Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Preview-- S.F. Mechanics vs. Boston Blitz

Wednesday night has some compelling individual matchups when the S.F. Mechanics take on the Boston Blitz in Week 5. It also features the classic battle of differing team strategies -- top heavy teams like the Blitz vs. balanced 2300-2400 rated teams like the Mechanics.

Here are the lineups:
S.F. Mechanics (3.5-0.5) vs. Boston Blitz (2-2)
1. IM Vinay Bhat, 2481 vs. GM Larry Christiansen, 2670
2. IM David Pruess, 2479 vs. SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun, 2576
3. NM Sam Shankland, 2364 vs. NM Marc Esserman, 2307
4. NM Daniel Naroditsky, 2321 vs. NM Ilya Krasik, 2144

Boston is coming off what appears to be their most lopsided loss since the 3-1 drubbing in the 2006 Playoffs against the NY Knights, a long time ago.

1. GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 1/2-1/2 2. IM Irina Krush (NY) vs IM Igor Foygel (BOS) 1-0 3. NM Charles Riordan (BOS) vs FM Robert Hess (NY) 1/2-1/2 4. Matthew Herman (NY) vs NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) 1-0

However, a closer look at last week's match suggests a much tougher battle than the final score indicates. Larry's early piece blunder (see: Benjamin vs. Christiansen), in addition to making us all feel better about our own blunders (my own occuring as recently as last night), also destabilized the rest of the Blitz's boards, forcing Denys and Charles to overstep in sharp positions. (see: Shmelov vs. Ippolito and Molner vs. Riordan.) In short, it increased the pressure on the lower boards to come up with full points against staunch opposition.

Boston must be careful to shake off these last losses and play with a short memory and renewed vigor. Several factors play in Boston's favor. As a long-time professional chess player, Larry's play will be uneffected by last week's crash-and-burn; he has seen it all before. Jorge can anchor any team's Board 1, and he is just a shark in the Board 2 position. Newcomer Marc Esserman fits into the Blitz's team makeup perfectly -- underrated at 2307 after obtaining two IM norms this year, including an impressive one in Miami two weeks ago (for more, read: Esserman's take on Miami). Underrated players anchoring Boards 3 and 4 were keys to the Blitz's last year success (and key to the top heavy lineup strategy), when Denys Shmelov and Chirs Williams took up the reigns of the bottom boards.

However, the Mechanics are a young and dangerous team, with their top boards born in the 80s and their bottom boards born in the 90s! Youngsters = hunger + underrated + continual improvement + crazy and dangerous games.

Let's look at a Board by Board breakdown.

Board 1. Bhat vs. Larry C. In last year's San Fran match, Larry captured the Game of the Week with his very fine victory over the one time Boston local GM Patrick Wolff Christiansen-Wolff 2007. Meanwhile, Bhat was on Board 2 last year, and scored a victory over Bill Kelleher. Bhat-Kelleher 2007. My database is silent on any games these two may have played-- I can't find any previous games. So how can we decide what might happen? Looking at Bhat's 2007 record reveals that not a single game was drawn and he won most. But this is Board 1, and Bhat's opponent is one of the US's best GMs. I'll predict a draw after Larry steers a rabid attack into calmer waters. This will be a good result for the freefalling Blitz.

Board 2. Sammour-Hasbun has White vs. Pruess. David Pruess has had a string of mediocre (for him) tournaments this summer that pulled his rating from the verge of 2500. He also had a ho-hum 2007 season. Jorge is one of the fiercest players in the league and is the reigning 1st-team All Star for Board 2. They are also playing this week at a faster time control, which only adds to Jorge's advantage. Prediction: Jorge brings home a needed point for the Blitz.

Board 3. Shankland vs. Esserman. What happens when two up-and-comers face off on the critical Board 3? A bloodbath. Sam's league record is excellent with an 83% winning percentage, mostly on Board 4. This year he is holding Board 3 nicely, as well, with wins over Philly's Costigan last week and Miami's Galofre the week before. He has also been playing well recently over the board, including a first place win over the Labor Day weekend against other masters. I've already discussed Marc's exploits. I'll go ahead and predict that Marc and Sam will scrap and punch and claw until their bare kings are dancing around each other. Draw.

Board 4. Krasik has White against Naroditsky. Oh, no! What shall I say about this game?
Let's start with Krasik's USCL picture:

Somebody in this picture is caught in some headlights this week, and the person behind the wheel of the oncoming car is a 13 year old, World U12 Champion. Daniel Naroditsky isn't even allowed to drive, of course, but check out this brute-tastic victory from last week. Or this one from the week before. But it isn't all doom and gloom for Krasik and the Blitz-- Naroditsky is still a bit uneven, as in this game from three weeks ago, and last season he struggled a bit (he was 12!). I still think this game is going to be more like those first two and not like the third one. It doesn't help that it will only be 5:00PM on the Pacific Coast when this game is played-- no chance for Ilya to draw the game out past Daniel's bedtime! Ilya can be crafty, to be sure, but I still can't justify predicting anything other than a loss.

So, to sum up-- hard games on all the boards. A draw is a fair and just result, but all the boards are in the balance this week, and it could go either way.

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