Friday, November 16, 2007

Ding! Dong!

Once the winds stopped swirling, all could see that Jorge's house had come crashing down upon the Canadian menace. Pascal was dead. Pascal was dead! After three years of tyranny, his reign of terror upon Blitzville had ended and Blitzkins everywhere piled into the streets and celebrated long into the night.

The game was a classic example of what Blitz fans had been seeing from Sammour-Hasbun all throughout the US Chess League regular season -- time pressure, complications, and an ability to outplay his opponent from a potentially inferior position when everything was on the line. Sixteen moves in, Jorge was already under ten minutes. Each time Pascal closed the gap by contemplating his move for an extended period, Jorge expanded his time disadvantage on the next several moves. It was as if Jorge was luring Pascal into a time scramble. "Come play my kind chess," he must have been thinking. And once both reached single digits on the clock, it was Jorge who found the necessary moves and Pascal who made the catastrophic blunder.

Others have pointed out Charbonneau's error and an improvement that he didn't find until the game was long over (check out posts by Adamson, Bournival and Hoffman). Instead, I'd like to look at something different -- the position after Pascal's 15th move.

SM Sammour-Hasbun - GM Charbonneau
After 15...f5

I don't know how many club players, like myself, would have looked past 16.Qxg7. It restores the material balance and looks potentially threatening in conjunction with a bishop check on h5. Yet, it turns out to be inferior to Jorge's move 16.c4. After 16.Qxg7 Qf6 17.Qxf6 Rxf6 18.c4 bxc3 19.bxc3 Black's superior minor pieces must confer him some advantage. Instead, Jorge realized that he had better long-term prospects on the Queenside by eschewing the g7-pawn. It is critical moments like these that highlight the chasm in understanding between the likes of Jorge and the rest of us.
Question: When is having a 2700 player on your team, not like having a 2700 player on your team?

Answer: When he doesn't take the team or the league seriously.

What other conclusion can be drawn from these remarkable comments that GM Nakamura made on the ICC after he drew his game with GM Christiansen:
"This isn't a real tournament"
"I'm not going to waste any of my d4 prep on this"
Now to be fair to Hikaru, even if he is being paid to play in the USCL (and I don't know that he is), it is a small pittance at best. As a world class player, it pales in comparison to the potential rewards of winning a critical game at a major international tournament or a big money swiss. Therefore, from a perspective of self interest, you can't really blame him for his attitude.

However, this raises serious concerns for the growth and development of the league. Surely the popularity of the USCL depends on recruiting the best players to play. Yet, how can fans and, more importantly, sponsors be expected to take the league seriously if the top players don't?
The Board 4 encounter between Williams and Zenyuk did turn out to be critical to the outcome of the match. However, it is not a game that will be enshrined in the USCL Hall of Fame. Even though I don't know a heck of a lot about the King's Indian, I immediately recognized that 7.Bd2 was, to be kind, somewhat unusual. And 14.Kf1 was, shall we say, not exactly classical. On the other hand, perhaps this was Chris' strategy all along since Iryna responded with two inferior moves in row (14...Bf5 and 15...Qd7) which left her with a lost position.

Braden Bournival rightly points out that William's technique in closing out the game was less than precise. While watching on the ICC, I don't know how many times I asked myself, "Why doesn't he just take the pawn on d6?" or ...

NM Williams - WFM Zenyuk
After 37...h6

... "what's wrong with 38.Ne6?"

Of course, Chris never put the full point at risk and did eventually close out the game and the match for Boston.
There's not much point in spending a lot of time on a game which didn't play a role in the final result, though I suppose it's worth noting that NM Shmelov suffered his first loss of season. I'm sure he'll be studying up on how not to lose better endgames prior to the Championship match.
Did I forget to mention that the Blitz defeated the New York Knights 2.5-1.5 to advance to the US Chess League finals? Ah yes, the USCL Championship match...

Who will they be playing? We're not sure yet.

When will it be? According to a note on the USCL homepage, there seems to be some uncertainty about that too.

Most importantly, how much will Blitz management be charging for those Harvard Astrophysics Center luxury box seats?

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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