Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Arizona Scorpions and Chicago Blaze join the USCL

The United States Chess League is pleased to announce the two expansion teams for 2008. Both of these teams come from areas of large chess activity with plenty of chess stars to keep them competitive and lots of fan support to help their chess communities.

The Arizona Scorpions will be managed by NM Leo Martinez who will also be playing on the team. The Scorpions have already confirmed that IM Levon Altounian, IM Mark Ginsburg, FM Daniel Rensch, and FM Robby Adamson will also be on the team. The Scorpions will be joining the West Division.

Arizona will also become the first team to have two home playing sites. They will have a site in both Phoenix and Tucson, and the players will travel back and forth depending on which playing site happens to be more convenient for them for a particular match (of course all of the players will play from a single location in any given match).

Here is a quote from manager Leo Martinez: "We are honored to be a part of such a prestigious league that is clearly on the rise. The competition involved is clearly amongst the best in the nation, and we are enthusiastic and eager to compete. The Arizona community is excited about our introduction into the league and are confident that we can succeed. The chess community in Phoenix, Tucson, and across the state has always been strong, and this is another opportunity to show this. The depth of strong players across the state that are available is incredible and fitting a team of 8 players will be a challenge as there are many options."

Also joining the West Division will be the Chicago Blaze. Below is a quote from Blaze manager, USCF TD Glenn Panner:

"We are very pleased to introduce the Chicago Blaze into the US Chess League. The Blaze already have commitments from GM Dmitry Gurevich, IM Angelo Young, FM Mehmed Pasalic, and Adam Strunk to compete. The remainder of the roster will be determined at a later time. Glenn Panner will be the manager and Tom Panelas our PR manager. This team would not be possible without Angelo Young, our host at the Touch Move Chess Center, where we will play from. Another key contribution is from Sevan A. Muradian, the 2007 USCF Organizer of the Year, who has stirred the renaissance of Illinois Chess and will be handling our internet connection for the matches."

Because both of the new teams will be joining the West Division, one of the Western teams must move over to the East. The Carolina Cobras will be rejoining the East Division, where they played and qualified for the playoffs in 2006.

The league is very enthusiastic about these teams and looks forward to both being competitive additions to the USCL from the start.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Game of the Year Predictions/Picks

Now that the process for announcing the Wildcards is over, the time to debate which game should win is upon us. Even though I’m not a judge for the Game of the Year (GOTY) Contest this season, I figured why should that deter me from making some picks/predictions about what might occur. The prominent rankings will be based on what I suspect the judges this year might happen to do (though I will also note at the end where I would have ranked each game if given the chance).

In my opinion, I feel the contest for the GOTY winner is much trickier than last season. Although I was quite off in terms of predicting what would actually win the contest last year, I was still fairly certain that there was a batch of games which would definitely wind up being the pick of the litter (and given that the top five games were the same top five games that I picked, though not in the same order, it seems I was right). This year though I’m not nearly as confident in anything of that sort as I simply don’t see any clear front runners to win the contest. But I suppose that’s what will make it the most fun for you readers huh? I don’t plan to give any deep analysis of these games while I rank them since plenty of that was done during the Game of the Week (GOTW) contest, and I’m sure the GOTY Judges will provide much more meaningful insight in that regard than I can. I will merely be focusing on a few simple reasons as to why I think certain games will wind up being about where they are.

Now of course in order to try to predict where the games will finish, the immediate question is: Which amongst the criteria quality, excitement, relevance to match, intrigue, etc. will be considered most important? While there were endless debates during the season about which of these should be considered most pertinent when ranking games for the GOTW award, the only really relevant question at this stage is: What will our judging panel consider most important? Well let's take a brief look at our judges to see what they might hold in the highest regard.

FM Robby Adamson: As the judge who was almost certainly the most prominent watcher of the USCL this season (both via the early Chess.FM coverage and later on), it seems reasonably likely that his picks will favor the excitement factor. In my view, it's much more likely for any person to favor this factor when they view the games first hand as it gives you a completely different perspective to be "in the moment".

NM Dennis Monokroussos: Almost without a doubt the most thorough of judges. Between his Chessbase Shows, his blog, and his being the only judge who analyzed all the entrants last year with a computer (to my knowledge none of the other three judges: GM Shabalov, IM Shahade, or myself used a computer for any of them), I definitely expect him to be the judge who puts the most effort into ranking the games. This might lead one to think that he will favor a game's quality factor (as computers tend to), but his last year's rankings clearly also did consider the games' other attributes. I see his picks being a fair mix of the mentioned factors.

GM Alex Shabalov: As the obvious strongest judge (and based on his last year's rankings), I definitely expect him to favor a game's sheer quality quite heavily. However, there was a nasty rumor floating around last season that most of his time in judging this contest had been spent in dreaming up nicknames for the players (click here for an example) rather than actually looking at the games! While I can't establish any veracity to that rumor, it does seem likely that his commentary this season might give us more of a clue as to whether that has any merit.

WGM Jennifer Shahade: Being the editor of Chess Life Online, Jen clearly understands the balance of posting material which is a proper mix of quality and excitement, and I would guess her rankings will follow that pattern also. As someone who either wrote or proofread an article on the USCL each week she should also be reasonably familiar with all the entrants which should definitely be in her favor. Then again, she is a relative of the Commissioner so that can't be in her favor.

FM Ron Young: The toughest judge to nail down as his only known endeavor in the league, prior to this point, is his entertaining match predictions. How will he function when he has to be serious (at least in terms of his rankings)? Your guess is as good as mine, but I have a feeling we might hear some debates about whether his or GM Shabalov's commentary is more humorous.

A few minor notes. As you might notice, there will be some Wildcard games which I will rank higher in either place than I ranked them in comparison to their GOTW counterpart in that particular week. This could be a result of coming to the belief that I made the wrong pick then or simply my feeling that the judges will happen to hold the game in question in higher regard (or perhaps a combination of the two). Also, for "number of points" in these predictions, that refers to the fact that each judge will assign a game between 1 and 20 points so that's my feeling of about how many points a game will wind up with total. Do also note that I might happen to predict a game to finish lower than another game despite listing the former's probability to finish in the Top Five, its probability to win, or its number of points as higher. This could be a result of either variance (e.g. while I might think the game in question will on average have a lower ranking, in more situations I feel it will wind up in the Top Five), or it could be me simply predicting an upset of some sort.

Ok enough rambling, onto the predictions!

20th Place: IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0. I must say that I was shocked when this game was picked as a Wildcard. Why? Well because I frankly didn’t think it deserved to be in the GOTY contest. And if it doesn’t deserve to be in the contest then why should it do well in it? Simple answer: it shouldn’t.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 100,000
Probability of Winning: 1 / 1,000,000
Number of Points: 7


19th Place: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 0-1. As I stated when this game won GOTW, I personally didn’t think it was even close to deserving it. If it didn’t deserve to win GOTW, why should it do well in GOTY? Err wait, didn’t I just ask a question like this? I suppose I did, but luckily the same answer should suffice: it shouldn’t.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 10,000
Probability of Winning: 1 / 100,000
Number of Points: 11


18th Place: FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 0-1. Despite the fact that this was an exciting game, it seems that there were probably more mistakes late in it than was initially realized. Given those mistakes were the main reason why this game was exciting doesn’t seem likely to sit well with the judges.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 1000
Probability of Winning: 1 / 10,000
Number of Points: 18


17th Place: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0. Even though this was only one of two games which was a unanimous choice for GOTW (the other being the Bhat vs. Nakamura game), I don’t see it getting a high ranking. It simply was not that exciting an affair, and even though the endgame was interesting, given that two time pressure blunders from Black were largely responsible for the result, it seems unlikely the judges will be overly impressed.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 3 / 200
Probability of Winning: 1 / 800
Number of Points: 25


16th Place: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0. This was a fairly exciting encounter, but like the Mikhailuk vs. Schroer struggle, the moves which made this game so interesting really may have been mistakes with Black seemingly missing a couple of chances to get a clear advantage. Once again, that seems unlikely to make a favorable impression on the judges.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 150
Probability of Winning: 1 / 800
Number of Points: 24


15th Place: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 1-0. This game definitely held a large amount of importance being from the Finals and like basically all of Sammour-Hasbun’s games containing some nice tactical tricks. The opening was also very interesting with the piece configuration White had so early in the game not being something that you see every day. But realistically given that it seemed that Black was better for nearly the whole game until the tactical trickery kicked in, I’m not sure the judges will be that enthused.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 75
Probability of Winning: 1 / 400
Number of Points: 33


14th Place: IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0. This was just a very solid performance from White fairly dismantling one of the strongest players in the league. Obviously a good game, but it was fairly one-sided and didn’t contain any especially flashy moves so it just doesn't seem to quite hold a candle to most of the other candidates.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 60
Probability of Winning: 1 / 250
Number of Points: 40


13th Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 1-0. This was a fairly simple yet nice encounter which was a pretty clean game from both ends and had some nice tactics by White along with a fairly interesting finish. A good game to be sure, though I’m skeptical as to whether the things which made it so were any better than many of the other candidates. That being the case, I see a medium to low ranking for this game.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 45
Probability of Winning: 1 / 200
Number of Points: 43


12th Place: IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0. I must confess that I really have no idea where the judges will rank this game, but given it seems uncertain in that regard probably a middle of the road ranking won't be especially far off.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 40
Probability of Winning: 1 / 175
Number of Points: 48


11th Place: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0. This game should have perhaps won GOTW when it had the chance, but it seemed at the time that Black really hadn’t made much of an effort to defend basically assuring that the game was inevitably going to go to White. As it turned out though, it may well have been that Black really just didn’t have a way to defend his position making White’s sacrifices much more impressive than originally thought. Impressive yes, but Nd5 sacs aren’t exactly original in the Najdorf either so I’m not really sure how impressed the judges will be. Putting this in the dead center seems most appropriate.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 2 / 15 (13%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 90
Number of Points: 58


10th Place: IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) 1-0. A very pleasing piece sacrifice by White to force an immediate win and save the New York Knights' season. I’m sure this sac will score several points in the judges’ eyes, but at the same time Black’s somewhat overly cooperative play walking into it might cause it to lose some points too. Another medium type ranking seems the most likely place for this to wind up.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 15 (7%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 125
Number of Points: 55


9th Place: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1-0. This was by far the trickiest game to predict as to where it would end up as I could see it getting a higher or much lower ranking depending on the way the judges look at it. It definitely wasn’t one of the more accurate games, but you don’t exactly see games where a person having a 70-1 time disadvantage and a worse position winds up winning against one of the best blitz players in the world everyday so that has to count for something. Once again, I could see this game getting a wide variety of rankings so placing it near the center of the pack seems like the only safe bet to me. However, the preliminary voting in the GOTY Poll on the USCL Site seems to suggest that many people think this game will achieve a much higher ranking than I've given it (and perhaps even win). As I said, I think this game is a bit of an anomaly in terms of the appeal it has and so won't be especially surprised by nearly any ranking it gets. Overall, I think it just has a few too many mistakes to outweigh its intrigue value and highly doubt we'll see it in the Top Three.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 3 (33%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 30
Number of Points: 69


8th Place: IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1. This game was definitely exciting and quite well played. It probably will get some high marks for Black’s near flawless play both tactically and positionally but once again the fairly one-sided nature of it due in large part to White’s seemingly passive opening might prevent it from getting too high a ranking. One thing that definitely bodes well for it though is that Greg admitted when he chose this as a Wildcard how he'd fouled up when not ranking this in the GOTW contest. Now, while the number of times Greg tends to be wrong on any given day is higher than most people can count, the number of times he's admitted it in his life probably can be counted on most people's fingers so that has to signify something.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 4 (25%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 35
Number of Points: 66


7th Place: IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 0-1. Another somewhat one-sided affair but still a great performance by Black with his thematic exchange sacrifice and very elegant finish. I’m not absolutely positive this game deserves quite so high a ranking, but as Greg pointed out in the comments for that week, Ilya Krasik happened to agree with this game winning GOTW. And if Ilya agrees with it – well you know you definitely stumbled onto something!

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 2 / 5 (40%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 20 (5%)
Number of Points: 73


6th Place: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0. Greg has stated multiple times to me that this game has no chance to even crack the Top 10 in this contest (and thus called me some inappropriate names for picking it as my first Wildcard). While I know Greg doesn’t really get tired of being wrong (for obvious reasons), it seems likely that he doesn’t get nearly as much opportunity to stay in practice during the off-season which probably has a tendency to send him into a state of fair malaise. Hopefully when this game does wind up getting a high ranking, it will be some much needed medicine for him.

I think this game might well make it onto the medal stand, but Friedel has developed a knack for finishing on the edge in these sorts of contests (no one will forget last year after all) – an ability which is hard to shake yourself of once it develops, so why not again here?

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 4 / 9 (44%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 20 (5%)
Number of Points: 72


5th Place: GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 1-0. This game was clearly very interesting and contained some fairly flashy moves. The tricky part about where this game will wind up is how much of a detraction the judges see the somewhat sloppy opening play by White and the “walking into the firestorm” moves by Black to be. Due to those factors, I don’t see this game quite making the tip top in this contest, but given how well White played after the early stages along with the cute tactics, it still has to be pretty high.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 5 / 9 (56%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 10 (10%)
Number of Points: 77


4th Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) 0-1. I must admit I wasn’t completely enthralled by this game. However, it's very clear that a majority of the spectators and the other two GOTW judges were enthralled and if that many people were blown away by it, it seems only logical that some number of the GOTY judges will be also which can only translate to a fairly high ranking.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 2 (50%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 12 (8%)
Number of Points: 76


3rd Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1. This seems very likely to be a medal winner with it just being a well played game throughout – no huge blunders from either side along with a very fascinating ending which endlessly reverted back and forth between "certain draw" and "win for Black" when being debated online. Plus if Charbonneau has shown anything, it’s an ability to win this contest when not expected to (as he did in 2005 and 2006). While I can’t consider him the favorite to three-peat, I won’t be nearly as surprised at him winning this year as I was last year (plus since I ranked his game third place last year also, it could become something of a tradition).

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 3 / 4 (75%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 5 (20%)
Number of Points: 85


2nd Place: FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0. This was another fairly tricky game to predict with the main thing coming down to whether how much the judges will feel the fact that the most surprising moves were a result of home preparation should play into its ranking. When putting that fact aside, to me this game would unquestionably be the best, but will the judges essentially want to give $1000 to "Becerra’s files"? Part of me thinks no so I won’t give this game the top ranking here.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 4 / 5 (80%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 4 (25%)
Number of Points: 88


1st Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0. Yes a game which didn’t even win GOTW is my guess to win GOTY (which just reiterates my early point about how close the contest seems to be this season). The somewhat one-sided nature of this game might once again be a detraction (as it could be for several games), but it still was a basically flawless performance by Becerra just making one nice move after another, never letting his opponent breathe for a second and then finishing the game in flashy style. This seems as worthy a candidate to be GOTY winner as any other.

Probability of finishing in Top Five: 2 / 3 (67%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 6 (17%)
Number of Points: 82


My Rankings (if I'd been a judge this season):

20. IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0
19. IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 0-1
18. FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 0-1
17. NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0
16. IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0
15. IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0
14. SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 1-0
13. IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0
12. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 1-0
11. IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) 1-0
10. IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1-0
9. NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0
8. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) 0-1
7. GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 1-0
6. IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 0-1
5. IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1
4. IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0
3. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0
2. GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1
1. FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0

Be sure to keep tuned to the USCL website and this blog as we release the actual rankings of the games from 20th to 1st a week at a time (if for no reason other than to laugh at how bad my above predictions wound up being).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wildcard Game #7

Wildcard #7: IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0

The selection of this game as the final Wildcard didn't come easily. It was my first suggestion as I felt that it's always impressive when a somewhat lower rated player outplays a GM in such clean and crisp fashion. Jonathan Hilton agreed that he would be fine with this game. However, Arun Sharma was quite against it and felt WFM Iryna Zenyuk (NY) vs NM Chris Williams (BOS) 1-0 should have taken the spot instead.

His reasons were as follows:

1. At least one Board Four game (out of twenty total) deserved to be in the competition, and this was easily the best of that bunch (especially having been played by the top two Board Four All Stars).
2. It was an exciting and energetically played game by Zenyuk with her 24. Rg5! tactic being one of the nicest ideas seen in any USCL Board Four game. There were also a lot of interesting variations behind the scenes, especially Williams's queen sacrifice possibility, 24... Qe6?! (I suspect if Williams had actually made that daring try, whichever player had emerged victorious, this game definitely could have been a top contender in this contest).
3. This game was the key to winning the match for the New York team and without it, it seems very unlikely that the Knights could have still made the post-season.
4. The Smith vs Perelshteyn game was a bit one-sided, didn't really contain any truly surprising moves or ideas, and was the last game in the match to finish after the overall match had already been decided.

The reasons that I preferred the Smith vs Perelshteyn game were:

1. I felt it was a very instructive way of dealing with the Ruy Lopez.
2. Smith played a nearly flawless game, defeating a strong GM with what seemed like relative ease.
3. Philadelphia had a fantastic season, and it seemed appropriate that they should have an entrant in the Game of the Year Contest.

After plenty of arguing back and forth, we finally decided to just let Jonathan Hilton decide between those two games since the two of us were clearly never going to agree. As Jonathan didn't seem to tremendously favor either game, letting him pick seemed to be the easiest and most equitable solution. In the end, he chose the Smith vs Perelshteyn game. Despite his decision, I feel that both games would have been worthy entrants in the Game of the Year Contest.

Below we have listed the five games that "just missed" joining the contest:

21. WFM Iryna Zenyuk (NY) vs NM Chris Williams (BOS) 1-0

22. NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

23. IM Irina Krush (NY) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 0-1

24. GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Ildar Ibragimov (QNS) 1-0

25. GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0

So there you have it! The twenty Game of the Year Entrants are:

Week 1: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 0-1 Article

Week 2: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0 Article

Week 3: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1-0 Article

Week 4: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1 Article

Week 5: FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 0-1 Article

Week 6: GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 1-0 Article

Week 7: IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Ron Burnett (TEN) 0-1 Article

Week 8: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Ron Burnett (TEN) 1-0 Article

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

Week 10: IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) 1-0 Article

Wildcard Round: FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0 Article

Semifinals: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) 0-1 Article

Championship: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic 1-0 Article

Wildcard #1: IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #2: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #3: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #4: IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #5: IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1 Article

Wildcard #6: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #7: IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0 Article

Which of these twenty games will win the Game of the Year Contest and the $1000 Grand Prize? Only time will tell as we will be eliminating one game every week, starting in early January 2008.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wildcard Game #6

Wildcard #6: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0

Arun Sharma: For the second time Greg Shahade managed to choose the game I had planned to pick in this spot (despite all of the negative reactions to Jonathan Hilton's last pick, you readers should realize how much *I* like having him around, after all I KNOW he'll never steal my next pick!). In any case, this was quite a suitable next choice for me as Molner played a nice game featuring a very good double piece sacrifice via which he essentially froze his opponent's position completely leaving him helpless to defend against the eventual breakthrough despite his material edge. This seems like a definite worthy contender.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wildcard Game #5

Wildcard #5: IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1

Greg Shahade: I made a mistake in Week 8 when I didn't rank this game in my Game of the Week selections. It was clearly deserving and in retrospect I actually believe it should have won the prize. Fortunately for Davorin I don't have so much pride that I'm not willing to admit my mistakes! Kuljasevic played a nearly flawless game and although White was a bit helpful, Black conducted the attack very nicely and there were some simple but cute tactical blows at the end.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wildcard Game #4

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

Jonathan Hilton: I thought pretty hard about this selection, and I realize it's a bit of a gambit. There are *so many* clean wins to choose from that I'm hedging my bets on the judges getting bored of quality play and indulging themselves to just pick the goriest game of the year. Bonin vs Shmelov was much more of a dogfight than any of those clean wins, and it actually had an endgame – a really horrific one, too. If the judges have a temperament like I do, they're going to realize USCL games have fighting spirit, and that's what this pick personifies. It was a good game and a real slugfest!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wildcard Game #3

Wildcard #3: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0

Arun Sharma: I personally felt this season the league contained a fairly low number of games which were both high quality and exciting, and to me this game was definitely one of the few which fell into that category. As such, it was an obvious choice to pick this as a Wildcard.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wildcard Game #2

Wildcard #2: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0

Greg Shahade: A fantastic win by Becerra against a very tough opponent. Even Julio himself felt that this was his best game of the season. This game could have easily won Game of the Week, but the Christiansen - Wolff game nudged it out by one point. The Game of the Year Judges will let us know whether we made the right choice...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wildcard Game #1

Wildcard #1: IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: This game has many of the key features I would be looking for as a GOTY judge. Zilberstein’s victory was over well-respected leaguer John Bartholomew, and it was crisp, decisive, and well-played both from a positional and tactical standpoint. His maneuver Qe2-e4-g4 was particularly impressive, but every single move of Zilberstein’s attack was well-played just in general. Although the moves after move 34 may seem anticlimactic, Zilberstein was careful to add in a queen sack at the very end to keep what was a very easy win fresh and lively. ;) Without Zilberstein’s crushing victory, San Francisco could not have beaten Dallas in the match - and considering Dallas won the League, well, that’s got to mean something!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Game of the Year Preview

I already outlined in a previous post what will be involved in the Game of the Year Contest, but now that the season is officially over, and this will be the main attraction of the off season, I'll give you readers the complete scoop on what exactly will happen.

First off, there will be twenty games in this contest with prizes going to the top five which are:

1st: $1000
2nd: $500
3rd: $300
4th: $200
5th: $100

The scoring for this year's contest will be the same system as used last year. Each judge will rank their choices in order from 1st - 20th with the game they pick 20th getting 1 point, 19th getting 2 points, and so on with 1st getting 20 points and then the games are ranked by highest total score. The games will be released in the same fashion as last year: one game per week starting with 20th up to 1st (and for those wondering, yes that means that no one other than the Commissioner will know which game won until the middle of May!). Note my stressing that only the Commissioner will be privy to the overall results (this goes out to all who were pestering me last year trying to get inside information about which game won ahead of time -- understand now, I know nothing!).

The five judges for this year's contest are:

FM Robby Adamson
NM Dennis Monokroussos
GM Alex Shabalov
WGM Jennifer Shahade
FM Ron Young

Now, as noted above, there will be twenty games in this year's contest compared to only thirteen last year. The seven additional games (along with the thirteen Games of the Week) are the "Wildcard" games picked by the three Game of the Week judges: Jonathan Hilton, Greg Shahade, and myself. This was a fairly straightforward process with Jonathan getting the first pick, Greg the second, and myself the third. We then repeated this process to bring us up to six Wildcards. The final game we obtained via an email debate amongst the three of us (and trust me it wasn't pretty with many names and insults being thrown around in the process). But we finally did manage to come to an agreement on the final game, and so all the Wildcard selections are complete.

Well what are they you ask? Unfortunately, as is Greg's wont, you will have to endure a bit more torture before you find out as we will be releasing them in two day intervals starting in the next day or so. So keep an eye out to see if your favorite game which didn't manage to win Game of the Week will have a chance to redeem itself in the Game of the Year Contest!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Prizes

We have instituted two new honors in the USCL this season: The Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Improved Player Award.

The Rookie of the Year Award will go to a player who has never played a USCL game prior to the season and has demonstrated excellence with his or her results.

The Most Improved Player Award will go to the player whom we feel has improved the most upon their performance from the previous season.

This year's Rookie of the Year Award goes to SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS). Jorge, the top All Star for Board 2, finished the season with an amazing record of 6.5 / 7, leading his team to the brink of a USCL Championship, only to be foiled after a long tiebreak against Dallas.

This year's Most Improved Player Award goes to FM Todd Andrews (TEN). Todd had an season he wanted to forget in 2006, finishing with only a half point out of eight games. In 2007 Todd finally seemed to get the hang of the USCL, finishing the season with a strong 5 / 9 record with nearly a 2500 performance rating, a 400 point upswing from the previous season! His 2007 resume included victories over IM Jonathan Schroer, FM Marcel Martinez, and IM Larry Kaufman.

While there are no financial bonuses for these new awards in 2007, these awards will be given out in every future season, and we expect to include small bonuses in 2008. Congratulations to the two winners!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

2007 Board Four All Stars

If you are wondering what criteria was used to determine these All Stars, please refer to the first post on the subject.

1st Team: WFM Iryna Zenyuk (NY). A fitting final member of the First All Star Team as Iryna’s selection means that all four Semifinalists have one first team member. This was probably the closest decision amongst all the All Stars, but after examining the evidence in entirety it seemed that Iryna was the correct choice. Her only real competition for this spot was Boston’s NM Chris Williams. Let’s take a look at the resumes of both players:

(a) Win Percentage / Number of Games Played: Iryna's win percentage was 69% while Chris's was 67%, and Iryna played 8 games while Chris played 9. This is basically even.

(b) Performance Rating: This is a clear edge to Iryna as her performance rating was about 50 points higher than Chris’s (2398 to 2345).

(c) Head to Head record? The series was tied 1-1, however Chris won in the more important Semifinal encounter (though at the same time Iryna's win was probably the more impressively played game as it nearly won Game of the Week). Because of the more clutch win though, this is a slight edge to Chris.

(d) Would their team have suffered greatly without them on the team? This seemed to be a wash. Although Matthew Herman and Ilya Krasik had shaky seasons in 2007 (though neither played an excessive amount), they both performed quite well in 2006 so it seems likely that both teams would have been equally affected without Zenyuk or Williams. This category is also about even.

(e) Did the candidate take a draw for the team due to the match situation? Chris never did so, but Iryna did so on two occasions. Her more controversial one was her draw against NM Parker Zhao, clinching a match victory against Queens. In fact this draw turned out to be a pretty big blunder as if Baltimore had won the final match, this draw could have cost New York the playoffs due to having fewer tiebreak points. In a league like this where tiebreaks so often play a big part, it was likely a huge mistake to take a draw in such an unloseable position, and so we don’t give Iryna too much credit for this result. However, please note that this may have come at the behest or her team or manager; we really don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding it. She also drew her game against NM Evan Ju in the final week where if she had gone into their endgame with the knowledge that she needed to win, her chances of doing so may have been reasonable. Instead she only needed a draw to send New York to the postseason, and although it took over 100 moves, she did so without much trouble. It’s clear that Iryna has an edge in this category also.

There were other qualifications as well (such as Iryna playing an equal number of Whites and Blacks while Chris had twice as many Whites as Blacks), but overall it seemed the only real edge that Chris had over Iryna was that his victory in their head to head series was the more important one while Iryna seemed to have an edge in several categories and thus seemed to be the better candidate for the top spot. Like several other All Star choices though this was tremendously close and likely would have been changed with a half point difference anywhere.

Iryna should be given a lot of credit for the Knights making it as far as they did since when she came home from Ukraine to join New York, they were a team in fair disarray, especially on fourth board. Her inspired fourth board play is what really catapulted the Knights back into contention, into the playoffs, and eventually to the Semifinals.

Record: 5.5 / 8 (69%)

Performance Rating: 2398

2nd Team: NM Chris Williams (BOS). We have already examined Chris’s resume up above. As noted, Chris almost certainly would have won this award by either winning or drawing his final game (probably also if he'd drawn or won his tiebreak game against Stopa). Although the season ended on a disappointing note for him, there should be no debate as to how vital he was to the Boston team, coming up big for them on several occasions, including the Semifinals, as he sported a fantastic 6 - 2 record prior to the Finals.

Record: 6 / 9 (67%)

Performance Rating: 2345

3rd Team: WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL). This was rather tricky as there frankly were really not any attractive candidates for this spot since no person eligible to be an All Star on this board (other than the two listed above) had a better than +1 score (while all the other boards had an excess of eligible people with a better than +1 score). In the end, Bayaraa made it fairly easy to choose her amongst the +1 candidates as she scored a far bigger win than any of the other candidates: a victory in the Finals to save the match for the Dallas Destiny, without which they obviously would not be USCL Champions. She was also a big part of Dallas's success due to the flexibility she allowed them as they had no lineups where they could use IM Stopa (a first team All Star) on Board 3 without her holding down Board 4.

Record: 3.5 / 6 (58%)

Performance Rating: 2240

Other Candidates: If Bayaraa had not been victorious in the USCL Final, the third spot would probably have gone to Joshua Sinanan (SEA) (3.5 / 6) or Gregory Young (SF) (3 / 5). Note that NM Parker Zhao (QNS) (3 / 5) would have generally been a fine candidate, however he played Board 3 for over half of his matches and so was ineligible to be a Board 4 All Star.

In summary, the All Star Teams are:

1st Team:

1. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) (2600)
2. SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) (2558)
3. IM Jacek Stopa (DAL) (2414)
4. WFM Iryna Zenyuk (NY) (2173)

Average Rating: 2436

2nd Team:

1. GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) (2653)
2. IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) (2489)
3. NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) (2251)
4. NM Chris Williams (BOS) (2175)

Average Rating: 2392

3rd Team:

1. GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) (2663)
2. IM Vinay Bhat (SF) (2465)
3. IM Jay Bonin (NY) (2340)
4. WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL) (2196)

Average Rating: 2416

Congratulations once again to everyone who made the All Star Team. To all reading, be sure to keep an eye out on the USCL Site as well as this blog as we will soon be announcing the Wildcard Games for the Game of the Year Contest (and of course starting the Game of the Year Contest soon after) along with announcing who the two expansion teams for next season will be!

Monday, December 3, 2007

2007 Board Three All Stars

If you are wondering what criteria was used to determine these All Stars, please refer to the first post on the subject.

1st Team: IM Jacek Stopa (DAL). This was the most competitive board from top to bottom as there were three very reasonable choices to take the top spot. In the end, due in large part to his USCL Final heroics, the nod was given to Jacek. Jacek scored 4.5 / 6 without a single loss during the season and finished with a 2555 performance rating, by far the highest of any active third board. While he didn’t play as many games as his All Star competitors, his performance in the blitz tiebreaker of the Finals carried him over the edge. In the tiebreak match, Stopa knocked out three of Boston’s four players (albeit with the first two of those knockouts occurring in fairly ridiculous fashion), leaving a much easier task for Dallas’s top two boards, which was undoubtedly huge in giving them the title. Due to Jacek’s high performance rating and tiebreak performance, it seemed that he was the most deserving of the top spot despite the relatively low number of games he played. In the end it must be admitted that this decision was extremely close though as if he had lost the third tiebreak game or failed to win either of the first two, this spot would have perhaps gone to someone else.

Record: 4.5 / 6 (75%)

Performance Rating: 2555

2nd Team: NM Denys Shmelov (BOS). Denys had an incredible season for the Boston Blitz, scoring 7 / 11 with a performance rating of 2471. Some would probably even say that he deserved to be on the first team due to the fact that he played 11 of 12 matches and was really the rock of the Boston team. It was close enough that if Shmelov had even drawn his tiebreak game against Stopa, he probably would have been on the first team. However, it was hard to put him ahead of a player who was really the main instrument at the end in winning his team the USCL title. Denys lost only one game the entire season, and that was in the Semifinal after Boston had already clinched the match (a game which he almost certainly would not have lost had he needed to draw for his team). While the value of this loss wasn’t as important as it normally was due to this factor, it should also be noted that Shmelov was the recipient of a win due to a mouseslip in Week 2. While he very well may have drawn that game, there was little chance that he would have won had the game progressed normally and due to the close nature of the decision, this also factored against him.

In all, Denys had a truly fantastic season for the Blitz. Denys’s low incoming rating was a huge boost to Boston as they would have been unable to stack the top two boards without having him to hold down Board 3, and there is almost no chance that the Blitz would have had the success that they did without him. He definitely goes down as one of the most valuable Board 3’s in the first three seasons of the league, but now that he sports a rating of around 2400, the Blitz will likely have to find a slightly different use for him in 2008.

Record: 7 / 11 (64%)

Performance Rating: 2471

3rd Team: IM Jay Bonin (NY). As time goes by, Jay only seems to get stronger. After a subpar 2006 campaign, Jay came storming back in 2007 with a +3 record and some crucial wins for the Knights. Jay defeated NM Mackenzie Molner in the final week of the regular season, a win which was instrumental in giving the Knights a playoff berth, and he followed that up with a big win in the Wildcard Round over 2006 All Star, IM Richard Costigan. His game against Molner was so impressive that it won Game of the Week Honors.

In case you are wondering why Jay finished in third place (and not higher), let’s quickly examine the reasons. Jay had an advantage over Shmelov in that he won his final three games, two of which were in the playoffs, while Shmelov sputtered a bit during the postseason (one loss, one draw). Jay also had a higher performance rating than Shmelov as well as a higher win percentage. Despite all of this, Shmelov made the 2nd team ahead of Jay for one because of his consistency level during the season and because Jay’s Semifinal win against Shmelov was a bit tainted (as mentioned above). So while Jay won the game on paper, in reality the result had no effect on the match, and Shmelov held a 1.5 / 2 advantage in their other head to head games. Shmelov's league rating was also close to 100 points lower than Jay's, and he was really invaluable to his team in terms of the lineup flexibility that he allowed them while Jay didn't seem to hold quite that same importance as New York definitely had some very strong lineups using IM Robert Hess or FM Marc Arnold on Board 3 also. Those factors along with the fact that Shmelov played eleven games compared to Bonin's eight compelled us to give Shmelov the second spot. In any case though, just as between the 1st and 2nd Team, this was a very close decision where a half point difference anywhere likely would have switched the decision.

Record: 5.5 / 8 (69%)

Performance Rating: 2506

Other Candidates: IM John Donaldson (SF) (3.5 / 5) was the closest to making the team, however there was little debate about who should comprise the top three, the only real question to the judges seemed to be what the order should be. John had a very fine record including a game that he almost surely could have won in Week 9, but he instead took a draw for the team. One of the main problems was that he didn't seem to play in the most important matches of the season for his team, and when a player doesn't play in the most high pressure matches, it’s hard to truly classify them as an All Star. The fact that he played only five games counted against him as well.

FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) (5.5 / 9) also had a very good season, but his resume just wasn't quite as impressive as the three All Stars. A lot of credit should also go out to NM Parker Zhao (QNS) (3 / 5), who played quite well on Board 3 despite being severely outrated in nearly all of his games.

Stay tuned as we will be announcing the All Stars for Board 4 in the next day or two!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

2007 Board Two All Stars

If you are wondering what criteria was used to determine these All Stars, please refer to the first post on the subject.

1st Team: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS). This selection was a no brainer. Jorge finished the season with an amazing record of 6.5 / 7, capping it off with an exciting victory over his main competitor IM Davorin Kuljasevic. Jorge’s performance rating was a whopping 2833 (the highest of any active player in the league this year), and his only draw came against GM Hikaru Nakamura, the one match that he played on first board. Sammour-Hasbun also became the first Boston player to defeat GM Pascal Charbonneau in their Semifinal victory.

Record: 6.5 / 7 (93%)

Performance Rating: 2833

2nd Team: IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL). This was also a very easy choice for the judges. Davorin was an absolute machine for Dallas all season long, having been nicked for only a single draw in seven tries prior to stumbling in the Finals. Davorin showed that he really meant business when he became the first USCL player in three seasons to defeat IM Vinay Bhat. His smooth win against IM Blas Lugo in the SemiFinal also helped propel Dallas to the Championship Match. Overall, it was a very memorable season from Kuljasevic.

Record: 6.5 / 8 (81%)

Performance Rating: 2703

3rd Team: IM Vinay Bhat (SF). Vinay was considered an unbeatable legend in the USCL, until his mystique was finally broken by IM Kuljasevic in Week 10, and then again by IM Blas Lugo in the Wildcard Round. Before these two losses, Vinay had reeled off six straight league victories (along with going fourteen straight league games without a loss dating back to 2005), with the most memorable one definitely being his win over GM Hikaru Nakamura while sporting a 70-1 time disadvantage.

Record: 6 / 8 (75%)

Performance Rating: 2689

Other Candidates: Board 2 was easily the most impressive group in 2007 with the three All Stars having by far the highest win percentages compared to the other boards along with there being several other top performances which normally would have been very worthy of the All Star Team. IM Irina Krush (NY) (4.5 / 7) and IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) (5 / 9) were two players who had very strong seasons, with both sporting performance ratings above 2550. FM Todd Andrews (TN) (5 / 9) also had a huge turnaround from his disappointing 2006 season, almost single handedly making the Tennessee Tempo a competitive team in every match. While these three all had very good seasons, the competition on Board 2 was simply too stiff, and the three All Stars listed above just performed too well in 2007.

Stay tuned as in the next couple of days we will be announcing the All Stars for the remaining two boards!