Friday, August 28, 2009

New Upset Prize for 2009

For each week of the regular season in 2009, we will have a new prize given to the player who has the biggest upset of the week, a t-shirt of that player's choice from Endgame Clothing.

This "biggest upset" will be based upon the largest rating difference, using August 2009 ratings. Note that these are the ratings used in the Schedule page (not the League Ratings which vary amongst different months for teams). For example, last year in Week 1, the prize would have gone to Meerovich over Harper.

Draws are also eligible to receive this upset prize, once again using the rating difference, but a draw counts for only half of that rating difference when tallying the biggest upset.

For those wondering, yes it's not going to be especially common for a draw to win this prize, but it is certainly possible. For instance, last year in Week 5 the three biggest upsets of that week all happened to be draws (Costigan vs Ippolito, Krasik vs Naroditsky, and Perea vs Bereolos).

We hope that everyone enjoys this new feature of the League!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2009 USCL Rosters announced

Now that the 2009 USCL Rosters are virtually complete, before the season begins, it seems like a good idea to try to give readers some insight into what each team seems to have in mind by doing some brief analysis of their rosters and possible lineups.

However, this year I will be doing this from a nearly strictly factual standpoint - not with predictions as I've done for the past few seasons. That job I will leave to the far more witty, two-time prediction champion, Ron Young, and any other loyal fans who might choose to join him.

There might be some speculation as to why I've made this change in the way I'll be doing things, and the conclusion that most will probably come to is that I was simply too humiliated by the fact that I kept making wrong predictions over and over to continue to do so. However, should you feel the need to ask me if that's actually the reason, I can say only one thing:

I take the Fifth.

But now that that's out of the way let's move on to examining the teams' rosters (as always when mentioning teams' lineups, these will be only lineups which do not use alternates).

Eastern Division:

Baltimore Kingfishers:

Best Lineups:

1st: Kritz
2nd: Erenburg
3rd: Battsetseg
4th: Defibaugh

1st: Kritz / Erenburg
2nd / 3rd: Two of Enkhbat / L Kaufman / Foisor
4th: Defibaugh

1st: Kritz / Erenburg
2nd: Enkhbat / L Kaufman / Foisor
3rd: Zimmer / Uesugi
4th: Battsetseg

(can't use Enkkbat + Zimmer here)

1st: Enkhbat
2nd: L Kaufman
3rd: Foisor
4th: Zimmer / Uesugi / Battsetseg

General Notes: After a miserable 2008 season, several new faces on the Baltimore roster have to provide hope to Kingfisher fans that their new members will cause 2009 to go much better than 2008. The addition of another strong GM, Kritz, can solidify their one bright spot from 2008, the top board. That, along with the additions of WGM Foisor and the still improving FM Uesugi, who likely will together take on much of the Board Three duties - Baltimore's main weak spot in 2008, may well help create a team which will make their fans soon forget about the 2008 woes.

Boston Blitz:

Best Lineups:

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

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

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

(can't use Christiansen / Perelshteyn + Shmelov + Esserman + Martirosov)

General Notes: Last year's runner up return this year with a very similar roster to last season and likely will rely this season on the same type of lineups which worked so well for them last year. Unfortunately, their incredible lineup(s) of two of Christiansen / Perelshteyn / Sammour-Hasbun + Esserman + Krasik which carried them to the Finals last year, no longer works, but on the bright side they still get to use IM-elect Esserman at more than 100 points below his current rating. Likely much of the Blitz's success will depend on whether he can duplicate his great run on Board Three last year while their new weapon when using two of Christiansen / Perelshteyn / Sammour-Hasbun up top, Andrew Wang, provides similar support to that lineup as Krasik did last season, or if Shmelov can ably fill the Board Two spot in place of one of their top three while using Martirosov or Krasik on four. Given those two strong lineup forms, along with their always enthusiastic team, the Blitz seem very likely to be Championship contenders again.

Carolina Cobras:

Best Lineups:

1st: Schroer
2nd: Zaikov
3rd: Simpson
4th: Jones / Klein / Mabe / Bapat / Agner

General Notes: In one sense it's hard to be optimistic about the Cobras' upcoming season as their highest lineup has average only 2371 while all other teams can get very near the 2401 cap. On the other hand, the main lineup which took the Cobras to the regular season Eastern Division title and then to the Semifinals last year was Milman + Zaikov + Simpson + Jones - likely not too dissimilar to the lineup I expect them to use a great deal this season (the same players but with Schroer in place of Milman). Carolina's success last season came largely from always having their best lineup available and all their players in good form. I see no reason why those two factors should be any different this season, and so I wouldn't be ruling out the Cobras to surprise fans again in 2009.

New Jersey Knockouts:

Best Lineups:

1st: Benjamin
2nd: Gulko
3rd: Ippolito / Molner / Kapengut
4th: Matlin / A Shen

1st: Benjamin
2nd: Gulko
3rd: V Shen
4th: Ng

1st: Benjamin / Gulko
2nd / 3rd: Two of Ippolito / Molner / Kapengut
4th: Matlin / A Shen

1st: Benjamin / Gulko
2nd: Ippolito / Molner
3rd: Kapengut / V Shen
4th: Ng / Matlin / A Shen

1st: Ippolito
2nd: Molner
3rd: Kapengut
4th: V Shen / Ng

General Notes: The Knockouts are another team who have returned in 2009 with a very similar roster structure as their 2008 campaign. Once again, they have brought a severely underrated Board Four player to the table, this year in A Shen (last year in Ng), which will enable them (with him or Matlin) to have a triple 2500 player lineup for the second straight year. It's anyone's guess how their season might have turned out last year had they been able to use that fearsome lineup more often, but how much they are able to use the synonymous one they now have for this season could well be a great determiner of whether the Knockouts suffer another postseason disappointment. But they certainly have some very good medium type lineups also with the still improving, near IM, Molner, new face Kapengut, and the still underrated NMs Shen and Ng. Facing off against the team that has ruined their playoff dreams the last two seasons, a team that has typically not fared well in the early part of the season, New York, may well be a great detector as to how both teams' early seasons may play out.

New York Knights:

Best Lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Kacheishvili / Charbonneau / Fedorowicz / Krush
3rd: Bonin / Norowitz
4th: Sturt

1st: Kacheishvili
2nd: Fedorowicz
3rd: Norowitz
4th: Rosenberg

1st: Kacheishvili
2nd: Charbonneau
3rd: Norowitz
4th: Herman / Rosenberg

1st: Kacheishvili
2nd: Krush
3rd / 4th: Two of Norowitz / Herman / Rosenberg

1st / 2nd: Two of Charbonneau / Fedorowicz / Krush
3rd / 4th: Two of Norowitz / Herman / Rosenberg

General Notes: New York as always comes to the season bearing a roster which has many fearsome lineups as the large pool of players in their area always ensures that they are able to have both strong GMs and strong underrated juniors to play for them. However, the last three seasons, the Knights have had a miserable first half of the season and a magical second half, and I haven't really seen any explanation as to why that is. As always, all the teams are strong, and I would caution teams not to sputter out of the gates and then rely on their immense strength to carry them when they need it most later on. However, I've told the Knights not to do that for the last three years, and each time they've done exactly that and then defied the odds to still make the postseason. It should be interesting to see how the season begins for them this year, especially in a Week 1 match against the neighboring Knockouts, whose playoff chances they've ruined in the final week the last two seasons.

Philadelphia Inventors:

Best Lineups:

1st: Kudrin
2nd: Lenderman
3rd: Smith / Bartell
4th: Swaminathan / Sivakumar

1st: Kudrin
2nd: Lenderman
3rd: Costigan
4th: Katz

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

(can't use Kudrin + Smith + Costigan + J Shahade)

1st: Lenderman
2nd: Smith
3rd: Bartell
4th: Katz

General Notes: The Inventors definitely seem like the team who have taken the greatest strides in trying to change their outlook from last season - no doubt partly due to their disappointing 2008 campaign. With their veterans, Costigan, M Shahade, and Wilson all having been a part of their team from the very beginning, Phildelphia has always had a good batch of ~2250 players, but always underrepresented on the ends of the spectrum, generally having few to none players above 2400 and never having any young improving juniors. With the addition of 2008 MVP Lenderman and youngsters Swaminathan and Sivakumar, that has changed quite a bit in 2009 and will now allow Philadelphia to have a much greater variety of lineups, being able to put a ~2400+ player on Board Three along with a double GM lineup (Lenderman being GM-elect) - both luxuries not afforded to them previously. With this new power and flexibility, the Inventors are another team not to be overlooked in 2009.

Queens Pioneers:

Best Lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Stripunsky / Vovsha / Milman / Schneider / Lapshun
3rd: Zaremba
4th: Katz / Vicary / Smith

(can't use Stripunsky + Vovsha + Zaremba + Katz)

1st / 2nd: Two of Vovsha / Schneider / Lapshun
3rd: Milman
4th: Vicary / Smith

(can't use Vovsha + Vicary here)

General Notes: Queens made a strong off-season acquisition in GM-elect Milman who, after spending three seasons playing on Board One only, will be able to play as low as Board Three on his new team! If he can remember (which I doubt!) how to play against 2300-2400s rather than only how to play against strong GMs, then Queens is certainly going to be a very strong team. Much of their success is likely to depend on their Board Four players, Katz, Vicary, and Smith who generally, using current ratings, are likely to be a bit out rated in most of their games. But if they can score reasonably there, being able to often have a triple 2500 roster at the top is definitely going to be a recipe for success.

Western Division:

Arizona Scorpions:

Best Lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Ramirez / Barcenilla / Altounian / Aldama
3rd: Rensch / Adamson
4th: Adelberg / Mateer

1st: Ramirez / Barcenilla / Altounian / Aldama
2nd: Rensch
3rd: Adamson
4th: Martinez

1st: Altounian
2nd: Aldama
3rd: Adamson
4th: Martinez

General Notes: Arizona seems to have taken something of the opposite approach to their 2008 campaign in 2009. In 2008, using a fairly balanced lineup where they often had a 2300+ player on Board Four, Warren Harper, generally giving them a rating advantage there while having a disadvantage elsewhere. However, for 2009 they have chosen the route that most teams go on, adding an underrated junior, now near master Adelberg, to the team who likely will take on much of their Board Four duties. In contrast to last year, using his league rating, he will likely be out rated in the majority of their matches but will allow them use near double GM lineups (Barcellina being GM-elect and Altounian being a strong IM) in exchange - something they really lacked last year. Like many teams who have chosen a strategy of this nature, their success may well come down to how well their young talent fares against the young talents of the other cities.

Chicago Blaze:

Best Lineups:

1st: Shulman / Mitkov
2nd / 3rd: Two of Van de Mortel / Felecan / Pasalic / Young
4th: Rosen / Magness

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

General Notes: The Blaze have chosen to go with virtually the same strategy that served them well in 2008 before a tough last few weeks left them barely out of the playoffs. In 2008, their most common lineup was GM + two IMs (or three IMs) along with an underrated junior (Meerovich or Strunk), and as noted in the lineups above, that seems very likely to be their exact lineup form once again 2009 (just with some new youngsters manning the bottom board). They have also returned with another four IM lineup, something which also served them well when they used it a couple of times last season. Given the success in both those regards, along with the optimism they have to have that the addition of 2008 US Champion Yury Shulman to their team will help them solve their only troublesome spot of 2008, Board One, the Blaze have to be optimistic about their chances in 2009.

Dallas Destiny:

Best Lineups:

1st / 2nd / 3rd: Three of Zivanic / Stopa / Bartholomew / Ludwig / Bercys
4th: Jayakumar

1st / 2nd: Two of Zivanic / Stopa / Bartholomew / Ludwig / Bercys
3rd: Kiewra
4th: Yang

(can't use Zivanic + Stopa + Kiewra + Yang or Zivanic + Bartholomew + Kiewra + Yang )

1st / 2nd: Two of Zivanic / Stopa / Bartholomew / Ludwig / Bercys
3rd: Kiewra / Yang
4th: Zorigt

(can't use Zivanic + Stopa + Kiewra + Zorigt)

General Notes: The Destiny return in 2009 still bearing the lineup form which lead them to the 2009 Championship of two strong IMs + strong FM + Zorigt. But this year, Dallas seems like they will keep their opposition more on their toes guessing as to their lineup stucture as they too have taken the plunge in adding young talents to their team for the first time in Yang and Jayakumar. While the loss of their two time All Star, Kuljasevic, has to be somewhat troublesome, the return of their other two time All Star, Stopa, should be a real asset as should the ability, like many other teams to also have a triple 2500 lineup. Plus, with GM Ramirez having switched to the Arizona team, the Destiny have managed to maintain a no GM roster - undoubtedly something that was done since no one can forget the fact that in four seasons of the league a team with a GM on their roster has still never won the league. Given that and the other factors, the chances for Dallas three-peat seem bright.

Miami Sharks:

Best Lineups:

1st: Becerra
2nd: Lopez / Martinez
3rd: Lugo / Moreno Roman / Rodriguez
4th: Alvarez / Recio

1st: Becerra
2nd: Lugo
3rd: Moreno Roman
4th: Rodriguez

1st: Lopez
2nd: Martinez
3rd: Lugo / Moreno Roman
4th: Rodriguez

General Notes: Last year's Western Division regular season champs have also returned in 2009 with a very similar roster that served them so well in 2008. One notable omission is the lack of perhaps their brightest new star of 2008, near All Star Perea. However, Miami has, like many other teams, come bearing two strong underrated players in last year's All Star Rodriguez along with Alvarez. With them, together with the always strong two time MVP, Becerra, and the strong support crew of Martinez, Lugo, and Moreno Roman, Miami is definitely looking like a team that can take the division crown again.

San Francisco Mechanics:

Best Lineups:

1st / 2nd: Two of Wolff / Friedel / Kraai / Bhat / Donaldson
3rd: Shankland
4th: Liou

1st / 2nd: Two of Friedel / Kraai / Bhat
3rd: Donaldson
4th: Liou

1st: Wolff
2nd: Bhat
3rd: Donaldson
4th: Liou

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

General Notes: Bearing the league's first quadruple GM roster (nearly quintuple given how close Shankland is), the Mechanics obviously have no shortage of strength at the top. They have however taken an unusual path, essentially relying on Liou to carry the day for them on Board Four for nearly the whole season (other than maybe a couple of matches with an alternate). I personally would never advocate that a team use such a risky strategy as that, but on the other hand having a Board Four player who is 200 points underrated for every match can obviously not be a bad thing. Add to that the fact that Dallas did virtually did the same thing last season with Zorigt, and they wound up winning the Championship, I guess it's more likely that I just have no clue what I'm talking about.

Seattle Sluggers:

Best Lineups:

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

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

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

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

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

General Notes: When examining Seattle's possibilities for the upcoming season, I mentioned how I thought their success might hinge on finding another underrated player to fill the void that Michael Lee had filled on Board Four for them for so long. Well they seem to have answered that challenge well with the still underrated Sinanan and the new face of Chen, nearly 200 points underrated. With those assets along with Lee likely now to be a quite a force on Board Three, the Sluggers' Achilles heal in 2008, and still having powerful double GM lineups available, teams may well be faced with the strongest Seattle team to date.

Tennessee Tempo:

Best Lineups:

1st: Ehlvest
2nd: Shabalov
3rd: Burnett / Andrews / Bereolos / Bick
4th: Justice

1st: Ehlvest
2nd: Shabalov
3rd: Bick
4th: Larson

1st: Ehlvest / Shabalov
2nd / 3rd: Two of Burnett / Andrews / Bereolos / Bick
4th: Larson

1st: Ehlvest / Shabalov
2nd: Burnett / Andrews
3rd: Bereolos
4th: Bick

General Notes: For the first time the Tempo seem to have a good variety of lineups all of which are near the rating cap. As always, their success likely will hinge on just how many matches they will have at least one GM in the lineup. Having two on the roster can only imply that the answer to that is probably a number higher than last season (which was six), and given they missed the postseason by only half a point last year, Tempo fans may really be given something to cheer about this season.

I hope everyone enjoyed this brief roster analysis of all the teams and that everyone is looking forward to the coming season as much as I am. Be sure to tune in on Monday to watch opening night and enjoy the season!

Game of the Week Procedures for 2009

With the fifth season of the league imminent, it seems appropriate to outline how Game of the Week (GOTW) will work in 2009.

First off, this year's GOTW prizes will be (for the regular season):

1st: $150
2nd: $75
3rd: $50

(once again if one or more of these is a drawn game, the prize is split equally between those two players)

The system for picking the winning games will mostly be the same - once again each judge will independently rank their Top Five games, with their top pick getting five points, second four points, and so on with the games then being ranked by highest totals.

The big change however will be with our judging panel. This year we will have five judges instead of three. This year's panel is:

IM Greg Shahade
FM Jim Dean
NM Michael Aigner (Blog)
NM Jeff Ashton (Website)
NM Arun Sharma

Many thanks to NM Jonathan Hilton for his extensive work in GOTW and other areas of the League over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, due to entering college and his extensive work on his Wojo book, he will not be returning this season.

We hope that the improved prizes and the expanded judging panel will help make this year's GOTW contest, along with this season of the USCL, the best one yet!

Friday, August 7, 2009

GM Alex Shabalov joins the Tennessee Tempo

While many were impressed by the Tempo's marked improvement in 2008, they are clearly aiming even higher in 2009. With both GM Jaan Ehlvest and GM Alex Shabalov now a part of their campaign this season, this new one-two punch may take the Tempo to the postseason for the first time and could very well also make them into Championship contenders.

Will this new firepower make the difference in turning the Tempo into the playoff team that they've strived to be for three seasons? Be sure to tune in soon to find out, as the new season is less than a month away!