Friday, October 19, 2007

A Crumbling Foundation?

As goes the lower boards, so goes the Boston Blitz. At least, that's the way it seems these past couple of weeks. Earlier in the season when Boston was tearing through the league it most often seemed that excellent performances from Shmelov and Williams were the keys to victory. In fact, both were mentioned as 1st Team All Stars at the halfway point in the season. Against the New Jersey Knockouts last Wednesday night, just a half point on Boards 3 and 4 combined was not enough to push Boston over the top. Instead, the Blitz had to settle for a draw and must wait at least one more week to clinch a US Chess League playoff spot.

While one would hardly be justified in calling out Denys for his recent performances -- he's 1.5-0.5 over the past two weeks including a win over the New York Knights' IM Jay Bonin -- he did nonetheless have the best of it for awhile against NM Evan Ju before having to settle for a draw. So perhaps the bee just needs to sharpen up his stinger a bit.

On the other hand, the bear has clearly gone into hibernation. The previously awesome one, NM Williams, is now 0-2 in the last two weeks after losing with White to NM Victor Shen. Did you just ask, "Where's Ilya?"

According to Robby Adamson, "Chris Williams went berserk on board 4 and lost a position where it appeared he had all the chances." The Kenilworthian's Michael Goeller instead chose to focus on Shen's accomplishment:
The loss for New Jersey on Board 2 was fortunately balanced by a win on Board 4 by the young Victor Shen in a wild game where both sides created second Queens. Shen has struggled against his usually more mature opponents, but this game showed him at his best.
Speaking of Goeller, one of the good things about playing New Jersey is that Michael annotates all the Knockouts' games. Check out his notes on the match with the Blitz.

Enough dwelling on the negative... Boston maintains a half point lead over second place Philadelphia and are still odds on favorites to take the Eastern Division regular season crown. So, rather than looking at where Chris might have gone wrong, let's instead take a look at a couple of positions from Jorge's impressive win on Board 2. His game is a great case in point for why you shouldn't spend all your time studying openings. Although Jorge played a line that didn't offer much compensation for his sacrificed pawn, he subsequently outplayed his opponent once they were both on their own.

I particularly like this position with White's knights standing side by side and dominating the board. Nevertheless, I'm not sure I would have found Jorge's next move, 20.g4.

Sammour-Hasbun-IppolitoAfter 19...Kh7

This next position contains a nice, straightforward tactic which allowed White to win the exchange and eventually the game.

Sammour-Hasbun-IppolitoAfter 29...Rh7

Solution: 30.Qxh7+ Kxh7 31.Nf6+ forking the king and queen.
With Boston only achieving a draw, Dallas' revenge win over Seattle has vaulted them into the top spot in the QPRs for the first time this season. As I anticipated last week, rankings in the middle of the pack remain quite volatile.

Original US Chess League Quantitative Power Rankings v.2
After Week 8
Format - (Match Record, Scaled Score, Last Week's Rank)
  1. Dallas (6.0, .824, 2nd)

  2. Boston (5.5, .817, 1st)

  3. Seattle (4.5, .714, 3rd) - Despite losing to the Destiny, the Sluggers edge in game score, performance rating and strength of schedule kept them percentage points ahead of the Inventors.

  4. Philadelphia (5.0, .700, 4th)

  5. San Francisco (4.0, .622, 7th) - The Mechanics lead the other 4.0 teams based on a much higher game score.

  6. New York (4.0, .612, 5th)

  7. New Jersey (4.0, .455, 10th)

  8. Queens (3.0, .437, 9th) - Surprisingly, the Pioneers rank ahead of both 3.5 teams due to strength of schedule and a higher momentum indicator.

  9. Baltimore (3.5, .409, 6th)

  10. Carolina (3.5, .393, 8th)

  11. Miami (3.0, .300, 11th)

  12. Tennessee (2.0, .083, 12th)
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