Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Live Blogging: US Chess League - Week 4

Welcome chess fans to BCC Weblog coverage of the USCL. Tonight the Boston Blitz face off against their Eastern Division rivals the Baltimore Kingfishers.

BCC Weblog coverage of the USCL is brought to you by... well, it's not brought to you by anyone, actually. Hey, what do you expect; even the NHL has a hard time getting sponsors.

The Blitz broke through last week against the Carolina Cobras for their first win of the season and now find themselves tied for first with New York in the Eastern Division. While the Kingfishers stand a half-point behind, they look to pose a considerable challenge to the Blitz. Baltimore is starting a very strong and balanced line-up across all four boards, headed by IM Pascal Charbonneau and featuring 2300 players on both boards 3 and 4. The Blitz counter with GM Larry Christiansen and IM Josh Friedel up top; they are both 2-0 in these positions the last two weeks. On the lower boards, Boston faces significant rating gaps with NM Charles Riordan (in his debut match with the Blitz) and Ilya Krasik. Of course if ratings is all that mattered, they wouldn't play the games!

So, let's head out to the virtual boards on the ICC.

7:59pm: Before we take a look at the early positions, I want to offer my thanks to League Commissioner Greg Shahade for securing me an ICC login for the remainder of the season. As a result, starting this week I'll be able to watch and report on the GM games live. So, let's start out with the Christiansen-Charbonneau match-up. It's an open Sicilian; looks like Black is aiming for a Dragon, though White didn't go in for the sharp lines with queenside castling. To be honest, I really don't know any theory in this area, so I'm not going to be of much help on this one for awhile.

8:12pm: Enkhbat-Friedel looks a bit unorthodox, starting out 1.Nf3 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Bf4 Bg4. I guess I'd call it some sort of a Chigorin Defense since White did eventually play c4.

After 1.Nf3 c5, Riordan chose to transpose into the Open Sicilian -- a quiet one so far with White fianchettoing the bishop on g2 and castling kingside. Black is calmly developing behind pawns on d6 and e6.

On Board 4 we have another opening I don't know much about. It's a Symmetrical English 1.c4 c5, but beyond that I can't tell you much more.

Let's watch for awhile and see what develops.

8:44pm: Krasik looks to be building a nice position on Board 4. On the downside he has an isolated pawn on c6 that might become weak at some point, but in compensation his two bishops are very active and on nice diagonals and they are cooperating well with his Rb8 in bringing pressure to White's queenside. Meanwhile, White's pieces seem fairly passive at the moment.

8:55pm: Larry is pushing the action on Board 1 with 15.e5. Beats the heck out of me how this break is going to turn out, but it certainly looks like we've reached the first real critical point in this game.

9:03pm: Pascal has offered a Knight sacrifice with 18...Nxe5!? Does it work?

9:14pm: A series of exchanges has ensued on Board 4, but it looks like White may have gotten the best of it. I'm not sure Black can save his Knight on c1 after 20.Rd2. If 20...Nd3, then 21.e4 looks strong.

9:23pm: Board 2 is looking a bit crazy. Friedel has his King stuck in the center on e2 and a pawn or two hanging, but he seems to be ignoring all that and just sending his pieces towards Black's kingside. If I was Black I guess I would think I was better, but I'd still be nervous. NOTE: I got the colors mixed up. Friedel was playing Black, not White.

Over on Board 3, everyone's keeping their pieces on their side of the board. No action to speak of yet.

9:30pm: Larry took the knight after trading a pair of bishops. Now let's see what Pascal thinks he has for the piece.

9:42pm: Krasik has been forced to give up a piece. I guess he's going to try to secure a couple of pawns as partial compensation, but things are definitely not looking good for the Blitz on Board 4.

9:57pm: Board 1 has stayed interesting -- Larry has given back the Knight and executed a series of exchanges that may leave him with a better minor piece ending (outside passer). But I'm not sure that he will come out a pawn ahead.

Board 2 is still crazy and Board 3 is going to be offered by prescription as an alternative to Ambien. Of course, time trouble is coming...

10:06pm: Krasik gives up; that's 1-0 Kingfishers. Meanwhile, Riordan's game is starting to pick up.

10:15pm: Friedel's done it again! He's managed to come out the other side of the complications up a piece in an ending. Look for a point for the Blitz coming soon. Note: My mistake -- actually Friedel came out on the losing side.

Larry and Pascal are in an ending, even material; Larry has the outside passed c-pawn vs. Pascal's passed e-pawn. I'm guessing its drawn with best play, but we'll see.

And suddenly on Board 3, Riordan's major pieces have become quite active.

10:24pm: Good news, bad news... Friedel scores the point, evening the score at 1 a piece. But Larry looks like he made a mistake. I don't know if he's lost, but he's definitely not coming out with more than 1/2 a point. Note: Make that bad news, bad news. Friedel actually lost; Kingfishers 2-0.

10:44pm: Board 3 is starting to look pretty drawish -- even pawns, opposite color bishops. It looks like Larry is going to have to find a way to salvage a draw to keep this match even. He's down a bishop now, but Black has only one pawn left -- an h-pawn and its the wrong color for the bishop. If Larry can trade the rooks it's a draw; if he can win or trade off the h-pawn, then R+B vs. R is also a theoretical draw. Note: Even a draw won't be enough for the Blitz. Sorry I had the Friedel game wrong.

11:16pm: Well, that's it. Riordan's game resolved into a bishops of opposite colors ending and was drawn. Larry, meanwhile, was forced to resign against Pascal. Final score: Kingfishers 3.5 Blitz 0.5.

It just wasn't the Blitz's night tonight. Against a strong balanced lineup like Baltimore's, Boston needed a strong showing on the top boards which they didn't get. Larry had his chances but went astray in the ending and Josh wasn't able to successfully maneuver his way through the complications. This esentially sealed the team's fate. If there's one ray of light in this lopsided loss, it was Riordan's solid play on Board 3 against a higher rated opponent.

Next week the Blitz will look for a rebound when they face the San Francisco Mechanics.

A Programming Note: Next week we'll be taking USCL coverage to a new level at BCC Weblog with the introduction of interactive commentary. Join Rihel and me next Wednesday as we follow the action in tandem. And hopefully next time I can keep the colors straight!

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