Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Drawing up plans for the playoffs

It really has been a tale of two seasons for the Boston Blitz. After storming out of the gates with three straight wins, Boston has become the master of the drawn match ever since. Excluding a single win against San Francisco and their only loss of the season to New York (while using a lineup without GM Christiansen or Perelshteyn), the team has been stuck on 2-2 match scores.

Last week against the Queens Pioneers was no different, with the added symmetry of all four games ending in draws. The Blitz only had winning chances on Board 4 and it should have been enough. Ilya Krasik built up a winning position against Michael Thaler but missed several opportunities to cash in. Blitz beat reporter Mark LaRocca mentions a couple of missed wins by Krasik; here's another:

After 39...Kf6

Ilya chose to trade rooks with 40.Rxf7. While this wasn't a bad move, taking the bishop with 40.Rxc6+ would have been just devastating. After 40...Kxf5 41.Rd5+ Ke4 42.Rxb5, Black has no reasonable moves to stay in the game. Here are a few variations (with some help from Fritz):

42...Bc5 43.Rcxc5 Nxc5 44.Rxc5 +-

42...Nd4 43.Rxc4 +-

42...Bd2 43.f3+ Kd3 44.Rd5+ Ke2 45.Re6+ Kd1 46.Bxd2 Nxd2 47.Red6 +-

42...Be1 43.Re6+ Kd3 44.Rxe1 +-

The draw left Boston tied for first in the Eastern Division with the Philadelphia Inventors, making this week's matchup between the two teams a very meaningful one. However, in an interesting twist of fate, the team that has mastered the drawn match this season, finds itself in a position where it can "draw" itself all the way to the US Chess League Championship match. How so? Since Boston defeated is ahead of Philadelphia in game points earlier in the season, they need only a draw to secure 1st place in the Division and the first round playoff bye which comes with it. Then in the second round, they will have draw odds against their opponent, so two points will be enough to secure themselves a spot in the finals.

I suppose if this comes to pass, it will be safe to assume that the Blitz will draw the Championship match with the Western Division representative and go to tie breaks. Of course, the tie break games will be drawn, so eventually the league will use an Armageddon game to decide a winner (actually it doesn't really work with this way I'm not sure how the league plans to break a tie if last year's tie break model doesn't decide it, but bear with me for the sake of thematic continuity). Here the critical moment will be reached. One way or another, Boston must somehow get the Black pieces and then take home the crown by holding on for a draw!
Looking at the lineups for this week, it seems quite likely that the Blitz will be able to secure at least a draw. In fact, I can't see one Board where the Inventors have a clear edge. The only real question seems to be whether Williams is ready to rebound from his back-to-back defeats in Weeks 7 and 8.

GM Larry Christiansen: 2663 vs. GM Sergey Kudrin: 2599
GM Eugene Perelshteyn: 2601 vs. IM Bryan Smith: 2446
NM Denys Shmelov: 2251 vs. IM Richard Costigan: 2287
NM Chris Williams: 2175 vs. NM Daniel Yeager: 2247

Boston gets the White pieces on Boards 1 & 3.
Braden Bournival has a piece on why Shmelov should be considered the MVP of the Blitz. In it, he explores the "3-GM" lineup concept we mentioned back before the season started and makes what might be considered a roster strategy recommendation for the 2008 season (assuming Blitz manager Phelps can find next year's edition of Bennet Pellows).

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

No comments: