Saturday, November 24, 2007

Finals Prediction

So Greg Shahade has gotten on my case for being lazy and not doing in-depth predictions for the first two playoff rounds. While my initial instinct, as always, was to just threaten to quit if he didn't get off my back, if I were to do so at this stage I might not get paid for this season and given I’ve put in at least twice as many hours of work as him this season (the guy who calls himself the commissioner hah!) that really would be a tragedy so I suppose I’ll oblige for the finals (even though at this point it's impossible for me to win the prediction contest).

We have the Boston Blitz taking on the Dallas Destiny. Aside from the fact that one of these teams is from the East the other from the West, these teams really could not be different in their makeup. Boston uses underrated players on the bottom two boards to stack the top two boards having virtually two players at the rating cap while Dallas is one of only three teams in the league without a GM, instead relying on the ability to use a 2400+ on Board Three. Also, as has been stated, Boston is almost certainly the most vocal team on the league with their numerous blog sites and video displays while Dallas is likely among the most reserved with almost none of those intangibles. In addition, Boston has been one of the favored teams from the league's inception (and especially favored this season) with their top heavy lineups, and they showed why last season with their 8 – 2 regular season along with repeating as division winners this year. Dallas on the other hand is the reverse to a large degree as they struggled mightily in their first season along with doing so at the beginning of last season before finally hitting their groove (and two players I think largely responsible for that turn around will be competing in the upcoming Finals, Kuljasevic and Stopa). I don’t think most people counted Dallas amongst the favorites this year though (likely since they don’t have any of the “big names” on their lineups like most other teams).

So we have two very different teams who will end up battling, and it seems the general consensus is advantage Boston, but as has been pointed out, the historical makeup of the last two league winners, Baltimore and San Francisco does seem to bode well for Dallas if history is any indicator and as always I would never be quick to jump to any conclusions. Let’s take a look at each board.

Board 1: IM Drasko Boskovic vs GM Larry Christiansen. Boskovic just knocked off league MVP Becerra in dramatic fashion and along with his very nice early season win against Stripunsky, it’s obvious he’s not a player to be underestimated. His results when he’s had White haven’t been quite as impressive (perhaps part of the reason why Boston chose Black for this match), and interestingly Christiansen hasn’t lost a single game with the Black pieces in all three seasons of the league! In addition, Christiansen hasn’t lost any games this season in nine tries despite facing some ridiculously tough competition (by far the hardest competition anyone in the league has faced this year I think, with his best games probably coming against Ibragimov and versus Wolff). I think I have to give him a slight advantage based on those facts. (Slight Edge BOS)

Board 2: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic. As has been mentioned, these two are both having ridiculously strong seasons and will be playing for more than simply being USCL Champions (Board Two All Star, Highest Performance Rating, and a myriad of other things). Although having virtually the same record, stylistically they seem to be very different with Sammour getting into exciting tactical slugfests (like his last week’s Semifinal win against Charbonneau) with Kuljasevic’s victories for the most part seeming to stem from grinding his opponents down in a fairly methodical way (with the notable exception of his impressive win over Tangborn which perhaps should have won Game of the Week). What will happen when the styles of these two players collide? I really am not sure, but I’ll give the advantage to the one with the White pieces. (Slight Edge BOS)

Board 3: IM Jacek Stopa vs NM Denys Shmelov. This board, as mentioned, has been Dallas’s trump this season, and they will almost certainly need a good result here if they want to win this match. Stopa, a Board Two All Star last season, is obviously not a person any Board Three can enjoy sitting down against especially with the Black pieces. Although he hasn’t been quite as active this year as last, he’s still played some impressive games (the best of which I would venture to be his Week 1 win over Bereolos). He’s also probably not the easiest of opponents to prepare for as he’s showcased all of the opening moves 1. e4, 1. d4, 1. Nc3, and 1. Nf3 in his USCL repertoire. Shmelov, the most active player in the league this season, definitely has been no slouch either with his +3 score and definitely seems like someone who will be far from easy to beat with his ultra solid style. He’s also played some great games this year and though I’m not sure which was best, his brutally efficient (albeit somewhat short) victory against Yeager definitely springs to mind. Overall though, given how strong Stopa has seemed to be with the White pieces in his two seasons, I have to give him an advantage. (Edge DAL)

Board 4: NM Chris Williams vs WFM Bayaraa Zorigt. Williams sporting a 6 – 2 record this season is obviously quite a force to be reckoned with on Board Four (especially with White). His strength seems to be his great ability to often tactically outplay his opponents in tricky middlegame positions. His openings have looked a bit shaky at times, but I assume given what is at stake this match, he’ll take great care not to allow that to happen this week. I think his best game of the year likely was his win against Wilson really demolishing a player who’s definitely been amongst the best Board Fours in the league all three seasons. Zorigt seems like a trickier player to nail down as her league games have seemed very up and down. She seems to play well from behind (as witnessed by her first week’s nice save against Wheeler), but she’s also had some shaky moments committing some big oversights to cost herself winning positions. Overall, Williams has just looked too strong on the whole this season and while if Zorigt can really play her best game she has a good shot to score, but Williams has to have the edge here. (Edge BOS)

Over the board, I do agree with most that Boston has the edge (especially considering that if you go by the players’ August ratings, Boston’s team averages 2469 while Dallas is much lower at 2413). Naturally, it never comes down to just that simple fact when dealing with the USCL, but one other thing, which isn’t a factor in other league matches, can also come into play here: the blitz tiebreaker. While this, just like the overall match, can never be a certain result (I don’t think anyone will soon forget the epic battle which ended last season where I venture most would have thought New York had a big edge there due to Charbonneau’s blitz prowess). However, Boston really has two big guns in that regard as both Christiansen and Sammour-Hasbun are known to be phenomenal speed players, and I just don’t know if anyone on the Dallas roster can really match up with them in that category. While from a spectator’s point of view, I really wouldn’t mind seeing the match being decided in that fashion again, something inside me tells me it won’t happen this year. I think Boston wins 2.5 – 1.5.

1 comment:

Vishank said...

i think dallas wins.