Friday, October 9, 2009

2009 Midseason All Stars

Now that we are at about the midpoint of the season, it's once again time to name who I would put on the three All Star Teams as of now so everyone has a good idea as to who has jumped out to an early lead in qualifying for the official All Star Teams that will be announced at season's end. I will be using the same sort of criteria that has been applied for the last couple of seasons (see this post from last year for an example). Note of course that the five game minimum needed by season's end will not apply here as I will not be enforcing any minimum number of games at this stage.

So without further ado, here is what we have.

Board One:

1st Team: GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA)

A fairly easy decision as being perfect on the top board, even though not quite having as many games as some others, is always a rare feat. Add to that, how tight each match for Seattle has been in each of his victories, two of which have ended up in the Sluggers' favor (by scores of 3-1 and 2.5 - 1.5), and the other being a tie, it's quite clear how clutch Nakamura has been for them so far. Having helped Seattle storm out to an impressive 5.0 - 1.0 record which has them currently tied for the League lead and being the current
MVP Leader, he was an easy choice for the First Team.

Record: 3.0 / 3 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2983

2nd Team: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS)

Another fairly easy decision, as Perelshteyn shares the distinction of being perfect on the top boards with several games under his belt and like Nakamura has also been very important in helping his team jump out to a 5.0 - 1.0 record, also tied for the current League lead.

Such perfection at the highest level would typically be worthy of the First Team, but given both of the players have managed to accomplish that, I felt at this point the higher honor had to go to Nakamura, with him having the much higher performance rating along with the fact that two of Perelshteyn's wins occurred in matches which wound up being total blowouts (score-wise) in Boston's favor.

However, likely there are many more games in both players' futures this season, and it will be interesting to see if one or both players can continue their great starts later on, especially when the plot thickens in the postseason.

Record: 3.0 / 3 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2866

3rd Team: GM Joel Benjamin (NJ)

Unlike the top two spots, who should have been on the third team at this stage was a much tougher decision as there were several players with very similar records to Benjamin (listed in the "Other Candidates") who could have been argued to here instead. I felt that Benjamin deserved the nod at this point for the combination of two reasons: he has played every match thus far and all of his games have been very critical to his team, with four of five New Jersey victories being by the narrowest margin. Add to that the fact that his team does also have the League leading 5.0 - 1.0 record, I elected him to take this spot.

With the Knockouts' being virtually assured of the postseason at this point, it will be very interesting to see if their leader's current good form can be a springboard to ensuring that the troubles they've endured in the later half of the year in their first two seasons do not occur again, to ensure them of both good playoff positioning and then a successful postseason run.

Record: 4.0 / 6 (67%)

Performance Rating: 2703

Other Candidates: As mentioned, there are several other strong players who were close to being on the third team themselves. Perennial Top All Star GM Julio Becerra (MIA) (4.0 / 6, 2702 Performance), has virtually identical stats to Benjamin and has also played in every match and therefore would probably have been given the third spot with the slightest change for the better in almost any stat, but as mentioned I felt Benjamin should get that spot at this stage due to his results on the whole being a bit more integral to his team's success (and of course his team having a bit more success in general with their superior record). Another very strong contender at this point is GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) (3.0 / 4, 2798 Performance). I also nearly gave him the spot over both Benjamin and Becerra with his far superior Performance Rating, but decided, especially at this stage of the season, that with such superb showings by all three of them, it should be valued higher when such stronger performances come in a large number of games (something I do not think is quite the case when dealing with the entire season). Nevertheless, I'm glad this is one of those decisions that really does not count for anything at this point as I know how much trouble I'd have making it at the end of the season when it really matters. But whether endowed with that spot at this point or not, it's very clear how important Ramirez has been to the Arizona team, with them sporting a 3.0 - 1.0 record when he plays and a 0.0 - 2.0 record without him. The other very strong contender is GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) (3.5 / 5, 2716 Performance), also boasting similar stats to the other three, who for the same reasons mentioned would have been a very worthy addition to the third team also, even though at this point I'd have to consider him slightly below the others as his strong performance has not brought around overall team success like the rest, with Tennessee only managing a 1.0 - 4.0 record during his strong run.

Board Two:

1st Team: IM Alex Lenderman (PHI)

Another fairly easy pick, with Lenderman having picked up right where he left off from his MVP performance last season, scoring win after win for his team and easily being the best Board Two performer to date along with being in the thick of the MVP race again.

Unfortunately for him, his great success has not been accompanied by the great team success that came with it last year, and his team has a long road ahead of itself to make the postseason. But if he can continue to perform at the rate that he has, I definitely can see them making a very good run at doing just that.

Record: 3.5 / 4 (88%)

Performance Rating: 2778

2nd Team: GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL)

A Board One Second Team All Star last season, the sight of Erenburg on Board Two has to be a scary thing for any team to see, and it's lived up to its potential so far, with him scoring two big wins for Baltimore there and has been a big part of their already far eclipsing the dismal record brought about by last season's struggles.

While by season's end, it seems rather certain that should Erenburg be All Star eligible, it will be on the top board, given his team's need to generally use an alternate to put him on second board. But even so, it goes without saying that wherever he might be eligible, he's someone to watch out for, and as long that's the case, with the rest of the Baltimore team contributing to his effort much more than last year, the same can definitely be said for the Kingfishers.

Record: 2.5 / 3 (83%)

Performance Rating: 2781

3rd Team: GM Boris Gulko (NJ)

Gulko finds himself in a similar spot as last season, scoring perfectly, though not in an excess of games. Unfortunately, as well as he played last year, his low number of games (three), kept him from receiving All Star consideration then, and one can only guess at this point if that might be the case again this season. Given how well he's done though, it's a certainty that Knockout fans are fervently hoping that at the very least the five game minimum will be met this season, and with the Knockouts almost certain to be in the postseason this year, they obviously will have more time to ensure that that happens.

Record: 2.0 / 2 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2874

Other Candidates: Board Two at this point definitely is the board with the least number of clear candidates as at this point as other than the three mentioned above, no players eligible for this board have scored at least +2. Not to say that there aren't some potential candidates, as
FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) (2.5 / 4, 2626 Performance), IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) (2.5 / 4, 2618 Performance), FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) (2.0 / 3, 2650 Performance), IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) (2.0 / 3, 2610 Performance), and IM Blas Lugo (MIA) (2.0 / 3, 2577 Performance) have all had some critical games for their team. Especially with Erenburg unlikely to be eligible on this board by season's end, really any of them with a great push in the second half of the season has a very real chance of making it onto one of the All Star Teams when it really counts.

Board Three:

1st Team: FM John Bick (TEN)

This was really the easiest decision of them all as Bick, due mostly to Tennessee's monster double GM lineup is by far the lowest rated of the Board Three regulars, and when you combine that with the fact that he has the best record amongst the Board Three's (albeit with a couple of games played on Board Four), it makes for a rather trivial decision.

Although I'm sure it's very disappointing that his team has only managed a 2.0 - 4.0 record despite the very strong play by both him and Ehlvest, as they have suffered some very tight and close defeats, they are still very much in real contention to make it to the postseason, and his continuing to perform so magnificently will definitely be a key ingredient in making that happen.

Record: 4.5 / 5 (90%)

Performance Rating: 2600

2nd Team: IM Angelo Young (CHC)

A near All Star last season, Young also has picked right off where he left last season, now being undefeated in ten league games. Combine that with being out-rated in the majority of these games and having one his victories this season being a more than two hundred point upset against one of the best league performers in history, IM Sam Shankland, only makes this statistic more impressive.

But unfortunately, just as for the other two Board Three All Stars, the team has not managed to keep reasonable pace with their star, with the Blaze currently languishing at the bottom of the West. However, being in that spot now is a very different thing from being there at the end of the regular season, and the Blaze are still very well within striking distance of changing that. They can only hope to turn that around in their other spots while Young continues to be one of the League's biggest surprises which together can add up to a big turn around.

Record: 3.5 / 4 (88%)

Performance Rating: 2715

3rd Team: FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS)

With similar stats to IM Young, it was a close decision of which to give the higher spot, but eventually I felt that it should go to Young with his lower league rating and higher Performance Rating, even though Zaremba has played more games.

Zaremba has been a huge spark for the Pioneers, having won a couple of very crucial games for them, but unfortunately his victories have mostly turned potentially losing matches into drawn ones rather than into winning ones which has prevented his team from taking as much advantage of his great run that I'm sure they would have liked. But just as is true for his fellow Board Three All Stars, his team is still well within striking distance of making the playoffs and continued production from their All Star will definitely be integral to trying to make such a turn around happen.

Record: 4.0 / 5 (80%)

Performance Rating: 2617

Other Candidates: The main other candidate at this point should be no surprise, being last year's second team All Star on this board,
SM Marc Esserman (BOS)
(3.5 / 5, 2528 Performance), another player who managed to pick up where he left off last season, having another very strong season. It's also extremely clear how important he has been to his team, his league rating being around one hundred points lower than his current rating. Add to that the fact that his team's only loss occurred the one week that he did not play, another statistic which speaks for itself, he seems very poised to make help Boston to make another Championship run.

Board Four:

1st Team: NM Yaacov Norowitz (NY)

I'm sure it's not a huge surprise to anyone to see Norowitz in this spot, as the Knights opted for a strategy of heavily stacking their Board Four (rating-wise) when using him. While everyone has their own opinion on whether stacking any particular board is wise or not, it certainly cannot be argued that the spot that New York chose to do this in has more than delivered, with Norowitz having only been nicked for one draw in five games by his chief competitor for this top spot, NM Yian Liou, when he had the Black pieces, in a match that his team fairly dominated.

Although he (like almost any All Star) might be disappointed that his team's results haven't quite measured up to his own, given how much the Knights have tended to struggle early in the season for the past few years, they must be happy that due in large part to him, they do not have a huge mountain to climb in the second part of the season to even make the Playoffs. Add to that New York's tendency to catch fire in the later part of the season, if he can continue on his torrid run, the Knights are going to be a very scary team for anyone to face.

Record: 4.5 / 5 (90%)

Performance Rating: 2427

2nd Team: NM Yian Liou (SF)

As mentioned above, it was a rather tough decision as to whom between Liou and Norowitz should be on the First Team at this juncture, with Norowitz being a bit superior in the most important statistic (record), and Liou holding a small advantage in a few of the other categories, having played more games, having a slightly higher Performance Rating, and having a lower league rating. This really could have gone either way as it seemed nearly dead even on the whole, but I went with Norowitz since, as mentioned above, he did draw with Black in their head to head encounter. However, this is another decision I'm quite happy to not have to make when it really counts as it was extremely tough, and I hope they create some distance between themselves by the time this decision really counts.

At season's beginning, I and others were skeptical of the Mechanics' strategy of using the same bottom board in every single match, certainly a risky strategy as naturally any player is capable of going on a bad streak (which can generally be overcome by the team with the luxury of having multiple players available to play instead). But fortunately, San Francisco seems to have chosen well as Liou's performance has been incredible so far, and should he continue as such, their fearsome lineup of Friedel/Kraai/Shankland/Liou, which helped the Mechanics storm out to a 3.5 - 0.5 start, may well match up favorably against any other lineup in the league.

Record: 4.5 / 6 (75%)

Performance Rating: 2454

3rd Team: NM Joshua Sinanan (SEA)

At the beginning of the year, I would have guessed Seattle's success would mostly hinge upon the success of the player I envisioned them using on Board Four most of the time to facilitate the use of the double GM lineup, NM Howard Chen. But having only relied upon that lineup once, Sinanan has taken on most of the Board Four responsibilities, and he hasn't disappointed, having won his last three games, all in very close matches (two of which ended up 2.5 - 1.5 in his team's favor), obviously very key in the Sluggers' League leading 5.0 - 1.0 start.

With Sinanan and Nakamura both performing extremely well so far, and their last year's All Star, Mikhailuk, seeming to return to form after a tough inaugural game this season, it's very clear that with or without their double GM lineup, the Sluggers are a team to be reckoned with.

Record: 4.0 / 5 (80%)

Performance Rating: 2415

Other Candidates: There are two other players who definitely have been very important to their teams also and could well make showings on the All Star Teams at season's end.
Last year's third team All Star, NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) (3.0 / 4, 2452 Performance), has also scored some important wins for his team against rather tough opposition (as evidenced by his high performance rating in comparison to several of his All Star competitors). Also, David Adelberg (ARZ) (3.0 / 4, 2352 Performance), being the first Board Four in quite a long time to finish highly in the Game of the Week voting and being undefeated in four games despite being one of the lowest rated regular Board Fours in the League is another very strong candidate and like his teammate Ramirez, his importance is also very apparent from his team's 3.0 - 1.0 record with him and 0.0 - 2.0 record without him.

Good luck to everyone in the second part of the season and congratulations to everyone who's performed well enough to be on the Team so far, all of whom have played some great games to greatly entertain us spectators, and I hope the second half of the season can be even better!

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