Friday, August 31, 2007

A knockdown, drag out ... and a chess match, too!

So you thought things would be quiet in the Northwest this season after Clint Ballard opted to give up his managerial responsibilities with the Seattle Sluggers? Clint, who? Say hello to Eddie Chang.

It seems that Eddie took offense to Arun Sharma's pre-season prediction that the Sluggers would place 4th in the Western Division. On the Seattle Sluggers blog, Eddie wrote a rant about how Seattle never gets any respect -- the Mariners, the Seahawks, and now, the Sluggers. I was waiting for him to complain about how East Coast food critics unfairly promote Cortlands and Macs over Washington State Red Delicious apples. In any case, accusations about personal attacks were raised (whether Eddie actually attacked Arun in the post, you can decide for yourself), apologies were offered, and apologists trotted out.

All of this, before the season even started... I can't wait to see what happens when Seattle plays New York!
As for Boston, just a week after suggesting that FM Kelleher might be the odd man out with the Blitz this season, there he was sitting at Board 2 in their Week 1 US Chess League match against Seattle. You can bet that self-proclaimed "event planner" Matt Phelps will attribute the lineup decision to player availability -- he's become downright Belichickian on this issue. Besides, after all these years, we know better than to suggest that the Blitz's manager was reacting to press coverage of the team.

In any case, the lineup of Christiansen, Kelleher, Shmelov and Williams ceded a 2400 to 2368 average rating advantage to the Sluggers. Fortunately for Boston, most of this deficit was on Board 3, where Denys' current playing strength is well above his USCL rating. Perhaps unaware of this fact, the consensus view among USCL prognosticators was that Seattle held a slight advantage going into the match. Ron Young claimed that "this one ... was easy to call" and predicted a 2.5-1.5 win for the Sluggers. OrangeKing noted that "Board 3 seems to favor Seattle" and also suggested a narrow Sluggers victory (he might need to do more homework than just comparing two numbers next time). Only prognosticator extraordinaire JG, he who obliterated the two official USCL guessers last season, came close by predicting a draw.

Instead, the Blitz managed to squeak out a 2.5-1.5 victory on the back of their new 4th Board, NM Chris Williams. It was not smooth sailing for Boston, however, as other team members in the virtual and physical crowd -- Riordan and Krasik -- had their concerns as the evening progressed. In fact, post mortem analysis suggests that Seattle may have missed some opportunities, particularly with the Black pieces.

On Board 1, GM Christiansen, playing the Black side of a King's Indian, sacrificed a queenside pawn with 8...b5; he didn't get a lot to show for it, other than the opportunity to win it back several moves later. The resulting position seemed relatively equal, though GM Serper appeared to have some initiative and Black's dark-squared bishop became bad after an exchange of knights on e5. As a result, Larry was reduced to passive defense for much of the second half of the game, but it was enough to secure a half point.

FM Kelleher's c3-Sicilian didn't achieve much against FM Mikhailuk, though the game did have an interesting tactical skirmish about halfway through.

Kelleher-Mikhailuk after 20.Qf3
In this position, Slava initiated the fireworks with 20...Nxd4. 21.Qxf4?? loses to 21...Ne2+, so Bill continued 21.Rxd4 Qxd4 22.Nxf7 (again, 22.Qxf4? is insufficient -- 22...Bxg5 23.Bxg5 Qxe4 24.Qxe4 Bxe4 25.Bxd8 Rxd8 -/+).

Kelleher-Mikhailuk after 22.Nxf7
Here, Fritz claims that Black missed his chance to keep the game complicated and perhaps achieve a slight advantage. The computer suggests the interesting move 22...Rc1!?, and its analysis continues 23.Rxc1 Bxe4 24.Qg4 Bf5 25.Qf3 Nh3+ 26.gxh3 Kxf7 =/+.

Instead, Mikhailuk played 22...Qxe4, and after 23.Qxe4 Bxe4 24.Nxd8 Rxd8 25.Bxf4 Bd5 26.Bxd5 Rxd5, a fairly equal endgame was the result.

Board 3 looked rather equal throughout, and when FM Schmidt couldn't do anything with his outside passer in a rook ending, the game fizzled out into a draw.

The match was decided on Board 4, where Williams faced NM Lee's Dragon. According to Jen Shahade's report on (well, according to Fritz, actually), Lee missed an opportunity to gain an advantage with 29...b4!, instead of 29...a4. With the opportunity lost for Seattle, Chris managed to convincingly outplay Michael in the endgame to secure the needed point to win the match. Check out this video interview with the evening's hero.

Who's up next? The other New Yorkers.

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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