Friday, November 13, 2009

Semi-Finals

US Chess League Semi-Finals

The first round of the playoffs produced plenty of surprises with only New Jersey's victory going more or less as predicted. Who would have thought Boston would have scored 1.5 points on the bottom boards (Matirisov came up big) but lose the match with draw odds. New York's tandem of Kachesvili and Charbonneau played very well. Fourth board Sean Finn was huge for New Jersey winning with Black in only his third USCL match against a higher-rated opponent.

New York's lineup is easy to guess: 1. GM Georgi Kacheishvili 2. GM Pascal Charbonneau 3. NM Matt Herman 4. SM Yaacov Norowitz, but New Jersey's is harder. Joel Benjamin will definitely be on first and Sean Finn has earned himself the spot on four after his nice win last week and 2.5 from 3 this season.

Who they will select on boards two and three is harder to say. One choice is a repeat of last week with rock solid Dean Ippolito on two and Mackenzie Molnar on three. The other option is GM Boris Gulko (8 for 8 in the league !) and Victor Shen who is 3 for 3 this season including a victory the opening week of the season against Herman.

Both approaches have merit for New Jersey which needs 2 points to advance. Assuming New Jersey chooses White on boards one and three (as they did last week) the first plan leaves them with a clear advantage on three but as underdogs on two and four. Using this lineup it might make sense to use the White pieces on two and four . Ippolito with White is very tough to beat (with Black as well!) and can hold Charboneau. Taking White on the even numbered boards would also give New Jersey White on board four where they face their greatest rating differential. Molner gets Black in this scenario but he is also the only Knockout with a sizeable rating advantage. Several time US Champion Joel Benjamin is known for playing very well with Black.

Going with Gulko and Shen changes the picture as with a second GM in the lineup they can go either way with the colors. Using these two players they measure up better on board two but lose some fire power on three.

Looking at the regular season matchups New Jersey defeated New York 2.5-1.5 in weeks 1 and 4. Both times Kacheishvili and Benjamin drew on board one while Ippolito (as White) and Gulko defeated Charbonneau. It's definitely not easy to beat Pascal twice in one season. Molner and Shen both defeated Herman on three while Norowitz won both of his games on board four but not again Finn. The key for New Jersey is to keep on doing what they have done in the two previous matches - they might possibly get extra help on board four. New York would seem like it has to win four and a draw on three would definitely have them looking good. One thing is pretty clear - New Jersey will have to win at least one game to advance as 2-2 matches with all games drawn are really rare in the USCL.

Last minute notice - I just noticed New Jersey took White on one and three. Accordingly I expect Gulko and Shen to be playing and not Ippolito and Molner..


While the East pits a veteran team (New York has been to the playoffs all five years) against a playoff newcomer, the West is a much different story. The Miami Sharks and SF Mechanics' have a long rivalry dating back to the beginning of the league. The competitiveness of the two teams can be measured by the 6-5 lifetime score in San Francisco's favor. Both teams have enjoyed success The Mechanics' won the league title in 2006 while Miami was second in 2005. The M.I. well remembers being eliminated twice by Miami in 2005 and 2007 - both times by 2.5-1.5.

The two teams featured much different lineups in their week three and six matches this season (the Mechanics won the first 3-1 and the second was a draw) with the only players participating in both of them Julio Becerra, Jesse Kraai and Yian Liou. The semi-final match will see more personnel seeing action.

Miami has an assortment of riches starting with first board Julio Becerra. It would be hard to think of a better person to build a team around than the many time league MVP and first board-first team all star. Miami has three formidable number twos (the team scored 75 percent on this board the regular season) in Marcel Martinez, Bruci Lopez and Blas Lugo. The first two are younger and higher rated but the veteran Lugo has come through for them in the clutch, his performance against Seattle last week yet another example. Young master Eric Rodriguez has been very dependable doing double duty on boards three or four.

The lineup that Miami is using this round:

GM Julio Becerra
IM Blas Lugo
IM Alejandro Moreno Roman
NM Eric Rodriguez

has been their most effective this season. They tied Tennessee (Week 4)and beat Carolina (Week 5),Arizona (Week 10), and Seattle (Week 11)with it. Curiously it is only their ninth highest rated combination, but it works well as they are very competitive on all four boards.

The Mechanics' are countering with:

GM Jesse Kraai
GM Vinay Bhat
IM David Pruess
NM Yian Liou


The MI, finishing second in the Western Division to Miami's fourth, not only has draw odds, but got to chose colors selecting White on board one and three. Selecting White against Julio Becerra seems a prudent choice and it will be interesting to see how Jesse's scientific technical/positional style plays out against Becerra who can do everything but likes to mix things up whenever possible.

Board two will be a matchup between Blas Lugo, who does double duty as both a player and captain for the Sharks, and the Mechanics' Vinay Bhat. Here the MI will have a substantial rating advantage but Lugo is a very experienced and dependable team player who will benefit from having White.

Two IMs will meet on three. David Pruess of the Mechanics'has some rating advantage and the White pieces. Alejandro Moreno Roman had trouble showing his true strength in the USCL until the last two weeks when he put together back to back wins against Robby Adamson and Michael Lee.

Last, but certainly not least, two of the league's premier board fours meet. NM Eric Rodriguez of Miami and Yian Liou of San Francisco have turned in almost identical performances this season with the former scoring 7 from 10 and the latter 6.5 from 9, both with performance ratings around 2400.

This is a harder match to predict than that between New York and New Jersey as neither team has White and a huge rating advantage on any board (Rodriguez is currently 2320 to Liou's 2226 but the latter has played well over 2300 his last three events increasing his rating 87 points in just 17 games.

Past history says it will be close, no more than 2.5-1.5 for either team, and having draw odds might just be useful this time around.

This will be a tough match for the Mechanics' and we will need to play our absolute best.

3 Comments:

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Chaos said...

This post and your last prediction post have been the most respectable (to the players and teams involved) and enjoyable blog posts to read all season long in my opinion. Thank you.

-Daniel Parmet

 
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At 1:53 PM, Blogger Von_Igelfeld said...

As a Californian, I just want to say good luck to the Mechanics. It's going to be a tough match, but the SF lineup is filled with tough competitors and will provide the viewers some great games.

 

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