Saturday, October 13, 2007

Surprising Match, Unsurprising Result

Despite Boston Blitz Manager Matt Phelps claims to the contrary, it's hard to believe that he was comfortable sending out a GM-less team with a 100-point average rating deficit to face Eastern Division rival New York in last Wednesday's US Chess League action. Of course, if it is true that neither GM Christiansen nor Perelshteyn were available (and there is no reason to think otherwise), then he didn't really have much choice. Yet, the match almost broke in a way which would have left Phelps lauded as a lineup genius, prophet, or just a really lucky guy.

If you knew upfront that Nakamura would do no better than a draw on Board 1 and that Shmelov would defeat Bonin on Board 3, wouldn't you have to conclude that the Blitz ran little risk of losing the match? After all, Williams is a 2300+ player disguised behind an expert's rating and he's been tearing up 4th Board opponents all season. Surely, he wasn't going to maintain a perfect record forever, but there was no reason to think that he would lose this game against the Knights.

Alas, Chris simply wasn't quite as awesome as usual (see Braden Bournival's possible explanations why). Let's take a look at where he fell down.

After 20.Nf5

Here Chris opted to kick the knight and blunt White's g-file pressure with 20...g6. However, Fritz thinks he might have done better to start attacking on the queenside immediately with 20...b5. After 21.Bb3 Ra7(!) 22.Qd3 Rc7+ 23.Kb1 b4, Black looks to be making some headway against White's King.

After 24.Rg5

In this critical position Black blundered with 24...Bxb2+? 25.Kxb2 Bf5, missing 24...Bf5! immediately (as pointed out by Greg Shahade in the Game of the Week post). After 24...Bf5, the computer suggests the following continuation -- 25.Rxf5 Qe7 26.Kb1 Rfc8 27.Qd1 Nc4 -/+.

I have just a few comments on the other games:
  • Jorge's performance on Board 1 has to be comforting for Blitz fans. It seems easy to conclude that whether he or Perelshteyn sits down at Board 2 during the playoffs, Boston will be playing with a two GM lineup.

    As for Nakamura, the highest rated player in the league remains winless in league play. I can't imagine that when he was recruited to play for New York, Knight's management was looking for someone who would get more press for his prognostication skills (not that guaranteeing a win when your team has a 100-point rating advantage takes all that much skill) than for his results at the board.

  • I don't think Kelleher should even be credited with the loss against Charbonneau. After what Pascal has done to Boston's GMs, how was it even fair to throw Bill into the ring with him? Instead, I'd give the zero to Phelps; in baseball, they'd call it an intentional walk.

  • I'd appreciate a master's perspective on the Shmelov-Bonin game. It seemed to me that after the Queens came off, Denys had a nice initiative in the double Rook ending. But I'd be interested to learn whether the win ultimately flowed from the the successful prosecution of that advantage or whether Bonin subsequently blundered away a drawn position.
Either very few people read FM Ron Young's USCL Predictions or the political correctness police have gone on vacation.

I always thought I was playing it close to the edge when I referred to one of the 2400 average rating exceptions as "10 points for girls." But if that's true, then Ron went right over the cliff with his description of the same in his Week 7 predictions post (see Seattle vs. Dallas).
Boston and Dallas continue to hold the top spots in the QPRs despite losing their matches last week. However, Seattle finds itself in a virtual dead heat for 2nd. The Blitz retain the number 1 position with the highest game score and performance rating in the league.

The teams ranked 5 through 10 seem fairly interchangeable and are all fighting for the last playoff positions. It wouldn't be surprising to see significant variability in the rankings of these teams over the next couple of weeks. For now, New York holds the highest spot in this group due to momentum (they are 2-0 in the last two weeks) and strength of schedule (to date they have faced the toughest schedule in the league). On the other hand, New Jersey finds itself in 10th largely because it has faced the easiest schedule so far.

Original US Chess League Quantitative Power Rankings v.2
After Week 7
Format - (Match Record, Scaled Score, Last Week's Rank)
  1. Boston (5.0, .882, 1st)

  2. Dallas (5.0, .797, 2nd)

  3. Seattle (4.5, .794, 3rd)

  4. Philadelphia (4.0, .610, 8th)

  5. New York (3.0, .571, 9th)

  6. Baltimore (3.5, .537, 5th)

  7. San Francisco (3.0, .527, 4th)

  8. Carolina (3.5, .524, 7th)

  9. Queens (3.0, .520, 10th)

  10. New Jersey (3.5, .507, 6th)

  11. Miami (2.5, .371, 11th)

  12. Tennessee (1.5, .109, 12th)
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