Friday, September 23, 2005

A Balanced Blitz?

In team matches with an average rating ceiling (like the US Chess League) there are two basic strategies for composing a line-up. In the top heavy approach, you put much higher than average rated players on the top boards and balance things out with much lower than average rated players on the bottom boards. In a four board match, the winning strategy for this type of team is to win the games on Boards 1 and 2 and hope for a draw out of either board 3 or 4 -- this is how the Blitz defeated the Cobras. However, it is not uncommon for the match to be drawn 2-2 if the lower boards fail to score -- see the Blitz vs. the Masterminds. And, of course, if your top boards fail to do their job, well then, all hell breaks loose like last week's debacle against Baltimore.

The alternative approach to team composition is a balanced strategy. Choose four players who all group reasonably closely around the average rating ceiling. With this strategy, you are typically accepting underdog status on board 1, but in compensation you are a favorite on board 4 and very competitive in the middle. Last week's line-up for the Kingfishers was structured exactly this way with ratings of 2506, 2453, 2331 and 2309.

This coming week against the San Francisco Mechanics, the Blitz are likely to face a similar line-up. San Francisco doesn't have any 2600 players on their roster and, while they don't have any 2300 players either, they will by definition field an all-master team. Consider the ratings of the team that upset Miami last week -- 2442, 2435, 2432 and 2209. The key question for the Blitz this week is whether to stick with the top heavy strategy or try to field an all-master line-up of their own.

The problem that the Blitz face is that their roster is not well structured for this type of balanced approach. Team captain Paul MacIntyre admitted to me that not much thought was put into the team composition issue when the roster was initially created, although to be fair, it's not as if we have a large supply of 2300+ players around the Boston area to choose from. In any case, I played around in Excel for awhile and identified the only 3 possible options for the Blitz to field an all-master team.

Option #1: Foygel - 2490, Friedel - 2447, MacIntyre - 2316, Riordan - 2272; Average = 2389

Option #2: Christiansen - 2596, Kelleher - 2383, MacIntyre - 2316, Riordan - 2272; Average = 2392

Option #3: Perelshteyn - 2576, Kelleher - 2383, MacIntyre - 2316, Riordan - 2272; Average = 2387

Option #1 looks most intriguing to me and would probably lead to competitive encounters with San Francisco across all four boards. The other two options seem to be twists on the top-heavy strategy -- strong on Boards 1 & 4, weaker in the middle. In a couple of days we'll see what the Blitz come up with for this Wednesday's match.

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