Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 10 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 Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 1/2-1/2

Arun Sharma: Very interesting, hard fought game with many interesting moments and tactics. Both sides seemed to navigate several tough positions and find some very good moves. I particularly liked Black's 27... Bf5!, 30... Bh7! A fairly easy pick to me as this game definitely appeared to be of high quality and was very exciting, a tough combination to achieve in the USCL's fast time control. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: What's with the love all the draws are getting lately? Also surprised to see the judges are so sophisticated that we notice a draw from the only match that had zero playoff implications and realized that it was clearly deserving of the top prize. It was a wild game with lots of great moments, congrats Jaan and Sergey and also to the judges! (1st place: 5 points)

Jonathan Hilton: This is possibly the most exciting Petroff Defense of all time. Given the innocuous position after move six, one would think a draw was inevitable. Well, I suppose it was: thirty four moves later, a drawn Rook and Pawn endgame was reached. Along the way, at least half a dozen pieces were sacrificed, starting with the rather unoriginal 23. Rxf6, reaching its peak of creativity with 27... Bf5, and eventually petering out with the absurd-looking (yet forced) 34... Rh1. I just wish we could give each player $100! (1st place: 5 points)

Total Score of Ehlvest vs Erenburg: 15 points


2nd Place: GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) 1-0

Arun Sharma: A bit of a one-sided game, but a very powerful effort by Christiansen really dominating the game completely from a fairly tame looking opening and ending the game with the very elegant finish 29. Rxg7+! (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: Super one sided game by Christiansen. It was saved by the flashy finish, but also marred by the fact that Schneider resigned before letting Christiansen play it out to an obvious winning position. In a game like this, where it was very one-sided, you need to have a lot of beauty to win, and Schneider's slightly premature resignation probably dropped it from second to third place in my rankings. Also Schneider moved his queen a whole lot. I understand Arun's ranking and also Jonathan's hesitation to rank it at all, it's just one of those games that depends on what you value for a Game of the Week. (3rd Place: 3 points)

Jonathan Hilton: This game was a clean kill by Christiansen and was certainly flashy. I avoided ranking it because not only was it not an upset — a strong GM defeating an IM with the White pieces — but White never had to take any real risks in order to achieve the victory. Out of the thirty four moves, Black made ten moves with the Queen; White's pieces came out easily and naturally, but Black was clearly struggling from the beginning. Still, a nice kill all in all. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Christiansen vs Schneider: 7 points


3rd Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 1/2-1/2

Jonathan Hilton: The game petered out to a draw too soon to take the first place spot, but it was very interesting and almost perfectly played — at least, I haven’t been able to come up with any sizable improvements for either side. 23. Bxa6! secured the draw for White in a very original fashion — I haven't seen many tactics like this one before! If you ask me, I definitely think each player deserves the $15. If you have a small car, that might even fill your gas tank with today's bargain basement prices! (3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: Of course, as I am not as huge of a theoretician as Arun, I had no idea this had anything to do with theory or the US Champs. I just thought there were sort of cool tactics and no one seemed to make any big mistakes so I put it in fourth place, despite the fact that it was quite a short affair. (4th place: 2 points)

Arun Sharma: I briefly considered this game since it definitely did seem to be of high quality, but while it was going on, it reminded me so much of the Becerra vs Shulman game from the 2008 US Championship (positions identical after move seventeen), and I assumed Becerra had just prepared an improvement for this game. Perhaps that was an incorrect assessment (since White only drew this game after all, but maybe Black had to play perfectly or close to force a draw after White's improvement). While we had plenty of debates last year about whether a game which is nearly all preparation should be a detraction, for instance with Martinez vs Zilberstein, I didn't find the preparation in this game to be anything particularly special and as such I didn't rank it. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Becerra vs Bhat: 5 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Greg 4):
NM Michael Lee (SEA) vs NM Warren Harper (ARZ) 0-1

4 points (Jon 4):
IM David Pruess (SF) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 1/2-1/2

4 points (Arun 3, Jon 1):
IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 0-1

2 points (Arun 2):
FM Osmany Perea (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0

2 points (Jon 2):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 1-0

1 point (Arun 1):
IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0

1 point (Greg 1):
FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) vs FM Todd Andrews (TEN) 1-0

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quarterfinals Preview

Now that we've reached the postseason, it's time again for me to try and break down the playoff matches for you readers as best I can. While a lot of what I say can end up being utter nonsense (and as it pains me to mention, my chance of winning the prediction contest went awol with my Week 10 ineptitude), I should nevertheless point out that my preseason predictions (East, West) weren't too far off for the most part, having seven of eight playoff teams correct, and other than the Carolina fiasco, not really being too far off about any team's ending position. In regards to the Carolina issue, well I don't really know what to say. Maybe I screwed up? Of course, I'm sure there will be some lurkers out there who will announce how they knew Carolina was going to win the division all along and what an idiot I am for picking them last (whenever I predict anything wrong, there always tend to be some clear predicting geniuses out there who remind me, after the fact, that they KNEW all along that I said was going to be wrong, and this particular error should be no exception). One thing is pretty clear though: having predicted them to finish last and them then managing first, along with predicting Philadelphia last in 2007, who then went on to finish second, there will definitely be a bidding war amongst the teams trying to bribe me to pick them last in the East next year.

With there being two matches in each division in this first round of the playoffs unlike previous years, the number of different possible Semifinal and Final matches has greatly increased so instead of trying to break those down at this point (as I somewhat did last year in my Playoff Preview), I'll merely wait until those matchups are actually determined to give my insight into them (aside from giving some overall %'s for what I think each team's chances of winning the League at this point are).

So right now I'll try to break each Wildcard matchup down, first by what lineups I think we're likely to see from each team and then assuming the managers reach similar conclusions to my own, which color each team will then probably choose based on the expected lineups, and finally what I then think is most likely to happen once those choices are made.

Eastern Division:

Carolina Cobras vs New York Knights

As one might recall New York faced a very similar challenge last year in the first round of the playoffs, facing off against a team which they'd had no luck against in the regular season (granted that was two matches with no success, and this time it's only one, but nevertheless a 4 – 0 loss this time may be close to the same level), along with being up against draw odds (and this time color choice too)! Despite all that, they achieved a dominating victory in that circumstance then, and I certainly think it's possible that they may do so again. Both teams are unquestionably very hot right now with New York ending the regular season on a 4 – 0 tear to sneak into the playoffs, and Carolina, after starting 1 – 2, finishing the season 6 – 1 to capture the division.

In terms of lineups, I would very surprised if Carolina didn't show up bearing Milman + Zaikov + Simpson + Jones. The only other lineup I could see them using is Milman + Schroer + Zaikov + Bapat, but given the amount they've used the former lineup, along with how well Simpson and Jones have been doing recently, I think that lineup is a near guarantee. New York on the other hand is not quite as easy. I definitely expect them to use Charbonneau given how hot he's been recently, but that still leaves many options, and I could conceivably see any of these lineups showing up: Charbonneau + Fedorowicz + Braylovsky + Zenyuk, Charbonneau + Fedorowicz + Bonin + Herman / Zenyuk, Charbonneau + Krush + Braylovsky + Herman / Zenyuk. If one goes by sheer record, I would tend to favor the first lineup since when comparing Fedorowicz to Krush and Braylovsky to Bonin, it's clear that the former two have performed better this season. While one could argue in favor of using Herman given his impressive play at the end of the regular season, Zenyuk's had a rather small sample of games this season, and with her impressive play last season, I prefer that lineup. Of course there are definitely other factors since with White on that board New York might prefer Zenyuk and with Black they might prefer Herman. It could well be that the choice between those two will hinge on what color Carolina ends up picking, but there is also the issue that the likely Board Four opponent, Craig Jones, defeated Zenyuk earlier in the season while Herman got the best of him in their 2006 Wildcard game. If New York does wind up going with Herman on four, then the main choice for two and three is really between Fedorowicz + Bonin and Krush + Braylovsky, something which I really could see them going either way on.

So while there is clearly some uncertainty in the lineups, it seems overwhelmingly likely that we will see a Milman vs Charbonneau confrontation on the top board. As one might recall, these two met three times in 2006 (Week 4, Week 7, and Wildcard) with the Black player getting the best of each encounter. That certainly is one reason for Carolina to choose Black for this match as the two White boards might well be better suited for two and four. Combine that with the fact that New York may well have Krush on two or Zenyuk on four (or even both!), two players who typically do far better with White, Carolina seems very likely to choose Black for this match.

So who really has the advantage then? It's never easy to say in a USCL match, even if one team has draw odds. People have been anticipating when Carolina's Cinderella run might end, but they continue to defy everyone's expectations. While I can't pick against them given they have the inherent advantages of draw odds and color choice, given New York's huge momentum and track record for overcoming adversity and draw odds (which they have done in one match each of the last two seasons), I can't really pick against them either. Carolina and New York each advance 50%.

Queens Pioneers vs Boston Blitz

If one had asked who would be favored under these circumstances a few weeks ago when Queens was sitting at 5.5 – 1.5 and Boston at 3 – 4, I have a feeling most would have said that Queens would be huge favorites with draw odds. But suddenly with Queens struggling down the stretch to losing their seemingly iron grip on the division title, and Boston ending with three straight fairly dominating wins (in particular the thrashing Boston gave to Queens themselves in Week 10), it now seems very unclear.

In terms of lineups, I would definitely expect Boston to show up bearing Christiansen + Perelshteyn / Sammour-Hasbun + Esserman + Krasik. Of course, they have several other strong lineups, but given how hot Esserman has been recently along with Krasik's three straight wins to close out the season (a large part of why Boston was also able to achieve the same streak of wins), it seems very unlikely they would switch from something that's been working so well. Queens is tougher to nail down as I'm really quite unsure what to expect. The lineup they used last week in their loss of Schneider + Vovsha + Lenderman + Katz is certainly a reasonable one, but they will likely be inclined to switch after that tough defeat. Adding that to the fact that Stripunsky has been playing quite well this season, I would most expect a lineup of him along with two of the IMs and Ostrovskiy. I could also see them using Stripunsky, one of their IMs, along with Zhao and Thaler, but I tend to think the former type is the most likely.

In regards to what color Boston will pick, given who we are likely to see on the top two boards, it doesn't seem like having White on Board One compared to Board Two will really make much of a difference in terms of which place would be more advantageous to have White and so the bottom boards may well determine that. Clearly if we see another Esserman vs Lenderman battle, Boston will definitely want White there, but I think the most important thing would probably be giving Krasik White as looking at his record with each color this season (3.5 – 0.5 with White and 1 – 3 with Black), it's hard to imagine having White could be a bigger benefit anywhere else.

Assuming that the lineups and color are chosen as such, I foresee a match very even on the top two boards (maybe a slight Boston advantage), Queens likely favored on three, and Boston favored on four. All other things being equal, I would likely give Boston the slight edge, but with Queens having draw odds, they should still have the upper hand. Queens advances 59%.

Western Division:

Miami Sharks vs Seattle Sluggers

Seattle dominated the first three meetings between these two teams, but Miami has gotten the better of the last two encounters, including a dominating 3.5 – 0.5 victory in the first week of this season. A tough match lies ahead for sure, but Seattle has to be relieved to still be alive since they seemed to be on the verge of being eliminated in Week 10 so it should be interesting to see if they can make something out of their good fortune.

In terms of Miami's lineup, I really see two main possibilities. The first main choice they have is Becerra + Lopez / Perea + Galofre + Rodriguez and the other is Becerra + Lopez + Perea + Prilleltensky. Both of those lineups seem to have their salient points, the first being how well Rodriguez has played this year with a 5 – 1 record and the second being how solid both Lopez and Perea have been. It's very difficult to claim either lineup is strictly better than the other, but I would anticipate them using the latter lineup as that's the lineup they've been using recently and was responsible for the late season surge which made them division champions. For Seattle, if you had told me they would be in the playoffs in the middle portion of the season, I would definitely have anticipated that they would use their double GM lineup when they reached this point (Nakamura + Serper + Readey / Lee + May), but now I'm not nearly as certain. Simply put, given how well Mikhailuuk has played, winning his last four games, there is every reason to think that they might instead go with a more balanced lineup (Nakamura / Serper + Mikhailuk + Readey + Lee). I really don't know which they will end up going for, it may well be determined by what color Miami happens to choose for the match.

So which color should Miami choose based on that? Since each team's lineups may well depend on that very issue (especially with Seattle, given how different their double GM lineup really is from their balanced lineup), it's difficult to say for certain that one choice is better than the other. But if my hunch about the lineup Miami will use is right, I tend to think they're going to pick White almost for sure given how well both Becerra and Perea have done with the White pieces this year.

In terms of who has an advantage, I have to favor Miami quite reasonably as they really have outperformed Seattle on the bottom boards this year (Miami with 5 – 5 versus Seattle's 2 – 8 on Board Three along with Miami's 7.5 – 2.5 on Board Four versus Seattle's 4.5 – 5.5), and I think their advantage there along with draw odds should help them carry the day. Miami advances 68%.

San Francisco Mechanics vs Dallas Destiny

The last two USCL Champions meet in the Quarterfinals, with only one advancing to the Semifinals, in what should be a very interesting match.

San Francisco is in the unfamiliar position of having lost their last two matches, but with their two main young stars (newly crowned World Under 18 Co-Champion, Sam Shankland, and last year's World Under 12 Champion, Daniel Naroditsky) having been away, there definitely could be a reason for that. Being that as it is (the record of their team without those two compared to with it), I would definitely expect them to go with a lineup of Two of Wolff / Friedel / Bhat + Shankland + Naroditsky. Dallas has a wide variety of lineups they can use, especially with how many different ways they have to fill their top two boards, but based on each player's record this season, one lineup clearly seems to rise above the rest, that being Zivanic + Kuljasevic + Schneider + Zorigt (actually the lineup that Dallas used in both regular season encounters with San Francisco this year).

In regards to what color Dallas will pick, that seems like a very tough question. I'm sure they want to give their main trump, Kuljasevic, White, but at the same time, they probably want San Francisco's main trump, Shankland, to have Black. Since they (assuming they go with the lineups I mentioned) cannot have both, it seems somewhat unclear which choice they will make. Personally I would lean towards them picking White since if the color issue of Boards Two and Three close to balance each other out, it seems more likely to be a help to them on Board One than Four. But as mentioned, I definitely feel it's close, and the color choice here is the most unclear one to me amongst the four Wildcard matches.

In terms of who'll have the advantage, in my view, whichever color Dallas picks, likely the Board One and Board Four games will balance each other out, and similarly with Boards Two and Boards Three, but on those the latter boards I tend to give San Francisco a bit of an overall edge. Along with draw odds, I think the Mechanics have a very good shot. San Francisco advances 65%.

Since, as I said above, there are simply too many possibilities at this time to go into depth about the Semifinal or Final matches, I'll simply end with what I think each remaining team's chances of winning the Championship at this point are.

Miami: 21%

San Francisco: 18%

Queens: 15%

Boston: 14%

Dallas: 10%

New York: 9%

Carolina: 7%

Seattle: 6%

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Week 10 Predictions

I'll need massive week to catch Ron Young (or a massive playoff round) so no point in wasting time, just will get to it.

Carolina vs Philadelphia: Now that 75% Pure Shahades has dropped the weakest link from their team, they should be an unstoppable force when in the same lineup. Philadelphia 2.5 – 1.5

Boston vs Queens: As Mark LaRocca pointed out, Boston follows Krasik's results, and Krasik hasn't fared well with Black this season. I see that somewhat changing this week, but only halfway. Boston ties Queens 2 – 2

New York vs New Jersey: Same records as last season, alot of the same players, and the same stakes. Must amount to about the same result. New York 3 – 1

Tennessee vs Baltimore: Tennesse may be a bit lax since they know they won't have the worst record in the league this season while Baltimore will likely be doing their utmost to leave the Inventors with that dubious distinction instead of themselves. Baltimore 2.5 – 1.5

Miami vs San Francisco: One thing we've definitely learned from the past few years is that Miami owns San Francisco in the playoffs, but San Francisco tends to own them in the regular season. Even though there's no in between, Week 10 seems like the closest thing you can get so the result should follow suit. Miami ties San Francisco 2 – 2

Dallas vs Chicago: A match that may well play no role in Dallas's playoff positioning has them bringing out one of their typical very strong lineups, while if Chicago doesn't at least draw, they're going home for certain, and yet they bring out their weakest lineup (rating-wise) since Week 1? Very unusual given the respective stakes for both teams, but at least it makes it easy to pick. Dallas 3 – 1

Arizona vs Seattle: Arizona can do the unthinkable with a 3 – 1 win along with the Destiny having the result I expect of them. They'll make a fine effort to pull it off, but will likely end up sacrificing a 2.5 – 1.5 victory knowing they need more. Arizona ties Seattle 2 – 2

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Prediction Results -- Week 9

Not a very eventful week on the whole with no one really outshining the competition by much, though Ron Young has extended his lead, and with only one week in the regular season left along with the playoffs (which in total are effectively another full week), the time to catch him grows very short.

Totals after Week 9:

Ron Young: 83 Points (+9 This Week)
Arun Sharma: 77 Points (+6)
Bioniclime: 67 Points (+6)
Ed Scimia: 67 Points (+8)

QNS ties CAR 2 – 2

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

NY over BAL 3 – 1

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

BOS over PHI 3 – 1

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

MIA over NJ 3 – 1

ES/RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL/AS: Tie +0

DAL over SF 2.5 – 1.5

ES/AS: Tie +0
BL/RY: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +0

TEN over SEA 2.5 – 1.5

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

ARZ over CHC 3 – 1

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

Friday, October 24, 2008

Week 9 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 Sergey Kudrin (PHI) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1/2-1/2

Jonathan Hilton: Put simply, this was probably the only truly exciting game of the League this week that was played with relative accuracy. Most of the other exciting games featured strange blunders, but this one seems to have been played strongly throughout. Although I definitely would have preferred White after Black willingly parted with the Exchange, Christiansen did everything right: he took the center, placed his pieces on active squares, and broke through with his passed d-pawn. It's rare that a game features a Black pawn chain extending from h7 all the way to d3! White eventually managed to cash out with 41. Rxd3 and the game petered out to a draw, but not without some flashy tactical play. I just wish we could give each player $100 rather than having to split it! (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I should have ranked this game first. I was having trouble ranking the games this week, because every flashy looking win seemed to involve some hideous blunders by one's opponent or some very cooperative play. I actually skipped this game over in my first look through the games, because of I suppose a bias against draws, but after looking at it again, I realized how favorably it compared to the other games. I didn't go over this game with Fritz or use a fine-toothed comb to examine it, but in the other games this week (except for the one I erroneously ranked first place) every win was achieved by ridiculously obvious blunders by an opponent while in this game it seemed like both sides played quite reasonably/well. I suppose in the Charbonneau vs Erenburg game the blunders weren't obvious, because it was a confusing position, but both sides made enough very clear mistakes where I couldn't rank that too highly.

Anyway enough about those games ... simply put this was a sharp game, seemingly well played by both sides, and so it's a deserving winner!
Also, it's nice to have a drawn game win every once in a while. Congrats to Jonathan Hilton for getting it right as usual :) (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: Although I ranked this game second, in retrospect I think it was definitely the best choice for the top prize since as Jonathan pointed out this was a way more accurate game than pretty much any other game this week which was even reasonably exciting. Nice play by both sides in many tough situations, fairly clean, with a hard fought draw probably being the fairest result.

In general though, this week I must say that pretty much all the reasonable candidates for GOTW (except this game) seemed to have a large issue in that the losing side really completely self destructed at some point. I basically had to accept the fact that nearly all the reasonable candidates had that detraction, and so it was going to be necessary to rank some games with that defect. Once I realized that, I went about finding the games amongst those which I felt were the most interesting, and to me the Becerra game was clearly the one that fit the bill best in that regard as both the opening of that game along with the tactics at the end were very interesting. I think ranking it first was probably too high given the blunders involved (as I said, this game should almost certainly have been first), but given the alternatives, it still doesn't seem unreasonable to me still to make it a reasonably high pick.
(2nd place: 4 points)

Total Score of Kudrin vs Christiansen: 13 points


2nd Place: IM Emory Tate (CHC) vs FM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: For me, this game was an obvious pick. Tate's play against Rensch was creative, resourceful, and involved heavy calculation. Although White did seem to win a pawn with a fairly routine tactic in the middlegame, thus making it appear that he would win handily, Rensch live up to his name and put some monkey Rensch's in White's path on the way to the win. White’s decision to play 34. Bc4 is commendable because Tate clearly saw through the Black’s tactics, knowing that if 36...Qxc4, he could play 37. Bxf6! and then 38. Qg3+, winning Black’s loose Rook on b8. Overall, I would say Tate played a very impressive game, using plenty of tactics in a sharp (yet clearly better) position to pack home the point. His transition into the endgame was also very nice, keeping the Black king from returning to h6 or h7 for an f and h pawn draw. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: I think that this game would usually not finish so highly, but as I said earlier, there was a problem with a lot of games this week. While Tate seemed to play well, Rensch was unbelievably cooperative with 27... Nxe5. (3rd Place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: As mentioned above, I felt Black was a bit more cooperative in this game than I would generally like a top game to be, but it definitely was a well played game by Tate with some very nice tactics (both 28. Rxe5 and 38. Rxc8) and given the other choices, it was probably quite deserving of this ranking that it ended up with. (3rd place: 3 points)

Total Score of Tate vs Rensch: 10 points


3rd Place: SM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Osmany Perea (MIA) 1-0

Greg Shahade: Realize that Jonathan Hilton had to break a tie between this game and Benjamin vs Becerra, which Arun Sharma ranked in first place. Arun usually makes reasonable selections but that one was very poor in my opinion, given that I feel Benjamin totally outplayed Becerra, and in time trouble missed the ridiculously obvious 26. Nd4, which would have pretty much won instantly and then got summarily mated in a few moves.

I shouldn't have ranked this game first (second or third probably). It wasn't super exciting, but it was a fighting game, where one side didn't simply roll over and die, and both sides seemed to at least play reasonable moves the entire game without any huge amounts of luck/swindles involved. Also, it's a kind of funny the mutual zugzwang at the end (On move 45 after Kc1, I believe if it's White to move its a draw, Black to move, White is winning etc. because the Rook needs to stay on a2 to meet Kb1 with d2), which is something you don't see all the time.
Black probably had to play 42... g6 to stop this, and perhaps then it's just a draw. (1st place: 5 points)

Jonathan Hilton: I most definitely cast my tiebreak vote to give this third spot to Molner vs Perea. Molner's epic struggle to win the pawn up Rook endgame deserves some credit. Overall, it’s a valiant upset by Molner, who should be over 2400 any day now if he isn't already. I would have picked this game for a top five slot myself, but unfortunately I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of trying to analyze it. I wound up passing it up for five other picks, but this one could have easily been in the mix. There were so many games that just almost cut it, and there were no games that stood head and shoulders above the others. Really, GOTW this week can only be considered first among equals. I think Molner picked the right week to play this game — this is a week where quality was in high demand, more so than excitement, and if there is one thing Molner has, it's a knack for avoiding major inaccuracies. (NR: 0 points)

Arun Sharma: As Jonathan logically points out, the quality of the games this week seemed to be much lower than in general. This was certainly a reasonably played game by both sides, certainly none of the big blunders which were so detracting for some of the other games, but I wouldn't call this game exciting in basically any way (and given what Greg typically seems to favor in his rankings, I'm quite shocked that he would be the judge of us three who'd choose to give this game first). I really have no idea if this game deserved to be ranked and what ranking it deserved if did, but it just didn't suggest itself to me in any way when I looked at it so I didn't rank it. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Molner vs Perea: 5 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Arun 5):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 0-1

3 points (Jon 3):
SM Gregory Braylovsky (NY) vs FM Ralph Zimmer (BAL) 1-0

3 points (Greg 2, Jon 1):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (PHI) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 1-0

2 points (Jon 2):
FM Igor Schneider (DAL) vs IM David Pruess (SF) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2):
GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
IM Mark Ginsburg (ARZ) vs IM Jan Van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0

1 point (Arun 1):
FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) 0-1

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Playoff Scenarios

With there only being a week left in the regular season, in lieu of doing power rankings this week, I'll just run down the playoff scenarios for every team (since after all those would probably amount to the same thing at this point anyway). Note that it's entirely possible that certain seeding could be determined using the second tiebreaker if teams are tied in match points (the first tiebreaker for this being game points) which is opponent's record – something that can greatly change from week to week (and is dependent on basically every other result that happens that week also) and is thus something which is pretty much impossible to guess as to who will have the better of it at the end of Week 10. Keeping that in mind, here are how things look (do note that several things I write will be repetitive since a certain scenario for a team might be repeated in regards to how it affects another team when I talk about them, but I do want to give each team a full rundown when discussing them).

Eastern Division:

Queens Pioneers: Queens has clinched a playoff spot and will almost certainly take first place, with the only way for them to slip to second occurring if they lose to Boston, Carolina defeats Philadelphia, and in the process Carolina scores two game points more than them (if Carolina scores exactly one and a half more, it comes down to the second tiebreaker).

Carolina Cobras: Carolina has clinched a playoff spot and will most likely finish second. Only with a win against Philadelphia and a Queens loss to Boston which has them scoring two more game points than Queens can they take the top spot (again with exactly one and a half it will fall to the second tiebreaker). Very similarly, they can slip to third only with a loss and a Boston win where Boston scores two and a half more game points than them (with it coming down to the second tiebreaker if the difference this week is exactly two game points).

Boston Blitz: Boston has clinched a playoff spot and will most likely finish third or fourth. They can move up to second only with a win against Queens and a Carolina loss to Philadelphia which has them scoring two and half game points more than Carolina (with two game points leaving it to the second tiebreaker). They will fall to fourth with a loss and a New Jersey win (with a New York win, it's only possible to fall to fourth with a 4 – 0 win by New York and a 4 – 0 loss by Boston to Queens, but even then it comes down to the second tiebreaker). They can also fall to fourth with a loss and a New Jersey draw if Boston loses by a score of 4 – 0 or 3.5 – 0.5 (with a 3 – 1 loss, it falls to the second tiebreaker). Likewise, they can also get fourth with a draw and a New Jersey win if New Jersey wins by a score of 4 – 0 or 3.5 – 0.5 (3 – 1 again requires the second tiebreaker).

New Jersey Knockouts: Before I discuss New Jersey's situation, I feel the need to get something off my chest. One might remember how midway through the season GM Benjamin essentially mocked me for my general appraisals of how his team would do this season, something he was probably justified in doing given how I'd predicted them to finish in fifth and they were sitting in second at 3.5 – 1.5 However, justified or not, being my usual petty self, I can't resist a chance for payback as I must point out that should his team fall to New York in the final week, they will finish in the EXACT place I predicted them to finish in at the beginning (fifth) with the EXACT record I envisioned (4.5 – 5.5) (and then I'll really have some fun). While of course, whether he wants to view me saying this as being a threat or turns it around and uses it for motivation to not lose this week, well that's up to him, but as I said, I felt the need to say it while I had the opportunity.

New Jersey needs to win or draw against New York to clinch their playoff spot (they are eliminated with a loss). Should they do so, they are most likely to finish in fourth with them moving up to third with a win and a Boston loss, a win and a Boston draw where they win by a score of 4 – 0 or 3.5 – 0.5, or a draw and a Boston loss where Boston loses by a score of 4 – 0 or 3.5 – 0.5 (in both of the latter two scenarios, a 3 – 1 score requires the second tiebreaker).

New York Knights: New York can clinch a playoff spot only with a win against New Jersey. Should they do so, they are pretty much guaranteed to finish in fourth as they can only move up to third with a 4 – 0 win combined with a 4 – 0 loss by Boston (which will still require the use of the second tiebreaker).

Philadelphia Inventors, Baltimore Kingfishers: Philadelphia and Baltimore have been eliminated from postseason contention.

Western Division:

San Francisco Mechanics: San Francisco has clinched a playoff spot and will win the division with a last week's win or draw against Miami. With a loss they will fall to second except with a 4 – 0 loss combined with a 4 – 0 win by Dallas (if either of these wins occurs by a 3.5 – 0.5 score then the second tiebreaker is needed), in which case they will fall to third.

Miami Sharks: Miami has clinched a playoff spot and can clinch the division only with a last week win against San Francisco. With a draw they are guaranteed second place, and with a loss they will also get second place unless Dallas defeats Chicago, in which case they fall to third.

Dallas Destiny: Dallas has clinched their playoff spot and will most likely finish third. They can move up to second with a win against Chicago combined with a Miami loss to San Francisco or a 4 – 0 win combined with a 4 – 0 loss by San Francisco (once again, if either one of the losses is 3.5 – 0.5, the second tiebreaker is required). They can slip to fourth only with a loss combined with a Seattle victory over Arizona which has Seattle scoring two and a half more game points than them (with exactly two, again second tiebreaker decides it).

Seattle Sluggers: Seattle clinches a playoff spot with a win where they are most likely to finish fourth unless Chicago defeats Dallas also, and Seattle scores two and a half game points more than Dallas (with exactly two, second tiebreaker is used). They can also clinch a playoff spot in some situations with a a draw or loss (though fourth place is guaranteed then). With a draw and a Chicago draw or loss, they will also clinch their spot. With a 2.5 – 1.5 loss along with a Chicago loss, they can also take fourth (a worse loss eliminates them though).

Chicago Blaze: Chicago can at best take fourth in the West which they will do with a win over Dallas along with a Seattle draw or loss to Arizona. They can also take fourth with a draw combined with a Seattle loss.

Arizona Scorpions: Arizona can take fourth place only with at least a 3 – 1 victory over Seattle along with a Chicago loss to Dallas. If either of these does not occur, they are eliminated.

Tennessee Tempo: Tennessee has been eliminated from postseason contention.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Week 9 Predictions

I've grown accustomed to doing the shorthand predictions, and as this is the last week for Monday matches this season (i.e. can't be yelled at and told to do a better job next time), I'll take the cheap route by sticking with the easier method.

Queens vs Carolina: Last week I predicted Queens to triumph on the top two boards and perish on the bottom two, but they managed to do a bit better than that. I might be inclined to call the same thing this week, but the larger issue may be that I've managed to underestimate Carolina's result pretty much every week. Well that streak of mine will certainly come to an end this week no matter what happens. Carolina 2.5 – 1.5

New York vs Baltimore: Baltimore has almost completely owned New York since the league began, but right now New York is hot, and Baltimore is well...not. Combine that with New York's knack for rising from the dead late in the season, and I think I have to choose in favor of that factor instead of the teams' head to head history. New York 2.5 – 1.5

Philadelphia vs Boston: Boston should be ripe for revenge, and with them being on the verge of clinching their playoff spot finally, they won't disappoint in their performance. Philadelphia's main saving grace, which I'm sure is a good consolation prize to manager is Mike Shahade, is that even if Boston has the only team between the two which really has a chance to win the USCL at this point, his city is the only one between the two with a chance to win the World Series now (and we can all recall how he predicted this). Unfortunately, that's likely to bode even worse for them in this match as who knows how many of the team members might be out partying late rather than getting ready for this match. Boston 3 – 1

New Jersey vs Miami: Very even board by board. I might have the inclination to give the slight nod to New Jersey, but the Knockouts are definitely likely to be playing it a tad safe given they don't want to risk having to play New York in the final week battling for their playoff lives. As such, this should play to a standstill. New Jersey ties Miami 2 - 2

Dallas vs San Francisco: Dallas is suddenly in a fight for their playoff lives and being the defending champions, they will rise to the occasion and won't lose this week. But San Francisco being my preseason pick to win the league this year, I don't think they'll lose either. Dallas ties San Francisco 2 – 2

Seattle vs Tennessee: Seattle had a huge rating advantage when these two teams met previously, but only managed to come out with a draw. How will they fare when the two teams are about equally matched rating-wise? Given their general record against the Tempo, and how much more meaningful this match is for them, they should prevail, but only barely. Seattle 2.5 – 1.5

Chicago vs Arizona: Like previous matches, it's clear who this match holds more meaning for given each team's respective playoff hopes. Add to that the fact that Van de Mortel and Tate have both been playing quite well this season, and Ginsburg and Rensch have been struggling, I think this one's easy to call. Chicago 3 – 1

(FM Ron Young predicts Carolina to win 2.5 – 1.5 on Monday).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Prediction Results -- Week 8

A fairly good week for all of us, at least in terms of the number of points far exceeding what most weeks tend to have. Of course, it also managed to accomplish absolutely nothing in the actual standings (all four of us getting the exact same number of points could have something to do with that perhaps?). With only two weeks and the playoffs remaining, the time to make a move in this contest is running short, but it's close enough that anything can still happen for sure.

Totals after Week 8:

Ron Young: 74 Points (+13 This Week)
Arun Sharma: 71 Points (+13)
Bioniclime: 61 Points (+13)
Ed Scimia: 59 Points (+13)

NY over PHI 3 – 1

BL/ES/AS/RY: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +2

CAR over NJ 2.5 – 1.5

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

MIA over DAL 3.5 – 0.5

ES/AS/RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +0

BOS over BAL 3 – 1

BL/AS/RY: BOS 2.5 – 1.5 +2
ES: Tie +0

QNS over CHC 3 – 1

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

SF over TEN 3 – 1

BL/ES/AS/RY: Correct +4

SEA over ARZ 2.5 – 1.5

ES/AS/RY: Correct +3
BL: SEA 3 – 1 +2

Power Rankings -- Week 8

With only two weeks remaining in the season, the focus of every team has to nearly solely be on making the playoffs and doing so with the best possible seeding. As that is the primary focus, the rankings this week will be based nearly completely on a team's chances in exactly that regard, and my individual discussions about each team will be centered on what their basic position in regards to the playoffs really is.

1st: San Francisco Mechanics (6.5 – 1.5) (+0 from last week). With a one and a half match lead with only two weeks left, the Mechanics are on the brink of their third division title in four years. Of course, if they can manage to not lose to Miami in the final week, that alone will suffice for capturing the division, but it would obviously be best to maintain at least the lead they have now going into the final week to give the Sharks no chance, since if Miami manages to creep any closer in Week 9, a final week victory by the Sharks will give them the division instead. (Win Division: 86%, Make Playoffs: 100%), (Combined Current Record of Remaining Opponents: 9.5 – 6.5)

2nd: Queens Pioneers (6.5 – 1.5) (+0). Another solid victory by the Pioneers, with their young guard holding the fort on the bottom boards against the balanced lineup of Chicago. The Pioneers can obviously wrap up the division with a win in their rematch against the only team to have defeated them, Carolina, this week and even a draw will put them in a very good spot with them only being able to lose the division then with a final round loss coupled with a Cobra win which have reasonably big margins of victory. The thing to really avoid is another loss which will leave everything up in the air come the final week. (78%, 100%), (9.5 – 6.5)

3rd: Carolina Cobras (5.5 – 2.5) (+2). Will the Cinderella story ever end? I'm sure the Cobras would pick for it to continue for at least a couple months more, winning them the league in the process, but that's still a very long way away. As mentioned with the Pioneers, Carolina really needs to win this week to have a real chance at taking the division, but even if that doesn't happen, they still must be concerned with keeping solid control of second place (and even third, though it's quite unlikely that they could slip all the way to fourth). It's an interesting question as to whether Carolina, if faced with a drawn match this week, would take a risk which might risk them losing while also giving them a better chance to win. As mentioned, without a win, their chances of being division champs are very low, but a draw this week would do wonders for locking up second place while a loss is very likely to put it all on the line in the last week. (21%, 100%), (8.5 – 7.5)

4th: Miami Sharks (5.0 – 3.0) (+2). Miami seems to have regained their early season form once again with two consecutive
3.5 – 0.5 victories, exactly the way they started the season. As Dallas and Chicago play in the final week, and Miami's tiebreaks are much better than either of them, even a draw in either week will clinch the Sharks a playoff spot (other than one extreme circumstance which involves their loss and Chicago's win this week both to be by a 4 – 0 score). The division title will require some outside help along with a final week win – a fair long shot no doubt, but they have to feel very good about their overall playoff positioning. (12%, 95%), (11 – 5)

5th: New Jersey Knockouts (4.5 – 3.5) (-1). After appearing to be a complete lock for the playoffs in the past couple of weeks, suddenly New Jersey does have some worries as they face a red hot Miami team this week with Boston and a resurgent New York team trying to chase them down. Barring a ridiculous margin of victory from the Knights in both weeks, a draw with Miami will basically lock up their spot, but a loss combined with a Knights win is likely to put them in the same exact spot as last season -- facing the Knights in the final week with a half point lead and needing a draw to clinch, but falling short (assuming that Boston manages to score at least 1 – 1 in the final two weeks also). Given this would also involve ending the season on a 0.5 – 3.5 skid, that would obviously be a devastating blow, and I'm sure they'd like to put any chance of such a showdown taking place out of the picture by not losing against Miami. (1%, 95%), (8 – 8)

6th: Boston Blitz (4.0 – 4.0) (+2). Boston simply needs to score at least 1 – 1 in the last two weeks to virtually assure themselves of a spot (like New Jersey, this only has a chance to fail if the Knights manage two victories with huge margins). Clear enough mission for them then, and it's probably best not to tempt fate as failing to score that may well leave them out since given the Knights' league history, I wouldn't be inclined to bet against New York scoring 2 – 0 in the final two weeks to overtake them should they not manage to go at least
1 – 1. (0%, 91%), (8.5 – 7.5)

7th: Seattle Sluggers (4.5 – 3.5) (+2). Although the Sluggers have slightly worse tiebreakers than the Destiny, I feel they are in a slightly better spot playoff-wise as they simply (by record) have the easier opposition in the final two weeks. Even putting aside the fact of their opponents' record, determination could well be a factor as this week they face a team who is already eliminated and in the final week an opponent who is almost eliminated and could well be completely so by the time that match takes place. They do have to be concerned by the fact that should it come down to tiebreaks, they are guaranteed to lose out to Chicago in that regard, and are currently at a disadvantage to Dallas (though the latter deficit could be negated by the end). Due to this fact, even a victory this week to put them at 5.5 – 3.5 is not guaranteed to clinch them their spot. (1%, 78%), (4.5 – 11.5)

8th: Dallas Destiny (4.5 – 3.5) (-5). Another victim of a Shark blowout, and a very unfortunate time for it to happen as their playoff spot is definitely in peril now, and their tiebreaks are very tenuous due to this most recent loss (should they wind up tied with Chicago, they are virtually guaranteed to have inferior tiebreaks as only specific instance which involves very specific match scores could have that not be the case). They do have the current tiebreak edge over Seattle, but obviously they have to be concerned, facing San Francisco this week and then one of the teams which is in the thick of the playoff battle with them, Chicago. (1%, 76%), (10.5 – 5.5)

9th: Chicago Blaze (4.0 – 4.0) (-2). The Blaze continue to bounce back and forth between the fourth and fifth spot, and it seems probable that they will end the regular season in one of those two spots also. Unfortunately for them only one of those positions moves on while the other goes home for the winter. Chicago's main route is pretty clear as beating the Destiny in the final week will give them their playoff spot unless the Destiny win this week and the Blaze fall (or, as noted for Dallas, there is a remote possibility requiring very specific scores which would allow Dallas to still finish ahead of Chicago should the teams be tied in match points). Should the Blaze only draw the Destiny then they will need to do at least half a point better than them in Week 9 (or get some decent help from Seattle's opponents) while a loss to Dallas would require some tremendous help from Seattle's opponents, something that they obviously should not count on. (0%, 51%), (7 – 9)

10th: New York Knights (3.0 – 5.0) (+2). Can New York really pull off another miracle this year? It seems to be be becoming more and more possible as it was a mere pipe dream when they were 1 – 5, but suddenly the path is much more of a reality. However, due to their miserable tiebreaks, they clearly need to overtake at least one of New Jersey and Boston in match points. To do the former, very simply they must go 2 – 0 and the Knockouts 0 – 2 and for the latter they will obviously need help from Boston's opponents (while going at least 1.5 – 0.5 themselves). It's still possible that even going 2 – 0 might not make it if New Jersey manages to at least draw this week, and Boston manages to go at least 1 – 1, but again the dream is now alive and kicking, definitely more so than could be said recently. (0%, 13%), (6 – 10)

11th: Arizona Scorpions (2.5 – 5.5) (-1). Not much life left for the Scorpions unfortunately even though this makes their path fairly clear: Win their last two matches, hope that Chicago falls to Dallas in the final week. and that Seattle falls to Tennesee in Week 9. Should that occur, if Arizona can manage to beat the Sluggers in the final week by more than the minimum, that will be enough to put the Scorpions into the postseason (and really the only way, except again if they have two total blowout wins while the appropriate opposition has blowout losses). A long shot to be sure, but as always better than none. (0%, 1%), (8.5 – 7.5)

12th: Philadelphia Inventors (2.0 – 6.0) (-1). Like the Scorpions, the Inventors's mission, albeit extremely bleak looking, is very clear also: Win their final two matches, hope that New York cannot score better than 1 – 1 in their final two, and that Queens knocks off Boston in the final week. Should this remarkably occur, the Inventors still need to make up some tiebreak ground on Boston (which they of course are guaranteed to somewhat do via them going 2 – 0 and Boston 0 – 2), but if they really want to give themselves a chance to catch Boston in tiebreaks, beating them by a score similar to the 3.5 – 0.5 blowout that they had earlier against them this season is really what they need to do. (0%, 1%), (9.5 – 6.5)

13th: Tennessee Tempo (2.0 – 6.0) (+0). So now it comes down to the role of spoiler for the Tempo who are the Scorpions' only chance to remain alive in the playoff race, as without a victory by them against Seattle, the Scorpions are eliminated. Not only that, the Sluggers' general chances to finish ahead of at least one of Dallas and Chicago greatly hinge on this match, making it a very important one for the Western division as a whole. (0%, 0%), (6 – 10)

14th: Baltimore Kingfishers (1.5 – 6.5) (+0). Like the Tempo, Baltimore can now play the role of spoiler, as defeating their old adversaries the Knights in the upcoming week will knock the Knights out of contention, and a draw is virtually certain to do so as well. (0%, 0%), (5 – 11)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Week 8 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 Sergey Erenburg (BAL) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: I think this game deserves to be the undisputed winner of this week's GOTW competition. The game featured no less than three (!!) exchange sacrifices or pseudo-exchange sacrifices by the feared GM, all of which Black decided to decline: 14. f5!, allowing Black to eventually chomp with 16... Bxh1; 18. g6!!, based on the line 18... Nf3? 19. Bxf3 Bxf3 20. Re3 Bxd1? 21. Nd5! Qxc2+ 22. Qxc2 Bxc2 and then the nice intermezzo 23. Nxe7, with check; and finally 22. Rd3!!, once again just hoping Black would take the Rook and allow White’s light-square Bishop free reign. Despite the fact that Baltimore lost to Boston in any case, I think Erenburg produced one of the shiniest gems in recent USCL history. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: I can't say I was especially enthused about voting this game first since it was a bit more one-sided than I like my top games to really be (in my view, Erenburg's win from two weeks ago was far more deserving of winning GOTW than this game). Even though there seemed to be a fair selection of good games to choose from this week, I didn't really feel any game particularly stood out. This game, like is typical of Erenburg, seemed virtually flawless by him, and even though the mating attack might not have been the hardest of attacks to finish off, he seemed to really do it nicely, particularly 22. Rd3! As such, given the competition, this seemed to be the best choice for the top spot to me. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Like Arun, I was hesitant to rank this game highly due to the ridiculously one-sided nature of the game. In fact, all five of my games were games that ended in very violent attacks, and I think that in the end I ranked them in order of overall competitiveness. However, sometimes violent attacks against an opponent who doesn't put up much resistance are entertaining, especially when you know they are generally a strong opponent, like SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun. Even though I only ranked this game third I admit it might be the best choice for GOTW. Congrats to GM Erenburg on his great season so far! (3rd place: 3 points)

Total Score of Erenburg vs Sammour-Hasbun: 13 points


2nd Place: IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0

Greg Shahade: As I mentioned above, I thought that this was by far the most competitive of the five games I ranked. There were a few well played games that I didn't rank, but I found them a bit too boring / dry / positional (such as Benjamin vs Milman, Felecan vs Stripunsky etc). In the end, this was a pretty interesting game, although Tate could have clearly played better at some point in the late stages of the game. I disagree with Arun below when he claims that Tate seemed to have a "very nice position". I felt that it was pretty double-edged the whole time. Anyway it's probably best that Alex not win three GOTWs in a row, or else people will start claiming there's a conspiracy. (1st place: 5 points)

Jonathan Hilton: Alex won this game in what is becoming his trademark style: crunch, calculate, and churn through those tactics. In his interview with Liz Vicary he mentioned training with Dvoretsky books, and I have no doubt that he works with them constantly — he is finding strong moves in difficult positions and steering through difficult, tight-rope situations. All this work he is putting into improving his chess really is paying dividends — both for him (in results) and for the spectators (for excitement). Around move 22 or so I might seriously have preferred the great Tate's position, but Lenderman neutralized Black's central advantage quite well I thought. Then he concentrated on his own strength, the two Bishops, to weave a mating net. I’ll be seriously surprised if this game doesn’t make it into the you-know-what. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: I definitely liked the tactics at the end of the game, especially 33. Bxa6 (and 14. Nxf7 was also nice, albeit a move that kind of begs to be played in that position). At the same time in spite of the early tactics, it seemed like Black got a very nice position in the middlegame which naturally made me question the effectiveness of Nxf7 and of White's opening in general. I definitely think this game deserved to be ranked on the whole, but again I wasn't (and am still not) sure exactly what sort of ranking was truly appropriate due to the latter fact. (5th place: 1 point)

Total Score of Lenderman vs Tate: 10 points


3rd Place: FM Sam Shankland (SF) vs FM John Bick (TEN) 1-0

Arun Sharma: Mostly a good game by both players, with nice maneuvering, and seemingly well played (at least until 28... h4?), and then nice tactics by Shankland to exploit that mistake with a very artistic finish.

In regards to Greg's below comment about my Boskovic vs Lopez pick, sadly for once in his life (guess it was bound to happen someday), he might be correct; I admit that pick was a tough one. Like Greg to me, it seemed to have the makings of a great game through most of the middlegame; if Lopez had managed to finish off the nice attack he started, it likely would have been an easy first place pick by me. But he didn't do so and there followed some huge blunders by both sides. As I said this really had the makings of a great game to me and should those ending blunders move it from first place to not ranked at all? Perhaps, I don't know, but for me those mistakes moved it from a great game to a good game, the same basic category I put probably eight games from this week, and which of those game should have been first, second, etc. amongst those, I'm really not sure. Again, I had a very tough time picking my order this week. (3rd place: 3 points)

Jonathan Hilton: This was really a nice effort by Shankland. I felt he made some strong tactical choices in executing his Kingside attack. That said, I felt Black really was holding his own in the middlegame until 28... h4?! which seemed to jettison all the work Black had done to make his King safe. Black’s play throughout the game just seemed a little too ambitious — even in the opening stages he really over committed himself to the Queenside. Something like 17. f5 might have blasted Black off the board from the get-go, since although Black can win a Rook, his pieces aren't very active. Still, I think Shankland really deserves this GOTW slot. He's had a lot of strong games in the league and this one had the positional intrigue and decisive tactical play necessary to garner a GOTW slot. (4th place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: This game only gets ranked due to one beautiful move by FM Shankland (32. Ne8+). The rest of the game was not so exciting, and 28...h4 seemed like a really mysterious decision by FM Bick. However the final move was really quite picturesque, and this is why I ranked the game. Also congrats to Matthew Herman for getting his due consideration this time! Based on my previous formulas, I felt it was the least competitive of all the violent bloodbaths, and so I gave it fifth.

Also, since I have a moment I may as well take some time to express my confusion at some of the other judges' picks. Boskovic vs Lopez had the makings of a good game as it was an interesting position, but then both sides clearly made some errors, and after that, the endgame was horrendously misplayed. Also, I know that Jonathan and Ilya Krasik are great friends, but unfortunately aside from that fact, I can't really explain why he might have ranked that game in third place.
(4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Shankland vs Bick: 7 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Greg 4):
GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) vs IM Levon Altounian (ARZ) 1-0

4 points (Arun 4):
IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 0-1

3 points (Jon 3):
NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) vs FM Ralph Zimmer (BAL) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 1-0

1 point (Jon 1):
FM Ray Kaufman (BAL) vs SM Marc Esserman (BOS) 0-1

1 points (Greg 1):
NM Matt Herman (NY) vs NM Matthew Bengtson (PHI) 1-0

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Week 8 Predictions

Once again this week's Monday slate is heavier than normal so I will just go for the shorthand version for predicting all the matches.

Philadelphia vs New York: As I noted in my power rankings, it's completely do or die time for both these teams, with even a draw having a chance to eliminate them. New York is definitely the team which has shown a tendency to shine in exactly these types of situations in the past so I have to go with them. New York 2.5 – 1.5

New Jersey vs Carolina: The battle likely to determine second place in the East. One can only hope FM Zaikov has something equally unique up his sleeve to is 1. a3!! brilliancy against NM Molner in 2006 in their upcoming rematch as his team will likely need him to win. He should have a good chance to do just that which will probably bring the overall match to a standstill. New Jersey ties Carolina 2 – 2

Miami vs Dallas: Zivanic has been super impressive so far, drawing three strong GMs with Black and defeating another with White. This week should prove another stern test for him as facing Becerra with Black is likely the stiffest challenge anyone can venture into in the League. While one can't ignore Zivanic's impressive record thus far, I still have to think Becerra has a very good chance to take the full point home, and the remaining boards seem to add up to a deadlock. Miami 2.5 – 1.5

Baltimore vs Boston: Frankly Baltimore's lifetime record isn't that stellar, despite their 2005 Championship. But one thing definitely does has worked for them throughout: generally owning both Boston and New York. While I tend to trust history in most circumstances since every match is so close that one has nothing else to really rely on, Boston simply needs this particular match too badly, and they strike me as the sort of team that will rise to the occasion. Boston 2.5 – 1.5

Chicago vs Queens: Chicago brings out the same lineup that gave them a tie when previously facing the other 5.5 – 1.5 team, San Francisco. I see a repeat performance, not only in score, but in how it's created. Chicago loses the top two but wins the bottom two. Chicago ties Queens 2 – 2

San Francisco vs Tennessee: Well Ehlvest is still basically an unstoppable force in the league so him triumphing even with Black against Wolff can't be too improbable, but the Mechanics still seem likely to sweep the other boards. San Francisco 3 – 1

Seattle vs Arizona: Arizona may be on the brink of elimination, but given each team's general chances of making it, this match is still probably more valuable to the Sluggers. Like the Miami vs Dallas showdown, Seattle scores the full point on the top board and the other boards combine to a deadlock. Seattle 2.5 – 1.5

(FM Ron Young predicts New York, New Jersey, and Miami all to win 2.5 – 1.5 on Monday).

Prediction Results -- Week 7

Another good week by me to solidify my position in second, with me receiving another couple of lucky breaks late in matches as New York and Queens both seemed to be headed towards the wrong result before the typical USCL curse that randomly strikes teams late in matches hit, which happened to serve me favorably this week. We'll see if it continues to do so to allow me in the next weeks to allow me to claim first place for the first time in this contest this season.

Totals after Week 7:

Ron Young: 61 Points (+13 This Week)
Arun Sharma: 58 Points (+13)
Bioniclime: 48 Points (+6)
Ed Scimia: 46 Points (+6)

NY over BOS 2.5 – 1.5

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

QNS ties NJ 2 – 2

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

CHC over TEN 2.5 – 1.5

RY: Correct +3
BL/ES/AS: CHC 3 – 1 +2

CAR over BAL 3.5 – 0.5

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

DAL over PHI 2.5 – 1.5

RY: DAL 2.5 – 1.5 +3
BL: Tie +0
ES/AS: PHI 2.5 – 1.5 +0

MIA over ARZ 3.5 – 0.5

BL/ES/AS/RY: MIA 2.5 – 1.5 +2

SF over SEA 3 – 1

ES/AS/RY: SF 2.5 – 1.5 +2
BL: Tie +0

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Power Rankings -- Week 7

So with only three weeks remaining in the regular season, the finish line is now beginning to come into sight for our teams, but most of them still have a lot of work to do in those three weeks to make those dreams a reality.

The difference in the two divisions is really beginning to become transparent now as with the West having a big edge in the Interleague play this season, it's obvious based on the current standings that there is a fair difference in records required to reach the postseason in each division. In the East, with Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore all languishing, unless one of the former two can manage to get an unlikely 2.5 – 0.5 (or 3 – 0 for Baltimore), a record of 4.5 – 5.5 will definitely make the playoffs in the East (and even if one of those teams should manage as such, such a record still might make it should Boston falter). However, in the West, given that Miami, Chicago, and Seattle do not play any matches amongst each other in the final three weeks, it seems reasonably likely that all of them, along with Dallas, will manage to have a 0.500 or better record at season's end, meaning a record of 5 – 5 may well not make the playoffs in the West. So let's see how this all plays into my rankings this week.

1st: San Francisco Mechanics (5.5 – 1.5) (+1 from last week). So the Mechanics reclaim the top spot, and I'm sure they'd like to keep it that way en route to claiming the division title. That will almost certainly come down to their big showdown a week from now against Dallas as a win or even a draw there will make them nearly certain to capture the West then. Of course, with a loss, their slight tiebreak edge over the Destiny will likely mostly (or completely) vanish with that loss making it anyone's game, something which they obviously need to take every step possible to avoid. (Win Division: 61%, Make Playoffs: 100%), (Combined Current Record of Remaining Opponents: 10.5 – 10.5)

2nd: Queens Pioneers (5.5 – 1.5) (-1). A big hurdle cleared by the Pioneers, and though they didn't achieve a victory that would have likely all but sewn up the division, they obviously had to be happy still with coming away with a draw after the way the match seemed to be swinging. The division is now theirs for the taking, but the upstart team from Carolina, now in second, may well try to throw a wrench in those plans in their next week's rematch. (67%, 100%), (11.5 – 9.5)

3rd: Dallas Destiny (4.5 – 2.5) (+1). Another strong win by the Destiny, again showing they aren't going to go out quietly while trying to defend when their Championship, repeatedly winning matches that most believe them to be underdogs in. They can hardly rest on their laurels though since as mentioned above, the playoffs are still not a lock for them, and they now will have three consecutive matches with teams all of whom are fighting hard to overtake them or not allow the Destiny to overtake them, clearly making each of those matches a rather big and important challenge. (21%, 86%), (13.5 – 7.5)

4th: New Jersey Knockouts (4.5 – 2.5) (-1). A draw with Queens is certainly a fine result even if they were obviously hoping for more which would have locked up their playoff spot and allowed them to mostly control their destiny as to the division title. The former should still be a formality, and while they might need outside help to claim the division, second place versus third place is hardly trivial either, and this week's match vs second place Carolina may determine exactly that. (18%, 98%), (10.5 – 10.5)

5th: Carolina Cobras (4.5 – 2.5) (+2). I kept thinking that Carolina's magical run would end, but this run clearly doesn't seem to be one that will end short of a playoff spot as they've now all but locked that spot up. Like their Knockout opponents, who they are currently deadlocked with, I'm sure their focus now has to be on trying to make it in at least second place, but they also have a real chance to claim the top spot, as they get another crack at the Pioneers in the following week, and being the only team to defeat them this season, the dream to win the division could well become a reality. Of course that essentially involves beating New Jersey and Queens in consecutive weeks, something I would never have guessed them capable of, but they've proved me wrong on too many other things to discount the possibility. (14%, 96%), (12 – 9)

6th: Miami Sharks (4.0 – 3.0) (+0). Miami returned to their early season ways with another 3.5 – 0.5 blowout to put themselves in prime playoff position. They definitely have to like the fact that they have a fair to big tiebreak edge over all their nearest competitors, Dallas, Chicago, and Seattle. Of course, on the flip side, they also seem to have the hardest remaining schedule of any of those teams facing Dallas, New Jersey, and San Francisco, but it's clear based on their numerous blowouts how strong a team they really can be so I definitely like their chances. (9%, 75%), (14.5 – 6.5)

7th: Chicago Blaze (4.0 – 3.0) (+2). Another team whose big win this week has put them in a very good position and has to be feeling good about their chances. On the other hand, their lead for the final playoff spot is a minuscule half a point only, and with them facing league leading Queens this week, it could evaporate rather quickly should things go wrong. (7%, 70%), (12.5 – 8.5)

8th: Boston Blitz (3.0 – 4.0) (+0). So it looks like their will be no three-peat for the Blitz being Eastern Champions, and they have to be concerned about their playoff prospects. Fortunately, due to the East's structure, they are still very likely to make it despite their current losing record. Even if that's the case though, I have a feeling they will view the rest of the regular season as more than simply a battle to just make the playoffs. One of the things which I felt made Boston so strong the previous two years was their sense of personal pride in what they did, and obviously this season they can't be feeling as good in that regard. Their final regular season matches will probably be played not only with the goal of reaching the postseason, but to regain the confidence which made them so strong in previous years which will be huge in translating them into winning playoff matches even if they are the ones facing draw odds this time. (1%, 76%), (9 – 12)

9th: Seattle Sluggers (3.5 – 3.5) (-4). Despite a better record than their Blitz counterparts, the Sluggers clearly have a much tougher road to make the playoffs (which is why I've put them lower here). Things unfortunately can change so rapidly in such a tight league, with there being so much talk of them having a good chance to be tied for first with a win this week, but unfortunately the opposite result left them currently altogether out of the playoff spots! They also must be concerned that their tiebreaks are far inferior to both Miami and Chicago and so almost certainly need to overtake one of them rather than merely tieing them in match record to make the postseason. Their main edge seems to be that, by current records, they have a much easier schedule than any of the teams they are in the dogfight with, but given the league's parity, it's very hard to tell if that can be enough. (2%, 48%), (7 – 14)

10th: Arizona Scorpions (2.5 – 4.5) (+0). Two consecutive blowout losses by the Scorpions were obviously not the results they were looking for going into the home stretch, and they definitely have no more margin of error as another loss certainly eliminates them, and even going 2.5 – 0.5 will likely require them to have some outside help to make it. They have to be grateful to still be alive, but rattling off three wins in a row is hardly an easy task for any team. (0%, 17%), (11 – 10)

11th: Philadelphia Inventors (2.0 – 5.0) (+0). A tough loss to the Destiny has also left the Inventors on the brink of elimination. They also will need to aim for a 3 – 0 record (which should be enough to make it for them, while like the Scorpions, 2.5 – 0.5 will probably need some help). They do have a nice advantage over the Knights in facing Boston again, as if they should pull off that needed record to end the season, they will likely defeat Boston in the process of doing so, making them much more likely to make it with the 2.5 – 0.5 finish. (0%, 17%), (9.5 – 11.5)

12th: New York Knights (2.0 – 5.0) (+2). New York's mission is clear, go 3 – 0, no two ways about it. As their tiebreaks are miserable, the chances of them getting in by going 2.5 – 0.5 are fairly low unless they get a good deal of outside help from those teams facing Boston. It's even possible for them to not make it with a perfect record as if Boston can manage to go at least 2 – 1 and Carolina and New Jersey can both snare at least half a point out of their last three, that won't be enough (barring a huge shift in tiebreaks while this occurs). But the mission is still clear, even if the prospects are dim. (0%, 9%), (8 – 13)

13th: Tennessee Tempo (2.0 – 5.0) (-1). Like the previous teams, it's very simple for the Tempo: win the rest and hope that 5 – 5 is enough to make it in the West. Obviously, like those preceding them, fairly dim prospects, but we've seen too many miracles in the USCL to discount any possibility, and the biggest hurdle on route to doing that should be in their showdown with the Mechanics this week. (0%, 4%), (10.5 – 10.5)

14th: Baltimore Kingfishers (1.5 – 5.5) (-1). It may be too late for the Kingfishers as a 3 – 0 record may not even make it to the promise land now, but if they can pull that off, given they will have to defeat Boston on their way, they definitely have a realistic chance of making it if Boston's other two opponents can hold them to less than 1.5 – 0.5 (also assuming that Philadelphia doesn't go on a rampage while helping do exactly that). Not the brightest of spots obviously, but given the choice between slim and none, I think most would take slim any day. (0%, 4%), (7 – 14)