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).