Monday, September 24, 2007

Is Billy Beane working for the Kingfishers?

While lineup strategy is an often discussed topic around the US Chess League, Boston Blitz Manager Matt Phelps has made it clear on numerous occasions that player availability, not competitive gamesmanship, is the driving force behind his player selections each week. It would be interesting to poll the rest of the managers in the league to see how they approach the weekly lineup process. What we do know, is that Seattle's Eddie Chang puts significant energy into this weekly task...
Every week, I spend a lot of time working on the lineups...
...though it's hard to know how much he relies on statistical analysis and competitive strategy.

I bring this up because the lineup which Baltimore is bringing to the boards against Boston this week, looks like it was crafted directly from the numbers. Do they have a bunch kids with laptops crunching statistics behind the scenes?

Let's start by looking at the matchups (the Blitz have White on Boards 1 & 3):

GM Larry Christiansen: 2663 vs. GM Pawel Blehm: 2589
SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun: 2558 vs. FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat: 2411
NM Vadim Martirosov: 2270 vs. WGM Katerina Rohonyan: 2329
Ilya Krasik: 2191 vs. WIM Tsaagan Battsetseg: 2234

Just focusing on the ratings, which we know is both superficial and dangerous when analyzing these team matches, one might be inclined to say that slight edges go to Boston up top and Baltimore down below. But, let's look at some other factors the Kingfisher's might have been considering prior to submitting their lineup:
  1. GM Blehm went 2-0 vs. Boston in 2006, including a win as Black against GM Christiansen.

  2. While FM Enkhbat did lose a game to FM Kelleher in 2006, he owned Boston in 2005 scoring wins against IM Friedel and FM Winer.

  3. WGM Rohonyan is undefeated against the Blitz in two seasons, scoring 1.5-.5 against Ilya Krasik and drawing last year with Black against NM Martirosov.

  4. WIM Battsetseg has never faced the Blitz, but she went 2.5/3 in 2005 league play earning a 2467 performance rating.
Of course, it's possible that these were just the four players who were available this week and that the Kingfishers didn't even look at any of this data that seemingly supports the notion that this should be a competitive group of players against the Blitz. Unless they tell us their secrets, I guess we'll never know.

As for what will actually happen on Wednesday night, the best bet is for an exciting, close match where every result seems possible on each and every board.
The Blitz factored into last week's Game of the Week voting with GM Perelshteyn's loss taking top honors (I'm having trouble remembering his opponent's name). The Nakamura-Christiansen game came in 6th.
WFM Liz Vicary posted some detailed analysis of her game with NM Chris Williams. As someone who knows nothing about the Sveshnikov Sicilian from either side of the board, I found it fairly impenetrable, though I would imagine it would be of great interest to those who play this line.

Her post probably wouldn't have merited much of a mention here except for what happened next... Sparks began to fly after Mark LaRocca made some comments on the game at the Boston Blitz website and Vicary took exception in a follow-up post. Comments are flying* as we speak. I don't want to wade into the middle of this conflagration as there are enough voices there already. Though, as an outside observer, its worth noting that, just as in the Coleman-Krasik case, USCL fandom appears to have limited sympathy for those who want to talk about how well they played in a losing cause.

Apparently the players, managers and teams are going to inevitably learn that, just like in other professional sports leagues, the only thing that matters is winning. I'll have much more to say on this topic later.

* Note to Liz: you might want to disable anonymous comments to encourage your commenters to post under a name, even if it is a fake one.

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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