-impressive display by all of us this past week, but as often is the case in the USCL, surprises were abound making it fairly difficult to have a good score. I have managed to narrow Ron Young’s lead so that I’m definitely within striking distance despite there only being one regular season week plus the playoffs left and with a bit of luck, I just might come out in first. Josh Gutman, despite closing the gap even further this week, unfortunately is going to be need a little bit more than mere luck to come out on top at this point.

Total after Week 9:

Ron Young (+4 This Week): 80
Arun Sharma (+8): 76
Josh Gutman (+10): 61

SF over SEA 3 – 1

JG: Correct +4

AS/RY: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +2

PHI over NY 2.5 – 1.5

AS: Tie +0

JG/RY: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +0

NJ ties BAL 2 – 2

JG/AS: Correct +4

RY: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +0

QNS ties BOS 2 – 2

AS/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

JG: BOS 3 – 1 +0

MIA over CAR 2.5 – 1.5

RY: CAR 3 – 1 +0

AS: CAR 3.5 – 0.5 +0

JG: CAR 4 – 0 +0

DAL over TN 2.5 – 1.5

JG/AS/RY: DAL 3 – 1 +2

Week 9 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: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0

Greg Shahade: A very aesthetically pleasing game by Molner. His piece sacrifice was strong, his time out for defensive moves like Qc1 was quite surprising, and the material imbalance at the end of the game was also interesting. I voted for this game over the 2nd place game because I am trying to choose games that have the best chance of finishing well in the Game of the Year contest. It's obvious to me that Friedel-Serper has no chance to do well in Game of the Year while this game does. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: The second very nice sacrificial win by Molner in a row (the first of which nearly won Game of the Week as well!). The idea I most liked was 24. Qc1!, quite an odd looking move at first glance due to the seeming anti-attacking potential of it, yet as shown the idea that probably won him the game! After a tough 2006 season, Molner has come up huge for the Knockouts twice in 2007 and is definitely a big reason why they're in such a good position to be in the postseason. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: I was certainly impressed by Molner’s piece sacrifice, but I had a feeling it was more or less unsound. After some analysis I decided Black’s best chance to turn the tables was 25. … f4!, and although I later confirmed the move with the computer (Fritz gives something along the lines of two pawns in Black’s favor), the game was still very interesting and there were certainly chances for complications. This week’s competition was a close call! I would have given the prize to Rodriguez given the chance, but I am not dissatisfied with the result: after all, Molner has creamed me at least twice in over-the-board play! (NR: 0 points)

(NOTE: We had to bring in a tiebreaker judge because this game and Friedel - Serper were tied on points and on all tiebreakers. FM Donny Ariel's decision between the two games determined which game won, received the $100 prize, and was entered in the Game of the Year contest.)

FM Donny Ariel: Obviously implied in offering a qualitative prize is the assumption that chess spectators are enjoying chess for more than just its sporting results. I like both games a lot, and I'm not just saying that. I liked the Molner game more because I found it more surprising which meant there was more suspense, and I especially appreciated the Qc1 Nd1 idea. The way White wins in the Friedel - Serper game is much more typical which is not to disparage it in the least, but if you were going to show a friend of yours an interesting game and you could choose only one there is no question the Molner game is more "special" if you will forgive the use of such an imprecise characterization. (Winner: Molner vs Kaufman)

Total Score of Molner vs Kaufman: 9 points


2nd Place: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0

Arun Sharma: I felt that this was the best choice for Game of the Week since to me it really was of far higher quality than any of the other candidates and was certainly plenty dramatic on top of that. The thing I most liked about this game was the way Friedel seemed to quietly build up his position slowly but surely gaining a larger and larger advantage, just grinding his opponent down. And then to finish the game off, with both players desperately low on time, he allowed the seemingly dangerous 50... gxf3, but had a very nice mating net spun in reply which definitely couldn't have been easy to see all the possibilities of in the low amount of time he had left. (1st Place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I think this game was clearly less interesting than Molner's game. Stop worrying about quality and worry more about fun sacrifices. Despite that I really did like Friedel's game because he made a lot of slow creeping manuevers throughout the game that were kind of pleasing to me. However, I can only be so hard on someone for ranking this game 1st as I did rank it 2nd. In any case I suspect that GM Serper would not enjoy having every loss that he has to Friedel being named as Game of the Week while every time he beats Friedel, the game is practically ignored. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Not Ranked
(NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Friedel vs Serper: 9 points


3rd Place: NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: This 257-point upset is, to my knowledge, the biggest yet this year – that is, if you don’t count the undefeated Vinay Bhat’s 277-point “upset” over Hikaru Nakamura! Although my pick for this week’s #1 game was certainly not the most accurately played, it is still a fascinating encounter. The position before Schroer’s blunder, 22. … Re6??, was still quite unclear – perhaps 22. … Kg7 could have led to a successful defense, but White retains clear compensation for his piece. Congratulations to Rodriguez on his courage, mixing it up against such a strong player, helping Miami gain a crucial point in its victory over Carolina ! (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: This was a rather tricky game for me to rank. For sure it was exciting and contained a very interesting sacrifice, but the fact that Black made it so easy with 22... Re6? somewhat lowered this game's appeal. However, it was certainly a big upset (as most including myself thought Miami was dead before this match even had begun. I guess we stil haven't learned not to take anything for granted in the USCL) and as usual you have to have respect for someone who's willing to try such dangerous ideas even if they might not be totally sound (sort of similar to the way Schroer did that himself when he won Game of the Week). (3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: A fantastic performance by Rodriguez. Honestly I didn't rank this game higher because I felt that Schroer didn't put up enough resistance. Despite the huge rating gap, Rodriguez just crushed him from beginning to end. I do admit that I almost ranked this game higher. I had a very difficult time ranking the games this week as I felt there were quite a few fun and impressive performances. (5th place: 1 point)

Total Score of Rodriguez vs Schroer: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

8 points (Jon 4, Greg 3, Arun 1): IM Irina Krush (NY) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 0-1

3 points (Jon 3):
IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Vinay Bhat (SF) 0-1

3 points (Greg 2, Jon 1): IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Pawel Blehm (BAL) 1-0

2 points (Jon 2):
FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) vs FM Aviv Friedman (NJ) 1-0

Apology to the Philadelphia Inventors

So as anyone who’s followed the USCL at least a reasonable amount during the last two seasons knows, I’ve made many a prediction about both individual matches and teams’ overall chances. Though I’ve made some good ones and many bad ones, I’ve never, until now, really felt any remorse or regret about any of them due to the simple fact that predictions are well, just predictions, and not something to generally fret over. Plus when you add the fact that anytime I get a prediction wrong, I generally only have a couple minutes to mull over my stupidity before the Commissioner knocks on my door (figuratively) asking me to do some more work for the League that he really should be doing himself.

This particular scenario however was quite a bit different than the others as Greg had told me several times how badly I had scarred his father (ie the Inventors Manager) with my preseason prediction that his team would finish in last in the East (and they are now guaranteed at least second and have a good shot to take first!). Unfortunately, I always assumed he was just blowing smoke as he often does and didn’t get the chance to witness the effect I’d really had until I began to speak with his father a few weeks ago. As his father constantly reminded me of my gross incompetence in that regard as they moved farther and farther up in the standings, I realized what a huge impact I’d really had and asked what I could do to rectify my mistake. His father suggested an apology which I readily agreed to, but seeing how fast I agreed to that, he likely tried decided to press his luck a bit and demanded a 500 word one. I’m however too lazy/busy (doing Greg’s work) to make this one that long so hopefully this will suffice for now. I will make a deal with him though – if his team can win the Championship, I will write a 1000 word apology / congratulatory note to his team when they do!

One brief aside though -- for any others who I've made a prediction about which has turned out to be wrong, and they've gotten upset about (Seattle springs to mind, though I'm sure there are others who just haven't spoken up), don't get any funny ideas about asking for an apology too. I know what a bad precedent I've probably set in apologizing for this one, but I just want it to be clear to everyone -- this is a one time thing!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Remainder of Week 9 Predictions

Once again, I was unable to gain any ground on Ron Young this past week and with Josh Gutman having a monstrous week, suddenly the consolation prize of second place is no longer a sure thing. Either way, something drastic is going to have to happen in one of the two directions to change how things stand right now as time is growing extremely short.

Philadelphia ties New York 2 2

New Jersey ties Baltimore 2 2

Boston over Queens 2.5 1.5

Carolina over Miami 3.5 0.5

Dallas over Tennessee 3 1

Friday, October 19, 2007

Monday Night Prediction -- Week 9

So we have a repeat from last season to round out the Monday night matches in this season of the USCL. Like many previous matches, the stakes for it are slightly different than what might have been expected, but still not really any less important. Last year this match was the linchpin in determining which team would win the West Division while this year it seems likely to be the one to determine who will take second place (as the winner is most likely to do while the loser will most likely be fighting for third in the final week). However, whatever result happens to come about, it’s reasonably likely that these teams will face off in a rematch during the Wildcard round, and something tells me Seattle won’t want to play San Francisco in the playoffs facing draw odds for two consecutive years and would prefer to put an end to any chance of that happening with a victory to almost assure themselves second place. Let’s see how it looks on each board.

Board 1: Friedel vs. Serper. This is a rather odd game to predict when you consider all the league history between these two players. If one was to go based on information only from this year, it would seem prime for a blowout by the Seattle team with Friedel having a -3 record and Serper a +3 one (along with Serper getting the better of their first confrontation this year along with a victory in the same Monday night match last year). However, I think one would be foolish to also not take into account the two rather impressive wins by Friedel with White the first of which salvaged a draw (and the division lead) for the Mechanics and the second which lead the Mechanics into the Finals. While on the whole, it seems difficult to determine the appropriate mix of these factors to assign an edge in this game, I’ve definitely noticed that Friedel seems to score best when he pushes his Kingside pawns vs. Serper, and I think which side has an edge may well be determined by whether he makes an effort to do just that. In other words, if he opens with 1. g4 or 1. h4, I like Friedel’s chances while if he chooses something dry and banal like 1. e4, I prefer Serper. However, I have a feeling Friedel will be reading this and will see the wisdom of my brilliant advice so slight advantage to him (plus with Friedel allowing Becerra to pass his teammate Bhat on the MVP Leader Board, I’d guess as a good team player, he won’t be inclined to allow Serper to do the same). (Slight Edge SF)

Board 2: Tangborn vs. Bhat. Right now, whether White, Black, or some other color (you know in some chess variant), I’m really not prepared at this time to give anyone an edge against Bhat in any league game. While the day where he finally does lose and sends all of his fans into a state of manic depression is bound to come, I have a feeling it won’t be this week. (Slight Edge SF)

Board 3: Donaldson vs. Schmidt. Donaldson has looked very solid in all games he’s played this year, showing a nice ability to really ground his opponents down. Schmidt hasn’t been especially active, but his games so far just haven’t seemed very consistent. With White, I definitely like Donaldson here. (Edge SF)

Board 4: Sinanan vs. Naroditsky. In the first meeting between these two, Sinanan really outplayed Naroditsky seemingly effortlessly as it just seemed looking back on the game that Naroditsky was never really in it. Having White this time, Sinanan has to be considered a pretty reasonable favorite. Of course, when dealing with young players one can never be too certain of anything as their level of play can really vary from day to day, but I still like Seattle here. (Edge SEA)

It should be clear I feel the Mechanics have an edge over the board (of course, others might disagree as based on this year’s results, most would probably think I’m off my rocker giving San Francisco an edge on Board One, but even though it hasn’t shown through this season, I really feel it’s hard not to give Friedel an edge with White in nearly any league game). Based on that, Bhat’s track record, and the fact that the Mechanics are probably going to be primed for revenge after the Sluggers ended their long unbeaten streak, I’ll take San Francisco 2.5 – 1.5

(FM Ron Young also predicts San Francisco to win 2.5 - 1.5).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Power Rankings -- Week 8

With only two weeks in the regular season remaining, some things have finally been clarified while others remain as murky as ever. In the West, the Destiny became the first team to clinch a spot in the post season and have a stranglehold on claiming the division crown, but the battle for second and third there still remains as open as it's been since the beginning of the season. In the East, really nothing is assured as things have changed so dramatically in the last few weeks, with Boston no longer seeming a lock to win the division, and New York rising from the dead to now probably being a favorite in most people’s eyes to be in the playoffs. Here’s how things seem to be to me overall.

1st: Dallas Destiny (6.0 – 2.0) (+1 from last week). Although I’m not completely convinced that Dallas is the flat out strongest team in the league right now, as the first team to clinch a playoff spot and having a hammerlock on winning their division, I think they’ve earned themselves the top spot in these rankings. Though there are a few unusual scenarios where they could wind up not winning the division, I personally don’t think it’s a bad idea for the other teams in the West to at least brainstorm a bit as to what their strategy against the Destiny in the Semifinals facing draw odds might happen to be. (Win Division: 95%, Make Playoffs: 100%)

2nd: Boston Blitz (5.5 – 2.5) (-1). Boston hasn’t appeared to be the invincible machine that they really seemed to be in the early season in recent times. While obviously still a super strong team (likely still the best in the league), them winning their division doesn’t seem to be the foregone conclusion that it was a few weeks ago (and in actuality, even a playoff spot is not mathematically guaranteed, but would take a very unusual collection of results in the last couple of weeks to not happen). The Blitz do still have to feel good about the fact that no matter what happens in any match this week, they will still win the East Division with a last round victory over the Inventors, a team they really decimated in their first meeting this season. (72%, 98%)

3rd: Philadelphia Inventors (5.0 – 3.0) (+1). The Inventors continue to surprise and now are more than likely to be a playoff team. It’s still not anywhere near time for them to rest on their laurels though as they definitely have a legitimate chance to win their division now which is of course a huge advantage and a playoff spot is still not assured as they will likely need at least a draw in one of their two remaining matches to lock that up (and it’s possible that even one draw might not be enough, though it’s most likely to be). However, their final two opponents are New York, by far the hottest team in the league right now, who will be out for revenge, and Boston who handed them their worst defeat in league history at their first meeting this season. (26%, 70%)

4th: New York Knights (4.0 – 4.0) (+2). I, and many others, were on the verge of giving up on the Knights a few weeks ago when they sat with a 1 – 4 record, but they are now displaying the kind of performance which made me think they were the best team in the league before the season. Though it’s quite impressive what they’ve managed to do the last three weeks, they still have a fair amount of work to do to claim their playoff spot especially since they have Philadelphia and New Jersey as their last two opponents, two teams who will also be giving everything they have and both of whom defeated the Knights in their first meeting this season. Of course the Knights are just so hot right now that I really can’t bet against them to be in the post season (which is also the reason I’ve placed them above the Sluggers in these rankings despite the inferior record). (1%, 56%)

5th: Seattle Sluggers (4.5 – 3.5) (-2). Seattle had a tough defeat in really getting quite outplayed by Dallas this week. Though this unfortunate result makes the division crown quite unlikely, the Sluggers are still in good playoff position, but it’s far from a certainty and even if it was, it’s likely as things stand now that they will meet the Mechanics in the Wildcard round, and I’m sure they’d prefer to do that with draw odds rather than facing them to help avoid a repeat exit as last season. (4%, 75%)

6th: San Francisco Mechanics (4.0 – 4.0) (+2). There were probably many sighs of relief when the Mechanics clinched their victory this week as they are now back to being a likely playoff team. It’s still not easy for them as they will probably need at least one point from their last two (and perhaps even more), and they are facing Seattle, the team that ended their unbeaten streak as well as league leading Dallas. (1%, 64%)

7th: New Jersey Knockouts (4.0 – 4.0) (+2). The Knockouts defied most people’s expectations in holding the powerful Blitz team to a draw. Though a very good result, to make the playoffs they will likely two repeat performances (or better) in both of their last two weeks as a loss either week could easily eliminate them. Having to face a red hot New York team who will also be looking for revenge is a somewhat unenviable assignment. (1%, 41%)

8th: Carolina Cobras (3.5 – 4.5) (-1). Carolina has slipped out of a playoff spot for now, but fortunately for them, if they can manage to win both of their last two matches will still almost certainly be in the playoffs (with just a tad bit of outside help), and they are facing Miami, a team they defeated earlier in the season, and Tennessee, the team Carolina rose to sweep last season in a similar situation with their playoff lives on the line. (0%, 42%)

9th: Baltimore Kingfishers (3.5 – 4.5) (-4). How things can change in a week! Given the tightly packed nature of the teams in the East, one loss has me dropping the Kingfishers four spots in these rankings. Like last season, Baltimore just doesn’t seem to be able to play consistently right now which seems to be really hurting them. They are still a team with quite a bit of firepower and are still almost certain to be in the playoffs if they can win both of their last two matches, but that’s obviously far easier said than done. (0%, 31%)

10th: Miami Sharks (3.0 – 5.0) (+1). I’ve been stating that Miami would need to sweep their last batch of matches to make the playoffs, but it seems that that was mildly incorrect as despite failing to win this past week, the Sharks still have several scenarios under which they could still make the playoffs (The playoff picture in the West is unusual enough that a 4.5 – 5.5 or even a 4 – 6 team could make the playoffs under the right circumstances, which is nearly impossible in the East. For this reason, there are many more scenarios in which Miami will make the playoffs than their East counterparts, Queens, who have the same record, which is why I decided to place Miami higher in these rankings this week). However, those situations where a team with a losing record makes the playoffs are few and far between so Miami really must work under the assumption that only a 2 – 0 will give them a chance at it (and luckily if they do, they only need a fair amount of outside help to make it). Unfortunately, one of those two wins will have to come against Seattle, a team which Miami has really struggled against having a 0 – 3 record against in the past two seasons. (0%, 19%)

11th: Queens Pioneers (3.0 – 5.0) (-1). Though not eliminated, Queens is in a very tough spot now as they absolutely must go 2 – 0 now to have any chance (except in one very, very unusual situation), and it’s quite possible that even that will not be enough without quite a bit of help from the outside. As usual though, never say never in the USCL, so hopefully they don’t give up now. (0%, 4%)

12th: Tennessee Tempo (2.0 – 6.0) (+0). Tennessee seems to be playing the role of spoiler quite well in really making a much tougher road for their previous two opponents, Carolina and Miami, to be in the post season. Besides that of course, their much improved play (especially FM Andrews who is now only one spot away from being on the MVP leader board !), I’m sure will have their future opponents and all viewers not taking any of their match results for granted. The Tempo still have some more good opportunity to play spoiler for their remaining two matches, perhaps in stopping Dallas from clinching the division this week and maybe derailing Carolina’s playoff hopes entirely in the last week. (0%, 0%)

Prediction Results -- Week 8

Well Josh Gutman made a storming comeback from his last week’s futility managing to get five correct results out of six! (With four of those five having the correct score as well). An impressive display for sure, especially with both Ron Young and myself having fairly mediocre weeks, but it will take a few more similar performances from him in the last couple of weeks of the regular season to really get back in the thick of things. However, just as you can never really count a team out in the USCL, I wouldn’t count him or myself out of this contest just yet. Here’s how things are right now.

Total after Week 8:

Ron Young (+7 This Week): 76
Arun Sharma (+7): 68
Josh Gutman (+17): 51

NY over QNS 2.5 – 1.5

JG/AS/RY: Correct +3

NJ ties BOS 2 – 2

JG: Correct +4

RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

AS: BOS 3 – 1 +0

PHI over BAL 3 – 1

JG: Correct +4

RY: PHI 2.5 – 1.5 +2

AS: BAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

MIA ties TN 2 – 2

AS/RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +0

JG: MIA 3 – 1 +0

SF over CAR 3 – 1

JG/AS: Correct +4

RY: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +2

DAL over SEA 3 – 1

JG: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +2

AS: Tie +0

RY: SEA 2.5 – 1.5 +0

Week 8 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 Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 1-0

Arun Sharma: I really felt overall that this was the best choice for Game of the Week. It, unlike most of the other candidates this week, really seemed like quite a clean game with no huge blunders from either side and at the same time definitely contained its share of exciting moments. Of course, the 37. Nxf5+! combination was nice as well as 53. f6!, neatly advancing his pawn towards a queen while threatening a mating net to prevent Black from creating his own first. The end of the game was also quite unusual as it's quite rare to see a game between two such strong players end with four queens on the board! Although Miami's playoff odds are still long, no one can dispute that Becerra is giving more than 100% to keep them in the game. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I had a really hard time choosing Game of the Week this week. I felt the batch of games played this week just wasn't very good. In any case I'm pretty happy that this one won. Becerra played his typical solid style, giving his opponent no chances, and seizing the opportunity for some short and simple tactics when the time arose. The game I actually chose, Kaufman-Costigan, I knew would probably get no other votes. I just liked it because it was super hard fought, there were quite a few nice tricks, and there were six queens during the game! What I find really funny about Becerra's victory is that I feel his Week 6 win over GM Stripunsky was much more deserving than this game, yet it only managed second place. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Not Ranked (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Becerra vs Burnett: 9 points


2nd Place: IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Vinay Bhat (SF) 0-1

Jonathan Hilton: Is Vinay Bhat a mortal? Apparently not, at least in this game: he played flawlessly! As far as I can tell, Bhat’s victory in this game was the result of his playing every move with amazing accuracy. Milman conjured up quite an attack, but Bhat never stumbled once, resulting in a 3-1 victory for San Fransico. Vinay’s incredible record at the US Chess League makes him second only to Julio Becerra in the latest MVP rankings. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: I ranked this game highly only because I was told that it had high theoretical value, and I wasn't so enamored with the competition. Supposedly there was an Anand-Bruzon game in this line after ....Nd7, but that the Nxh7 sacrifice used by Milman had never been tried. Milman probably had a few better attempts, and Bhat took advantage of Milman's lapse by finding the super powerful 30....Ng4. (3rd place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: Another very impressive game from Bhat who played some amazing defense to defuse Milman's seemingly lethal attack (dangerous enough that the Commissioner told me "Bhat is going to get mated"). As impressive as his defense was though, it was hard for me to give this game a top ranking when it seemed that the result stemmed mainly from one blunder, 30. Raf3?, where instead 30. Qh4! forcing 30... Kg7 allows White to take a perpetual instantly (or perhaps even play for a win after 31. Raf3 Rh8 32. Bxf6+ Bxf6 33. Qxf6+ Qxf6 34. Rxf6). Granted this was a very natural blunder to make, one which I think more than a few others (including myself) might have made also, but it did make it hard for me to justify giving this game too high a ranking. Still another great game from "invincible" Bhat to help put the Mechanics back in playoff position.
(4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Milman vs Bhat: 9 points


3rd Place: IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1

Arun Sharma: This was just a very well played game by Kuljasevic, really dominating the game completely out of the opening and finding some nice tactics to boot. Although his tactics might not have been the hardest of moves to find, it still seemed he conducted the entire attack in a very efficient, precise manner, really giving Tangborn no opportunity to wriggle out. A rather huge win for the Destiny to all but sew up the division crown. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: 27. … Nxh2!! followed by 28. … Bd4!! was the stunning combination that helped Dallas gain its 3-1 lead over Seattle. I would have ranked this game even higher had the competition not been so stiff – Kuljasevic deserves high praise for his handling of this game, however, White’s unambitious opening play did hand Black much of the advantage from the start. An amazing kingside crusher, and done with the Black pieces – I hope to see Dallas’s Destiny continue to go in this direction! (3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: Okay I admit that I should have ranked this game for sure. It just didn't strike me as too complicated the first time I looked at it, but the tricks were pretty nice. Honestly I think it deserved third place. Oh wait, if I gave it third place it would have won Game of the Week huh? Ummm, sorry about that! (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Tangborn vs Kuljasevic: 7 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Jon 5): GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) vs IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) 1-0

5 points (Greg 5):
IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) vs IM Richard Costigan (PHI) 1/2-1/2

5 points (Arun 3, Jon 2):
NM Sam Shankland (SF) vs NM Craig Jones (CAR) 1-0

2 points (Greg 2):
SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) 1-0

2 points (Arun 1, Jon 1):
IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 1-0

1 point (Greg 1):
IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) 1-0

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Remainder of Week 8 Predictions

Well I did manage to do reasonably well last week especially considering the number of upsets, but Ron Young seems unwilling to give way easily so I'm going to need some luck soon.

Boston over New Jersey 3 1

Baltimore over Philadelphia 2.5 1.5

Miami over Tennessee 2.5 1.5

San Francisco over Carolina 3 1

Dallas ties Seattle 2 2

Friday, October 12, 2007

Monday Night Prediction -- Week 8

The long awaited subway matchup is finally upon us. At the beginning of the season, I might have guessed that this match would be the one to determine who would win the East Division, but unfortunately for each team, things probably haven’t gone quite the way they might have envisioned at that time. On the other hand, both of these teams have been on the brink of playoff elimination the last couple weeks and have managed to stave it off until now so this will certainly still be a very hard fought match. It just happens that the stakes for this encounter are slightly different than what I expected as instead of fighting for the division title, they are fighting for their playoff lives as the loser of this match is likely to be near mathematically eliminated from contention. Let’s see how it looks from board to board.

Board 1: Nakamura vs. Vovsha. All season long, I’ve been giving Nakamura an edge (in my mind) in all of his games, but he has yet to validate that faith having not won a game so far. Vovsha on the other hand has really probably surpassed most people’s expectations in not having lost a single game in six matches and really is the main reason why Queens is still in the playoff hunt. While I still have to think Nakamura has an advantage, I’m only willing to call it a slight one at this point. (Slight Edge NY)

Board 2: Schneider vs. Charbonneau. Schneider played quite an impressive first game this season to help the Pioneers stave off elimination, but he will likely need something of a repeat performance if Queens is to avoid elimination for the second consecutive week. Charbonneau has had a somewhat up and down season, playing a few very inspired games like his win vs Perelshteyn, but also a few I think he’d probably choose to forget about given the chance. Like Board One, some advantage for New York here. (Slight Edge NY)

Board 3: Arnold vs. Kleiman. Neither of these players has been especially active in the league thus far making this game a little bit harder to call than the others. Queens does have a slight rating edge, but New York has White so I’d venture this game is fairly close. (Even)

Board 4: Zhao vs. Zenyuk. Zenyuk has looked quite impressive thus far in the league, especially in her last week's victory. Zhao has played a couple fairly impressive games himself though pulling two fairly big upsets nearly defeating Dallas's rock Stopa and also winning against Miami's Moreno Roman. This seems a tough one to call so I’ll cope out. (Even)

Over the board, I have to think New York has an edge; but besides that fact, psychologically I really do like the Knights' chances overall coming off two straight wins (over two of the top three ranked teams in the league) and what they are doing seems somewhat similar to their great run at the end of the last season. Queens of course defied most people’s predictions last week in upsetting the Kingfishers so as in any USCL Match, nothing is even close to a sure thing. However, I don’t see the Knights letting their mirror run of last season end here so I’ll take New York 2.5 – 1.5

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

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Power Rankings -- Week 7

A very unusual set of results this week have managed to completely shake up the standings as the two teams which seemed near locks to win their divisions last week both stumbled making things far from clear in basically every regard. Also, three teams all of whom were treading on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention, Miami, New York, and Queens all managed to win this week really making almost anything possible for the last few weeks. Here is how it looks to me at this point. As we are nearing the end of the regular season, these rankings will primarily based on the teams’ records of course, the strength of their remaining opponents, and also on historically how well certain teams have managed to perform in this nitty-gritty when the heat is really on them.

1st: Boston Blitz (5.0 – 2.0) (+0 from last week). Although Boston still maintains the best record in the league, their hold on being the best team by far in the league, might not be quite as clear cut now. Though to me, the only team that can really stop them is still themselves (and of course they haven’t been able to use their strongest lineups recently can obviously be a factor in this slight stumble), but they also have to be somewhat concerned that their likely biggest threat, the New York Knights and Pascal Charbonneau, are now very much back in the playoff hunt, and I doubt Boston would care to have a repeat of last year's disappointment as their last memory this season. (Win Division: 80%, Make Playoffs: 97%)

2nd: Dallas Destiny (5.0 – 2.0) (+0). Like Boston, Dallas still maintains the best league record, but really aren’t in a position (like last week) where they can really coast to the division title as Seattle seems determined to give them everything they can handle in that regard. They are certainly still the favorites to do so, but both for losing their lead and morale reasons, they really need to do whatever they can to avoid another loss to the Sluggers this coming week. (64%, 90%)

3rd: Seattle Sluggers (4.5 – 2.5) (+0). I stated last week, that unless Seattle could manage to sweep Dallas, it was very unlikely they could win the division. Well, they’ve managed to make it halfway there and combined with the Mechanics and Cobras not winning this week, can now breathe a lot easier in reference to their chances to be in the post season. Of course, winning the division is a huge advantage so expect to see a real dogfight in the rematch with the Destiny this week. (32%, 80%)

4th: Philadelphia Inventors (4.0 – 3.0) (+4). The Inventors had a nice victory this week where they really dominated the Knockouts over the board to put themselves in second place in the East. Though they are in a good position to claim a playoff spot right now, everything is far from clear still as every team in the East could really make it with just a little fortune, and they will need to keep up that type of play to make it. (12%, 60%)

5th: Baltimore Kingfishers (3.5 – 3.5) (-1). The Kingfishers had what was probably a disappointing loss this week as they seemed to be quite favored on paper to win their match yet lost to a plucky Queens team. I still see them as a probable playoff team, but with every team in the East knocking on the door, no team can really afford to not be at their best in the next few weeks. (5%, 55%)

6th: New York Knights (3.0 – 4.0) (+3). Slowly but surely, just like they did last year, the Knights are climbing back into the hunt. It still is going to be anything but easy for them as they will be facing three equally desperate teams in the next few weeks, all in situations where they likely cannot afford a single loss to make the playoffs. (0%, 32%)

7th: Carolina Cobras (3.5 – 3.5) (+0). Carolina now solely holds the third spot in the West, but I’m sure really would have preferred to have the full game lead as they likely expected to win this week. They do however now basically control their destiny, but if they want to maintain that advantage, can’t afford to lose to the Mechanics this week. (2%, 59%)

8th: San Francisco Mechanics (3.0 – 4.0) (-3). The defending champions are suddenly in very serious danger of missing the post season altogether. Obviously they don’t want a repeat of what happened to their predecessors, the Kingfishers, the season after they won the Championship to befall them and knowing their players, they will do everything they can to stop that. But no more slip ups are really affordable as if they fall to the Cobras this week, they will be almost completely out of the race. (2%, 54%)

9th: New Jersey Knockouts (3.5 – 3.5) (-3). New Jersey seemed to unfortunately revert back to their early season pattern this past week rather than displaying the play which lead to their two game winning streak as they really got severely outplayed over the board against the Inventors and now have a very tough road to make the playoffs as they face league leading Boston next week along with the streaking New York team in the final week. (3%, 31%)

10th: Queens Pioneers (3.0 – 4.0) (+0). Queens played a very strong match this week as despite being quite a bit out rated, they really sent a message that they aren’t ready to slink away quietly and are still hunting for a playoff spot. Like New Jersey, they have a very tough road in facing New York and Boston before the season's end, but if a few things go their way, we might well see them in the post season. (0%, 25%)

11th: Miami Sharks (2.5 – 4.5) (+0). I stated last week that Miami would almost certainly need a 4 – 0 record to give themselves a playoff birth. They did manage to take the first step in that regard with their victory this week, but they still need three more such performances to make it which still seems unlikely for any team to count on. (0%, 17%)

12th: Tennessee Tempo (1.5 – 5.5) (+0). The Tempo forged another building block this week managing to score yet again on the back of a surging FM Andrews who after his very rough first season, now has a winning record this season. If the Tempo can manage to improve their results on the two lower boards as well, they could suddenly become a dangerous team. Even though it’s too late for them to salvage this season, who knows what might transpire for them next season. (0%, 0%)

Prediction Results -- Week 7

Not an especially impressive week for any of us, though Josh Gutman managed to equal a feat which so far only I'd been able to muster in getting no correct results. Given of course the number of fair surprise results which did occur (with basically all the teams with better records failing to win against their lower ranked foes), I suppose one could only expect to do so well in predicting this week. Here’s how things look.

Total after Week 7:

Ron Young (+9 This Week): 69
Arun Sharma (+9): 61
Josh Gutman (+0): 34

PHI over NJ 2.5 – 1.5

AS/RY: Correct +3

JG: Tie +0

NY over BOS 2.5 – 1.5

AS/RY: Correct +3

JG: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

QNS over BAL 2.5 – 1.5

JG/RY: BAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

AS: BAL 3 – 1 +0

CAR ties TN 2 – 2

JG/AS/RY: CAR 2.5 – 1.5 +0

MIA over SF 2.5 – 1.5

RY: Tie +0

JG/AS: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +0

SEA over DAL 2.5 – 1.5

AS/RY: Correct +3

JG: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

Week 7 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 Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 0-1

Greg Shahade: I have a confession to make....I'm not really satisfied with some of my previous game of the week winners. I think that I've chosen two games to win GotW that really didn't deserve to win. I've vowed to take this more seriously however, and this week I'm confident in my choice. Burnett played a fantastic game, and although Milman didn't put up the maximum resistance, I enjoyed the clarity of it, and the artistic final blow 30...Qe3. Also as a Dragon player, I appreciate the thematic sacrifice of the rook on f8, especially given that I've never seen this sacrifice in the Pirc Defense. (1st place: 5 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Burnett took Milman to town! If you listened to me on the radio back when we were doing live broadcasting, you'll know I'm a huge Ron Burnett fan, and after spending the better half of the evening poring over the gazillion and a half White wins from this week, this game was a pleasant shocker. Burnett's wily 8... Ne5!? was creative and daring, and although I haven't consulted the databases on it yet, it looks like uncharted territory to me. You have to love the classic exchange sacrifice with 12... d4! You have to give Milman some credit for fighting back against Blac's massive pawn roller, but by move 22, when White closes up the kingside with g4-g5, one gets the feeling the game is already over. And that it is, but not until Burnett swashbucklingly sacrifices the Lady with 30... Qe3+!! Oh yeah, Tennessee Tempo holds Carolina to a 2-2 tie. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: A dominating victory from Burnett who used the nice thematic exchange sac 12… d4! to create a very fearsome pawn array and unleash a deadly attack against the White King while Milman was unable to muster any real counter play. Also nice were the further sac 27… dxc3! and the very cute finish 30… Qe3+!!, a very aesthetically pleasing way of bringing the point home. (3rd place: 3 points)

Milman vs Burnett

Burnett found the beautiful 30...Qe3+!!, resulting in Milman's resignation. If 31. Rxe3 cxb2+ 32. Kb1 Rd1 is mate.

Total Score of Milman vs Burnett: 13 points


2nd Place: WFM Iryna Zenyuk (NY) vs NM Chris Williams (BOS) 1-0

Arun Sharma: A very impressive tactical display by Zenyuk in knocking off a player who had so far been completely invincible in the league. 17. Nbd4 was of course one nice move, but the most impressive thing by far was 23. Rxe5! with the idea of 24. Rg5!, one of the more impressive ideas I think we’ve seen in any Board Four game and considering the rather small amount of time on her clock when she came up with this, I really felt this game deserved first place because of. A nice performance by Zenyuk who seems to be doing quite a good job in doing her part to keep the Knights playoff hopes alive. (1st Place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: A wonderful performance by Zenyuk. 23. Rxe5 followed by 24. Rg5 was a great concept, and to see such inspiring play on Board Four is always a pleasant surprise. Chris missed a great chance for defense with 24...Bf5, but it's not always easy to find defensive resources under such pressure. This game was also the match clincher for New York and the first blemish on Chris Williams's record. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Not Ranked
(NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Zenyuk vs Williams: 9 points


3rd Place: Jayson Lian (NJ) vs NM Daniel Yeager (PHI) 0-1

Arun Sharma: A fairly wild game which saw both players having less than one minute for much of the late game. Although it might not have been the most accurate game, I really felt Yeager, especially considering his clock, did a very admirable job of sifting through the complications. For one, not losing his cool and finding the simple 25… Qxb4! to not really allow White’s interesting sacrifice to garner him some dangerous counter play and of course, the very nice tactical simplification, 30… Qxe5!, eliminating all of White’s tricks and forcing the game into a fairly simple ending. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: A very nice game from Yeager. I have to admit that after I saw the rankings, and reexamined the games, I regretted that I didn't rank this game higher. This was another Board Four game that was of quite high quality, with interesting play from both sides and very few clear errors. Yeager also found a very nice tactical blow with 30...Qxe5. (5th place: 1 point)

Jonathan Hilton: Not Ranked (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Lian vs Yeager: 5 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Jon 3, Arun 2): FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs FM Andrei Zaremba (DAL) 1-0

4 points (Jon 4):
NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) vs IM Jay Bonin (NY) 1-0

3 points (Greg 3):
FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1/2-1/2

3 points (Greg 2, Arun 1):
IM Dmitry Shneider (QNS) vs FM Bruci Lopez (BAL) 1-0

2 points (Jon 2):
IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 0-1

1 point (Jon 1):
SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1/2-1/2