Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Here come the Grandmasters

In a clear sign that the US Chess League is gaining recognition in the chess community, several well known GMs have decided to join teams for the 2007 season. As a result, two GMs on a roster is no longer an anomaly and the Northeastern Division, in particular, has become a lot stronger, top to bottom. Let's take a look at the recent additions.*

The New York Knights seem to make a big free agent splash each off season. In 2006, it was the addition of GM Pascal Charbonneau and for 2007, they've added former US Champion GM Hikaru Nakamura, the second highest ranked player in the country. This is certainly going to take the rivarly with the Blitz up another notch. In two years, Boston has yet to find the answer to Charbonneau and, now this year, they may need to face him on Board 2!

Philadelphia has been a pesky team for the past two seasons, often playing over their heads, but ultimately lacking the firepower to seriously contend for the Division crown. That might change with the addition of 2605-rated GM Sergey Kudrin. We'll have to wait and see whether one GM will be enough in the top-heavy Northeast, but it is safe to say that a scary team just got scarier.

The 2005 League Champion Baltimore Kingfishers didn't stand still either. After losing Charbonneau to the Knights for the 2006 season, they've added GM Sergey Erenburg for the current campaign. With GMs Blehm and Erenburg, yet another two-headed monster has arisen in the East.

Add to these the Grandmasters on the two expansion teams -- GM Benjamin with New Jersey, and GMs Ibragimov and Stripunsky with Queens -- and one can quickly conclude that the competition for the available playoff spots is likely to be intense.

In the Rest of the US (read: Western) Division, the story is quite a bit different. The strong have become stronger, with the 2006 League Champion San Francisco Mechanics adding two-time US Champion GM Patrick Wolff ( of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess fame) to their roster. In addition, Vinay Bhat is on the verge of receiving his GM credentials. However, there are only two other Grandmasters in the rest of the Division -- GM Serper with Seattle and GM Becerra with Miami. It wouldn't be a big surprise if this year's standings in the West bear a strong resemblance to last year's.

The Boston Blitz have made a number of changes to their roster for 2007, though not at the top. The team will continue to be led by GMs Christiansen and Perelshteyn. Also returning for this season are FM Kelleher (who had a strong 2006 after a sub-par inaugural season), NM Martirosov and Ilya Krasik.

Three new players are joining the team:
  • SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun, who I actually don't know much about, other than the fact that he sports a hefty 2576 rating. Perhaps one of the readers can fill us in.

  • NM Denys Shmelov, who I believe may be relatively new to our area. In any case, he has been beating many good players at both the Boylston and MetroWest clubs over the past several months.

  • NM Chris Williams, who is a BCF member and former National Scholastic Champion. Every year, he just keeps getting stronger.
For the 2007 season, the league has introduced the concept of alternates. Alternates may be used to replace a player on the existing roster or may play in up to 2 regular season matches (with a maximum of 3 matches for both alternates). Previous team members IM Foygel and NM Riordan have been designated as the Blitz's alternates.
In one more lineup change, the league announced that Eddie Chang will be replacing Clint Ballard as the Manager of the Seattle Sluggers. To say that Clint had a rocky relationship with the league office (and others) in 2006 would be an understatement. As such, one can only speculate about what lies behind the league's olive branch:
The USCL hopes that Mr. Ballard continues to support the team and stay involved as much as possible.
* 2007 USCL rosters are currently unofficial and may change prior to the start of the season.

Disclaimer: BCC Weblog provides independent coverage of the United States Chess League. It is not affiliated with the USCL or the Boston Blitz.

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