Saturday, October 4, 2008
2008 Midseason All Stars
Now that we are about midway through the season, it seemed like a good idea once again to give everyone a bit of an inside scoop into who we think has gotten a jump start into becoming one of the All Stars at the end of the season. The criteria for determining the All Stars that was used last year was basically outlined here, and a very similar system will probably be used this year. Of course, the Midseason All Stars will have some variations from the overall approach due to the simple fact that there is much less information to base them on than we shall have for the whole season. For instance, the total game requirement which is five for the whole season will be applied as a minimum of three at this stage (naturally some players who have played less than that might become eligible by season's end, especially should their team make the post-season, and vice-versa; for that reason, although players with less than three games will not be listed as All Stars in this article, I may list them in the "Other Candidates" section if their results thus far indicate that they might be a real threat by season's end should they play the requisite games). Also, the "clutch factor" which is a fairly big factor that we take into account mostly will not apply at this stage since it tends to take note of performances which get your team into the playoffs (especially in do or die situations) or games which win playoff matches (obviously neither of which have occurred yet).
Note also, that if someone has played on two boards, whichever board they have played the greater number of games on is the only board they are eligible to be an All Star on (if they have played equally on the two boards, then they are eligible for either one, and they will be placed according to how deserving it is felt the candidates who will be added to the board where they are not placed are felt to be in comparison to each other). If someone has played more than two boards (quite rare, but possible) then whichever board they have played the most on is again the only board they are eligible for (once again, if two or even three boards are tied in that regard then they are eligible for any of those boards).
So without further ado, here are the teams.
1st Team: GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) (3 – 0 – 0): This can't be too surprising as when one faced three strong GMs and has escaped without a scratch, it's not hard to classify them as an All Star, especially considering the clear effect that he's had on his teams' results (as they are 1 / 3 without him, and 2.5 / 3 with him). Slugger fans can only hope that he both continues to play and play at the level he's shown so far as if he does so, that's a recipe for a team that's going to be very tough for anyone to beat. His wild victory against Mitkov was a nice indication of how dangerous he can be in almost any position.
2nd Team: GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) (3 – 0 – 1): A very tough decision as to whether to place Nakamura or Erenburg on the first team with them having very identical statistics all around. Erenburg really has looked very impressive, handing GM Benjamin his first loss in the League with White, and if his team has any chance to recover to make the post-season, there seems little doubt that his play (both past and future) will be a large part of that achievement. I decided to place Nakamura on the first team since well, 100% is 100%, and while it seems somewhat ridiculous to try to find fault with someone who's scored 3 – 0 – 1 against such stiff competition, when you have two players who've both performed so amazingly, sometimes you have to be overly picky. Nevertheless, I'm quite glad this is only the midseason, as I definitely would not want to have to make a decision this tough at the end of the season when it really counts.
3rd Team: GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) (2 – 0 – 1): It's obvious the large effect Ehlvest has had on the Tempo team, being 1.5 / 3 since his arrival, a far cry from their overall efforts in all seasons without him, and his individual results clearly speak for themselves also, making him an obvious choice for this spot. His nice endgame technique against FM Lopez to salvage a draw for his team was a good example the effect he's really had.
Other Candidates: It would be hard to talk about All Stars or MVP without mentioning GM Julio Becerra (MIA) (3 – 1 – 0) at some point, and this year is no exception. His individual results also speak for themselves, and he could well have been put on the third team over Ehlvest, but given their similar record and similar level of opposition, I decided to go with Ehlvest at this point, due to the simple fact that Ehlvest obviously has had a much more profound effect on his team's results (fairly natural of course since Tennessee always tends to be at a severe rating disadvantage without him, while Miami has several lineups near the rating cap without Becerra). Given this difference in effect, this seemed the most natural positioning to me at this point.
1st Team: IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) (5 – 0 – 0): The easiest decision of them all, as a 5 – 0 individual record is always fairly ridiculous, no matter which board you happen to be playing on, and given his team also has the best record in the league, it's easy enough to put two and two together and realize what a positive effect that Lenderman has been for Queens, with one of his nicest efforts being defeating a perennial All Star candidate, FM Zaikov, in a very sharp, GOTW winning game.
2nd Team: IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) (3 – 0 – 1): Another obvious All Star whose results have also had a clear impact on his team, in particular his miracle save in the most recent week to salvage a draw for his team. The Knockouts overall have clearly greatly surpassed their last season's performance thus far, despite their main gun from last season, GM Benjamin, not faring quite as well, and it's obvious that Ippolito's marked improvement in his results this year have been a large reason why that's happened.
3rd Team: IM Josh Friedel (SF) (2 – 0 – 2): A close decision between the second and third teams, as although Ippolito has the slightly better record, Friedel has likely faced a bit of a tougher schedule (playing on Board One once, while Ippolito has played Board Three once), and his results have mostly seemed to occur under more normal circumstances (while Ippolito definitely seems to have had a couple of last minute swindles). Another tough decision, and one that I'm again glad I don't have to make when it truly counts.
Other Candidates: Like last year, Board Two seems to be the most impressive board in terms of number of candidates. IM Emory Tate (CHC) (3 – 1 – 0), in particular, has come up very big for his team in his last two games, both of which had a profound effect on the match result. Like his teammate, Lenderman, IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) (3 – 1 – 0) has played very impressively also, with his only stumble coming on Board One due in large part to time pressure hitting in a better position in a match that his team emerged victorious in anyway. Also, both GM Boris Gulko (NJ) (2 – 0 – 0) and FM Thomas Bartell (PHI) (2 – 0 – 0) have had very good starts with a clear impact on how their team performs (in particular, the Inventors are 2 – 0 with Bartell and 0 – 4 without him). Any of these players could easily wind up being an All Star by season's end should things fall into place for them and their team.
1st Team: FM Sam Shankland (SF) (4 – 1 – 1): Another fairly easy decision as Shankland has played every match thus far, and having one of the lowest league ratings of any regular at Board Three, it's clear how valuable he is to the Mechanics. It's also quite apparent how much Shankland has also grown as a player since his inaugural season in the league, as demonstrated by his superb endgame technique in his most recent victory.
2nd Team: IM Angelo Young (CHC) (3– 0 – 1): Young (at this point) is the only seemingly worthy player who could have been placed to one of two boards, and I don't really feel that the player who's being left off the All Star list on this board as of now is really any more or less deserving than the player who's been added to Board Four in their stead. Simply though, given Young's IM title and the fact that he seems more likely to play more on Board Three in the future due to their general lineup structure, it seems to make the most sense to put him as Board Three for now (though I would have had him on the second team also had I put him on Board Four). His record, like most players, speaks for itself, and the tenacity he showed in his latest win, which salvaged a draw for his team clearly demonstrates only a small part of how important he's been to his team.
3rd Team: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) (3 – 1 – 1): Like his teammate Ippolito, Molner having taken his results up a notch this season is obviously a big reason for his team's success, and with the two of them manning the middle boards quite often, if they continue to have the results they've had thus far, New Jersey will also not be a team which will be easy to take down. Molner really started this season off with a bang winning a quick game with Black (the color which he had really struggled in the league with previously).
Other Candidates: FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) (2 – 0 – 2) was also a strong choice for the third team, having a very similar record and team effect as Molner, but due to the fact that Molner's only loss occurred the one match he played Board Two with Black against near All Star Vovsha, he seemed to be the slightly stronger candidate. A definite possible, yet currently ineligible candidate, is NM Parker Zhao (QNS) (2 – 0 – 0) who has scored two big wins for his team and due to his relatively low rating compared to most other Board Three players and the fact that his team will definitely be in the postseason, could well be a member of the All Star Team by season's end.
1st Team: NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) (4 – 1 – 0): Another fairly obvious choice as Rodriguez has really come up big time for Miami, being a part of both of their early season blowouts, along with a huge win in the most recent match which ended up saving a draw for his team. Miami in general has had issues in recent seasons with their lowest board and yet have still managed to go quite far, mostly due to their two time MVP Becerra, but now having both him at the top and Rodriguez at the bottom should be another team very difficult for any other to take down.
2nd Team: NM Marc Esserman (BOS) (2 – 0 – 1): Hardly a surprise to see Esserman here, as with his recent incredible Miami showing, being an All Star for the bottom board seems like an afterthought. Even if that's true, I doubt his recent innovations with the Smith Morra, both in Miami, and in this nice league effort will be considered as such in the future. It should be interesting to see if Esserman ends up getting more action on Board Four or if they revert to the lineups which have him on Board Three, but given he nearly defeated the current top All Star on that board with Black, I think it's obvious how dangerous he is in either place.
3rd Team: WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL) (2 – 0 – 2): A reasonably close call between Zorigt and Esserman for the second team, but given Esserman played on Board Three once, against the top All Star of that Board with Black, he seemed to be the more logical choice at this point. Nevertheless, Zorigt clearly has demonstrated her mettle too (as she did in being an All Star last year), scoring a couple of big wins, in particular the only decisive game in their Finals Rematch against Boston.
Other Candidates: Although I don't feel there are any other eligible candidates who truly stood out on this board at this point, there is nevertheless an upstart who could definitely cause a ruckus as Andy May (SEA) (2 – 0 – 0) has scored two huge wins for the Seattle team (both occurring in matches where they won by the narrowest of margins), and if results are any indication, Seattle will be using their double GM lineup whenever conceivably possible, likely pressing him into duty on Board Four a good deal more.