Friday, November 09, 2007

It's the Knights!

New York made it look easy, crushing Philadelphia 3.5-0.5 in Round 1 of the US Chess League playoffs. As a result, Boston will get to face their biggest rival in a match to determine who will represent the Eastern Division in the Championship finals.

In case you missed last year's playoffs, the Knights defeated the heavily favored Blitz in the same round and dashed Boston's Championship hopes. In case you missed the last three years, New York's probable Board 2 is a Blitz killer, no matter who from Boston he faces across the board. One has to imagine that Blitz fans were looking forward to any opponent other than the Knights.
Last year, a bit of controversy was created when then Knights' Manager Jen Shahade used a post here at BCC Weblog as bulletin board material to motivate her team for the playoff match with Boston. Well, that's not going to happen again this year. Why? Because...

The New York Knights are the best team in the US Chess League! The Knights are going to obliterate Boston! Start making plans for the Championship parade now!

Let's start at the top -- GM Nakamura, for the last month, he has only been the best chess player on the planet. Then on Board 2, it's the unbeatable Charbonnator. Boston could have both their GMs consult during the game and still they wouldn't be able to find a way to defeat him. We probably won't even see Irina Krush at the boards on Wednesday; but, if we do, remember that she was the key to last year's victory.
Down below, there's IM Bonin. Jay is an absolute legend. No, I take that back. He's a legend's legend. We don't know of such things up here in New England.* Finally, there's Iryna Zenyuk -- she's on fire (stay with me folks, we're talking chess playing here).

So New York fans, bask in the glory and await the inevitable destruction of the Blitz. Stop reading now and go pack your bags for a trip to the finals.
Alright, now that they've all left, let's get serious...

Unlike last year's playoff match, there isn't a whole lot of intrigue about what lineups the teams are going to use. It's hard to imagine that Krush will put herself in and have to exclude either Nakamura or Charbonneau. And while Arnold could substitute for Bonin and Herman for Zenyuk, I just don't see it happening. Therefore, unless there are availability issues, the New York lineup will likely be:

Board 1 - GM Nakamura
Board 2 - GM Charbonneau
Board 3 - IM Bonin
Board 4 - WFM Zenyuk

For Boston, the only possible question is Board 2 -- go with the two GMs or use Sammour-Hasbun instead. I think the numbers make this an easy decision. Jorge has arguably been the best relative performer on the team all season, while Eugene has been the worst. Jorge hasn't lost a game, while Eugene hasn't won one. GM Perelshteyn has had two shots at Charbonneau over the past two years and he is 0-2. SM Sammour-Hasbun did face one GM this season (Nakamura!) and came away with half a point.

As for the other boards, I see no reasonable argument for going away from the ones that got you this far. Therefore, barring availability constraints, I expect Boston to lineup like this:

Board 1 - GM Christiansen
Board 2 - SM Sammour-Hasbun
Board 3 - NM Shmelov
Board 4 - NM Williams
Let's take a look at the individual matchups.

Board 1 - It's hard not to give an edge to Nakamura, but LarryC has been unbeatable this season against a constant stream of GM competition, including Hikaru. I think Christiansen has a reasonable chance to hold the balance with Black.

Board 2 - Pascal gets the edge against any Blitz player until one of them beats him. However, don't be completely surprised if Jorge ends up being the hero of the night for Boston.

Board 3 - Shmelov has a psychological advantage going into this game. He and Bonin have faced each other twice this season, and Denys came away with a draw and a win.

Board 4 - Zenyuk defeated Williams with White earlier in the season, but in this game she'll have Black. This time you can expect Chris to play a move like 24...Qe6!?. Call me a homer if you wish, but I consider this game to be a push. However, a draw seems the least likely result. One of the two will probably score a (potentially decisive) full point.
How do the Blitz advance to the Championship match?

In my view, this match revolves around Board 4. If Williams can score a full point, then the Blitz have several reasonably straightforward paths to 2 points even if Jorge fails to breakthrough against Charbonneau. Shmelov could defeat Bonin or he and Larry could both draw. However, if Zenyuk wins then Jorge is going to have to do something on Board 2. The most likely winning scenario for Boston in that case would be two draws up top and a win for Denys on Board 3 -- certainly a trickier proposition overall.

Of course, I suppose Iryna and Chris could have the last laugh by agreeing to a draw on move 10. Otherwise, fans should focus on Board 4 Wednesday night as it is likely to be the pivotal game of the match.

By the way, if you run into any Knights players or fans before then, don't tell them this ... I'm looking for the Blitz to advance 2-2. Shhhhh!!
*Well, actually we do -- think John Curdo, for instance. There's no need to tell the New Yorkers, though.

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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