Saturday, August 30, 2008

Game of the Week Poll

Hey everyone, I figured out how to make a poll! From now on, after each week's Game of the Week winner is announced, you will all have the chance to chime in by voting whether you agree or disagree with the GOTW judges. Just look to the right and there it is. Have fun!

Also if you disagree with the judges, which game do you believe should be the winner? Please leave a comment with your own GOTW. Thanks!

Prediction Results -- Week 1

So again the battle for best guessing the future in regards to USCL Matches begins with Week One being in the books. This year the contest will be amongst myself (picks posted here), Ron Young (last year's Champion), Bioniclime, and Ed Scimia. The same scoring system as last year will be used, with as usual you receiving two points for every correct result (correct team winning or correct draw) and the following bonuses for additionally predicting the correct score.

Each exact score of 2.5 – 1.5 receives 1 bonus point.
Each exact score of 2 – 2 or 3 – 1 receives 2 bonus points.
Each exact score of 3.5 – 0.5 or 4 – 0 receives 3 bonus points.

Unfortunately, my personal quest to regain this title which was so brutally taken away from me last season didn't exactly start off the way I was hoping with myself being in dead last after the first week. After such a promising first match (being the only one to exactly predict Arizona vs Chicago), I was quite optimistic, but when the Commissioner linked to my predictions with the aura of "predicts all draws in the East", I knew I was in for trouble and sure enough, not a single match in all of Week 1 being drawn sort of epitomized the result I was in for. Nevertheless, I do have plenty of time to catch up so I'm far from discouraged.

So without further ado, these are the actual standings (myself = AS, Ron Young = RY, Bioniclime = BL, and Ed Scimia = ES)

Totals after Week 1:

Ron Young: 13 points
Bioniclime: 11 Points
Ed Scimia: 9 Points
Arun Sharma: 8 Points

ARZ over CHC 2.5 – 1.5

AS: Correct +3
BL/ES/RY: ARZ 3 – 1 +2

BOS over NY 3 – 1

ES/AS: Tie +0
BL/RY: NY 2.5 – 1.5 +0

NJ over BAL 3 – 1

BL/RY: NJ 2.5 – 1.5 +2
ES/AS: Tie +0

QNS over PHI 2.5 – 1.5

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

CAR over TEN 3 – 1

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

SF over DAL 2.5 – 1.5

BL/AS/RY: Correct +3
ES: SF 3 – 1 +2

MIA over SEA 3.5 – 0.5

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

Power Rankings -- Week 1

So once again this year, I will be making weekly rankings of all fourteen teams in the league trying to gauge where each team really falls in the grand scheme of things. This will be based on a large set of factors, the main one obviously being their current record, but also things like their future opponents, how their recent matches have gone, and just general other trends about the way things seem to be headed for the team in general. For the first few weeks, I don’t plan to include the percentages (as I did last season) on what I think each team’s chances to win their division or make the playoffs to be as until a few more matches are played (at least three or four), that seems unlikely to be especially meaningful.

1st: San Francisco Mechanics (1.0 – 0.0). By my predicting them to finish with the best record in the league and to win the Championship, I clearly felt before the season that the Mechanics were the best team in the league, and their victory this week really epitomized exactly why. Coming in with a roster which weighs in at a massive 2476 average using current ratings, it seems difficult to find another legal lineup anywhere in the league which won’t be an underdog to that lineup. And they showed why, defeating the defending champions and sending a strong message from the start. At this point, the top is the only place for them to be.

2nd: Boston Blitz (1.0 – 0.0). A very sweet victory for the Blitz against their arch-rivals, despite appearing to be slight underdogs in most people’s eyes and by the numbers, is another affirmation of why I felt Boston to be the most likely team to emerge on top in the East. Boston has really gotten off to a flying start in both of the last two seasons – an obvious key to their regular season victories in those seasons, and this victory could well be the start of another such march. While one match is only one match, in a league with only ten regular season matches, none is of small importance.

3rd: Queens Pioneers (1.0 – 0.0). Another team which seemed to affirm my pre-season faith about them, and once again the lineup style they used is a definite part of the reason why. Simply, being able to use a near 2500 on Board Three is a nice luxury that no other team in the league really has, and in general it just seems the strides Queens has really taken into improving their roster in the off season are likely to be very pivotal.

4th: Miami Sharks (1.0 – 0.0). Miami is always a rather tricky team to gauge as with the two-time MVP Becerra generally leading them, they are always a very strong team when their players step up. I say when since that’s undoubtedly been their Achilles heal at several stages in the past couple of seasons. This resounding first week victory really is a step in both directions as they’ve shown they definitely have the ability to beat a very strong team like Seattle, even without their rock, and also that their players are intent on being dedicated this season. While as always, one match is only one match and perhaps too early to make demonstratives from, I always feel a team’s first match can be very telling.

5th: New Jersey Knockouts (1.0 – 0.0). Another team, who like the Sharks, really may have made some great strides as evidenced by their first match. New Jersey, while never particularly high or low in last year’s standings, really managed to stay in the game mostly due to the superb performance of Benjamin who turned in some huge victories to really keep them in contention. That they could manage such a convincing win even with him uncharacteristically stumbling could definitely be a very good sign for them. Another big positive was the nice performance by Molner, who despite playing some good league games, has really struggled with the Black pieces, and him scoring a resounding victory against the rapidly improving R Kaufman could be a sign of things to come.

6th: Arizona Scorpions (1.0 – 0.0). While their first week’s victory was obviously a nice way to start, the place Arizona seems to be distinguishing themselves with how dedicated they really are with tremendous amount of blogging. While I feel that’s always a good sign for a team, it’s nevertheless probably not something to shoot a team’s ranking up based on. Wins are of course the main ingredient for that, and they got one of those, but in later matches they will almost certainly not have a large rating advantage to work with so until I see if they can fare as well under those circumstances, this seems about the right place for them.

7th: Dallas Destiny (0.0 – 1.0). A loss to the team, who I believe to be the strongest in the league, using a lineup which I think may again be the league’s strongest is hardly a cause for concern. However, the morale issues can come into play as it certainly can never feel good for a defending champion to start off with a loss. The unfortunate larger issue with Dallas is the loss of IM Stopa from the roster, whose ability to be on third board I felt to be one of the Destiny’s biggest assets. Dallas is still a very strong team, but it seems they will have to find something else, something inside themselves, to give them that little edge a team really needs to emerge victorious in the league.

8th: New York Knights (0.0 – 1.0). The Knights early season mojo unfortunately didn’t seem to start off in a better way this season in losing to their arch-rivals. New York always seems to be a team which really needs to take some time to find their groove, and once they do they tend to be a super strong team. However, when they might happen to find it is rather up in the air and until they do, they will probably languish around here.

9th: Seattle Sluggers (0.0 – 1.0). Suffering their worst defeat in league history was obviously not the start the Sluggers were hoping for, especially arriving this season with a fairly rejuvenated roster. Once again, one match is just that, and the Sluggers bounced back well from such an opening loss last season, and I firmly expect them to do so this year as well.

10th: Philadelphia Inventors (0.0 – 1.0). A tough loss for the Inventors, who after last season’s high start, were undoubtedly hoping to start that way again. There is still little reason to be concerned as they certainly remember what it took to get them to that stage last season, it just didn’t happen to fall their way in the first match, but when it does they may well be back to their winning ways.

11th: Baltimore Kingfishers (0.0 – 1.0). A frustrating start to the season for the Kingfishers as their roster really seemed to have been markedly improved from last season, likely with a batch of players who are much more likely to be constantly playing. Their lower boards are clearly capable of much better performances than they displayed in the first week, and under the hope they do so and that Erenburg continues to play for them, especially at his recent level, they could definitely turn things around in a hurry.

12th: Carolina Cobras (1.0 – 0.0). A very nice start to the season for the Cobras, but like the Scorpions they are unlikely to enjoy such a rating advantage in their future matches. Should they score some points in the upcoming matches, their ranking here will shoot up quickly, but until they do, I feel I must keep them around here.

13th: Chicago Blaze (0.0 – 1.0). Chicago’s first match was a myriad of positives and negatives. Obviously, starting off using a much weaker lineup than they are generally capable of as well as losing the match were probably not what the fans were hoping for, but the fact that they were able to be so competitive, as the match could easily have been won or drawn with a single break here or there is reason to be optimistic. Nevertheless, the largest issue to me is the obvious internal problems demonstrated by their pre-season and Week 1 roster issues. While once again those may well be temporary setbacks which will go away soon, but until I see evidence of that, I feel I must keep them here.

14th: Tennessee Tempo (0.0 – 1.0). A disappointing loss for the Tempo who had to have felt they had a very real chance to score in, based on their last year’s results against Carolina on the top two boards. As usual, they seem to have a close but not quite ability to really get the wins they so crave. I’m sure fans are eagerly anticipating the day Ehlvest makes his debut to likely give them a big kick in regards to accomplishing that, but until I know for a fact that it will be sooner rather than later, I think they have to occupy this spot.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Week 1 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 Alex Shabalov (NY) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 0-1

Greg Shahade: This season my main criteria for Game of the Week is how likely do I think a game has of coming in the top five of the Game of the Year Contest. Personally I felt as if no other game had even the slightest chance while this one definitely does. There was some controversy started about this game by one or two people, but I believe the league's stance on all of this is clear by our rankings. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: This decision wasn't very close as to me this was far and away the best game of the week. One of the most complex positions seen in the USCL which made it unclear if Black was winning or about to get mated for many straight moves. Like all his games, Sammour-Hasbun really did an amazing job in successfully navigating this tactically charged position as the slightest inaccuracy anywhere likely would have quickly ended the game in his opponent's favor. Again, both in how well played and exciting this game was, it was the clear winner to me and may well score highly in the Game of the Year contest later on. (1st place: 5 points)

Jonathan Hilton: I don't understand one move in this entire game, but Sammour-Hasbun pulled off an incredible upset with the Black pieces against one of the country's top players in an incredibly complex struggle. I would have ranked this game first had it not been the first week. As Elizabeth Vicary has taught us, Shabalov always loses in the first round. (And the more I say it, the more likely it is to be true!) Expect Shabalov to finish the rest of the season with no less than a dozen wins or so. (2nd place: 4 points)

Total Score of Shabalov vs Sammour-Hasbun: 14 points


2nd Place: FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0

Greg Shahade: Originally I found this game to be a distant second place and really had a tough time determining places two through seven. After more reflection I feel this game deserved 2nd place for sure, but I still don't believe it would have a chance in the Game of the Year contest, so I'm happy there was another game to take the first spot. Hopefully my words aren't poisoning the minds of the future Game of the Year judges. In any case, it was a hard fought game with a lot of energy from Lopez and a few really cool sidelines like 37... d2 38. Rxd2 Rxa2 39. Rb8+, and White is winning. (2nd Place: 4 points)

Jonathan Hilton: After playing a very unassuming opening, Lopez took advantage of the complications Serper dealt him. His breakthrough on the Queenside was aggressive, and his taking advantage of Black's open Kingside terrific. I don't know myself if Lopez saw the line with 37... d2?! 38.Rxd2! Rxa2 39. Rb8+!, winning on the spot, but even if he didn't, he was still very composed in time trouble. Chalk up 3.5 for Miami over Seattle, by far the most decisive match of the week. (3rd Place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: Just a very nicely played game by Lopez who navigated several difficult moments very well, despite some constant time pressure. I especially liked 26. c6! creating some nice play for himself on the Queenside where it didn't look immediately apparent how he might go about doing that. (4th Place: 2 points)

Total Score of Lopez vs Serper: 9 points


3rd Place: IM Levon Altounian (ARZ) vs IM Jan Van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0

Jonathan Hilton: Altounian's maneuver in the Symmetrical English with d2-d3, Nf3-d2-f1-e3-d5, and h2-h4, while not entirely new, is surprising and good. His handling of the slight attack and slight initiative was superb-particularly his decision to play 17. Bg5!?, mixing things up a little and ultimately retaining that slight pull. He had to see 18... Bxh5?? 19. f3! f5 20. e4!, most likely winning a piece, in order to play it. Altounian won the game despite never moving his King from e1! (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Although this game had some critical mistakes late in it due to the time pressure (most notably, Black missing 32... Rb8!), it was still quite well played on the whole along with containing some other nice tactical tricks near the end (White's deadly 36. Qb4! and then Black's nice attempted swindle 41... f3+! just to name a couple). (5th place: 1 point)

Greg Shahade: Hmm, I mainly didn't rank this game because Van de Mortel had such a strong move right before the end in 32... Rb8!, and after that White's moves were relatively obvious. It was definitely a very interesting game for the crowd, and I suppose it's reasonably deserving of a 4th - 5th place ranking, but that's as high as I'd go. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Altounian vs Van de Mortel: 6 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Arun 4):
IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) 0-1

4 points (Arun 3, Greg 1):
GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 1-0

3 points (Greg 3):
IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) 0-1

2 points (Greg 2):
FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) vs NM Jon Burgess (CHC) 1-0

2 points (Jon 2):
FM Todd Andrews (TEN) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 0-1

1 point (Jon 1):
NM Victor Shen (NJ) vs FM Ralph Zimmer (BAL) 1-0

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Remainder of Week 1 Predictions

So the contest to see who is really the supreme in being a fortune teller in regards to USCL Matches largely begins here, and this is my contribution for the opening week. Nothing precisely earth shattering (at least imo) as far as any profound or daring picks. Given my intense desire to win this contest after being defeated last year, I personally will only make such picks when there is some good anecdotal evidence previous in the season to somewhat justify them. Until then, it's nearly all about the statistics.

New York ties Boston 2 2

Baltimore ties New Jersey 2 2

Queens ties Philadelphia 2 2

Carolina over Tennessee 2.5 1.5

San Francisco over Dallas 2.5 1.5

Seattle over Miami 2.5 1.5

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Night Prediction -- Week 1

The inaugural match of the USCL season is always by nature one of the most interesting, treating us to a display by players generally unknown to us (at least in the league aspect). This match is a strangely unbalanced one rating-wise, with most past expansion teams looking to get a good jump off the starting blocks to help ease any initial butterflies and signify that they are for real. Nevertheless, this match is what it is. While one team has a distinct rating advantage, there are nevertheless two things which I really feel to be true:

(1) Never take anything for granted in the USCL

(2) A player's OTB strength can definitely vary quite a bit (either higher or lower) in comparison to their internet strength.

Of course, taking these considerations together might suggest that guessing match results in general is a fair crap shoot, and in a league as balanced as this, it probably is! But me and the other predictors (Bioniclime and OrangeKing) don't get paid to not try. However, given as I said these players are completely unfamiliar in the league, I'll simply go with the purely mathematical approach for guessing the board results for this match.

Board 1: Slight Edge AZ

Board 2: Even

Board 3: Edge AZ

Board 4: Slight Edge AZ

So I suppose it won't be hard to guess who I'll be picking to win from that. But given the variance I think is involved with expansion teams in general, you simply can never know how people will react in their first ever match, I'll go with the variance happy approach of the smallest victory margin and pick Arizona 2.5 – 1.5

(FM Ron Young predicts Arizona to win 3 – 1).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

2008 Season Predictions Part 3 -- Playoffs

Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 to see how I got to this point.


While I've listed many "strongest lineups" for all the teams, I certainly don't necessarily think all of a team's such lineups are of about the same strength, with certain ones unquestionably stronger than others for certain teams. Even though that is the case, I wouldn't jump into trying to further narrow down what a team's playoff lineup might be since as mentioned, teams often settle into a groove late in the season which may well involve using a lineup which doesn't seem to be their best lineup on paper. Add to that the fact that there are often unique nuances like team's rosters changing mid-season, a player randomly being unavailable for the post-season, and similar such things which can also be a determination of the lineup, and it would be rather bold to try to make too specific assumptions about the lineups because of these issues. Nevertheless, I will attempt to make some guesses as to what might occur in the matches based on the general teams as well as their history for trying to determine who will emerge victorious in December.


Boston Blitz vs. Philadelphia Inventors:

This is a match-up which the Blitz have completely dominated in the first three seasons (5.5 / 6 matches). Now of course several of those matches occurred while the Inventors were playing at a severe disadvantage, but it's still not something to be ignored and add to this the fact that Boston will have draw odds and color choice, I think the Blitz take this.

Queens Pioneers vs. New York Knights:

These "subway" matches always have something special to them, and a playoff match between these two teams definitely will be as such even if isn't in the finals like the Yankees vs. Mets showdowns can often be. Essentially, depending on the style of lineup Queens really uses, I see New York having a decent rating advantage on one of of the bottom boards with the remaining boards being fairly close. Given that, along with the way New York has shown a good tendency to shine in the late season, having won a match facing draw odds in each of the last two playoffs, I think they likely do it again here pulling off the upset.

San Francisco Mechanics vs. Miami Sharks:

A playoff match-up which already has a fairly tremendous history with Miami overcoming the odds in two of the first three seasons to knock off the Mechanics in the post-season despite facing draw odds. Can they do it again or will it be third times the charm for San Francisco? If the Sharks go with one of their "stacked" lineups, it seems they will have a small rating edge on Board Three in exchange for a big disadvantage on Board Four. With one of the more balanced lineups, San Francisco (using current ratings), will have a small edge on both of the bottom boards. Either way, San Francisco seems to get a slight edge, both draw odds and color choice, and knowing the Mechanics' general drive, it seems hard to imagine that with such an advantage that they will allow yet another painful playoff loss to the Sharks. San Francisco advances here.

Dallas Destiny vs. Seattle Sluggers:

These teams had a very interesting playoff encounter in 2006 with Seattle pulling off a miracle save when they appeared to be on the verge of losing yet ended up advancing due to draw odds. If the regular season goes as I've outlined it, then the opposite team will be enjoying the draw odds for this match. What does that mean? Well Dallas's lineups are mostly of a similar shape, but Seattle's three lineup styles are really quite different. From a spectator's perspective, I naturally hope that Seattle chooses to stroll out a double GM lineup so I'll work under the assumption that they'll pull out all the stops and use that here. If so, I see Seattle having a nice edge on the top two boards with Dallas having a reasonable edge on the bottom two. In total I would probably give the slight score advantage to Seattle. Also, no defending champion has even made it back to the Semifinals in the next year and both teams overcame draw odds in the Wildcard Round last year so I think Seattle pulls off the upset here also.


Boston Blitz vs. New York Knights:

I know readers may not be pleased about me always predicting this to be the East Semifinal Match, but when it continues to be correct and to me is far and away the biggest rivalry in the USCL, it's not unnatural to hope for it either. Unfortunately, I can't rely on my traditional anecdotal evidence to help guide me as I have in many other places, since each team has gotten the better of the other once in the last two such encounters. There is however, one big difference this year should things unfold as I have described. If this match occurs as such, Boston will have both draw odds and color choice. While I feel the ability to choose colors for a particular match can range from very mildly relevant to extremely important depending on the players on the respective teams, I think for the players on these teams, this match falls into the latter category. That being the case, it seems Boston will repeat as Eastern Champions.

San Francisco Mechanics vs. Seattle Sluggers:

A rematch of the 2006 Semifinals; like the other Semifinal, the important difference of the first team receiving both draw odds and color choice could prove quite pertinent here as while I don't feel it's quite as important a consideration as it is in the Boston vs. New York encounter, it definitely is relevant for the players on these teams still. Assuming Seattle again chooses their double GM lineup, it doesn't seem especially dissimilar to the Dallas vs. Seattle Wildcard; again I give Seattle an edge on the top two boards, and San Francisco an edge on the bottom two. However, here I feel the Mechanics edge on Board Four is even larger and with the ability to properly utilize that by picking the color of that board, I think San Francisco takes this.


San Francisco Mechanics vs. Boston Blitz:

The structure of how this match might go down, depends greatly on which direction Boston chooses to go in their lineup style, as who is better on what board can really vary. The Blitz seem likely to have the edge on the top board, but two and three really depend on the choices each team makes. However, using current ratings, it seems almost certain that the Mechanics will have a large rating advantage on Board Four. Since I expect them also to edge the Blitz when it comes to regular season record and allow themselves to pick colors for this match, those two jumps will give them what they need to become the first team to repeat as USCL Champions.

Once again, I hope everyone enjoys this USCL Season even more than last season. Good luck to all teams and players involved, and hopefully you all can provide us observers with even more entertainment than you have in the past years. As always, any comments, suggestions, or flames (especially the latter) are appreciated!

Friday, August 22, 2008

2008 Season Predictions Part 2 -- Western Division

Be sure to read Part 1 to see how I am breaking the teams down.

Western Division:

1st Place: San Francisco Mechanics

Strongest Lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Wolff / Friedel / Bhat / Pruess / Donaldson
3rd: Shankland
4th: Naroditsky / Young

1st: Bhat
2nd: Pruess
3rd: Donaldson
4th: Naroditsky / Young

Strength / Flexibility: San Francisco continues to stick to the creed of "experience at the top, youth at the bottom", something which has served them very well all three seasons, and it seems probable to do so again this season. The Mechanics definitely have a good array of ways to fill their top two boards as only their Board Three flexibility seeming a possible issue, with it being very likely that Shankland will have to have the vast majority of the action there. However, given his rather over the top overall league performance in the past two seasons, it seems that it would be hard to find someone better suited for the task. Along with him, having World Under 12 Champion Naroditsky and US Junior Co-Champion Young to hold down the bottom board, things look as bright as ever for San Francisco this year. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: The Mechanics seem to have the league easily trumped in this regard. While having a fourth board (Naroditsky) who is around 150 points higher than his league rating might not that be unusual in the league, having a board three also with the same advantage (Shankland) gives them some lineups of really ridiculous strength (not dissimilar to the huge edge Boston had last year with Shmelov and Williams on the bottom boards which lead them to the League Finals). Add to that the fact that Bhat, who by every indication is unquestionably stronger than his league rating, a lineup with all three of them seems rather ridiculous when compared to its probable current strength. I think San Francisco trumps the rest of the league here. Score: 10.

Dedication: I have to also put the Mechanics higher than any other team in this category as I simply know of no other team who puts as much preparation into their matches as the Mechanics and that's really by quite a large margin. They certainly aren't lacking in the unity department either with several of their players training together on a regular basis. I think San Francisco trumps the rest of the league here as well. Score: 10.

Other Factors: The main possible worry for the Mechanics may be of similar nature to last season. With Wolff expecting a child soon along with them having three (!) Samford Fellows on the roster who may well be traveling abroad at some point for further chess pursuits, it's very possible their ability to use the rosters they would really want might be somewhat compromised (something which may well have happened in last year's heartbreaking Wildcard loss). Score: 5.

Total Score: 33
Projected Record: 7 – 3

2nd Place: Dallas Destiny

Strongest lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Boskovic / Zivanic / Kuljasevic / Bartholomew / Stopa
3rd: Shneider / Vedrickas
4th: Zorigt

1st / 2nd: Two of Zivanic / Kuljasevic / Bartholomew
3rd: Stopa
4th: Zorigt

Strength / Flexibility: Dallas definitely seems to have taken an unusual path with their roster; giving themselves a great amount of choices on how to fill out the top boards, but only a single way to ever fill out the bottom (except when using alternates). Granted Zorigt, being an All Star last year, is almost certainly not a bad choice to fill such big shoes, but it nevertheless does raise concerns about their general flexibility. I still really like their rosters in general, especially those with Stopa on Board Three (and such rosters certainly showcased their power last year on the way to the Championship). While the fact that Stopa didn't play an excessive amount last season might be a concern, he did in the most important matches for them, and if he's available to do so again, Dallas may well be the first repeat champions. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: Once again, with many of their players not having played a great amount in the US, it's difficult to gauge how accurate their ratings might be. One can however make some pretty reasonable assumptions based on their league play, and I think it's safe to say that both Kuljasevic and Stopa fit the bill here. Score: 7.

Dedication: With UTD having won every Collegiate Championship one (at least me) can remember and their players basically all from those teams, obviously they have the knowledge of what it takes to win at team events and likely the team unity to match. Granted, this is probably a much more level playing field than they deal with in the college tourneys but still a key ingredient for them. One does often forget though that while the Dallas players are in something of a chess environment, they are still at the core all students whose most difficult part of the semester likely occurs around playoff time. Score: 7.

Other Factors: The previous two defending champions really didn't come close to repeating (neither making the Semifinals), and I'm sure Dallas is looking to change that. It is unfortunate for them that their Championship Roster from last season (Boskovic + Kuljasevic + Stopa + Zorigt) can't be used again this year, but given the addition of Zivanic and the continued presence of Bartholomew, that may well not be much of a detraction. Score: 8.

Total Score: 30
Projected Record: 6 – 4

3rd Place: Seattle Sluggers

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Nakamura
2nd: Serper
3rd: Readey / Lee / Sinanan
4th: May

1st: Nakamura / Serper
2nd: Tangborn
3rd: Mikhailuk
4th: May

1st: Nakamura / Serper
2nd: Tangborn / Mikhailuk
3rd / 4th: Two of Readey / Lee / Sinanan

(can't use Nakamura + Tangborn + Readey + Lee)

Strength / Flexibility: One can only postulate about how much Nakamura might play, but assuming he does so regularly, the double GM lineups Seattle can throw at their opponents look very dangerous. Even if that doesn't happen often, Seattle still has a very flexible collection of lineups headed by a single GM which have always been very solid in the past, and there's no reason why that should change now. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: Seattle has really had their big trumps on Board Four in this category in the first two seasons, and they have one again with May, but this year they seem to have also spread this luxury out a bit. Adding the highest rated player in the league, Nakamura, to the team, Serper who has turned in near All Star performances in both seasons, and the still underrated Lee, now probably mostly playing on Board Three, they seem to have a good distribution of underrated players to take advantage of in every spot. Score: 8.

Dedication: With their top player Nakamura residing a few hours away, it seems unlikely there will be much preparation involved when using him. I know he has stated his desire to do better this season, and I'm sure most hope along with me that that is indeed the case, as if he can perform at his true strength, Seattle could well be the best team in the league. While of course there are reasons to be skeptical if that will be true, I think the rest of the Seattle team has shown a good amount of dedication in their first two seasons so they should have no reason to fear. Score: 5.

Other Factors: Seattle, due in large part to their late starting matches, has always been one of the lesser watched teams. However, the addition of Nakamura seems likely to take them from the low end of the spectrum to the top in a hurry. If the Sluggers can feed off the general energy that his playing is certain to create while also maintaining their general solid nature, the mix could provide what Seattle needs to rise back to the top in 2008. Score: 7.

Total Score: 28
Projected Record: 5.5 – 4.5

4th Place: Miami Sharks

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Becerra
2nd / 3rd: Two of Martinez / Lopez / Lugo / Perea
4th: Perez

1st: Becerra
2nd: Martinez / Lopez / Lugo / Perea
3rd: Galofre
4th: Rodriguez

1st / 2nd / 3rd: Three of Martinez / Lopez / Lugo / Perea
4th: Galofre / Rodriguez

(can't use Martinez + Lopez + Galofre here)

Strength / Flexibility: Another very unusual roster as the Sharks seem to be somewhat sacrificing strength for a huge amount of flexibility. Using a player of rating 1860 (though 1960 currently) is simply unheard of in the league. It's really tough to tell how using a lineup of a 2650, two 2500s, and an 1860 (Becerra + Martinez + Lopez + Perez) would really fare in the long term against the more traditional lineups of other teams but that will undoubtedly be put to the test this season. Hopefully the Sharks can also finally field a lineup without their star Becerra which isn't at a severe rating disadvantage as they've really suffered the few times in the last two seasons when they've had to play without him. Score: 7.

Underrated Players: I often chastised Miami, like Baltimore, for not having a strong underrated player on the bottom board. Well they definitely have attempted to satisfy me, but I wasn't really anticipating they would do it in this fashion. Perez, while obviously an underrated and improving player, will still clearly be at a severe rating disadvantage in nearly all his games. On the other hand, if he can score a reasonable amount, Miami nearly by necessity will be a super powerful team, especially with two time MVP Becerra leading them. Score: 7.

Dedication: This has undoubtedly been the area where the Sharks have had huge problems with in the past couple of seasons, with many players canceling last minute putting them at a huge disadvantage both in terms of average rating and time penalties. That along with other responsibilities distracting their regulars (Miami Open and the Puerto Rico tournament) has been apt to put the Sharks in a hole. It's fervently hoped that the former issue will not be occurring again this season with their revitalized lineup, but the latter still seems likely to cause some issues. Score: 6.

Other Factors: Miami was definitely last year's Cinderella story, overcoming a 1 – 4 start to make it to the Semifinals. The league only seems to grow stronger as time passes which inevitably make it more difficult for any team to dig themselves out of a big early season hole. I have a feeling the first few matches showcasing the new Miami team will be very telling as to what path they will take this season. Score: 6.

Total Score: 26
Projected Record: 5 – 5

5th Place: Arizona Scorpions

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Barcellina / Altounian
2nd: Aldama
3rd: Harper
4th: Martinez

1st: Barcellina / Altounian
2nd: Ginsburg / Rensch
3rd: Adamson
4th: Harper

(can't use Barcellina + Ginsburg here)

1st: Aldama
2nd / 3rd: Two of Ginsburg / Rensch / Adamson
4th: Harper

1st: Barcellina / Altounian / Aldama
2nd / 3rd: Two of Ginsburg / Rensch / Adamson
4th: Martinez

Strength / Flexibility: The Scorpions seem to have taken on a similar path as the Destiny – giving themselves a large number of possibilities on the top three boards, but will largely rely on a single person for most of the Board Four responsibilities (not in entirety like Dallas but still very often). Although they do have a good degree of flexibility on the top boards that may in some sense be something of an illusion as physical location may be more of a determination of what lineup they happen to use in a particular week instead of what they feel to be the optimal choice (as Arizona will sometimes play from Phoenix and sometimes Tucson). Hopefully this does not impact them to the point where they end up having to use clearly suboptimal lineups, but it seems almost certain to hamper their choices to some degree. Score: 6.

Underrated Players: Unfortunately, it's hard to give the Scorpions much credit here, as other than Rensch and Haerper who have made some marginal ground in comparison to their league ratings, their players generally seem to be at fairly stable ratings. Score: 4.

Dedication: In one sense, I think Arizona may be one of the top teams in this regard as they've clearly shown their tremendous dedication both in getting a team to begin with and how enthusiastic they've been in other regards (most notably blogging). I can only assume these qualities will translate to appropriate preparation and team unity. While I still have concerns about how physical location may affect their ability to prepare as a team, I still give them high marks here. Score: 8.

Other Factors: Arizona may have both expansion team blues as well as player rust to contend with as it seems several of their players, most notably Barcellina, have not been especially active on the tournament scene recently. Once again, I think Arizona seems to be dedicated enough that they will be determined not to let either of those issues hinder them, but determination is not always enough. Score: 7.

Total Score: 25
Projected Record: 4.5 – 5.5

6th Place: Chicago Blaze

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Mitkov
2nd / 3rd: Two of Van de Mortel / Felecan / Tate / Pasalic / Young
4th: Meerovich / Strunk

(can't use Van de Mortel + Felecan here)

1st: Van de Mortel / Felecan
2nd: Tate
3rd: Pasalic
4th: Young

Strength / Flexibility: Chicago is very strong in this regard, having available rosters very similar to others with a GM, two IMs, and an improving youngster on Board Four. They also though have access to a very unusual roster, namely the four IM roster I alluded to at the beginning of this article (perhaps not four IMs in actuality, but given Pasalic is an IM-elect, close enough for my purposes). I have no idea how much they intend to use that roster, but having access to it definitely seems like it could pay dividends. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: The Blaze, like most teams, have youthful players anchoring on the bottom board. However, unlikely many other teams, it's tough to reasonably ascribe their anchors, who while likely improving, as really being "underrated" when the team is using very recent ratings as their league ratings. More promising may be both Tate and Young, both who have had ratings far higher than their league ratings at many stages of their career. Whether their recent drop represents a decline, inconsistency, or a bad run is really anyone's guess, but if Chicago can gain an edge in this phase, it likely would be through them. Score: 4.

Dedication: Unfortunately, Chicago's pre-season took a disturbing turn when their top two players ended up leaving the team. While that might simply have been a personal issue of the players, it can't help but raise serious concerns about just how dedicated the rest of their roster might really be to the team and just the general excitement and unity the team has if something like that can happen right before the season. While their fans and promoters seem more excited about the league than perhaps any other team, if the players are not so as well, that doesn't seem to equate to success. It's also hard to know how Tate will fit into the roster given his distance, but that can naturally cause further preparation and unity issues. Score: 5.

Other Factors: When I saw Chicago's original roster, I really felt that they might well be reasonable candidates to hold the top spot in the West. While, as mentioned, recent events have definitely troubled me as to what the future really holds for them, that nevertheless seems to be something which is really in their own hands. They still definitely have very strong lineups and players and to me the first few matches will be very telling as to whether the recent unrest will end up being a mere nuisance or a catastrophe. Score: 7.

Total Score: 24
Projected Record: 4 – 6

7th Place: Tennessee Tempo

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Ehlvest
2nd: Burnett
3rd: Andrews / Bereolos
4th: Bick / Wheeler / McCarthy / Larson

Strength / Flexibility: For the first time the Tempo have four players on their roster that together would not be a legal lineup. Obviously, this indicates what a great stride they have taken to heal their general strength issue which has been a monkey on their back for both seasons. While that's obviously a great first step, it's still tough to give them very good marks when it comes to flexibility as they still need both Ehlvest and Burnett in every roster to really match other teams in the league rating-wise. It's also really anyone's guess how much Ehlvest might actually play, given he only played four matches in 2006 when competing for Philadelphia. That, along with the fact that there is a much greater distance involved for him to compete this year, makes it seem unlikely to me that he will play in the majority of their matches. I personally hope I'm wrong, but objectively I really can't give Tennessee a high mark in this category until I know for sure. Score: 4.

Underrated Players: As a team of mostly grizzled veterans, this is another place where Tennessee has never had many assets in. While that certainly changes with the addition of the high rated Ehlvest, especially if he can perform at the level he did in 2006, I'm not sure they have any bright spots here other than him. Score: 4.

Dedication: The Tempo have always been one of the most dedicated teams in the league, and now that they have moved to the point where they can be clear playoff contenders, I would anticipate that such motivation would only grow. While it's unlikely their top player will be a part of that preparation, I still give Tennessee high marks here. Score: 8.

Other Factors: To me there have really been two major issues which have held the Tempo back from being a far better team in their first two seasons. The first obviously lies in their inherent rating disadvantage which hopefully they have solved for a good portion of their matches this season. However, the second issue has been a constant knack for blundering late in their matches when they often appeared to be on the verge of winning or drawing. If the Tempo can solve that issue as well, they might well be completely unrecognizable in 2008. Score: 6.

Total Score: 22
Projected Record: 3 – 7

Stay tuned for Part 3 to see who I think will emerge victorious at the end!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

2008 Season Predictions Part 1 -- Eastern Division

With the fourth season of the USCL sneaking up on us, it's time once again for you readers to be subjected to another strong dosage of my incoherent babble. Traditionally, this whole process begins with me making preseason predictions and since that has worked so well in the past (or has it?), there seems to be little reason not to follow that same trend this year. As has been the case the last few seasons, it seems very clear that this coming season should be the best one yet given the huge increase of top players competing along with the two additional teams. Last year we were treated to new displays like a double GM vs. double GM match, and I would only guess that such things will be amplified further this season along with several new things like perhaps one team using a lineup of four IMs (read further to see what I mean!). To try to decipher what teams have the small advantages this year to help them overcome the general parity of the league and rise to the top, I will again use the same general system I used last year (East and West predictions from 2007) to try to rank them. However, as more and more seasons of the league are completed, certain trends become apparent which naturally forces me to somewhat reexamine the exact way I evaluate the teams, and here is how I will do it in 2008.

Strength / Flexibility: Last year I had each of these aspects as an individual category, but I feel it's appropriate to combine them this year. In terms of strength, since all teams are capable of submitting rosters near the rating cap, to me this has always been more a question of being able to be able to do that while also being able to "stack" a particular board. This sort of goes hand in hand with flexibility as the ability to do that naturally hinges on having many possible lineups which are near the rating cap. The larger issue of general flexibility to me lies in being able to use a near maximal lineup even in the absence of any one of your players since as the league grows stronger and stronger, invariably more of the strongest players will have to be away for other chess obligations. On the other hand, history somewhat suggests that that advantage may become somewhat unimportant in the later portions of the season as the majority of the more successful teams seem to settle into one or two specific lineups in the later matches, probably based mostly on what has carried them to their success in the early part of the season. This might perhaps render such lineup flexibility to be somewhat irrelevant at those later stages, but as the league players become more and more familiar with one another as more matches are played, another issue in being flexible may well lie in being able in an appropriate situation to switch between players of similar strength when you feel one is a better matchup against the player you expect the opposing team to use in the same spot.

Underrated Players: This may well be the most important factor. Simply put, due to the rating parity of the league, having players who for whatever reason are clearly stronger than their "league rating" is an obvious advantage. The three most natural ways this occurs is with players above 2590 who count only as 2590 when determining lineup legality, female players who count as forty points lower, and most importantly young players who have the greatest ability to capitalize on this edge with their current strength often being a hundred or even more points higher than their league rating.

Dedication: Again, teams who put extra preparation to their matches are naturally likely to have a distinct advantage. I know some would likely be skeptical of how important this might be, but I feel the near Game of the Year Winner, Martinez vs Zilberstein, from last year's Wildcard Round clearly demonstrates how much home preparation can really pay off. In addition, I think team unity is another aspect of this general concept which is also quite important. Once again, I know some would disagree with that since even though the USCL is at heart a team event, when it comes time to play the matches, the players play individually at that point. But once again, based on history, teams which display such unity just generally have seemed to perform better. I'm not sure if that's merely psychological or the more natural assumption that teams with more unity are far more likely to prepare together, but it's clear to me that it's a factor to be considered.

Other Factors: Now that the league has at least a semi-reasonable amount of history to look back on, many teams and individual players have definitely developed some unique advantages. These of course vary greatly amongst the teams (as will be noted when I discus them), but certainly in a league which is so uniform any small edge can be a huge boost. One general factor I included in this last season was "schedule strength", something that seems quite debatable as to its importance as with all teams now being able to have lineups of near optimal rating, in most senses no team's schedule should be much easier than another's. So while I might mention that factor on occasion, I will never view it as more than a very slight advantage.

So once again, I will assign each team a score from one to ten in the four above categories and use that to rank the teams in each division and project their record. Remember also that when I list a team's strongest lineups, that will only be players from their main roster as since alternates cannot play in the post-season, their role is pretty limited overall.

Eastern Division:

1st Place: Boston Blitz

Strongest Lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Christiansen / Perelshteyn / Sammour-Hasbun
3rd: Esserman
4th: Krasik

1st: Christiansen / Perelshteyn / Sammour-Hasbun
2nd / 3rd: Two of Vigorito / Shmelov / Riordan / Esserman
4th: Krasik

1st: Christiansen / Perelshteyn / Sammour-Hasbun
2nd: Shmelov
3rd: Riordan
4th: Esserman

Strength / Flexibility: Boston, as always, comes bearing a very strong lineup, very stacked at the top. While they might not have quite the sheer power they had last season with the two vastly underrated players Shmelov and Williams, they still have plenty of strong lineups with many possibilities up top. They only really lack real flexibility in the bottom spot, as Krasik by necessity will almost certainly be forced to hold down that spot in the vast majority of their matches. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: One might think that after this category was likely Boston's biggest trump in 2007 that they really don't have much to boast about here in 2008, but that really doesn't seem true to me. Of course, both of their GMs counting as 2590 is a natural benefit and after sporting a 2833 performance rating in 2008, it would be difficult to not ascribe Sammour-Hasbun as an asset in this regard. Esserman's recent results and current rating also clearly place him as such an asset and if Krasik can perform at the level he did in 2006, he can definitely be one as well. Score: 7.

Dedication: This has likely been the major thing that has allowed the Blitz to capture the East in the past two years as they are definitely one of the teams that puts a good amount of preparation into their matches, and when it comes to team unity, it's hard to think of a team which can best them in that regard as evidenced by their numerous videos and interviews from last season. Score: 9.

Other Factors: After two close but not quite finishes in the past two seasons, I doubt any team will be hungrier for the USCL title this year than Boston. As I've stated before, with Boston doing a bit better each season than the last would be a very good trend for them to follow once again if they wish to realize their dreams this year as that can have only one outcome if they do so. However, the big thing in their favor is very simply the fact that they've won the East Regular Season title in both of the last two years, and in a league as tough as balanced as this, that clearly shows they are doing something right so I see little reason not to follow that trend further. Score: 8.

Total: 32
Projected Record: 6.5 – 3.5

2nd Place: Queens Pioneers

Strongest Lineups:

1st / 2nd / 3rd: Three of Stripunsky / Vovsha / Schneider / Lenderman
4th: Ostrovskiy

1st: Vovsha
2nd: Schneider
3rd: Lenderman
4th: Katz

1st / 2nd: Two of Stripunsky / Vovsha / Schneider / Lenderman
3rd: Zhao
4th: Thaler / Katz

Strength / Flexibility: Queens again has a very powerful roster with many possibilities on basically every board. One weakness they seemed to have in 2007 was Stripunsky and Vovsha being forced to play nearly every match on the top two boards, which clearly is something they have solved for this season. Strangely, the place Queens might be a tad lacking is in the Board Three spot – basically being forced to either stack that board or be out-rated on it (I say strange since last year Queens had three players in the 2300 – 2400 range on their initial roster; players who essentially tend to be ideal for Board Three in most teams' makeup). Score: 7.

Underrated Players: Queens is definitely one of the most armed teams in this regard with Stripunsky well over 2600 and Vovsha based on last year's performance and recent showing at the New England Masters almost certainly such an asset also. Most importantly though, Queens has a nice array of young talent: recent IM norm scorer Zhao, current master Thaler, and National Elementary Champion Ostovskiy, all now well above their league ratings. This to me is where Queens might really have a notch up on several other teams. Score: 9.

Dedication: Again as a team which probably functions a reasonable amount as the lower boards being students to the higher boards, they will always have an intrinsic edge both in preparation purposes and team unity. Score: 8.

Other Factors: Queens narrowly missed out on a playoff birth in their first season and with a year's experience, I have a feeling this may be a break out year for them. Although Stripunsky had a sub-par 2007 season, if he can return to the realm that he scored in 2005, Queens will be a super strong team. In general though, after being a fairly one dimensional team in terms of lineups in 2007, they seem to really have expanded greatly on that which bodes well for them. Score: 7.

Total: 31
Projected Record: 6 – 4

3rd Place: New York Knights

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Shabalov
2nd: Krush / Braylovsky
3rd: Bonin
4th: Herman / Zenyuk

(can't use Krush + Herman here)

1st / 2nd: Two of Fedorowicz / Charbonneau / Krush
3rd: Braylovsky / Bonin
4th: Herman / Zenyuk

(can't use Fedorowicz + Charbonneau + Braylovsky + Herman)

Strength / Flexibility: With the league's first triple GM roster, New York obviously has no shortage of strength. Having such an array along with Krush and sometimes Braylovsky to handle the top two boards, they definitely have a good amount of flexibility in stacking the top couple of boards also. They really don't seem to be lacking sufficient possibilities for handling the bottom two boards either; there only real issue to me is with several of their players likely to be away for several events (Miami Open and Mind Games Olympiad in China). Nevertheless, given the large number of choices their roster really seems to afford them, I think New York is probably the strongest team in the league in this regard. Score: 9.

Underrated Players: While New York may not have the 100+ point underrated players that other teams boast, they certainly have some real assets in this category with Shabalov a frequent super 2700 player along with both Herman and Zenyuk whose league results and current ratings definitely establish them as beyond their league ratings. Those factors, along with having two females who will likely be very active roster members definitely give the Knights a nice boost here. Score: 8.

Dedication: Given the fairly large changes to the Knights roster, it's clear that the manager (Krush) has taken strides to sew up any problems she might have perceived last year. It's rather difficult to know if this largely new team will be able to display the appropriate unity to rise to the top, but with Shabalov residing in a different state, and Charbonneau hard at work for on many days, it's hard to imagine that they will be able to match many of the other teams when it comes to preparation. Score: 7.

Other Factors: I have a feeling most will be surprised by predicting the Knights to not finish in one of the top two spots, especially with the league's first triple GM roster. However, like their arch-rivals, the Boston Blitz, I really feel history should not be an overlooked factor as the Knights have greatly struggled in the first half of their season in both of the last two years. While some might consider it ridiculous to consider that pertinent when this year's roster is so different from last year's, I've been proven wrong too many times by ignoring the league's, albeit short, historical evidence. Score: 5.

Total: 29
Projected Record: 5.5 – 4.5

4th Place: Philadelphia Inventors

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Kudrin
2nd: Smith
3rd: Bartell
4th: Bady

1st: Kudrin
2nd: Smith / Bartell
3rd / 4th: Two of J Shahade / Yeager / Costigan / Wilson

(can't use Smith + Yeager + Costigan here)

Strength / Flexibility: As shown last season, Philadelphia's typical roster with Kudrin manning the top board is quite strong, and given it really didn't change this season, there's no reason why it won't be this season. Plus with the addition of Bartell to give them a little more flexibility on second board along with a different way to stack the roster, they definitely have a good improvement in that regard. While they still suffer with being forced into a suboptimal roster should Kudrin need to miss a match, it's hard to see them really lacking in any other regard here. Score: 7.

Underrated Players: Philadelphia basically has the same trumps here as last season with Yeager now well above his league rating and Costigan and Wilson both continuing to perform above their league ratings. Score: 6.

Dedication: The Inventors still have the handicap of having a GM not in the near vicinity, but things do look up for them this season with Bartell, a friend of Smith's, joining and with J Shahade returning after a long layoff trying to prepare for China, I have a feeling she'll be quite dedicated also. Score: 7.

Other Factors: The Inventors have always had the advantage that my almost universally picking them to finish in last has undoubtedly served as great motivation. Now that they don't have that edge this season, it's very possible that they will just collapse completely without it and finish in last. On a more serious note though, one disadvantage I really felt the Inventors had last season was their being rather one dimensional in nature – all of their lineups basically being of a very similar shape which seems to be something they have definitely expanded on with the addition of Bartell. The Inventors mostly have tended to rely on the extensive experience of their veteran players, but recently have taken strides to utilize some of the other key advantages like have a better variety of lineups and also using the rating advantages both a female and a youth can provide. Now that they have moved into the current times in those regards, they may now really have what it takes to compete for the League Championship. Score: 8.

Total: 28
Projected Record: 5 – 5

5th Place: New Jersey Knockouts

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Benjamin
2nd: Gulko
3rd: Ju / Molner / Shen
4th: Lian

1st: Benjamin / Gulko
2nd: Ippolito
3rd: Friedman
4th: Lian

1st: Benjamin / Gulko
2nd: Ippolito / Friedman
3rd: Ju / Molner
4th: Shen

1st: Ippolito
2nd: Friedman
3rd: Ju
4th: Molner

Strength / Flexibility: Having added Gulko to their campaign, the Knockouts definitely have a wider variety of top lineups to wield, something I felt they were a bit lacking in 2007. As noted above, New Jersey seems to have four different lineup styles, all of which are quite powerful and should give them a good amount of flexibility. While they can't use the lineup with a GM on the top board and Ju on the bottom; something which served them quite well last season, the additional new possibilities likely more then make up for that. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: This might be one category where the Knockouts aren't quite up to par with most other teams in the league. While they do have two 2600+ GMs and a good amount of youth, it seems for the league ratings their youth really aren't far off from their current ratings. Score: 4.

Dedication: Benjamin by most indications, in addition to being their top board, seems to also have taken on a semi-role of preparing the team. Given that he's also something of a pseudo-mentor to both Ju and Shen due to the recent US Chess School, I would only expect that to be amplified this season. The Knockout players in general seem quite dedicated to the team in general given the large number of annotated games by the players themselves from their last year's matches and so New Jersey seems quite strong here on the whole. Score: 7.

Other Factors: With Benjamin's wife expecting a baby soon, it's really unclear if he might suddenly become unavailable for some portion of the season. While in one sense, the Knockouts definitely have a few very good lineups they could still use in that circumstance, given his position as the general team leader, it seems quite likely that his being unavailable would adversely affect the team beyond him simply being unable to play. Score: 7.

Total: 26
Projected Record: 4.5 – 5.5

6th Place: Baltimore Kingfishers

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Erenburg
2nd: Blehm
3rd: R Kaufman / Zimmer / Kahn
4th: Defibaugh

1st: Erenburg / Blehm
2nd: Enkhbat
3rd: L Kaufman
4th: Defibaugh

1st: Erenburg / Blehm
2nd: Enkhbat / L Kaufman
3rd / 4th: Two of R Kaufman / Zimmer / Kahn

Strength / Flexibility: The Kingfishers are a squad who I've often criticized for not having any youth on their team, but they have changed that this season with two young players Defibaugh and Low (one as an alternate) who will allow them to use their probable most favored lineup of GM + Enkbhat + L Kaufman (incidentally the lineup that essentially was used in their 2005 League Championship). In addition, they are also one of the few teams who can use a current 2300+ on their Board Four with them having several lineups with Zimmer manning the bottom board. I definitely think Baltimore has a great deal of flexibility more than last season. Score: 8.

Underrated Players: Baltimore has mostly been lacking in this regard the past couple of seasons, but this year they definitely have two big assets with R Kaufman recently achieving his third IM norm and Defibaugh now well above his league rating. Score: 6.

Dedication: This was definitely a place where I felt the Kingfishers likely weren't quite up to par in 2007 with R Kaufman not being on the main roster, and just in general having several team members who only played one or two matches all season, naturally suggested that they didn't have a great deal of team unity. This year's roster definitely seems more conducive to them being better in that regard this season but how good remains to be seen. Score: 7.

Other Factors: Once again I feel I must dock a bit from Baltimore here based on recent history, having finished last in the East each of the past two years (on the other hand, the reward for this is mathematically the easiest schedule of inter-league opponents). It might seem ridiculous to deduct based on this given that a loss in the last week each year has been the difference between a playoff spot and finishing last, but I still feel having that winner's mentality from the start is never a bad thing (which is why I continue to rely on past performances when making judgments for the teams in general). Score: 5.

Total: 26
Projected Record: 4.5 – 5.5

7th Place: Carolina Cobras

Strongest Lineups:

1st: Milman
2nd: Schroer
3rd: Zaikov / Simpson / Jones
4th: Dana / Bapat

1st: Milman / Schroer
2nd: Zaikov
3rd: Simpson
4th: Jones

Strength / Flexibility: In terms of strength, Carolina on paper is certainly a fine team, but realistically when looking strictly at their players, the fact that they are unable to use the lineup they used nearly all of last season really sticks out. Given they failed to qualify for the post-season when mostly using that roster, in the sense that that lineup is no longer legal, their roster seems to have somewhat decreased in power. Given that most of the other teams have seemingly increased their strength, the Cobras seem likely to be fighting an uphill battle this season. Score: 6.

Underrated Players: Unfortunately, I see the Cobras extremely lacking here as their two main trumps in the past in this regard, Zaikov and Jones now have increased to the point where their league ratings are probably fairly close to their actual strength (as mentioned, their ratings have increased enough that their traditional lineup from last season doesn't work anymore). Score: 3.

Dedication: Carolina's main roster seems to be quite disparate in profession with Milman and Zaikov both students while Schroer and Jones the opposite (ok, of chess, but you get the idea). That does seem to naturally make it difficult to mesh well for team preparation in general. Carolina does on the other hand have a very similar roster to last season, and hopefully that can give them some edge in the unity department. Score: 7.

Other Factors: I'm sure Milman was not the most pleased individual to hear of the Cobras return to the East given him personally performing much better against the West. On the other hand, both Zaikov and Jones performed very well in the East in 2006. Granted both of them will likely have to play different roles this season compared to then, but if the Cobras want to find something to build on, perhaps it can start with the two of them. Score: 7.

Total: 23
Projected Record: 3.5 – 6.5

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3, where I will try to break down the West and then the Playoffs!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dallas Destiny Announce Their Roster

2008 Team Roster: (Dallas has not decided which rating list to use. Aug 08 listed below)

1. IM Marko Zivanic: 2552
2. IM Davorin Kuljasevic: 2528
3. IM Jacek Stopa: 2507
4. IM Drasko Boskovic: 2504
5. IM John Bartholomew: 2501
6. FM Igor Shneider: 2426
7. NM Tautvydas Vedrickas: 2347
8. WFM Bayaraa Zorigt: 2217


1. NM Chaitanya Vaidya
2. WFM Karina Vazirova: 2108

The defending champions come to the table bearing a very powerful lineup, all three of their 2007 All Stars returning. The Destiny have a very unique roster, having no players above 2600 and yet a whopping five in the 2500-2600 range! This unusual balance of power helped lead the Destiny to the 2007 Championship so it's no surprise that they chose a similar structure for the 2008 campaign. Despite the large number of returning team members, in some sense the Destiny may well have a very different look to them in 2008 as their strange balance might have their typical Board One from last season, IM Boskovic, and their typical Board Three, IM Stopa, playing in the opposite board order this season! (of course this might not end up being the case as their rating list is still undecided, and the order will likely be their choice anyway assuming the two are within fifty points of each other in the list they do use). Given the closeness in ratings of all their top players, it's really anyone's guess what the Dallas's final board order will end up being. Destiny fans clearly hope small fringes like this will help push Dallas to the top again to be the first repeat Champions in 2008.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Boston Blitz Announce Their Roster

2008 Team Roster: (Boston is using the Dec 07 Rating List)

1. GM Larry Christiansen: 2669
2. GM Eugene Perelshteyn: 2592
3. SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun: 2576
4. IM David Vigorito: 2433
5. NM Denys Shmelov: 2393
6. NM Charles Riordan: 2336
7. NM Marc Esserman: 2265
8. NM Ilya Krasik: 2137


1. NM Chris Williams: 2298
2. NM Vadim Martirosov: 2255

After two super strong seasons, both of which left the Blitz slightly short of their Championship dreams and likely craving it more than ever, they return this season with another super powerful lineup. With all four of their 2007 All Stars returning along with near 2006 All Star NM Riordan and the improving NM Esserman, the USCL title is very likely to be within Boston's grasp again this year. Seeming to generally take one extra stride than the previous season in their quests, if the Blitz can duplicate that feat this season, a USCL Championship can be their only logical result in 2008.

Seattle Sluggers Announce Their Roster

2008 Team Roster: (Seattle has not decided which rating list to use. Aug 08 listed below)

1. GM Hikaru Nakamura: 2732
2. GM Gregory Serper: 2592
3. IM Eric Tangborn: 2455
4. FM Slava Mikhailuk: 2437
5. NM Michael Lee: 2314
6. FM John Readey: 2296
7. Joshua Sinanan: 2180


1. FM Marcel Milat: 2354

After a disappointing end to their 2007 season, the Sluggers have taken a stride to reclaim the great strength that they displayed in 2006, adding GM Nakamura to the campaign. With his explosive, tactical style in contrast to GM Serper's rock solid approach, the Sluggers have a good variety of top lineups to throw at their opponents. That change, along with the still improving young NM Lee, probably ready to now hold the reins on Board Three and allow the Sluggers to field both their GMs at once could well provide the spark needed to let Seattle make a return to the top in 2008.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Miami Sharks Announce Their Roster

2008 Team Roster: (Miami has not decided which rating list to use. Aug 08 listed below)

1. GM Julio Becerra: 2640
2. FM Bruci Lopez: 2486
3. FM Marcel Martinez: 2469
4. FM Osmanys Perea: 2453
5. IM Blas Lugo: 2393
6. FM Charles Galofre: 2326
7. NM Eric Rodriguez: 2238

The familiar faces for Miami return for them in the 2008 campaign after a roller coaster season which saw them struggle badly early only to make a remarkable run into the League Semifinals. Also having several new faces, including former Kingfisher FM Lopez, will undoubtedly give Miami a good amount of options for their second and third boards, spots where they've somewhat struggled in the past couple of seasons. If they can find a way to adequately balance this newfound freedom there, while also doing the same with their bottom board (as of now, given the high ended nature of their roster, they have don't have many options for that spot), then with two time MVP GM Becerra leading them, the Sharks will definitely be a strong force throughout 2008.

New Jersey Knockouts Announce Their Roster

2008 Team Roster: (New Jersey has not decided which rating list to use. Aug 08 listed below)

1. GM Joel Benjamin: 2644
2. IM Dean Ippolito: 2500
3. FM Aviv Friedman: 2407
4. NM Mackenzie Molner: 2397
5. NM Evan Ju: 2292
6. NM Victor Shen: 2265
7. NM Michael Khodarkovsky: 2248
8. Jayson Lian: 2142


1. Andrew Ng: 2175

With a promising first season which saw the Knockouts miss the post-season by the closest of margins, they return with a nearly identical array of weapons in 2008. However, a year can be a tremendous difference when dealing with youth, and with 2007 All Star GM Benjamin leading them again, and their large collection of young talent, NM Ju, NM Shen, Lian, and the new addition Ng, all on the rise, New Jersey might just have that extra spark they need to crash into the post-season this time around.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Baltimore Kingfishers Announce Their Roster

2008 Team Roster: (Baltimore has not decided which rating list to use. Aug 08 listed below)

1. GM Sergey Erenburg: 2592
2. FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat: 2446
3. IM Larry Kaufman: 2424
4. FM Ray Kaufman: 2348
5. FM Ralph Zimmer: 2328
6. WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg: 2234

After a spellbinding run which won them the 2005 USCL Championship, luck just hasn't seemed with the Kingfishers since then, as a loss in the last week of the regular season has left them out of the post-season in both of the last two seasons. With their normal rocks FM Enkbhat, IM L Kaufman, and WIM Battsetseg all returning, along with GM Erenburg and the much improved IM-Elect R Kaufman both likely to play much more this season, the combination of experience and the re-energizing the latter two might well provide, this could be the year of Baltimore's return to prominence.