Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quarterfinals Lineup/Preview

Monday, 7:30 PM EDT
Time Control 90 min. with 30 sec. increment

Baltimore Kingfishers vs. Boston Blitz
GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) - GM Larry Christiansen (2665)
IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (2425) - IM Marc Esserman (2492)
FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) - NM Vadim Martirosov (2248)
NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) - NM Ilya Krasik (2253)

Note: Players in italic have the white pieces.

The playoffs are finally here and we see a rematch of Week 9 between Baltimore and Boston. Boston receives draw odds and Baltimore chose white on Boards 1 and 3. Baltimore is using a similar lineup as in Week 9 (and the same as Week 10) but with IM Enkhbat replacing IM Kaplan on Board 2. Boston counters with a new lineup headed by their stalwart Board 1, GM Larry Christiansen.

Board 1: GM Sergey Erenburg vs. GM Larry Christiansen. GM Erenburg is (+2 =1) against Boston and (+4 =4) on the season while GM Christiansen is (+1 =2 -2) against Baltimore and (+3 =4 -1) on the season. This is the only pairing that has played before in the USCL and that was just 2 weeks ago. In that game, GM Christiansen surprised GM Erenburg with a rare Philidor's Defense variation that eventually went into a drawn rook ending. What's in store for this game is anybody's guess, but it has got to be more exciting especially since this is the playoffs!

Board 2: IM Marc Esserman vs. IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat. IM Esserman is (+1 =1) against Baltimore and (+2) this season. IM Enkhbat is (+2 -2) against Boston and (+2 =1 -2) this season. At 67 points, this game has the largest rating difference of the match. With a 75% (15.0/20) career scoring percentage, IM Esserman is one of the most successful players in the USCL. On the other side of the board, IM Enkhbat has a solid 51% (22.5/44) career scoring percentage. Expect IM Esserman to steer toward sharp play and press for a win here.

Board 3: FM Ralph Zimmer vs. NM Vadim Martirosov. FM Zimmer is (=1 -1) against Boston and (+1 =2 -2) on the season. NM Martirosov is (=2) against Baltimore and (+2 =3 -1) this season. This game is the first time since Week 6 that FM Zimmer has not been at a severe rating disadvantage. In fact, he has a 31 point advantage. If Baltimore wants to overcome Boston's draw odds, FM Zimmer may have to push for a victory.

Board 4: NM Ilya Krasik vs. NM Adithya Balasubramanian. NM Krasik is (+2 =1 -2) against Baltimore and (=4 -1) this season. NM Balasubramanian is (=1) against Boston and (+2 =3) this season. NM Krasik is one of the most experienced players in the USCL with 41 games played while NM Balasubramanian is new to the league this year. With a 70% score in 5 games, NM Balasubramanian has been nice addition for Baltimore. He'll need to stay undefeated to help Baltimore continue further this season.

Player News

GM Larry Kaufman

GM Larry Kaufman is currently playing in the World Senior Championship and has scored 4.0/5.

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Official Site's Live Games.

Week 10 Results/Review

New Jersey Knockouts vs. Baltimore Kingfishers 1-3
GM Joel Benjamin (2614) - GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) 0-1
IM Mackenzie Molner (2548) - IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (2425) 0-1
IM Albert Kapengut (2372) - FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) 1-0
Sean Finn (2123) - NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) 0-1

Knowing that just one draw in the match would clinch a playoff berth creates a strange kind of tension. You know it is just so close, yet it is not guaranteed. Inevitably, you wonder "What if the incredible happens? What if we lose 0-4?" I knew that it's happened before - Carolina defeated Tennessee 4-0 (thanks to a win on time in a dead lost position) to edge Philadelphia on game points for the final playoff spot in 2006. Perhaps it was best that most of the players didn't know about that incident!

IM Albert Kapengut - FM Ralph Zimmer, Position 1

The match didn't start out very well for Baltimore. You just know it's not going good when your pieces are forced back to the starting rank as in the above position from Board 3. FM Zimmer played on, looking for any complications, but IM Kapengut allowed nothing and even trapped black's queen to seal the game.

NM Adithya Balasubramanian - Sean Finn, Position 1

The match looked even worse when Board 4 reached the above position. NM Balasubramanian was losing the exchange with 27. Qe3 Nxe1 28. Qxe1 (28. Bxf8?? Qg2#) Kxg7 and would have to fight hard to even draw.

Meanwhile, GM Benjamin was trying hard to drum up an attack on GM Erenburg's King as seen in the following position:

GM Joel Benjamin - GM Sergey Erenbug, Position 1

Perhaps 21...g5 was best, but it would have allowed white to expose the black king after 22. Nxh6+ Bxh6 23. Bxg5 (23... Bxg5 24. Qxg5+ Qg6 25. Rxe5 Nxe5 26. Qxe5 =/+). GM Erenburg chose to defend his king (and offer a queen-trade) with 21... Ng6. The game continued 22. Qg4 Qc6 23. Qe2 Rd5 24. Rf1 Nf6 25. Re3 Rad8 26. Qf3 Qd7 27. Bxh6 gxh6 28. Qf4?? Nxf4. With that dropped queen, Baltimore finally clinched the playoff spot and was then playing for a chance at the 3rd seed. Also, GM Erenburg had clinched at least 2nd in the MVP race. GM Becerra would take a draw Wednesday to win the UCSL MVP for the 3rd time.

IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat - IM Mackenzie Molner, Position 1

IM Mackenzie Molner fought hard to keep the game complicated, culminating with 24... Nxf2 in the above position. However, IM Enkhbat calmly diffused those complications with 25. Qxf2 Ng4 26. Qf4 Qxf4 27. gxf4 Bxc3 28. Ra2 Ne3 29. Rd3 Nxg2 30. Kxg2 and came out with a nice plus in the advanced c-pawn. He used that advantage to convert into a winning king and pawn endgame that brought about a resignation on move 47.

After IM Enkhbat's game finished, we saw that Boston-New York was going to be drawn, so NM Balasubramanian needed to at least draw his game for Baltimore to take the 3rd seed from New York. The game had become about even (around move 50) despite white going down that exchange earlier. Then, black made a final inaccuracy with 52... Rd8? that would give white the advantage:

NM Adithya Balasubramanian - Sean Finn, Position 2

NM Balasubramanian played 53. d7! e3 (53... Rxd7 54. Qa8+ Kh7 55. Nf8+ Kg7 56. Nxd7 Qxd7 57. Qxe4 +/=) 54. fxe3 Rf8 55. Nxf8! Qxa2 56. d8=Q Qb1+ 57. Kf2 Qf5+ 58. Ke2 and Finn resigned seeing as there was no compelling reason to continue playing.

So Baltimore clinched the playoff spot and passed New York for the 3rd seed. That sets up a Baltimore-Boston match in the Quarterfinals with Boston having draw odds but Baltimore having color-choice.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week 10 Lineup/Preview

Monday, 7:45 PM EDT
Time Control 90 min. with 30 sec. increment

New Jersey Knockouts vs. Baltimore Kingfishers
GM Joel Benjamin (2614) - GM Sergey Erenburg (2646)
IM Mackenzie Molner (2548) - IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (2425)
IM Albert Kapengut (2372) - FM Ralph Zimmer (2279)
Sean Finn (2123) - NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255)

Note: Players in italic have the white pieces.

The final match of the regular season is upon us! The Baltimore Kingfishers face the New Jersey Knockouts in an elimination match for the final playoff spot. The catch is that Baltimore has a special kind of draw odds: 1 draw on any board means New Jersey is eliminated, but Baltimore could keep playing to have a shot at 3rd place in the Eastern Division. Thus, the New Jersey players will have to go all out for wins from the beginning, which should make for a very entertaining match!

Board 1: GM Joel Benjamin vs. GM Sergey Erenburg. GM Benjamin is (+4 =2 -1) on the season and (+2 =2 -2) against Baltimore. GM Erenburg is (+3 =4) on the season and (+2 -1) against New Jersey with each of those games played against GM Benjamin. Both players are tied for 3rd in the USCL MVP race with 15.0 points (GM Erenburg holds the 2nd tie-breaker, Overall Team Record). GM Erenburg would win the league MVP with a win (20.0 points), a GM Becerra loss, and a non-win by GM Nakamura. GM Benjamin could tie for first with 19.0 points but would not be able to pass GM Becerra on the first tie-breaker (Total games played). With all the possible individual and team achievements on the line, this should be the Game of the Night!

Board 2: IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat vs. IM Mackenzie Molner. IM Enkhbat is (+1 =1 -2) on the season and (+1 =2 -2) against New Jersey. IM Molner is (+1 =1 -2) on the season and (+3 =1 -1) against Baltimore. The must-win situation fits well with IM Molner's well-known aggressive style. Will the white pieces be enough for IM Enkhbat to counter the 123-point rating difference? After all, Baltimore is 3rd best (tied with Arizona at 11.0/18) in the league with the white pieces and New Jersey is last in the league with the black pieces (6.0/18).

Board 3: IM Albert Kapengut vs. FM Ralph Zimmer. IM Kapengut is (+1 =3 -1) on the season and (+1) against Baltimore. FM Zimmer is (+1 =2 -1) and (-1) against New Jersey. Here is another rating advantage for New Jersey in this matchup; this time it is 93 points and the white pieces. However, FM Zimmer has been able to draw his last two games against higher-rated opposition (145 and 192 point differences), so he has proven to be up to the task. The question is how will IM Kapengut needing to play for a win affect the gameplay?

Board 4: NM Adithya Balasubramanian vs. Sean Finn. NM Balasubramanian is (+1 =3) on the season and this will be his first time playing New Jersey. Sean Finn is (-2) on the season and (+1) against Baltimore. This time, Baltimore has a sizable 132-point rating advantage and the white pieces. Also taking into account the previously mentioned color-specific scoring statistics for these teams, this board might be the toughest of all for New Jersey to try to win. Try they will, and that'll be a win for the audience on Monday night!

Week 9 Results

Baltimore Kingfishers vs. Boston Blitz 1.5-2.5
GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) - GM Larry Christiansen (2665) 0.5-0.5
IM Sasha Kaplan (2482) - SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (2603) 0-1
FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) - SM Denys Shmelov (2471) 0.5-0.5
NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) - Grant Xu (2061) 0.5-0.5

Boston beat Baltimore 2.5-1.5 to clinch 2nd place in the Eastern Division. Meanwhile, Baltimore stays in 4th place. Also, thanks to Philadelphia's defeat of Manhattan, Baltimore only needs 1 drawn game against New Jersey to clinch the final Eastern Division playoff spot. However, New Jersey can pass Baltimore with a 4-0 win, so they will have to play all out in the final regular season match.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 9 Lineup/Preview

Monday, 7:15 PM EDT
Time Control 90 min. with 30 sec. increment
(Note: On Board 3, FM Zimmer will have 101 minutes to SM Shmelov's 79 minutes due to a late lineup change)

Baltimore Kingfishers vs. Boston Blitz
GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) - GM Larry Christiansen (2665)
IM Sasha Kaplan (2482) - SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (2603)
FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) - SM Denys Shmelov (2471)
NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) - Grant Xu (2061)

Note: Players in italic have the white pieces.

In a tightened Eastern Division playoff race, the Baltimore Kingfishers face the Boston Blitz. Both teams are looking to secure playoff berths this week. Boston has a playoff berth by at least drawing the match or if Manhattan does not win its match. Baltimore gets a playoff berth if it can keep a 1 match-point and 4.5 game-point lead on Manhattan and New Jersey. Furthermore, Boston, Baltimore, and New York are each striving for 2nd place, which gives draw odds (or color choice) in at least the first round of the playoffs. Also, Boston still has an outside shot of catching New England for 1st place in the Eastern Division. Therefore, both teams have plenty on the line for which to play!

Board 1: GM Sergey Erenburg vs. GM Larry Christiansen. GM Erenburg is (+2) against Boston and (+3 =3) on the season while GM Christiansen is (+1 =1 -2) against Baltimore and (+3 =3 -1) on the season. Both players have a chance to be the USCL MVP, with GM Erenburg in 4th place (15.0 points) and GM Christiansen in 8th place (10.0 points). GM Erenburg took 2nd in Week 7's Game of the Week contest and GM Christiansen won Game of the Week in both Weeks 6 and 8. Though the team result will be most important, I am sure both these individuals want to score the full point with that special flair. Make sure you catch this game live!

Board 2: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun vs. IM Sasha Kaplan. SM Sammour-Hasbun is (+1 -1) against Baltimore and (-1) this season while IM Kaplan is making his USCL debut. SM Sammour-Hasbun had a brilliant rookie season in 2007, but his USCL performance rating has dropped markedly in the years since then. However, he is still a very dangerous player who has shown many flashes of brilliance as seen by his 3.5 Game of the Week awards including 2007 Game of the Year. This is definitely a tough spot to make one's USCL debut as IM Kaplan will be a 121-rating point underdog with the black pieces. This year's President's Cup (College Chess Final Four) program lists IM Kaplan's chess accomplishments as: 2007 Israel Junior Champion, Under 20; 2008 Army Champion; 2nd Place, Herzeliya International Round Robin Tournament. Anticipate a solid opening and then a sharp late-middlegame.

Board 3: FM Ralph Zimmer vs. SM Denys Shmelov. FM Zimmer is (-1) against Boston and (+1 =1 -1) on the season while SM Shmelov is (+1 -1) against Baltimore and (=1 -3) on the season. FM Zimmer has played once each on Boards 2, 3, and 4 while SM Shmelov has played twice each on Boards 2 and 3. SM Shmelov is a 192-point rating favorite. However, SM Shmelov has the black pieces and starts with a time disadvantage (101 to 79 - the 22-minute difference is approximately one-fourth of the original 90 minute starting time) as he is a late lineup replacement for IM Marc Esserman. Expect this game to deviate from theory early with some original play afterward.

Board 4: Grant Xu vs. NM Adithya Balasubramanian. Grant Xu has only played one USCL game, a win. NM Balasubramanian is (+1 =2) this season. Coincidentally, both players got the win against Philadelphia. However, NM Balasubramanian did it on Board 3, and he is a 194-point rating favorite. Baltimore will probably need to win here to counter its rating disadvantages on Boards 2 and 3, so look for NM Balasubramanian to mix it up in the middle game.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Week 8 Results/Review

Baltimore Kingfishers vs. Philadelphia Inventors 2.5-1.5
GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) - FM Tom Bartell (2429) 1-0
FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) - IM Jay Bonin (2424) 0.5-0.5
NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) - FM Karl Dehmelt (2308) 1-0
NM Richard Selzler (2252) - IM Richard Costigan (2288) 0-1

In the shortest 90/30 match I can remember Baltimore playing, the Kingfishers edged the Philadelphia Inventors 2.5-1.5. Although the match was decided in Baltimore's favor after only 3 boards finished, you will see in the analysis below that the match could just as likely have been drawn. Also, during Monday night, New Jersey was able to comeback from a 0-2 deficit to draw the match against Manhattan. Thus, Baltimore is now 1 match point clear of Manhattan for the 4th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division. Now, let's take a look at the games which actually finished in board order.

The Board 1 battle between GM Sergey Erenburg and FM Tom Bartell began with a Sicilian: Taimanov. The novelty occurred when FM Bartell played 13... e5 instead of 13... Nxe3 (=1 -1 for white). Later, FM Bartell tried the overly-ambitious 19... e4:

GM Sergey Erenburg - FM Tom Bartell, Position 1

GM Erenburg neatly diffused the aggression in the center with 20. fxe4 fxe4 21. Rxe4! Bd5 (21... Nxe4 22. Bxe4 and the black king comes under heavy fire) 22. Rd4 Be4 23. Rc4 Qd5 24. Bc3 Bxd3 25. Rxd3 Qxg2 26. Rg3 Qf1+ 27. Kb2 (Black resigned as Rf4 and Rxf6 are coming).

GM Erenburg now has 15 USCL MVP Points along with GM Joel Benjamin and IM Julio Sadorra (GM Benjamin holds the tiebreaker with the most games played). Also, GM Julio Becerra, GM Hikaru Nakamura, and GM Pascal Charbonneau each have a chance to tie or pass that total on Wednesday night.

The IM Jay Bonin and FM Ralph Zimmer game on Board 2 looked as if it was going to be a King's Indian Defense, but soon switched to a Sicilian: Maroczy Bind. The novelty was IM Bonin's 13. Bxg7 (13. Rac1 [+1 for white] and 13. b4 [-1] have been tried). IM Bonin gained space after 14. b4 and seemed to have a good edge through 20. Nxe5 fxe5:

IM Jay Bonin - FM Ralph Zimmer, Position 1

White could keep a clear edge with 21. Rd2! planning to double rooks on the d-file. Instead, the game continued 21. Qd2 h6 22. cxd6 exd6 23. Qxd6 Qxd6 24. Rxd6 Rc2! This active rook allows black to win back the pawn on a2 as in the game or with 25. Bd1 Rc4! (Not 25... Rxa2? 26. Rxa2 Bxa2 27. Bh5! when white wins either the b-pawn or e-pawn). The game ended in the 3-fold repetition that put Baltimore up 1.5-0.5 with Boards 3 + 4 looking slightly better for Baltimore but far from conclusive.

Board 3 between NM Adithya Balasubramanian and FM Karl Dehmelt started "very quietly" with a Giuoco Pianissimo: Four Knights variation. The novelty came quickly with 7... Bb4 (7... Bxe3 with one draw has been played). The middle game was anything but quiet with 12. Nh4 g5 (12... Nxe4 is impossible due to 13. dxe4 Qxh4 14. Qd5! attacking a5 and f7) 13. Nf5 Bxf5 14. exf5 Qd7 15. Qf3 d5 16. Rfb1 0-0-0 17. Rb4 e4!? 18. dxe4 dxe4 19. Qe2 Qxf5?! (19... Nd5 was better):

NM Adithya Balasubramanian - FM Karl Dehmelt, Position 1

Here, white missed a chance to play the imaginative shot 20. Rxb7! Nxb7 (20... Kxb7 21. Rb1+ +/-) 21. Qxa6 Qa5 (otherwise Rb1 and xb7 are coming) 22. Qxf6 Nd6 23. Rb1 (+/=; Black could even blunder into mate with 23... Rdf8? 24. Be6+! fxe6 25. Qxe6+ Kd8 26. Rb8+ Nc8 27. Rxc8#). Now, the game actually continued: 20. Bxf7 Rhf8 21. Bh5 Nxh5 22. Qxh5 c5 23. Rb6 Nc4 24. Rxh6 Nxe3 25. fxe3 Qf2+ 26. Kh1 Qxe3 27. Qg4+ Kb8 28. Rh7 Rd6 29. Re7 Rdf6 30. Qxe4 Rf1+ 31. Rxf1 Rxf1+ 32. Kh2. Here, I am not sure if FM Dehmelt felt he had to play for a win due to the match situation or simply missed the draw that NM Balasubramanian admitted he overlooked earlier:

NM Adithya Balasubramanian - FM Karl Dehmelt, Position 2

32... Qg1+ 33. Kg3 Qf2+ 34. Kh2 (Definitely not 34. Kg4? Qh4#) Qg1+ with perpetual check. The game actually went 32... Qf4+? 33. Qxf4+ Rxf4 34. a5 Rc4 35. Rg7 Rxc3 36. Rxg5 b5 37. axb6 Kb7 38. h4 Rc4 39. h5 Kxb6 40. Rg3 Rf4 41. h6 Rf7 42. Rh3 Rh7 43. g4 a5 44. g5 a4 45. g6 a3 46. gxh7 and Black resigns. With this win, Baltimore was assured the match victory with at least 2.5 points.

The Board 4 game between IM Richard Costigan and NM Richard Selzler began in an offbeat variation: 1. Nf3 c5 2. b3 d5 3. Bb2 f6 (NM Selzler said he saw this move in the game Petrosian-Fischer, 1971; however, IM Costigan deviated from that game on the next move) 4. d4 cxd4 5. Qxd4 Nc6 6. Qd2 e5 7. e3 Be6 8. Be2 Bb4 9. c3 Ba5 10. 0-0 Nge7 11. Rc1 (Novelty - 11. Rd1 tried with one draw) O-O 12. b4 Bb6 13. c4 Rc8 14. c5 Bc7 15. a3 Qd7 16. Nc3 Rfd8 17. Bb5 Qe8 18. Ne2 Qg6 19. Ng3 h5 20. Qe2 Qh6 (20... e4 21. Nd4 Nxd4 22. exd4 h4 =/+) 21. h3 g5 (21... e4 is playable still) 22. Nh2 h4 23. Nh1 Qg6 24. f3 Kf7?! (24... a6 25. Bd3 f5 or 24... f5 immediately seem more to the point) 25. Nf2 f5 26. Rf1 Kg8 27. Rad1 e4? (It is bad now due to white's rooks, which are better placed on the soon to open files):

IM Richard Costigan - NM Richard Selzler, Position 1

28. fxe4 dxe4 29. Rxd8+ (29. Nxe4! is even stronger as the e6-bishop won't be supported when Rf6 is played) Nxd8 30. Nxe4! (30. Nhg4! is also good) Bxh2+ 31. Kxh2 fxe4 32. Rf6 Qh7 33. Qf1 (33. Bc4! Bf7 34. Qg4 +/-) Bf7 34. Bc4 Rc6 (34... a6 35. Be5 b5 36. Ba2! +/=; Black is still worse but can play on for awhile with the extra piece for a pawn) 35. Qd1 Rc8 36. Qd7 Kf8 37. Be5 Kg8 38. Qxe7 (Black resigns with mate coming soon; 38... Qe8+ is the threat).

The match would have been drawn had FM Dehmelt taken the perpetual check on Board 3, so Baltimore had a little luck this week to take the match victory. However, Capablanca said "A good [team] is always lucky," no? Look for Baltimore to try to cement a playoff spot next week against the very tough Boston Blitz!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week 8 Lineup/Preview

Monday, 7:15 PM EDT
Time Control 90 min. with 30 sec. increment

Baltimore Kingfishers vs. Philadelphia Inventors
GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) - FM Tom Bartell (2429)
FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) - IM Jay Bonin (2424)
NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) - FM Karl Dehmelt (2308)
NM Richard Selzler (2252) - IM Richard Costigan (2288)

Note: Players in italic have the white pieces.

This week the Baltimore Kingfishers face the Philadelphia Inventors. This is another same-season rematch as these teams faced each other in Week 4, which ended in all-draws. Five of the players (2 Baltimore, 3 Philadelphia) in this match also played in the first match. However, the stakes in this match are much higher as Philadelphia cannot lose if they want to keep playoff hopes alive. Meanwhile, Baltimore is trying to hold onto its half-match-point lead for the 4th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division.

Board 1: GM Sergey Erenburg vs. FM Tom Bartell. GM Erenburg is (+1 =4) against Philadelphia and (+2 =3) in the USCL this season. FM Bartell is (+1 =3) against Baltimore and (+2 =4) this season. Both players are also competing for this season's USCL MVP as GM Erenburg has 11.0 points and FM Bartell has 10.5 points while GM Becerra and GM Nakamura lead with 14.0 points. This game will only be FM Bartell's 2nd time on Board 1 this season, but he has played 3 GM's on Board 2 with a 2.0/3 score including an Upset of the Week with the black pieces against GM Boris Gulko. The 217-point rating difference in this game will be even tougher to overcome, but it is clear one should not underestimate FM Bartell. I anticipate this game could turn into quite a tactical melee!

Board 2: IM Jay Bonin vs. FM Ralph Zimmer. IM Bonin is (+1 =1 -3) against Baltimore and (=2) this season. FM Zimmer is (+3 =1) against Philadelphia and (+1 -1) this season. This match is FM Zimmer's third consecutive time playing and he's been on a different Board each time! This time, he has a 145-point rating disadvantage and the black pieces against one of the most active USCF players ever, IM Bonin. Last week, IM Bonin played 1. b3 and got a good position against IM Hungaski. Perhaps he'll try the Larsen Opening again this week? If so, I am sure it will lead to some very interesting play!

Board 3: NM Adithya Balasubramanian vs. FM Karl Dehmelt. Both players are new to the USCL this year, but FM Dehmelt has played nearly every week for Philadelphia. NM Balasubramanian is (=2) this season while FM Dehmelt is (+1 =1 -4) with the draw coming against Baltimore's IM Ray Kaufman this season. They both played black against New England's FM Braden Bournival with NM Balasubramanian scoring a draw, but FM Dehmelt having a loss. Transitivity suggests NM Balasubramanian should win despite a 53-point rating disadvantage. However, FM Dehmelt's win came the only time he had a rating advantage this season. I think the game will end more peacefully but not without bloodshed on the board!

Board 4: IM Richard Costigan vs. NM Richard Selzler. This game is the one rematch (with colors reversed) from Week 4. IM Costigan is (+1 =3 -4) against Baltimore and (+1 =4) this season while NM Selzler's only USCL game was the draw against IM Costigan. NM Selzler has since won the title of UMBC Student Champion. Now, there is only a 36-point rating advantage for IM Costigan, but he also holds the higher title and has the white pieces. Who will win the Richard-Row, Round 2? Watch Monday on ICC to find out!

PS. Good luck to GM Larry Kaufman, IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat, and IM Ray Kaufman, who are playing in the Continental Class Championships in Arlington, Virginia this weekend.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Week 7 Results/Review

Manhattan Applesauce vs. Baltimore Kingfishers 2.5-1.5
GM Alex Stripunsky (2659) - GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) 0-1
IM Lev Milman (2501) - GM Larry Kaufman (2452) 1-0
IM Eli Vovsha (2539) - FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) 1-0
James Black (2102) - NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255) 0.5-0.5

The Manhattan Applesauce defeated the Baltimore Kingfishers by the score 2.5-1.5, keeping the Eastern Division Playoff Race going for at least another couple weeks. The match featured a few hiccups, including two takebacks for Manhattan and a complete network (wireless and LAN) outage for Baltimore around 10:30 PM! Thankfully, the outage lasted less than five minutes, but coincidentally, it (re)asks the question of what is to be done if the network did not come back up, which was the topic of conversation on ICC channel 129 about half an hour before the outage when New York also had trouble with their connection. Phone relay; Adjournment; Restart at a later date; Agreed Draw; Adjudication; Forfeiture?! Any reader preferences/suggestions? Meanwhile, let's get back to the games:

This Board 2 rematch (with colors reversed) saw a relatively long theoretical line of the Queen's Gambit: Semi-Slav played between GM Larry Kaufman and IM Lev Milman. 13... b5 has only been played twice before with wins for white in both games, but the real novelty was 15... gxf6 (15... Nxf6 likely leads to a Rook+Pawn for Bishop+Knight imbalance). IM Lev Milman was down approximately 50 minutes when he tried to open up the diagonals for his bishops with 17... f5?!

GM Larry Kaufman - IM Lev Milman, Position 1

White should have responded with 18. Qd2 (or Qd3) fxe4 19. Qxd6 Qxd6 20. Rxd6 exf3 21. Bb5 Ne5 22. Nxc5 and white is better due to his iniative and more active rooks. However, the game continued: 18. e5 Nxe5 19. Qxf5 Nxf3+?! (19... Ng6 seems safer) 20. gxf3? (missing Black's defense played in the game; 20. Bxf3 +/= as white has the Qg5+ Kh8 Qf6+ maneuver) Bxh2+ 21. Kh1? (Wanting to clear the g-file for Rg1+ Bxg1 Rxg1+, but still missing black's next move; 21. Kg2 supporting f3 was safer) Qe5! 22. Qg4+ Kh8 23. Bd3 c4? (Black is still better, but after 23... f5, there is nothing white can do to get at the black king.)

GM Larry Kaufman - IM Lev Milman, Position 2

White could have fought much longer for a draw with 24. Bxh7! Black must be careful as 24... Kxh7? (24... Qf4 =/+) runs into 25. Qh4+ Kg8 26. Rg1+! Bxg1 27. Rxg1+ Qg7 28. Rxg7+ Kxg7 and white is slightly better since black's rooks are not yet active. Instead, play went 24. Bxc4 Rg8 25. Qh3 Rg5 26. Rd3 Rag8 and GM Larry Kaufman resigned with his king under heavy fire. This was the first game to finish and a big setback for Baltimore as it was a loss with white.

The next game to finish began with a surprise! I expected a Reti/KIA on Board 1, but instead, it appeared (albeit a different variation) on the Board 4 game between NM Adithya Balasubramanian and James Black. The novelty was 10. Nh4 (10. Qc2 [+1 =4 for white], b4 [+1]). White went on the offensive early and pressed against Black's kingside. However, Black allowed the opening of the g-file and actually seemed to get better use of it as he doubled his rooks quickly. A takeback occurred when 24... Bd4 was played instead of the obviously intended Bxe3. The advantage then slipped once white was allowed to play the Bg4-Bf5 manuever. White could have capitalized on this advantage after 32... Qe7:

NM Adithya Balasubramanian - James Black, Position 1

33. Qg4! Qf8 34. Qg3 Qg7 35. Qh2! (35. Qxe5 Rg6 is +/=) Qf8 36. Qxe5 Qd8 37. Bg4 (important to answer Ng7 with Rd1) Qe7 38. Rf1 Kg7 39. Bf5 Qd8 40. Bxh7 (+/-). Instead, NM Balasubramanian played 33. Qh2 (right idea, but black now has a defense) Nf8! 34. Qg3 Ng6 35. Qg5 Rd6 and the players traded into a Rook and Pawn endgame that was eventually drawn. Baltimore would now need a draw and win to tie the match or two wins for a victory.

The Board 3 encounter between IM Eli Vovsha and FM Ralph Zimmer was a Scandinavian Defense. IM Eli Vovsha played the novelty 8. Be3 (8. Be2 [+1 =1 -1], Nh4 [+2 for white], Bd3 [+1]). Both players spent their time developing pieces until black decided to open the center with 15... e5. After 15. a3 exd4 16. Bxd4 Bxc3?! (16... Bc5 breaking up white's bishop pair was better) and here:

IM Eli Vovsha - FM Ralph Zimmer, Position 1

White apparently typed "bc3" and the server took with the b-pawn. IM Vovsha intended to take with the Bishop but would have needed to capitalize the B for the command. Originally, I mistakenly thought he had capitalized it, and then, the server prioritized pawns over bishops, but an ICC admin assured that capitalization does work, and I have since tested that it does. In any case, another takeback was granted by the league. Once that was fixed, IM Vovsha slowly increased his advantage, playing against black's weak a-pawn and c-pawn. FM Zimmer played on, looking for any chance at a perpetual check with just Queens and Pawns on the board. However, none were to be found and he resigned when it was clear white could force a queen-trade and then promote a pawn. Thus, Manhattan was guaranteed the match victory with at least 2.5 points.

Finally, the Board 1 rematch (with colors reversed) of GM Stripunsky and GM Erenburg began with another surprise as GM Erenburg played the rare 3... a6 in a Caro-Kann: Two Knights variation. However, it was GM Stripunsky who played the novelty 6. Nf4 (6. d3 [=1 -1 for white], c3 [+1], Ng3 [-1]). Early play revolved around the e5-pawn, but soon black changed targets by placing pressure on the long h1-a8 diagonal. Black seemed to have all the play as white's knights were reduced to blockers on the diagonal. The most interesting point of the game came when GM Erenburg played the rank-clearing move 32... f6!?, leaving the knight en prise on f5, but threatening a rook invasion of the h-file.

GM Alex Stripunsky - GM Sergey Erenburg, Position 1

Perhaps GM Stripunsky's best chance was to accept the sacrifice and try to complicate the position as GM Erenburg had only 5 minutes at this point. One line (see game viewer below) runs: 33. gxf5 Rch7 36. Rd2 Rh3 35. Nd6!? Qd7 36. Qxh3 Rxh3 37. Rc2 Bb7 38. fxe6 (38. exf6 gxf5! {only move to stay -/+}) Qxe6 39. exf6!? {when} Rh1+! (39... Qxd6 40. Re8+ Ka7 41. f7 Qd5 42. f8=Q Qh5 43. Ra8+! Ba8 44. Rc7+ Bb7 45. Rxb7+ Kxb7 46. Qf7+ {White gives perpetual check along the a4-g8 diagonal}; 39... Qxf6 40. Re8+ Ka7 41. Nb5+ Ka6 42. Nc7+ {Knight gives perpetual check}) {is the only move that keeps the advantage for black} 40. Kxh1 Qxe1+ {as the g2-knight is pinned} 41. Kh2 Qe6 {-/+}.

Later, GM Erenburg could probably have ended the game faster with 34... Rh1+ 35. Kf2 R1h3 (white still has some counter play with 36. Qxh3 Rxh3 37. f7 Rh8 38. Rh1 Rf8 39. gxf5 Qxf5 40. Rh7), but since he was low on time, he chose the safer 34... Qd7 and eventually converted the win in the endgame with two extra pawns. Although the match was already decided in Manhattan's favor by the time this game finished, the victory gave Baltimore some extra cushion in the first tie-break in case the playoff race comes down to that as a decider.

However, the Baltimore Kingfishers will certainly try to make it unnecessary in the coming weeks! See you next week when the Philadelphia Inventors are the matchup.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Week 7 Lineup/Preview

Monday, 7:15 PM EDT
Time Control 90 min. with 30 sec. increment

Manhattan Applesauce vs. Baltimore Kingfishers
GM Alex Stripunsky (2659) - GM Sergey Erenburg (2646)
IM Lev Milman (2501) - GM Larry Kaufman (2452)
IM Eli Vovsha (2539) - FM Ralph Zimmer (2279)
James Black (2102) - NM Adithya Balasubramanian (2255)

Note: Players in italic have the white pieces.

The Baltimore Kingfishers are rematched against the Manhattan Applesauce, but colors are reversed from Week 2's encounter. Actually, Manhattan is using the same lineup as in Week 2 while Baltimore changed the lower 2 boards. This is an important matchup as Manhattan is in 5th place in the Eastern Division, one and one-half points behind the 4th place Kingfishers. A win here by Baltimore and the Eastern Division Playoff Race could just be a matter of positioning between the top four teams. A Baltimore loss and the final playoff spot could be still be taken by any of five teams though Baltimore would still be up by half a point.

Board 1: GM Alex Stripunsky vs. GM Sergey Erenburg. A rematch from Week 2 with colors reversed. GM Erenburg won that encounter to improve his record against Manhattan to (+2 =2), and GM Stripunsky is now (=4 -1) against Baltimore. Meanwhile, GM Stripunsky has won one game and drawn two games since Week 2 while GM Erenburg has drawn three straight games. I wonder if we'll see a three-peat of the Reti/KIA-like opening of which GM Erenburg has been on the black side twice this season since in neither game was white in any serious trouble. However, let's hope for something different, for variety's sake!

Board 2: GM Larry Kaufman vs. IM Lev Milman. Another rematch from Week 2 with colors reversed! Last time, GM Larry Kaufman won to improve to (+2) against Manhattan while IM Milman is now (+1 =3 -3) against Baltimore. GM Larry Kaufman has played every week since that match, amassing a (+3 =1 -1) season record while IM Milman has played only one game to bring his season record to (+1 -1). GM Kaufman seems to have the hot hand, especially with the positions he has been getting with white. Though don't sleep on IM Milman's chances, as this is the same player who held down Board 1 during Carolina's division-winning run in 2008!

Board 3: IM Eli Vovsha vs. FM Ralph Zimmer. IM Vovsha is (+1 =2 -1) against Baltimore after defeating IM Enkhbat in Week 2, but he has lost two games since that match. His opponent this time is FM Ralph Zimmer, who is (-1) against Manhattan, but won his game last week on Board 4. He will have a much tougher time as FM Zimmer will be outrated by a whopping 260-points and have the black pieces. Anticipate some good preparation!

Board 4: NM Adithya Balasubramanian vs. James Black. Both players are new to the USCL this year. NM Balasubramanian is (=1) on the year and James Black is (+1 -2). NM Balasubramanian has a 153-point rating advantage and the white pieces. He's also known to play some unusual openings, so I don't really know what to expect from this game, except that it will to be fun to watch!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Week 6 Results/Review

Arizona Scorpions vs. Baltimore Kingfishers 1.5-2.5
IM Rogelio Barcenilla (2583) - GM Sergey Erenburg (2646) 0.5-0.5
IM Daniel Rensch (2471) - GM Larry Kaufman (2452) 0-1
FM Warren Harper (2408) - IM Ray Kaufman (2433) 1-0
NM David Adelberg (2275) - FM Ralph Zimmer (2279) 0-1

In a tense match that lasted past midnight EDT, the Baltimore Kingfishers defeated the Arizona Scorpions by 2.5-1.5 as GM Sergey Erenburg held onto a draw as black on Board 1. On all the other boards, the player with the white pieces won. Let's take a look at how they did it in order of their finish.

Board 2 started with a Queen's Gambit Declined: Classical variation. IM Rensch played the novelty, 7... Nh5 (other common moves played before include 7... dxc4, Nbd7, or c5). After 11. Be2 Nxg3 12. hxg3, it was clear white would have significant play against the black kingside. GM Larry Kaufman doubled his rooks on the h-file, centralized his knights, and then fended off the black's attempts at disturbing the queenside. Take a look at the position after 27... Rd2:

GM Larry Kaufman - IM Daniel Rensch, Position 1

GM Larry Kaufman secured his advantage with 28. R1h5! Black offered his queen, knight and pawn for the two rooks with 28... Qg7 29. Rg5 Ng6 30. Rhxg6 hxg6 31. Rxg6 Qxg6 32. Qxg6+ Kf8 33. Qf6+ Ke8 34. Bf3 and black resigned as white's material advantage is clearly too great once the e- and f-pawns fall. This was the first game to finish, and on the lower two boards, white seemed to have an advantage on both, but they were not clear wins yet.

The next game to finish was Board 4, which began in the English Opening. NM Adelberg played the novelty 8... Qe7 (only 8... 0-0 has been tried with +2 =2 for white). The c-file opened with 9. cxd5 cxd5. Black took control of it quickly, but white prevented any good use of the open c-file. Then, it was white who made use of it after 22. Nc6 Nb8:

FM Ralph Zimmer - NM David Adelberg, Position 1

23. Qc2! (23. Bh3 was also good) Nxc6 24. Rc1 Qd6 25. bxc6 Nd7?! 26. Bh3! and white kept the initiative after 26... f5 27. e4 Nc5 28. Bxa5! Qxc6 29. exd5. Eventually white ended up with an extra a-pawn, which FM Zimmer managed to promote before NM Adelberg resigned. Baltimore was up 2-0 at this point, but Board 3 was looking good for Arizona and Board 1 was drawish, but still unclear.

Board 3 began sharply as FM Harper played a version of the Halloween Gambit (a month early!): 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. a3 (avoiding the critical 4. Nxe5 Nxe5 5. d4 Nc6 6. d5 Bb4!) g6 5. Nxe5!? Then, after 5... Nxe5 6. d4 Nc6 7. d5:

FM Warren Haper - IM Ray Kaufman, Position 1

IM Ray Kaufman chose to give the piece back with 7... Bg7 rather than having to "undevelop" his pieces as in the variation 7... Nb8 8. e5 Ng8 9. d6 cxd6 10. exd6. The game continued 8. dxc6 bxc6 9. Be2 0-0 (Novelty; 10... d6 played in one game that black won) 10. 0-0 Re8 11. Bf3 d6, and now, the position looks more like it came from a Pirc. 12. Bg5 h6 13. Be3 a5 14. Qd2 g5 (Perhaps 14... Rb8 15. Bxh6 (15. Rab1 g5) Bxh6 16. Qxh6 Rxb2 was better in view of white's following moves):

FM Warren Haper - IM Ray Kaufman, Position 2

15. e5! Rxe5 16. Bxc6 Rb8 17. f4! and black sacrificed the exchange with 17... Rxe3 (17... gxf4 18. Bxf4 Rc5 [18... Rf5 19. Rab1 =/+] 19. Bxh6! and the c6-bishop cannot be taken due to Qg5 and if 19... Rxb2 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Nd5! a move similar to the game and gives white an even larger advantage) to slow white's attack. However, FM Harper showed that he still had enough of an advantage to win the game. This was the third game of the match to finish, so all eyes turned to Board 1.

Board 1 started out pretty quietly. It actually followed Week 4's game, GM Panchanathan - GM Erenburg, up through 8. e4. Not wanting to allow his opponent to simply follow that game, GM Erenburg deviated first with 8... dxe4. However, the game was still very similar to the one against GM Panchanathan. 13. Bf4 was actually the novelty (13. Qb3 tried once, leading to a draw; in fact, IM Barcenilla offered a draw around here and GM Erenburg was given a bonus 2 minutes by the league. Warning: Don't offer early draws!), but the new idea was trading trading black's light-squared bishop for white's remaining knight with 15... Bxf3. This kept a pair of minor pieces on the board, allowing for the complications that would arise later. Around move 25, it became clear that IM Barcenilla would have to play for a win with white in order for the Arizona Scorpions to draw the match, and so the game opened up after 26. g5. The game became really exciting after 47... Ne3+:

IM Rogelio Barcenilla - GM Sergey Erenburg, Position 1

IM Barcenilla sacrificed the exchange for a pawn with 48. Kxf4! (48. Kh3 Rf2 was too drawish with white needing to win) Ng2+ 49. Kg4 Nxe1 50. Rxe1. Then, it looked like white had made progress after 65. Rg8:

IM Rogelio Barcenilla - GM Sergey Erenburg, Position 2

However, GM Erenburg sacrificed the exchange back with 65... Rxe4! Both sides were under a minute here. For several moves in a row, GM Erenburg nearly flagged as he would move with less than 5 seconds to go (the closest was 1.6 seconds left). However, the position had simplified and both players soon gained time from the increment. It seemed like black's rook could always disturb the white king, preventing promotion threats, so the game was drawn by repetition. While the match victory was clinched, the Kingfisher players were just so enthralled by this endgame that they continued to analyze for awhile after the match ended around half past midnight.

The Kingfishers gained ground on the New York Knights, who are now in 3rd place in the East, while also adding to their lead over the 5th-8th place teams in the East. With only 4 matches to go, Baltimore is in firm control of the final Eastern Division playoff spot.