Tuesday, November 28, 2006

US Chess League Championships!!! My completely biased predictions

Okay, for the 2nd week in a row, I will be writing completely biased predictions which will be criticized and then end up being criticized for being biased even though I never claimed otherwise.

Board 1: IM Friedel - GM Charbonneau
Friedel has been untouchable this season as white except one game where he was defending and probably lost, but saved a draw after some middlegame inaccuracies. Will Charbonneau dare repeat this line with Josh having another chance to prepare? My guess is he'll probably play another 2.. e6 sicilian, but maybe a different setup this time, that one he played last time is actually one I faced this weekend and I have the feeling the very early d5 might be a little dubious. Edge still goes to Friedel who is always tough as white.

Board 2: IM Krush - IM Pruess
Krush has done quite well this season whereas Pruess' season hasn't been as good as he's hoped, but he came off a very strong result this weekend at the American Open and will come in with good confindence. I think stylistically this matchup should be very interesting, both players are strong calculators, I give Pruess the edge due to his strong recent results.

Board 3: IM Zilberstein - FM Hess
Hess has managed to save some tough positions this season, but Zilberstein is probably the second toughest opponent he's faced all season and Zilberstein is also coming off a strong showing at the American Open. Also Zilberstein has been quite strong this season, his only loss was to Vavrak who has been incredibly tough in the US Chess League. This is also only Zilberstein's 2nd game as white this season. My guess is Hess will put up a good fight, but Zilberstein will grind out the "W".

Board 4: Herman - NM Shankland
I think this time control works well for Shankland, he's capable of putting his opponents under pressure without suffering from the lack of time. As long as Shankland is well prepared I expect he'll have good chances, but Herman has also been tough, I'll rule this one a toss-up.

Okay, so we'll assume somehow NY gets their best possible result:
San Francisco over NY 3-1.

American Open Results

American Open Results:
Well, as I seem to spend a good deal of time here writing about the Mechanics, I might as well congratulate IM Pruess and IM Zilberstein for their performances this weekend. I would also like to congratulate my former (due to geographical restrictions) coach GM Khachiyan on his victory and his very nice win over GM Perelshteyn (who led almost the entire way). Pruess tied for 1st place in the tournament with Khachiyan. Zilberstein took clear first U2450, I talked to both of them after their games, both seemed very unhappy that they didn't do better! Apparently BOTH were upset about not scoring more, I invite them to take out their frustration with having each of their most recent games being a draw to turning their most recent games into wins on Wednesday in the US Chess League championships against New York.

[Update: I forgot to mention when I originally wrote this that not only did Pruess and Khachiyan win the event, their victories also qualified them for the 2007 US Championship. An additional congratulations to these two for this accomplishment.]

My result:
Well, my result I can't really call "bad", but in many ways I was unhappy with my play. I'll cover round by round. The first four rounds were game in 1 hour. In round 1 I played IM Matikozyan as black. He played a bad move against the french and I opted out of the most natural (and best!) reply to play a move over which I completely overlooked his response. I could accept a very depressing position, but instead I decided to sacrifice a pawn. This actually was probably not the correct decision, but anyways, he held onto his pawn and won the game although we were both under 1 minute at the end of the game and he had to find a fairly easy breakthrough to win, but still, not a great way to lose.

In round 2 I faced my friend NM Julian Landaw as black. A little history in this pairing: we've played 4 times now, I've had black in all 3 encounters. I collapsed quickly in our first meeting, but in the 2nd one I basically refuted his opening and in the 3rd game I again refuted the same opening, but failed to convert and drew the game. After this game, he entirely changed lines against the french and this time played a King's Indian Attack against it. We got an interesting position from the opening and after a few inaccuracies on my part he had a slightly better position, but I defended well and in the time scramble even developed an initiative after finding a series of accurate moves. In fact, at one point I had FORCED MATE! but it was tricky and I missed one move in the continuation that wasn't too hard to find. I'm quite upset about this as I saw the key idea just missed the simple continuation, quite sad. Even though I only had 1:30 on my clock I still believe I should find this win, I actually offered him a draw before he blundered not wanting a game between friends to be decided by a zeitnot blunder, and I guess it wasn't unfortunately. Eventually we drew although even in the final position (although under a minute + delay) I actually was still winning. If this were an isolated incident I could live with it.

Due to the small 3-day schedule in the open section I received a full point bye in round 3. Normally I much prefer to play, but after 2 games that went the full 2 hours I hadn't had any time to eat and was starving so I got to spectate in round 3. In round 4 I played 6. f4 against the Najdorf playing NM Paul Gallegos as white when I played a series of inaccurate moves in the opening which I was relatively unfamiliar with only to get an inferior position. I fought hard to defend in the middle game and eventually he went wrong by allowing some unfavorable exchanges and already I had a better position. At some point when we were both under 5 minutes he had a chance to just remain a pawn down in a R+ minor piece ending or to sacrifice his bishop for my 2 remaining pawns and defend R+N vs R+P which would have been unpleasant. Instead he let me trade into what is probably a winning R+P ending, but with less than a minute on my clock I reached for a pawn, grabbed it and immediately realized I had given up a draw. He decided not to take it and we played a few moves in this dead drawn position, but I defended with ease and we shook hands shortly afterwards.

So I had survived day one of what some were dubbing "the dead zone" due to the tough field (in fact, IM Zilberstein played UP in round 1. In round 5 I played a master from Austrailia a good piece of preparation netted me a winning position, but I failed to play some simple moves and got myself in trouble at which point I was relieved by my opponents draw offer. I was probably not worse in the position, but I certainly wouldn't mind playing the black side.

In round 6 I played my friend NM Ilya Serpik whom I have a very good record against. On move 23 I won a pawn, but I somehow moved my queen from an absolutely beautiful square on c3 and allowed counter-play and took a draw.

In round 7 I played NM Aigner who I had played recently played. He surprised me by playing the Sveshnikov and I got a good position, but it was complicated and I got myself into time trouble and played some bad moves to throw away my advantage and give my opponent a strong attacker, a good attack. He easily wiped me away and gave me my second loss of the tournament.

I should talk about my feelings going into the last day. I had played 6 rounds (okay, only actually played 5) and still hadn't put a win on the board, I was quite upset as at this point I had 4 games where I had winning positions. So in round 8 I prepared for a Caltech grad student Cedric Pahud who is from Switzerland. I had prepared for about 30 minutes the 6. f4 line against the Najdorf that I played in round 4, but when the position arose on the board I flippantly decided that I would play Be3 instead. My opponent played a side line that isn't supposed to be good, but I played some inaccurate moves and I did not get as big of an advantage as I think I could have. Anyways, we played on and I got a strong attack eventually, but allowed the position to complicate near time control (where I got in time trouble along with my opponent trying to find the strongest continuations. Eventually i won a pawn, but the position was very wild, but I found a strong continuation but my opponent eventually buckled under the pressure and allowed me to force mate. Finally a win!

Rating change: 2110-> 2125

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

USCL Division Championships Predictions

USCL Division Championships Predictions:

There are two exciting match-ups tomorrow night on ICC as part of the US Chess League. In the eastern division the Boston Blitz face off against the New York Knights in a classic sports rivalry while in the western division the San Francisco Mechanics take on the Seattle Sluggers of whom one of the biggest season rivalries took place with. Here's the breakdown of each match:

Boston Blitz vs New York Knights (Boston has draw odds)

These two teams met up just a few weeks ago with very similar lineups, the only differences on each side were board 1 for Boston and board 3 for New York, and the two games with the same players have colors reversed. Last time it ended in a 2-2 tie, this isn't good enough for New York this time around (although it wasn't ideal last time around either), which team has improved their chances more?
Board 1:
GM Christiansen - GM Charbonneau
These two have a colorful history in the USCL. In 2 encounters, both times Christiansen having the white pieces, he has failed get on the scoreboard and was posterized in the USCL game of the season from season 1 when Charbonneau managed to come back from a piece down (albeit complicated) position to win. I'm sure Christiansen is eager not to let his score drop to 0-3 with the white pieces and I expect him to have a slight edge in this encounter.

Board 2:
IM Krush - IM Foygel
The last time these two met up was just a few weeks ago with colors reversed. Foygel got the better end of that fight in a line he seemed to know better than Krush it seems unlikely the same thing will happen this week when Krush has the white pieces. Seems like the one thing you should be able to guarantee with the white pieces is getting a position you're comfortable with. Krush should have a slight edge in this match-up, probably similar to the one Christiansen has on board 1.

Board 3:
NM Riordan - FM Hess
This is in my opinion one of the truly tough games to try to say something useful about. I think Riordan having the white pieces should negate any rating edge Hess has, but all 3 results are possible, I think this one is pretty even but a decisive result is likely, could be an important game to the match.

Board 4:
Herman - NM Krasik
It would be easy to think about the encounter these two had a few weeks ago and say "If Herman won with black, he can certainly win with white", well things never work out so easily in practice. Krasik has been tough all season and seems to deserve the edge on board 4.

The key to this match is going to be the Riordan - Hess game. If Hess can win, New York will have very real chances to upset New York, but I think without a full point there they could be without much hope and a loss would all but put the nail in the coffin. I think Boston moves on to the league championships about 75% of the time.
Boston over New York 2.5-1.5

San Francisco Mechanics vs Seattle Sluggers (SF has draw odds)

Certainly for me, the self-proclaimed biggest fan of the Mechanics, this is the match I'll be looking forward to on Wednesday. I won't pretend to be the most objective analyst in this battle, but at the same time, San Francisco already has had an impressive season with 10 straight weeks without a loss which is good news since all they have to do is not lose to move on to the league championships. In my 9 weeks as a prognosticator (I didn't start until week 2) I predicted San Francisco to win 8 times and draw only in the final week of the season when their playoff outcome was crystal clear. I will as I have been almost every Wednesday (except when it was the Monday Night game) be watching the Mechanics live. If you want to see them in action, I highly suggest you stop by this Wednesday.

Board 1:
IM Friedel - IM Serper
So far in their season encounter white has won both games which would bodes well for Friedel who in my opinion is much tougher to face when he's holding the white pieces. I also believe that Friedel has a positive lifetime score against Serper. I think Friedel has got a slight edge in this confrontation.

Board 2:
IM Orlov - IM Bhat
A few weeks ago these two were pitted in what was dubbed a match between two players undefeated in the USCL. Thanks to Bhat's nice victory in that game we don't have to worry that it will be given the same title this time around. I'm guessing it will be a semi-slav which would seem too theoretical compared to much of what Orlov plays which I think should give the edge to the generally well-prepared Bhat. I'm also expecting a somewhat wild encounter as Seattle needs to try to stir things up to give themselves the best chance to make it.

Board 3:
IM Pruess - FM Milat
Milat joined the Sluggers late into the season and played just the minimum two matches to make him eligible for post-season play. Seattle sends in a cold player to try to defend against the Mechanics? I'm guess this will be an Alekine's defense which already spells bad news for the Sluggers, edge to Pruess.

Board 4:
Lee - NM Shankland
This is another match-up we've seen a couple of times this season already. Both times white won, will it be a threepeat for the white pieces? I'm not as confident here. Last time black got a very reasonable position from the opening and just played one misstep to get into some real trouble. After this incident the young Shankland has been under the "nanny cam" having to sit in between two players so he will feel pressured not to move so impulsively. So far this has worked well as Sam has won all other encounters this season. I'm not feeling mean enough to outright claim an edge for SF on all 4 boards so I'll just call this one an "interesting" encounter.

All the Mechanics have to do to move on is not lose, shouldn't be too tough, they've been doing exactly that all season long. I won't even give a % for SF to move on because likely the number I would write down would be illogical (how can you win more than all the encounters anyways??).
San Francisco advances over Seattle 3-1

Monday, November 13, 2006

Carroll Capps Memorial

In past years this was a relatively strong event, it wasn't quite as strong this year, but there were a few masters I wanted to get a crack at. The tournament started well, in the first round I got my warm-up by slowly outplaying a B-player to get the win as black. In the second round I played a young (and hence dangerous) 1800 as white and got a nice King's Indianesque mating attack on the white side of the open Sicilian strangely enough. In round 3 disaster struck. My opponent played a move I knew from previous preparation to be dubious, but I didn't take the time to calculate moves I "knew" to be theory when in fact I was confusing two similar lines that would have been easy to check if I had calculated so I ended up just dropping a pawn then followed it up by blundering and exchange. I fought back tough and at some point was even up a pawn for the exchange I blundered so early, but my opponent held on for the win. In round 4 (the last g/1) I faced an unrated guy from Germany who was reasonably strong and had a provisional (but still unpublished) rating of 179x. He played a tricky opening line and I made one mistake to give back his sacrificed pawn and go into an endgame that was slightly better for black. My opponent seemed eager just to draw, but I was not ready for this result so I played on despite my slightly inferior position and I was rewarded later by being able to play a nice tactic on the board that won 2 pawns (it offered a rook sacrifice that could not be accepted do to a somewhat strange looking mate) and after that I won easily. So finally I got to go home and rest and prepare for an opponent I had played not too long ago. This time he chose to play the advanced variation against "my" french defense and played 2 or arguably 3 horrific positional moves the the opening when I got what I thought was close to a winning advantage. Unfortunately I played one move based on miscalculation which gave him the moves h3 and g4 for free which really put me under a bind. I thought my position was close to lost when I realized that I had a nice resource which he needed to avoid as it won on the spot following a strong attack I had for the exchange. I eventually ended up in a 3 pawn up R+N endgame where my technique was far from optimal but more than good enough to win. In the last round I finally got to play NM Michael Aigner. This was my first game against a player 2200-2450 since reno (i.e. a stronger player, but one I could be reasonably expected to score some points against too). I played very strangely in the opening (he played the bird's opening which is famous for with the nickname fpawn on ICC) and we reached a complicated middlegame which just favored white in all variations unfortunately, I tried to generate some tricks, but it was to no avail and he wrapped up the point cleanly. Overall even though the result was similar, I can be much happier with my play this weekend, I feel my tactics getting better, I just need to continue to practice before American Open in 2 weeks.
Estimated Rating Change: 2116 ->2110

EBCC Nov Swiss

I was quite lazy reporting on this disappointing result. Sam Shankland convinced me to play in this tournament at the East Bay Chess Club when normally I avoid tournaments with no or little chance of playing stronger opponents (yes I realize the paradox in this, but I'm not strong enough where I feel this is a real issue yet). He told me I would be the 5th seed in what is normally a small event so this looked like a good chance to play "up" in 2/4 rounds or more. However, when I arrived that Saturday (a little over a week ago now) I found out this was not the case at all and in fact I was the 2nd seed. So I started the tournament against a mid-A player who surprised me with a move that is probably objectively bad, but was quite difficult to find the best response to over the board. Fortunately, he soon when awry and played a sacrifice that I proved unsound due to a counter-sacrifice. I achieved an endgame that should be won with 2 Knights versus a rook, but the technical task was quite difficult and I messed it up a little bit an failed to win. Quite sad. The next round I played one inaccurate move in the opening in a Petroff and already a very sterile position was reached and after only slightly more than 20 moves the position was near dead so we shook hands. This wasn't quite as bad as the opponent was also an expert. I came back the next day looking to finally get a W on the board when I faced Adarsh Konda for the 3rd time in about 2 months as black. This time he again chose a different line against the Slav, I didn't choose the best reaction, but still got a very comfortable position from the opening. I held a slight advantage for a long time, but then near time control (due to missing my B.A.R.T train and also missing the first bus from the BART station I showed up 30 minutes late to the game) I played some inaccurate moves and I was on the slightly worse side of an endgame which I held without too much difficulty. In the last game I was playing another A-player looking for some blood after 3 draws in a row. After some opening inaccuracies on my part I already felt under pressure as white, but fortunately my opponent let me back in the game and at some point I traded into an endgame that I was almost positive would be winning or at least in practice winning for me, and after missing like 5 wins (but to be fair, they weren't trivial 1-move wins or anything, they required very concrete calculation, which is no excuse, but at least not as pathetic) I only managed to draw. So 4 draws in 4 rounds, incredibly disappointing and 2/4 is definitely my worst "undefeated" result ever.
Rating change: 2129 -> 2116

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

USCL Playoffs Wildcard Round

Playoffs Wildcard Round

After the insane finish in the USCL East, this should be an intense final. I don't know if the prediction competition ended with the regular season, I still have a hefty lead and there probably aren't really enough matches left for the official prognosticators to catch up without a Carolina-style miracle to occur anyways. But I will make traditional score predictions and give you what I think the percentage of the time each team moves on is just for some extra information during this exciting time of the season.

New York Knights vs Carolina Cobras (NY has draw odds)
Board 1: GM Charbonneau - IM Milman
These two already have an interesting history this season alone. In their first encounter Milman looked quite lame as white losing quickly and getting mated in the middle of the board. In their second encounter Milman turned the tables unexpectedly winning as black. Now these two face off in the playoffs with the same color as their second encounter. The edge I'll give to Charonneau, even as white. (Note that in the regular season black won the season match 100.5-99.5)

Board 2: FM Hoekstra - IM Krush
In their last encounter with these colors Krush played a QGA and went into one of the symmetrical pawn-structure lines where white usually has a very nagging edge. Not in this particular game though. Hoekstra didn't play in the spirit of the position it seems and quickly got a passive position which Krush finished off easily. As Carolina picked their colors for this match, I'm thinking he'll have some improvements prepared, but Krush is a versatile player who can play many different openings, I think she has the edge in this matchup.

Board 3: FM Hess - FM Zaikov
Zaikov started the season very hot this year, and still finished the season with his only loss being against IM Costigan. Hess on the other hand started the season struggling with board 2 duties, but since his move down to board 3 he has been quite successful. This should definitely be a close game, both players are young and confident, my guess is a small edge to Hess with the white pieces.

Board 4: NM Jones - Herman
At the end of the season Herman managed to hold his own against some tough opposition, but Jones finished the season 5.5/6, that cannot be ignored, especially when he has white for this game. Jones is favored by a bit.

So it seems that NY has a very real edge on a bunch of boards, but Carolina always has an X-factor by having an incredibly young lineup where they're behind. The edge has to go to NY, but Carolina should have good chances for an upset, that being said, I'm not sure they deserve any more luck after last week.
NY over Car 2.5-1.5
NY has draw odds, I predict they move on roughly 75% of the time.

Dallas Destiny vs Seattle Sluggers (Seattle has draw odds)
Dallas failed to win just last week with the same colors, this week Seattle has draw odds. We are seeing some different faces than last week though. The seemingly untouchable IM Vavrak sits out for the Destiny this week and FM Zaremba also steps down to let IM Kuljasevic and FM Igor Schneider try to step it up this week.

Board 1:
IM Stopa - GM Serper
Last week Serper played some sideline of the semi-slav, strangely declining to go into the semi-slav as black. I'm not sure if he'll be willing to try this again as it seemed as though white was never in serious trouble and will probably have an improvement prepared. However, Serper is not one to be afraid of a fight, I think this matchup is fairly balanced, maybe a slight edge to Serper.

Board 2:
FM Mikhailuk - IM Kuljasevic
Kuljasevic has sat out more than a few weeks this season, this is only his 4th match in the USCL. He's had reasonably results, going 2.5/3 beating Pruess as white and drawing the struggling Roman with black. Mikhailuk on the other hand has struggled late in the season and is probably hoping to get some footing so the team knows he can be depended on, especially as white. I think Kuljasevic has the edge here.

Board 3:
FM Schneider - FM Readey
Schneider hasn't looked too imppressive in his matches so far going just 1/3, but he's young and this is only the second time he takes the white pieces this season. I don't know if he has some concrete idea in mind against Readey who's been reasonably solid this season, but he might need something. I'm guessing this game will be a draw, but probably slightly better chances for Schneider.

Board 4:
NM Koons - NM Kiewra
Dallas and Seattle send out the same board 4s this week with the same colors. This makes a lot of sense for Seattle, but probably not as much for Dallas. Their last week's game was messy, but it seemed that white got a nice initiative which he held for most of the game. I'm guessing Kiewra is going to have some concrete ideas in mind playing the same player with the same color for the second week in a row, still these things don't always go so well.

Overall I'd say it's a pretty even match, no boards with a particularly huge edge to either side and with Seattle having draw odds for this match, that will likely be good enough. Probably the key matchup in my mind is the rematch on board 4, if Kiewra can bring in a full point there it could mean victory for the Destiny. So if we say that'll happen roughly 30-35% of the time, we probably almost get their odds in the match.
Seatle ties Dallas 2-2 (to move on)
Roughly 70% chance of Seattle moving on to the next round.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lack of Scandal in the USCL?

First I would like to preface this, I honestly don't believe that anybody did anything to intentionally alter the results in this final week of play in the US Chess League, but when the line is margins and funny things that would normally be dismissed happen they make a big difference.
So I was watching at the Mechanics the San Francisco - Miami match when the whole series of mouseslips occurred. As I witness McCambridge was having trouble with his mouse, he accidentally picked up the rook on b1 and then was trying to set it back down which he was struggling with and for some reason tried to then move the knight without having let go of the rook at which point he accidentally dropped the rook on d1 at which point he immediately claimed a mouseslip. Of course it's quite obvious that an IM would not just simply undefend a pawn on b4, it's not even a typical blunder as his move relaly had no additive purpose (his position was already quite bad). Then there was a the Lugo - Zilberstein game where Lugo played 17. Re5 which didn't really surprise me as I was watching the game and had considered this move thinking that black couldn't take due to dxe5 Bxe5 as played (temporarily) in the game, of course I missed 18... Bd6 which wins the game. So all of this was played on the board during this incident in the McCambridge - Becerra while McCambridge was asking for his takeback. So I'm very confused about the Miami side of the Lugo incident. I don't know if he legitimately played Re4, I would say it's less obvious that this move is a mouseslip of course I can't say for sure that it wasn't except it seems strange, especially due to the timing of this incident that Lugo played a SECOND move after Re5, like if it was a mouseslip the time to stop was after fxe5. I've also heard (unconfirmed) that Miami uses relayers to make moves in which case takebacks are explicitly allowed by the league rules if the correct move was made on the physical board. Anyways, both the games were won by the non mouse-slippers so it didn't end up making a difference in the end.

However, we're not done with strange incidents that had playoff implications. New York tied Philadelphia and Baltimore lost to Boston which actually opened the door for Carolina to make the playoffs with a 4-0 sweep on Tennessee ONLY. This is a pretty tall order against any team, but as the season has gone if you have to do this against some team, it might as well be Tennessee. However as things finished in the final position on board 2 Hoekstra stood in a trivially lost pawn endgame while his opponent had a 30 second increment to make his moves yet somehow he allowed time to run out. I don't know what caused this, relayer problems, a huge brawl in the Tempo clubhouse, but somehow they lost this game which had little meaning to them where even a draw would have eliminated Carolina from the playoffs. Certainly Philadelphia had other ways of not making the playoffs in this final week of play, but I would say this scenario was quite rare and the way it finished probably left a sour taste in their mouthes.

Anyways, it's all meaningless anyways, time for Mechanics to crush! It's playoff time and there's nothing more exciting than that. Games start next wednesday with Carolina taking black on board 1 and 3 and giving up draw odds against New York while Dallas takes white on boards 1 and 3 against Seattle and gives up draw odds. Dallas made a draw in that exact scenario this week which won't be good enough next week should be exciting to see where they're looking to improve.