Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Night Predictions -- Week 6

As we go deeper and deeper into the season, each match's importance only magnifies. To start things off, we have New York taking on Seattle. The Knights at 1 – 4 are clearly treading on the brink of playoff elimination. Obviously not a good position to be in, but if any team has shown an ability to overcome such a deficit, it's New York and interestingly enough, when at the same record last season, a Week 6 win against the very same Sluggers was what started New York's amazing comeback and eventual Semifinal birth. Seattle clearly has other ideas in mind for this year, bringing both of their big guns to the table, undoubtedly intent on reversing the trend that New York has set for this matchup in their first two meetings. Let's look at each board.

New York vs Seattle

Board 1: Fedorowicz vs Nakamura. Nakamura has gotten off to a flying start this season, defeating two strong GMs, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind continuing the trend against his old team. Typically in these GM vs GM showdowns, I almost never can in good conscience put the White player at a disadvantage, but I have to think this is an exception, especially considering that the time control for this game (G/60) is faster than usual for New York (which obviously favors Nakamura). I still think a draw is the most likely outcome, but Nakamura definitely seems like the more likely one to break through should that occur. (Slight Edge SEA)

Board 2: Serper vs Krush. Well, Krush has owned Seattle both times the teams have previously met, but I recall people taking pity on those who would face Gulko on Board Two with Black, and I feel the same way for those who face Serper under the same circumstances. (Edge SEA)

Board 3: Bonin vs Milat. Without a doubt, an extreme key for New York. Bonin came up with a few big wins late last season to help the Knights, and it seems very likely that if the Knights want to win here, that a win on this board is paramount. Milat has looked very solid in his few league outings, but I have a feeling Jay might rise to the occasion, and he has the White pieces. (Slight Edge NY)

Board 4: May vs Rosenberg. May had a very promising first game in the USCL while Rosenberg probably would like to erase the memory of his only game this season. Not exactly a ton of information to go on so the old fashioned approach of the latter player having the Black pieces in exchange for a slight rating advantage puts this where one might expect. (Even)

Unlike most matches, this one definitely seems to contain an over the board edge to one of the two teams. I might be inclined to balance that against the fact that New York has owned this match the first two times, but running through the likely outcomes of each board, it just keeps adding up to one thing to me - a Seattle victory, and one can't ignore basic arithmetic. Seattle 2.5 – 1.5

Arizona vs San Francisco

The same lineup that was brutalized by Boston last week returns to seek redemption this week for the Mechanics against the Scorpions, who still have to be stinging a bit from not being able to knock off the Cobras after being so close.

Board 1: Barcenilla vs Bhat. A tough one to call for sure. Barcenilla has looked quite solid in his first two games, but he (nor can pretty much anyone) can't match Bhat's incredible USCL record. In one sense, Arizona has a rating advantage and the White pieces here, but it's still too hard to bet against Vinay. (Even)

Board 2: Pruess vs Ginsburg. Ginsburg will undoubtedly be looking to atone for his tragic blunder last week, but taking on Pruess with Black isn't an easy task for anyone (well, except me perhaps since I basically own Pruess), but fortunately (for me), Ginsburg isn't me. (Edge SF)

Board 3: Rensch vs Shankland. Rensch has had two sub par performances in the League so far, and if there were a time to change that, it would have to not call it this match, as if Arizona really wants to claim an edge on any board, to me it has to be here. I do think they have one, but given the League Records of the two competitors, I can only call it a small one. (Slight Edge ARZ)

Board 4: Naroditsky vs Martinez. Well Naroditsky has a pretty fair rating advantage and has White so this one seems pretty easy to guess. (Edge SF)

Like the other match, I do think one of the teams definitely has an edge over the board (of course, given the Mechanics vastly underrated Boards Three and Four, that's not exactly atypical for them). I have a feeling also that their team will be very eager to erase the memory of last week and will likely do so in a big way, San Francisco 3 – 1

(FM Ron Young predicts both Seattle and San Francisco to win 2.5 – 1.5).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prediction Results -- Week 5

Finally a reasonable week for us predictors with the scores peaking up this week after several weeks of severe mediocrity (or incompetence depending on how harsh you want to be). I'm happy to have crawled out of the basement for now even though I'm fairly certain someone (probably Greg) is trying to sabotage me, as I was tragically robbed of the points I clearly deserved but failed to get via the ridiculous fashion in which the Arizona vs Carolina match ended in. Putting that aside, here's how it looks right now.

Totals after Week 5:

Ron Young: 40 Points (+9 This Week)
Bioniclime: 36 Points (+10)
Arun Sharma: 34 Points (+10)
Ed Scimia: 33 Points (+7)

QNS over NY 3 – 1

AS/RY: QNS 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL/ES: Tie +0

MIA ties TEN 2 – 2

AS/RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +0
BL/ES: TEN 2.5 – 1.5 +0

NJ over PHI 3 – 1

BL/ES/RY: Correct +4
AS: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +2

CHC over BAL 2.5 – 1.5

ES/RY: Correct +3
AS: CHC 3 – 1 +2
BL: CHC 3.5 – 0.5 +2

BOS over SF 3 – 1

BL/AS: Tie +0
ES/RY: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +0

SEA ties DAL 2 – 2

AS: Correct +4
ES: SEA 2.5 – 1.5 +0
BL/RY: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

ARZ ties CAR 2 – 2

BL: Correct +4
AS: ARZ 2.5 – 1.5 +0
ES/RY: CAR 2.5 – 1.5 +0

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Power Rankings -- Week 5

Two very disparate divisions have cropped up with the most recent week's results, with both the first and fourth place teams in the East (Queens and Carolina) currently having a fairly incredible one and a half match lead in the race for the division title and the final playoff spot, respectively. When it generally comes down to the last week (at least for the final playoff spot certainly), with tiebreakers often needed, to decide those matters, such leads only halfway through the season are really quite an anomaly, especially considering how balanced the East has been throughout the League. On the flip side, the West has a whopping four teams tied in the races for the last playoff spots, with the division leaders not being far ahead, really making anything possible. It should be very interesting to see if the East standings can maintain their current structure, or if one of the 1 – 4 teams can make a crazy run in the second half of the season to make a race of it. Likewise, with such a mass of teams in the West all in good position to claim a spot, it's really anyone's guess who might emerge from that mass to make it to the playoffs.

1st: Queens Pioneers (5.0 – 0.0) (+1 from last week). I stated that once I felt Queens had clinched their playoff spot, I might promote them to the top spot and as they've done that (well, I suppose it's conceivable to design a set of results where at 5
– 5 they would not end up making it, but I for one am certainly not going to try), I have done just that (of course, San Francisco stumbling made it pretty easy also!). As Alex Lenderman noted in his blog, the focus for them now naturally is winning the division, as given their one and a half match lead, to not do so would definitely be quite a disappointment at this stage. Their big rematch with the second place Knockouts is coming up in Week 7, and a win there could well for all intents and purposes, clinch the division for the Pioneers should they achieve it. (Win Division: 66%, Make Playoffs: 100%), (Combined Current Record of Remaining Opponents: 14 – 11)

2nd: San Francisco Mechanics (3.5 – 1.5) (-1). It's very rare for the Mechanics to have a match as forgettable as I'm sure last week's was, as they could well have been swept had things gone slightly differently. Hopefully for them they got all the bad performances out of the way in that one match and can bounce back quickly since they clearly seem to be headed for a stiff fight with Dallas for the division title, and another loss might push them back into some of the logjam of the four currently 0.500 teams in the West. (33%, 89%), (12 – 13)

3rd: Dallas Destiny (3.5 – 1.5) (+0). Another very solid performance from the Destiny, albeit coming in a drawn effort rather than a win. Dallas just continues to look very tough all around, and with them now having Vazirova on the main roster and can now regularly use a strong IM on Board Three (especially in the postseason), the extra flexibility they now possess can only make them more dangerous. (32%, 87%), (10.5 – 14.5)

4th: New Jersey Knockouts (3.5 – 1.5) (+0). One of the quickest team victories for the Knockouts this week against the struggling Inventors puts New Jersey in prime playoff position, unless a big collapse allows one of the currently 1
– 4 teams to catch them. It's not unreasonable for them at this point to look higher towards trying to win the division title, but to get that, their Week 7 rematch with Queens is essentially a must win. (20%, 91%), (12 – 13)

5th: Boston Blitz (3.0 – 2.0) (+1). The Blitz team of recent years showcased itself as we'd come to expect in such a dominating win against the team many felt to be the best in the league. A definite relieving sign for them as two consecutive losses and then being matched against the Mechanics seemed to have a gloomy outlook to it, but Boston clearly showed they are still capable of what has made them so successful in the last two years. They now face four consecutive teams who currently sit at 1
– 4 and if anything can be a good opportunity to gain ground on the division leading Pioneers, one has to think that is. (12%, 79%), (9 – 16)

6th: Seattle Sluggers (2.5 – 2.5) (+2). A solid draw for the Sluggers against the defending Champions places them in the conglomerate of teams fighting for third in the West. There's little to say in terms of the keys to them successfully emerging out of that mass other than just to play well, and it should be an interesting test taking on the Knights and the Mechanics in the next two weeks, two teams the Sluggers have definitely struggled against in the past. (10%, 58%), (10.5 – 14.5)

7th: Miami Sharks (2.5 – 2.5) (-2). Like Seattle there's little to tell about Miami being caught in the huge tie in the West other than suggesting to them that winning would be a very good idea, especially considering their next two matches are both against teams which they are currently caught in that huge tie with, Chicago and Arizona. (9%, 56%), (15.5 – 9.5)

8th: Chicago Blaze (2.5 – 2.5) (+1). Chicago continues to look strong and very solid, but given the current competition, that might not alone be enough to get them to the promise land, as with such a deadlock currently, the teams that can reach really far down when it really counts are the ones who will emerge from the West. (8%, 53%), (14.5 – 10.5)

9th: Arizona Scorpions (2.5 – 2.5) (-2). While a draw against the Cobras is certainly not a super disappointing result, considering the fashion in which it was achieved definitely has to be quite disappointing for the Scorpions. In a league as balanced as the USCL, squeezing every possible point you can in every match becomes so important, and letting that half point go against Carolina and putting themselves in that huge tie as well, instead of having a leg up on it, is naturally a disappointment. But they have to move on as best they can, as they too are facing two teams they are currently in the large tie in the West with in two of their next three matches. (8%, 52%), (13.5 – 11.5)

10th: Carolina Cobras (2.5 – 2.5) (+0). While I felt at the beginning of the season (and still now) that Carolina didn't have quite the firepower of the other East teams (which is why I picked them to finish last), they certainly have displayed a far greater ability to play consistently than any of the three 1
– 4 teams languishing below them. I know I certainly wouldn't have expected them to have a one and a half point lead in the playoff race at this stage of the year, but they do and clearly they must utilize it. It certainly won't be easy as they still have to face Queens twice, and it seems reasonably certain that at least one of Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York will catch fire in the second half of the season and give them a run for their money so they still have their work cut out for them. (2%, 62%), (15.5 – 9.5)

11th: Baltimore Kingfishers (1.0 – 4.0) (+0). It had to be a fervent hope that the Kingfishers would not have to play any matches without a GM at the top as they did three times last season, as it's hard to realistically claim that that might not have made a real difference in their final standing, and likewise it's difficult to say that that might not have made a difference in their result this week also as they nearly drew the match in spite of that. Nevertheless, it is done, and they are running out of time to be able to recover so one can only hope that won't happen again. (0%, 24%), (11 – 14)

12th: Philadelphia Inventors (1.0 – 4.0) (+0). While having a tough schedule was obviously something expected from their last year's success, having to face the highest rated lineup in league history last week probably seemed a bit excessive. Like Baltimore though, what's done is done, and they too are running out of time. It certainly isn't going to get any easier though with them still having to face the Blitz twice, a team they've really struggled against throughout the league. (0%, 23%), (13 – 12)

13th: New York Knights (1.0 – 4.0) (+0). An eerily similar yet obviously not desired spot for the Knights who started last season at 1
– 4 also. They certainly showed then that they are capable of recovering such a start, but once again fighting against the variance that digging yourself into such a hole creates has a way of catching up eventually, and this may well be the year that the Knights miss the postseason for the first time. (0%, 21%), (11 – 14)

14th: Tennessee Tempo (1.0 – 4.0) (+0). Once again a lineup with Ehlvest proved its mettle for the team, especially with his individual win being the saving grace for the team. A solid result once again, but they too are still in a big hole with time not being on their side. Hopefully, with their GM's continued prescence they can start squeezing out some match wins very soon and keep themselves in the game for a playoff spot. (0%, 5%), (13 – 12)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Week 5 Game of the Week

This year we have three judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $100 bonus prize, second place $50, and third place $30. Our three judges are: IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and NM Jonathan Hilton. Click here for more details.


1st Place: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM David Pruess (SF) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: Sammour-Hasbun showed tremendous foresight (or perhaps simply attacking intuition) when he played the move that launched a thousand ships -- 12. Nb5!!? This move could easily be seen as a waste of time; sure, White can penetrate d6, but there is no way for the Knight to stay there. Yet on move 15, Sammour laid everything on the line with 15. f5!!?, sacrificing two pawns for what I believed at first to be a less-than-impressive attack. By move 25, ten moves later, it was unclear what White had accomplished. He'd sunk the g6 pawn into Black's position, but all of his positional pressure came at the price of two pawns.

Yet White slowly developed his pieces, organizing, coordinating -- until suddenly, it became clear Black could do nothing to stop White's inevitable breakthrough. Perhaps Pruess had some chance to activate, to break up the position with an ...e5 strike, but if so, he didn't take it. 31. Nxe6!!, and White was winning. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: This week wasn't a close decision, great game by Jorge and flashy as well. 31. Nxe6 was a nice shot. I suspect that the judges will win the poll comfortably this week... (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Though I had trouble finding five games I thought were super deserving of being my Top Five this week, first place was definitely not an issue this time. This year I feel the amount of games which have been both exciting and quite high quality has been very low, and this game definitely fit the bill for me in both regards. As he often does, in a fairly tame position Sammour-Hasbun found a very nice tactic with 31. Nxe6!, neatly crashing through Black's position after which the g-pawn, who's advance hadn't seemed to accomplish much, quickly became deadly. (1st Place: 5 points)

Total Score of Sammour-Hasbun vs Pruess: 15 points


2nd Place: FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) vs GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) 0-1

Jonathan Hilton: Lopez seemed to have the upper hand in this one until he mishandled the position with 28. Rc8?!, trading two Rooks for a Queen. Simply building the position some other way would have undoubtedly worked out better, and White certainly would have stood no worse. Yet I'm still ranking this as my second game because of Ehlvest's spectacular finish with 24... Rc1+!! with the follow-up 26... Bh2! Black's Rook, Knight, and Bishop work in beautiful harmony to attack the White pieces. 37. g4 seemed more or less forced, and if there is some better defense for White, it must be around move 39, yet I haven't found it myself. 40... Rc3!! is a nice shot, effectively ending the game by bringing about the pawn-up endgame after the intermezzo 41... Bxd4!! Ehlvest's endgame technique, of course, appears to have been flawless. Although the middlegame play in this game is not very inspirational, I still think this game had a truly exciting finish! (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: I like how Ehlvest always seems to win in the USCL no matter what. He used a few nice tactical motifs at the end to force the victory. Perhaps I rated this game slightly too high, as both sides could have surely improved at many moments, however I felt that some of the mistakes in the other contending games were worse.

Also, I'd like to note that I really liked the games that I chose 4th + 5th. If only there weren't such huge blunders at the end, those games probably would have been ranked very highly.
I'm willing to forgive a blunder or two in this league though, which is why I ranked them at all, as it's just so hard to not mess up in such tense situations in a relatively quick time control. They were both super exciting games, with both players really going all out and playing quite well it seemed until an eventual collapse by one player at the end. (3rd Place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: This was basically my sixth place game which I strongly considered ranking, but in the end decided not to. For one, as Jonathan notes, I felt White was better for most of the game until the idea of winning the Queen for two Rooks came about. I disagree with Jonathan about 26... Bh2 being an ! move as it seemed like a mistake to me (and was definitely a reason why I chose not to rank this game) with 26... Bd2 seeming more natural, making it harder for the King to hide on g2. After that, it seemed like White had strong drawing chances for several moves. Perhaps Black was still winning even then, but overall it just seemed to me that the game had too many big swings (especially for a Board One game) to be ranked highly. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Lopez vs Ehlvest: 7 points


3rd Place: Andrew Ng (NJ) vs NM Elvin Wilson (PHI) 1-0

Greg Shahade: Nice game by Ng, like Arun says underneath, it was a very high quality game for a Board Four, and it was flashy with a few nice attacking/tactical motifs. Wilson has had great success in these lines in the past against players as strong as FM Bruci Lopez, but he was pretty much smashed by the young Ng this week. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: As Board Four games go, this was definitely a very, very good one; no huge blunders from either side and very strong play by Ng, especially the sequence beginning with 21. h6 and ending with 24. Nxe6! (4th place: 2 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Not Ranked (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Ng vs Wilson: 6 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Arun 3, Jon 2):
GM Boris Gulko (NJ) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 1-0

4 points (Arun 4):
GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) vs GM John Fedorowicz (NY) 1-0

3 points (Jon 3):
NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 1/2-1/2

2 points (Greg 2):
FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs IM Mark Ginsburg (ARZ) 1-0

1 point (Jon 1):
IM Irina Krush (NY) vs IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
NM Craig Jones (CAR) vs NM Warren Harper (ARZ) 0-1

1 point (Arun 1):
FM John Bick (TEN) vs NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) 0-1

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remainder of Week 5 Predictions

I had resolved to not pick any draws this week due to the recent trends, but naturally one of the results on Monday betrayed me in that regard (a match I might well have picked to draw if not for this stance, but then again I might have also done so for the other Monday match). I'm not sure what all this means, but for now I will revert to my normal (albeit, generally losing) strategy.

New Jersey over Philadelphia 2.5 1.5

Chicago over Baltimore 3 1

San Francisco ties Boston 2 2

Seattle ties Dallas 2 2

Arizona over Carolina 2.5 1.5

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Monday Night Predictions -- Week 5

To begin this Monday Night, the subway match between red hot Queens and reeling New York kicks things off. While the records of the respective teams (4 – 0 and 1 – 3) might lead one to a natural conclusion, this is definitely a league where nothing can ever be taken for granted, and like many sports when you have a match such as this, records and statistics can often be completely irrelevant as it's always a "backyard brawl". In the other matchup, we have Miami taking on Tennessee, both desperately needing a win this week, having both lost their last two, and the Tempo certainly aren't fooling around bringing in their big gun, Ehlvest, once again while Miami has reverted to a more balanced lineup, something which served them so well in Week 1. Let's look at each match board by board.

Queens vs New York

Board 1: Stripunsky vs Fedorowicz. You can never tell anything with these tricky GMs, you can only rest on the assumption that having White in such games is a much bigger advantage than it tends to be at the lower levels. (Slight Edge QNS)

Board 2: Krush vs Schneider. Ok, well maybe it's not right to use the same logic I used on Board 1 for this game as these two aren't GMs, but IM is the next best thing isn't it (not counting my fake title, DM, of course), and I really can't see any other way to find an edge here so there you go. (Slight Edge NY)

Board 3: Vovsha vs Bonin. Ah hah! Finally, one where I can make a reasonable call (but so could a five year old probably so maybe nothing to cheer about). But rating edge, White pieces, and better league record all belong to one of those two players so it's easy to tell where I anticipate this game to be at. (Edge QNS)

Board 4: Zenyuk vs Ostrovskiy. Another fairly easy one to call, as we have last year's top All Star on this board, facing off against a much lower rated player making his league debut. Of course, he is a youngster, and those youngsters can often surprise you, but you still know who has the advantage here. (Edge NY)

So like always, over the board there doesn't appear to be much of an edge anywhere, but I certainly can't in good conscience pick a draw, as this season has seen an extreme scarcity of those. Add to that the fact that we know which team is hot and which is not, and I'll pick Queens 2.5 – 1.5

Miami vs Tennessee

Board 1: Lopez vs Ehlvest. I can't deny that I'm somewhat disappointed to not see a Becerra vs Ehlvest showdown here, but I suppose there are some chess commitments which might be more important than the USCL (shocking, yes I know) so this will have to do. These two did meet however, back in 2006 in the shortest game in league history since Season Two so hopefully, for our audience's sake, this one goes a bit farther. While I would have called Lopez an underdog in Week 1 also, he suprised me there, and could well do so again here, but I still definitely can't bet against Ehlvest. (Slight Edge TEN)

Board 2: Burnett vs Lugo. These two definitely seem to have a contrast in styles with Burnett mostly playing solid setups while Lugo goes all out to attack. One can never really be sure what will happen when worlds collide, but you have to prefer the one with White pieces when you aren't sure. (Slight Edge TEN)

Board 3: Perea vs Bereolos. A time penalty for Miami rears its ugly head again, something I'm sure which they would have preferred to keep a distant memory from last season. However, in this instance the change that brought this about comes with a rating addition rather than a deficit and along with the White pieces, we all know what that means. (Edge MIA)

Board 4: Bick vs Rodriguez. A fairly tough one to call as Bick seems to vary greatly in strength from week to week, naturally making his games tough to call. Rodriguez has been as consistent as a Board Four reasonably could be expected to be probably, and aside from his most recent game, he's been very impressive also. I think I have to call this a wash. (Even)

Once again, this seems very even over the board, but for the reason mentioned above, I definitely can't predict a tie. At the same time, Tennessee has yet to deliver for me when I've predicted them to win (as I did last week), and I don't react well to disappointment (or being in last place) so I'll go with Miami 2.5 – 1.5

(FM Ron Young also predicts both Queens and Miami to win 2.5 – 1.5).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Prediction Results -- Week 4

Well after predicting two correct results to start the week on Monday, I suppose going 0 – 5 on Wednesday to put myself in dead last again was the only fitting thing to happen given my general record this season. The other predictors generally fared a bit better, but with shocking results like Carolina sweeping New York, it seems that maybe only Ed Scimia's dice have a realistic chance of getting that elusive perfect week. Here's how things stand now.

Totals after Week 4:

Ron Young: 31 Points (+7 This Week)
Bioniclime: 26 Points (+6)
Ed Scimia: 26 Points (+9)
Arun Sharma: 24 Points (+6)

QNS over BAL 3 – 1

BL/ES/AS: Correct +4
RY: QNS 2.5 – 1.5 +2

SEA over CHC 2.5 – 1.5

ES/RY: Correct +3
AS: SEA 3 – 1 +2
BL: CHC 2.5 – 1.5 +0

NJ over BOS 3 – 1

RY: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +2
ES: Tie +0
BL/AS: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

CAR over NY 4 – 0

ES/RY: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +0
BL/AS: NY 3 – 1 +0

DAL over MIA 2.5 – 1.5

BL/AS: Tie +0
ES/RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +0

SF over PHI 3.5 – 0.5

ES: SF 3 – 1 +2
BL: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +2
AS/RY: Tie +0

ARZ over TEN 2.5 – 1.5

BL/ES/AS/RY: TEN 2.5 – 1.5 +0

Friday, September 19, 2008

Power Rankings -- Week 4

As always, several surprising results have kept everything in fair chaos in the East as none of the three playoff teams from last year is even above 0.500 right now, and the Pioneers continue to pull away. In the West, things are more orderly with not nearly the amount of surprises as in the East, but certainly no less amount of chaos in the Standings as teams continue to jockey for position.

1st: San Francisco Mechanics (3.5 – 0.5) (+0 from last week). Not a whole lot to say here as the Mechanics keep performing in the way that made me think they were (and still are), the best team in the league. This week's showdown against a reeling Boston team (a match I predicted to happen in this year's Finals) should be a very interesting test for them. (Win Division: 37%, Make Playoffs: 95%)

2nd: Queens Pioneers (4.0 – 0.0) (+0). Once again, I can't give Queens the top spot until they actually go 10
0 (ok, ok maybe I'll change that to when they clinch a playoff spot). Of course, that "when" might well be next week, only halfway through the season as a 5 – 5 record is more than likely to make the post-season and even a 4.5 – 5.5 might do so. But I'm sure that matters little to the Pioneers whose sights have to be firmly set on the division crown and having a massive 1.5 match lead this early in the season, it's sure hard not to like their chances in that regard. (57%, 98%)

3rd: Dallas Destiny (3.0 – 1.0) (+2). Once again, the Destiny continue to defy everyone's expectations with few picking them to win this week again (especially with the last minute replacement and time penalty), and yet they continue to do just that over and over. Having weathered two very tough challengers in the past two weeks, the Destiny now get matched up against three teams, none of whom are currently over 0.500, and if they can take advantage of that potential opportunity, it will be interesting to see if they can give the Mechanics a serious challenge for the division title. (29%, 84%)

4th: New Jersey Knockouts (2.5 – 1.5) (+3). I always had trouble envisioning the Knockouts as being division champs or going especially far in the playoffs as they've never really seemed to have the firepower to pull off a long string of consecutive victories, especially against the top opponents. They definitely put a chink in that assessment this week, with a nice win over their Blitz adversaries to give them clear control of second place in the division. Being matched in the next couple of weeks with two struggling adversaries, the Inventors and Kingfishers, scoring well will be paramount to them maintaining their position before their rematch in Week 7 with the red hot Pioneers. (23%, 72%)

5th: Miami Sharks (2.0 – 2.0) (-2). After two such dominating victories, two razor close losses for the Sharks have to be a fair let down as their overall game results really seem to indicate them to be much better than a 0.500 team. But despite that potential letdown, the Sharks really have exhibited a tremendous amount of consistency this season both in their lineups and in the way they're playing, something that they definitely have had issues with at various times in the previous two seasons. Though they might have a bit more ground to make up than they'd like, I still seem them likely to be a dangerous foe in the playoffs. (10%, 59%)

6th: Boston Blitz (2.0 – 2.0) (-2). A very unfamiliar position for the Blitz who undoubtedly had grown accustomed to jumping out to a huge division lead, but currently sit in the middle of the pack almost midway through the season. Although Queens, especially in their current form, may be much farther out of reach than they'd like, Boston is still a very good team as especially with Esserman's recent play, having him as a Board 3 or 4 is an indisputable edge. If Boston can settle down and regain their usual form, expect to see them quite a bit above 0.500 as usual quite soon. (15%, 64%)

7th: Arizona Scorpions (2.0 – 2.0) (+4). Although the Scorpions couldn't have been pleased to see Ehlvest making his debut against them, the fact that they managed to still win the match, against what was obviously a very tough lineup should be a huge confidence boost after two disappointing losses. This week's showdown with the Cobras who had a similarly encouraging (but even more so!) result this week should be very telling for both teams. (9%, 56%)

8th: Seattle Sluggers (2.0 – 2.0) (+2). So Seattle brings out the big guns which is their double GM lineup, and it doesn't disappoint, notching them their first victory of the season. The question naturally is, if this can be a constant thing to occur. If so, this week's tough matchup with the surging Destiny obviously would be another good time to showcase it. (9%, 55%)

9th: Chicago Blaze (1.5 – 2.5) (-3). A close loss to a very tough Sluggers lineup is hardly a reason to be very down as Chicago continues to look quite strong despite their early season difficulties. If they just continue to do what they've been doing and have a little luck on their side, there's no reason they shouldn't be in the playoffs. (5%, 45%)

10th: Carolina Cobras (2.0 – 2.0) (+3). After chastising the Cobras for being unable to play consistently last week, they definitely sent a dogcatcher to put a muzzle on me. It's never a surprise when someone pulls an "upset" in the ultra balanced league, but a 4
– 0 shellacking of the Knights was a bit more than I think anyone would have anticipated. If the Cobras can put together more performances like that one, we'll see a completely different team, but it's definitely not going to get any easier for them as they still must face Queens twice this season. (2%, 45%)

11th: Baltimore Kingfishers (1.0 – 3.0) (-3). A fairly dominating loss to the red hot Pioneers isn't the end of the world, and Baltimore definitely has to like the way their GMs are performing up top, but their lower boards need to add a bit more to the cart if they want to have any real chance. Like most teams, they obviously have it inside of them to do that, they just need to find a way to do so sooner rather than later, before the situation becomes irreparable. (1%, 42%)

12th: Philadelphia Inventors (1.0 – 3.0) (-3). The Inventors are having a much harder time finding the groove that served them so well last year, seeming unable to really perform consistently as a team so far. Like the Kingfishers, they've demonstrated on many an occasion that they are capable of doing so, but have to find a way to do so fairly soon as the second place Knockouts loom on the horizon for next week and then the Blitz, a team who they've had little success against throughout the league, come up the week after. (1%, 40%)

13th: New York Knights (1.0 – 3.0) (-1). I mentioned last week that New York could breathe a sigh of relief after scoring their first win, but unfortunately they seemed to have breathed in and not let it out as they didn't show up to play this week at all. Any team can of course have such an off match, but this really is their second this season, not something they can afford to keep doing, especially given their next week's big showdown with Pioneers. (1%, 39%)

14th: Tennessee Tempo (0.5 – 3.5) (+0). Well Ehlvest did make his long awaited debut and had the result the team was clearly hoping for, but unfortunately the rest of the team couldn't quite deliver, and the Tempo suffered a tough defeat in a match they clearly had to feel they had very good chances to win or at least draw. Even when they manage to play with their best lineup, the league's balance never promises a victory to any team so one can only hope that they can continue to play at full strength and have some results go their way very soon before the situation becomes untenable. (1%, 6%)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Week 4 Game of the Week

This year we have three judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $100 bonus prize, second place $50, and third place $30. Our three judges are: IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and NM Jonathan Hilton. Click here for more details.


**Due to Jonathan Hilton being out of the country currently, for this week and this week alone we will have only two judges, Greg and myself.

1st Place: IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs GM Alex Shabalov (NY) 1-0

Arun Sharma: Like last week, despite giving this game the top ranking, I have to admit I wasn't especially enthralled by it as once again this week seemed to have real lack of good candidates. I eventually went with this one since it did seem like a very well played game by Milman throughout, utilizing a slight endgame edge quite well and ending the game with a nice mating net. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Milman played very well, but you have to admit this wasn't the most swashbuckling affair you've ever seen. I think the following factors are all very important in choosing a GOTW winner:

1. Quality
2. Excitement
3. Drama due to match situation etc.
4. Upset (If a lower rated player surprises a higher rated player etc.)
5. Whether it was an "event". This might be similar to number two or three, however last year's win by Bhat over Nakamura was a good example. That was clearly not a perfectly played game by any means, but everyone was talking about it for so long that it simply had to win. GOTW does not = most perfectly played game of the week, however I do like to avoid games with hideous blunders.

Anyway, those are some of the factors I think are important. This game basically only qualified for the 1st + 4th criteria so that's why I gave it only three points.
(3rd place: 3 points)

Total Score of Milman vs Shabalov: 8 points


2nd Place: NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) vs IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) 0-1

Greg Shahade: Since Mr. Hilton is out of the country, I suppose Arun felt he had to say twice as much to make up for his loss. I agree with a lot of Arun's points, in the sense that I was probably more impressed with Shmelov's play this game than Ippolito's. However Ippolito never broke, he only bent, and I just found that there were a lot of interesting moments in this game. Even Shmelov's main mistake of 34. f6, while bad, was not hideously losing or anything. It just gave Black a very pleasant position, whereas instead White would have had a very pleasant position. Mistakes are obviously going to happen, and I thought this game showed a lot of fighting spirit by both players (ok, that's a bit unfair since Dean was basically happy with a draw at many points, but it made sense given that Benjamin was up a Queen on move 9). Anyway, I definitely wasn't jumping out of my seat to give this game the top prize, but given the other games I decided to. Also, since I fully expect to get blasted for this pick, if you feel like doing so please give an alternate game that should have won and a detailed explanation as to why, thank you! (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: First off, I apologize in advance for the length of this comment. While I was watching this game, I felt it would be a strong candidate for GOTW honors, but the way the game ended really turned me off of ranking it. From my assessment, it seemed like White was much better, maybe even close to winning before the blunder 34. f6 which completely turned the game around. It turns out that assessment wasn't quite correct as White may only have been a bit better at that point and was likely quite far from winning. But the real problem to me was that when watching a game and feeling during it that it's a good GOTW candidate, it's often the play of one of the two players who's inspiring you to think as such. For me, in this game that player was Shmelov, both for the way he bravely turned down the draw earlier, and the way he seemed to be pressing a very minuscule edge to the brink of victory before he blundered (once again, "brink of victory" was almost certainly a bit of an over assessment). When the player you feel has exhibited most of the play which makes the game a good candidate ends up losing to a one move turnaround, it's hard to justify still ranking the game. Perhaps that's not a fair thing to detract for, as after all a game I did rank, Friedel vs Smith, had a colossal blunder by both sides near the end (White's 47. Kh2 and Black's 48... Kg7), and had Smith found 48... Kxg5 and went on to win or draw that game, I probably would not have ranked that game either. Again, that might be a ludicrous thing to downgrade a game for (as in some sense I'm rewarding the Friedel game for having the additional blunder 48... Kg7), but as a spectator, when the player who's really impressed you with their play ends up losing the game due to a 180 turn in one move, it's hard psychologically to still feel that game is worthy. I should also note that I really didn't like ranking the Nakamura vs Mitkov contest, as considering the caliber of those two players, that game was obviously not anywhere in the realm of being a "quality" game. As earlier noted, I felt then (and now) that there was a real lack of good candidates this week, and that game, while obviously not a high quality game, was definitely quite a crowd pleaser with many interesting turns, twists, and important moments and that along with the fact that Nakamura did seem to play the endgame very well was enough to push the game up to that fifth spot for me. In retrospect though, I think I definitely should have either picked this or the Ehlvest game to be in my Top Five instead. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Shmelov vs Ippolito: 5 points


3rd Place: IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0

Arun Sharma: Like the Milman game, I can't say I was enthralled about picking this game so high as it too wasn't exactly a very exciting affair (and had the added detraction of having a fairly big blunder, 25... c4, from the losing side). But, like the Milman game, it seemed like a very well played game by the victor (Kuljasevic in this case) who really just played very cleanly and solidly throughout in knocking off a very tough player in the two time MVP in the only decisive game of the match and helping Dallas to such an important win over Miami. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: Nice game by Kuljasevic but really nothing too exciting happening here. Kuljasevic wins a few pawns, goes on to win with relative ease, not deserving of a top ranking IMO, even against the two-time MVP. (5th place: 1 point)

Total Score of Kuljasevic vs Becerra: 5 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Greg 4):
GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0

3 points (Arun 3):
FM Ralph Zimmer (BAL) vs NM Parker Zhao (QNS) 0-1

2 points (Arun 2):
IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 1-0

2 points (Greg 2):
FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) vs NM Elvin Wilson (PHI) 1-0

1 point (Arun 1):
GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) vs GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) 1-0

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Remainder of Week 4 Predictions

A much more promising start to this week than last having predicted both results correctly. Not that I've made much headway in the contest (if any) as a result of this, but still hopefully something to build on.

Boston over New Jersey 2.5 1.5

New York over Carolina 3 1

Dallas ties Miami 2 2

San Francisco ties Philadelphia 2 2

Tennessee over Arizona 2.5 1.5

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Monday Night Predictions -- Week 4

Once again, two very good matches for Monday this week, with the only undefeated team, Queens, taking on the perhaps rejuvenated Kingfishers as well as two other hopefully surging teams, the Sluggers, who managed to draw as underdogs last week, and the Blaze, coming from having drawn against the powerful Mechanics and sweeping the Tempo, also squaring off. Let's jump right into examining both matches.

Baltimore vs Queens

Both times these two teams met last season, a fairly dominating 3 – 1 victory for Queens occurred, and if ratings are at all reliable, there may well be a repeat of that in this match, but let's look at it board by board.

Board 1: Blehm vs Vovsha. These two did meet in one of those two matches last year where they fought to a standstill. Rating-wise, I find little to find any advantage in, but just a slight one to the White pieces as normal. (Slight Edge BAL)

Board 2: Lenderman vs Enkhbat. Well Lenderman is 3 – 0 in the league thus far, has a large rating advantage, and the White pieces so you can probably guess how I'll score this one. Enkbhat is defintely a very solid player though and certainly one who could pull a surprise here so I doubt anyone should count this one before it actually ends, but you know where the advantage goes nonetheless. (Edge QNS)

Board 3: Zimmer vs Zhao. A very tricky game to call (and no, it's not because both players' last names happen to start with a Z and how rare that might be). I feel that way since I sort of have the sense that both players are really capable of playing at drastically different levels in the league. Zimmer, I think has shown that simply from his actual league play as he's had some tough games in the past, but last week had a spectacular effort against a player who very rarely loses in the league. I feel Zhao is probably similar due to his general style and the fact that he's a young player so that really makes this game quite an enigma. Zimmer does have the current rating advantage and the White pieces, but given Zhao's recent super impressive play (including last week's near GOTW winning game), I think I'll call this a wash. (Even)

Board 4: Thaler vs Harris. Not as much to really say here as Thaler has the rating advantage and the White pieces, but this time I'm hard pressed to find any hidden edge for the opposing side (the fact that this is Harris's USCL debut could have something to do with that). Once again, you know where the advantage is here. (Edge QNS)

So obviously I think Queens has the over the board edge. Typically I would then pick this as the narrow victory for them, but given their current hot streak, the fact that this match scored this way twice last year, and that I really need to change something if I want to remove the shame I feel from how badly I'm doing in the Prediction Contest, I'll go ahead and pick Queens 3 – 1

Seattle vs Chicago

Board 1: Nakamura vs Mitkov. First off, I should mention that Hikaru friendly contending that my last week's prediction about his team was stupid nearly traumatized me into not making a prediction about him or his team this week. Unfortunately, my employer didn't buy that the psychic trauma I endured as a result of this was a viable excuse to get out of work so I'm stuck doing it again this week regardless of the further consequences. Ok, now that I've cleared that up (so that everyone knows who's to blame if something goes wrong this week, and I end up in an institution), Hikaru has White and beat a very strong opponent last week, and history can often repeat itself. (Edge SEA)

Board 2: Van de Mortel vs Serper. Serper has been a near All Star in both his USCL years on the top board, and now Chicago is treated (for lack of finding a more appropriate term) to being the first team to see him on Board Two. Van de Mortel certainly won't be easy to take down especially with the White pieces, but I have to like Seattle still here. (Slight Edge SEA)

Board 3: Lee vs Tate. A game very similar to the Board Three of the other match, with a young player take on a player who's results can really vary. Obviously one can't really accurately call such a match, but one side has a bit of a rating edge and the other has White so I'll chicken out with the exact same thing I went with in the other match. (Even)

Board 4: Strunk vs May. A near mirror match we have here. How so? Well both these players are making their near league debuts (only one previous game for Strunk), their ratings are nearly identical, and they were born in the same year! What do you do when you have such symmetry in a game? Oh yeah, slight advantage for the one with White. (Slight Edge CHC)

Once again, I definitely think Seattle has an over the board edge, but as always it's never a very big one which might lead me to predict the usual 2.5 – 1.5 for them, but again I want to make some headway in predicting and since 3 – 1 has been the most common match score this year, why not here? Seattle 3 – 1

(FM Ron Young predicts both Queens and Seattle to win 2.5 – 1.5).

Prediction Results -- Week 3

After I mocked all of us predictors (myself included unfortunately) for none of us being able to get more than a paltry six points last week, who would have thought that not a single one of us would manage to get even that this week?? Clearly, there is something tremendously wrong with all of us or with the league players. The obvious way to win this contest now seems to be to make all predictions based on one's instinct and then turn around and do the opposite on each. Which one of us predictors will take the plunge and go with that approach? I'm not sure, but here's a hint: it probably won't be me. Here is how we stand right now.

Totals after Week 3:

Ron Young: 24 Points (+5 This Week)
Bioniclime: 20 Points (+4)
Arun Sharma: 18 Points (+4)
Ed Scimia: 17 Points (+4)

DAL over BOS 2.5 – 1.5

BL: Tie +0
ES/AS/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +0

SF over MIA 2.5 – 1.5

RY: Correct +3
BL/ES/AS: Tie +0

NY over PHI 3 – 1

BL: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +2
ES/AS: Tie +0
RY: PHI 2.5 – 1.5 +0

BAL over CAR 3 – 1

AS: BAL 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL: Tie +0
ES/RY: CAR 2.5 – 1.5 +0

CHC over TN 4 – 0

ES/RY: CHC 3 – 1 +2
BL/AS: CHC 2.5 – 1.5 +2

QNS over ARZ 3 – 1

ES: QNS 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL/AS/RY: ARZ 2.5 – 1.5 +0

SEA ties NJ 2 – 2

BL/AS/RY: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +0
ES: NJ 3 – 1 +0

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Power Rankings -- Week 3

A very topsy-turvy set of results for the second straight week has kept everything in fair disarray with a whopping six teams all having 1 – 2 records. Once again, there will have to be a fair amount of opinion and speculation throw into these rankings if I hope to differentiate between such teams, but I'll give it a try nonetheless. Given the recent discussion about teams' chances to make the Finals or make the Playoffs, it seems like a reasonable time for me to begin including with each team what I think their chances of winning their division's regular season title as well as their chances of being in the post-season.

1st: San Francisco Mechanics (2.5 – 0.5) (+2 from last week). Even though there is still an undefeated team in the midst, I think I still must give San Francisco the top spot this week as I continue to really like the strength of their lineups along with the fact that they have played a very tough set of opponents, with Miami and Dallas both having defeated their other two opponents. That, along with the fact that one of their big weapons, Naroditsky, finally displayed what he's really capable of in their most recent match after tremendously strugging in the previous week could be a big turning point also.
(Win Division: 29%, Make Playoffs: 85%)

2nd: Queens Pioneers (3.0 – 0.0) (+2). So when will I give Queens the top spot one might ask? Well, after they go 10
0 in the regular season, maybe I'll consider it but until then I can't do it. On a more serious note, the Pioneers seem to really be clicking on all cylinders with all of their players playing quite well which gives them some nice choices for lineups to use in their two upcoming feature Monday matches. It certainly still won't be easy for them as both of their opponents, Baltimore and New York, are likely to be rejuvenated after their big wins this week. Those matches should be very telling as to how dominant the Pioneers might really be this year. (34%, 87%)

3rd: Miami Sharks (2.0 – 1.0) (-2). Well the Sharks inevitably had to cool down somewhat, but of course they obviously were not hoping to do so in the form of a loss. Not exactly a big worry, as like their counterparts Dallas, with their only loss being one to the Mechanics by the narrowest of margins, it's hardly a reason to panic. Their big showdown with Dallas this week may well determine which of them will be fighting hard to win the division and which is likely to be a middle of the pack playoff team. (22%, 72%)

4th: Boston Blitz (2.0 – 1.0) (-2). So no revenge for the Blitz in their Finals rematch, but fortunately for them, they don't need to wait until next season to get back into the action. While they don't get a crack at the team they may be chasing for the division lead until the final week, Queens, the team currently on their heels for second place is on the agenda for next week, followed by the always stiff Mechanics. (26%, 73%)

5th: Dallas Destiny (2.0 – 1.0) (+0). Once again, the defending champions continue to impress as most felt they were the underdogs in their grudge rematch against the Blitz. The Destiny have clearly erased any doubts about them that might have cropped up after their opening match loss, but again the role they will really take in being a division contender or being in the middle of the pack could well be largely determined in this week's showdown with Miami.
(20%, 70%)

6th: Chicago Blaze (1.5 – 1.5) (+3). The pre-season and first match worries that cropped up for the Blaze definitely seem to have been silenced with them holding the tough Mechanics to a stiff draw and then claiming a resounding sweep of the Tempo. While like everyone else, they still have a very long way to go, I think it's safe to say things are looking up for them rather than very down as they did in the earliest part of the season.
(13%, 60%)

7th: New Jersey Knockouts (1.5 – 1.5) (+1). A somewhat disappointing draw this week as the Knockouts, bringing out the big guns of their double GM lineup were clearly hoping to make a statement and scoring a full point. While they didn't manage to do the latter, they clearly have little reason to be concerned as the logjam of teams with a 1
2 record in the East really makes anything possible, but I think they would definitely prefer to stay a leg up on most of those teams this week, but that means having to score against the tough Boston Blitz. (17%, 60%)

8th: Baltimore Kingfishers (1.0 – 2.0) (+3). This sort of result was why I felt the Kingfishers 0
2 start wasn't a reason to be hugely troubled. To me, it was clearly just a matter of time before their middle boards turned their results around which is what helped lead them to victory this week. Though their later opponents may provide a slightly bigger challenge, if Erenburg can keep scoring at the rate he's done so far, the Kingfishers will be a mighty force. (9%, 54%)

9th: Philadelphia Inventors (1.0 – 2.0) (-3). A tough loss for the Inventors with their rock Kudrin losing for the first time in the league. While that was naturally inevitable, I'm sure they were hoping for it to do so at a more convenient time as falling to a 1
2 record with a showdown with the Mechanics upcoming, this clearly wasn't the best of times to slip into such a hole. (7%, 52%)

10th: Seattle Sluggers (1.0 – 2.0) (+2). A definite bright spot for Seattle this week in managing a draw. Though they still are obviously not at the point they would have liked to be at this stage, holding the powerful double GM New Jersey lineup to a standstill, along with Nakamura knocking off the rarely beaten Benjamin are both definite causes for optimism. One can only hope that Seattle might take the Knockouts' hint and trot out their own double GM lineup in Monday's feature against Chicago to try to make their own big statement. (8%, 52%)

11th: Arizona Scorpions (1.0 – 2.0) (-4). Another frustrating result for the Scorpions as once again, despite appearing to be favorites in most players' eyes, they fell for a second straight week. I'm not sure if it's simply the first season jitters / unfamiliarity with the league which is causing many of their players to perform clearly below what their real strength is, but the Scorpions need to
turn things around quickly before it gets too out of hand. Fortunately, for them, they are facing two of the lowest ranked teams in the next couple of weeks in Tennessee and Carolina, but no match is ever a certainty, and the Scorpions need to get back on top of things to have the results they really need there. (7%, 49%)

12th: New York Knights (1.0 – 2.0) (+2). Another team which can breathe a big sigh of relief as starting 0
3 might have created an extreme panic the likes of which one can only dream of. Once again, on a more serious note, the Knights simply need to start performing as they did this week on a more consistent basis so as to stop digging themselves into such a big hole to begin with. This week's match against a reeling Carolina team would be a good time to demonstrate that as the following week's challenge against league leading Queens' is likely to be quite stiff. (6%, 50%)

13th: Carolina Cobras (1.0 – 2.0) (-3). Another tough match for the Cobras, falling when they seemed to have a very real chance to score. It just seems that none of their regular team members so far has really demonstrated the ability to play consistently with each of them having a very off game. If they can all play at their near best at the same time, we would see a very different team emerge, but that's obviously far easier to say than do, and until they find a way to accomplish that, they unfortunately will likely stay down here. (1%, 24%)

14th: Tennessee Tempo (0.5 – 2.5) (-1). Once again, after a very positive result, a very forgettable one for the Tempo. As usual, one match is just one match and generally not a reason to panic; they simply must remember how competitive they've been in nearly all their matches recently and must find a way to get back to that way of competing. Certainly, one could guess that the appearance of Ehlvest in a lineup might be a nice tool for jump starting just that, but if that mysterious happening doesn't occur soon, I fear it may be too late for them by then. (1%, 12%)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Week 3 Game of the Week

This year we have three judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $100 bonus prize, second place $50, and third place $30. Our three judges are: IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and NM Jonathan Hilton. Click here for more details.


1st Place: GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) 1-0

Greg Shahade: Call me Mr. Negativity, but even though I gave this game the top ranking, I really wasn't excited about any of the games this week. This one sort of won by default because there was a relatively cool tactic at the end against a player who was previously undefeated in the USCL after twelve games. The early stage of the game wasn't super exciting, but Charbonneau showed a lot of grit by refusing a middlegame draw offer and eventually breaking down Kudrin's defenses. I do suspect that Kudrin got a little overly ambitious due to the fact that it seemed like he might have to win to salvage the match for his team. In any case, congrats to Charbonneau for winning, but I do believe this was one of our worst weeks for GOTW in the past two years. (I don't remember so much before that because I wasn't a judge and with no money involved the prize wasn't so serious!) (1st place: 5 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Although I was originally impressed with the way Kudrin closed the center and took control of the dark squares, I was even more amazed by the way Charbonneau simply snuck around and took all the light squares in return! He finished the game by taking the light squares around the Black King with his amazing time-pressure tactics, landing his Bishop on h5. Although I can't personally vouch for the accuracy of Black's defense this game, I can say Charbonneau pulled this game out in fine style, keeping his calm through the locked shuffling and looking for a chance to penetrate. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: I was really unsure what sort of ranking this game deserved. While the ending to it was quite exciting and contained some nice tactics, the earlier portion wasn't especially inspiring to me as it seemed for most of the game that a lifeless draw was the most probable outcome. In addition, as often seems to happen in the league, a combination of time pressure and overextending seemed likely to be a large reason for the end result. Hopefully based on all of that, this ranking is appropriate. (3rd Place: 3 points)

Total Score of Charbonneau vs Kudrin: 12 points


2nd Place: GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 1-0

Arun Sharma: I had a much tougher time picking my first place game this week compared to the first two weeks as I really didn't feel any game truly stood out. In the end, I decided to go with this game since it was quite well played and had such an unusual opening. Plus, it also seemed that in a fairly tame looking ending that Nakamura really outplayed Benjamin, a player who doesn't lose in the league very often, and as such it seemed to be the most deserving of the top spot to me. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Another game that I had a hard time getting excited about but still ranked in second place! I found it incredible that Hikaru could play such an unorthodox opening and win with relative ease against someone of Benjamin's caliber. Because of this I gave it second place, but I can't imagine that it would fare any better than eighteenth or nineteenth place in the twenty game, Game of the Year Contest and due to its second place finish this week, I highly doubt it will even make the contest as a Wildcard. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: I wasn't particularly fascinated with this game because it appeared to me that Benjamin simply was having an off day; unless I missed something in my analysis, Nakamura didn't have to do anything too spectacular to defeat his lower-rated opponent; he just mopped up the pawns and converted. I don’t think Benjamin would have ever castled Queenside if he had seen the position on move 24. Black had a few cheapos maybe, but no more. Although this certainly was a well-played game by Nakamura, and I wouldn’t strongly disagree with ranking it in one of the bottom three places, I think there were many more exciting games for the top two prizes. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Nakamura vs Benjamin: 9 points


3rd Place: NM Parker Zhao (QNS) vs FM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: In my book, there was simply no competition for this game. With Queen's victory over Arizona just within reach, it was up to Parker Zhao to pull out an upset against the 2400-rated FM Daniel Rensch. And guess what? Zhao completely out-classed his higher-rated opponent the entire game through! Rensch sacrificed an exchange to get some complications, but Zhao defended and kept the material, and then converted to a winning Rook endgame, effectively using zugzwang tactics with his 62nd move. By move 75, Black was forced to resign. Nicely played, Zhao and way to play your heart out for the team! (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I agree that Zhao played relatively well but there just wasn't anything that drew me to this game in order for me to rank it higher. This is another game that I feel would have almost zero chance to crack the top fifteen in our Game of the Year contest. We will see how this week's winner ends up faring... (5th place: 1 point)

Arun Sharma: This was the only other game I seriously considered for my top five, but eventually I decided against ranking it. It was certainly a nicely played game by Zhao but just didn't really strike me as being anything special. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Zhao vs Rensch: 6 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

6 points (Arun 4, Greg 2):
FM Todd Andrews (TEN) vs IM Jan Van de Mortel (CHC) 0-1

4 points (Greg 3, Arun 1):
IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs FM Peter Bereolos (TEN) 1-0

3 points (Jon 3):
IM Mark Ginsburg (ARZ) vs IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) 0-1

2 points (Arun 2):
FM Osmany Perea (MIA) vs IM Josh Friedel (SF) 1/2-1/2

2 points (Jon 2):
NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 0-1

1 point (Jon 1):
WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL) vs NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) 1-0

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Remainder of Week 3 Predictions

Well given my flying 0
2 start to the week after Monday's action, I suppose things can only go up on Wednesday? After all as they say when you can't win, might as well settle for moral victories.

New York ties Philadelphia 2 2

Baltimore over Carolina 2.5 1.5

Chicago over Tennessee 2.5 1.5

Arizona over Queens 2.5 1.5

New Jersey over Seattle 2.5 1.5

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Monday Night Predictions -- Week 3

So we have two very exciting matches for Monday night this week, a rematch of last year's epic Finals Battle between Boston and Dallas which also includes a rematch of the struggle which won Game of the Year last season, along with the two current West leaders, the red hot Miami Sharks and my preseason favored San Francisco Mechanics. Let's attempt to break each match down.

Boston vs Dallas

Board 1: Sammour-Hasbun vs Kuljasevic. The rematch I alluded to above should be a very interesting encounter. In terms of who has the advantage, well Sammour-Hasbun has White, is still undefeated in the league, and got the better of last year's encounter so I think you all can guess what that adds up to me. (Edge BOS)

Board 2: Bartholomew vs Vigorito. Well both of these players have a bit less league experience to judge things by than Board 1, but rating wise it's pretty close so slight edge to the player with White. (Slight Edge DAL)

Board 3: Shmelov vs Schneider. This seems to be another fairly easy one to call to me based on the numbers. Shmelov has White, has the much better league record, and has only been defeated once in all his league play so again you know where I stand here. (Edge BOS)

Board 4: Zorigt vs Krasik. I think this one is harder to call as both of these players' league performances seem to vary a bit with both seeming capable of performing at both ends of the spectrum. Zorigt does have White and the slight rating edge though so advantage to her. (Slight Edge DAL)

So once again based on where and how big I judge the board advantages to be, it's probably easy to guess what I'm going to be picking. This slight advantage along with a probable huge desire for revenge, I think I have to pick Boston 2.5 – 1.5

San Francisco vs Miami

Board 1: Wolff vs Becerra. A tough one to call for certain. Typically I never call any GM in the league an underdog when they have White, but at the same time I also have a very hard time calling the two time MVP an underdog either so going by the middle route seems best. (Even)

Board 2: Perea vs Friedel. Perea, despite a very successful first game in the USCL, is still for the most part an unknown personality in the league. Friedel does have a fairly significant rating advantage, and based on having such little information about his opponent, that really seems to be the only thing I can base a guess on. (Slight Edge SF)

Board 3: Shankland vs Galofre. Shankland, despite a disappointing game last week, is still one of the most successful league players statistically, has a rating advantage here, and has the White pieces so I know how to call this one. (Edge SF)

Board 4: Rodriguez vs Naroditsky. In one sense, a tricky one to call as Naroditsky does have the current rating advantage. However, all other factors seem to point the other way as Rodriguez has had two very successful league games this season while Naroditsky must be trying hard to forget his last week's performance. Also, Rodriguez got the best of their last year's struggle and has the White pieces so I have to give him the advantage. (Edge MIA)

So as pretty much always with this lineup, I think statistically San Francisco has the advantage, but I think it's only a slight one, and based on Miami's current momentum, they're a hard team to bet against right now so once again I'll choose the middle route, San Francisco ties Miami 2 – 2

(FM Ron Young predicts both Boston and San Francisco to win 2.5 – 1.5).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Prediction Results -- Week 2

Not exactly the best of weeks for us prognosticators with no one getting more than six points (after the lowest score was eight in the first week), and three matches being failed to be predicted even semi-correctly by any of us. From a contest perspective this isn't necessarily a bad thing as it ensures the contest itself will remain competitive for now, but in regards to our job security, it could be a definite issue with our employers likely to seek more competent people to fill our roles. Nevertheless, here are the standings.

Totals after Week 2:

Ron Young: 19 Points (+6 This Week)
Bioniclime: 16 Points (+5)
Arun Sharma: 14 Points (+6)
Ed Scimia: 13 Points (+4)

QNS over NJ 3 – 1

ES/AS/RY: QNS 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +0

PHI over BAL 2.5 – 1.5

BL: Correct +3
AS: Tie +0
ES/RY: BAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

BOS over CAR 3 – 1

AS: Correct +4
ES/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL: BOS 3.5 – 0.5 +2

MIA over NY 3.5 – 0.5

RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL/AS/ES: Tie +0

CHC ties SF 2 – 2

BL/AS/RY: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +0
ES: SF 3 – 1 +0

TN ties SEA 2 – 2

ES: SEA 2.5 – 1.5 +0
RY: SEA 3 – 1 +0
BL/AS: SEA 3.5 – 0.5 +0

DAL over ARZ 3 – 1

BL/AS/ES/RY: ARZ 2.5 – 1.5 +0

Power Rankings -- Week 2

So a very unexpected batch of results have really thrown pretty much all theories into the wind since as always, nothing can ever seem to go even remotely like one might predict in advance when it comes to the USCL. My rankings this week will probably be quite puzzling to some, as some teams who won I've moved down from last week and some who've lost, I moved up. Simply put though, the amount of information one can really derive from two matches is fairly limited so a large amount of personal opinion and speculation will have to be mixed in to try to guess what's really going on.

1st: Miami Sharks (2.0 – 0.0) (+3 from last week). Already a ranking which some might find to be unusual from me as typically when two teams have the same result (as Miami did with Boston and Queens), and the latter teams are ahead in the rankings to start the week, I tend to maintain that order in the following week. However, Miami has really come screaming out of the blocks, demolishing two teams who I guessed to be likely playoff bound at the beginning of the season. Add to that the fact that Miami has had a tendency to start slowly (as they did in the previous two seasons, unlike one of their counterparts Boston, who has started 2
0 in each of the last three seasons). Given those two facts, their start seems something to take special note of so I'll give them the top spot this week.

2nd: Boston Blitz (2.0 – 0.0) (+0). The Blitz are one of the few teams which have mostly gone as expected, especially this week taking care of business as usual against Carolina. A nice start as normal, but next week will be anything but business as usual when they seek a probably long awaited revenge from the 2007 Final against the Dallas Destiny.

3rd: San Francisco Mechanics (1.5 – 0.5) (-2). A bit of a stumble this week from the Mechanics, but that's all it really seems to be to me at first glance, a small stutter step. Their upcoming Monday showdown with the red hot Sharks who have twice spoiled a Mechanics' playoff run should be quite enlightening in telling us which path each team is really going to take this season.

4th: Queens Pioneers (2.0 – 0.0) (-1). So Queens won, and I still moved them down? Unfair perhaps, but at this point, I simply am not prepared to put them ahead of any of the top three teams. They do seem to be validating my pre-season faith in them in basically the way I expected, but of course still a very long way to go.

5th: Dallas Destiny (1.0 – 1.0) (+2). A big sigh of relief for the defending Champions as most seemed to think they were likely headed to an 0
2 start and if they had done so, being in that spot, with a showdown with a Blitz team primed for revenge upcoming, would not have been an enviable position to be in. Like most teams, the next couple of weeks should be very telling as to what Dallas will be fighting for this year as they face the two current league leading teams in Boston and Miami.

6th: Philadelphia Inventors (1.0 – 1.0) (+3). Another team which probably heaved a sigh of relief as they too would not have wanted to ride last year's success into an 0
2 start in this one. They also have some very tough tasks ahead, facing a Knights team which eliminated them from the post-season last year and is probably in semi-desperation mode already followed by the always super strong Mechanics.

7th: Arizona Scorpions (1.0 – 1.0) (-1). An obvious disappointment for the Scorpions who seemed on paper to have a very real chance of flying out of the gates with a 2
0 start. One of the signs of how good a team really is can often be how well they can respond to adversity as this seems to be the first real stumbling block for them, and obviously they cannot allow it to consume them when they take on Queens next week who will be looking to take the league lead.

8th: New Jersey Knockouts (1.0 – 1.0) (-3). After a powerful display by their youth to hold down the fort when their leader uncharacteristically stumbled in Week 1, unfortunately the Knockouts reverted back to the pattern which left them out of the postseason last year in Week 2. Disappointing of course, but they clearly have what it takes to win in both places, they merely need to find the will to be able to do so and suddenly a very different team might emerge.

9th: Chicago Blaze (0.5 – 1.5) (+4). After a string of adversity, a very promising result for the Blaze, holding a powerful Mechanics lineup to a standstill. Undoubtedly, this was something they really needed to help get themselves back on track, and we can see if they can build on this and perhaps turn in some victories as they next face two of the currently lowest teams in Tennessee and Seattle.

10th: Carolina Cobras (1.0 – 1.0) (+2). My basic stance on the Cobras has been that I need to see them have some good results in situations where they don't go in with a rating advantage before I can establish some real faith in them. While they didn't manage to do so this week, if they had any time to try to convince me of this, it would be when they face the two teams most reeling at the moment in Baltimore and New York in their next matches.

11th: Baltimore Kingfishers (0.0 – 2.0) (+0). While an 0
2 start is obviously not a good thing, it still doesn't seem quite like panic time for the Kingfishers. They've still had very positive results on the top board, and this week in particular, things very easily could have gone slightly differently for them to win the match, with some tragic blunders causing losses on the middle two boards (in fairness though, that may also have been the cause of their bottom board victory). Again, not a time to panic, just to try to finish their games off better, and their record will improve in a hurry.

12th: Seattle Sluggers (0.5 – 1.5) (-3). Undoubtedly a huge disappointment for the Sluggers in not being able to score the full point against a team they've dominated in earlier meetings while also enjoying a huge rating advantage. Like Baltimore, I definitely don't think it's time for them to panic, they just need to push things up a notch as in their later matches, they won't have the luxury of a mathematical edge built in to work with.

13th: Tennessee Tempo (0.5 – 1.5) (+1). In contrast to their opponents, a very positive result from the Tempo, snaring a half a point from a team which had thoroughly dominated them in previous meetings, despite missing both of their top players. While a positive result is always good, Tennessee must begin to string together such results if they want to be playoff contenders and naturally starting off at a big rating disadvantage all the time isn't conducive to that. I know they, like me, are eagerly anticipating the arrival of GM Ehlvest to the lineup when the new Tempo team might take the League by storm.

14th: New York Knights (0.0 – 2.0) (-6). Another ranking which might surprise some people. After all, New York starting off the season poorly is more of a habit than a surprise isn't it? While that is true, even when they started poorly, they didn't tend to really get blown out of their matches, which to me is really what has happened in both matches thus, with the overall result never really having been in question. Plus, I've always been a fan of the theory that if you always live on the edge, someday you're going to fall off, and the Knights can't continue to hope a heroic late season surge will always be enough for them to overcome the odds and slip into the post-season.