Thursday, October 25, 2007

Better late than never ...

Finally an update on the team's results the last few weeks, just as we have turned things around and clinched a playoff spot. We've gone 2-1 in the past 3 weeks, and here's the rundown ...

Week 7: Miami (2.5) - SF (1.5)

The match itself was quite interesting, and it could have easily turned the other way with a couple lucky breaks.

(1) Friedel (SF) - Becerra (MIA), 0-1,

Both these guys make a living with the Ruy Lopez, and in their 3rd USCL career matchup, they entered a theoretical discussion in the ...Nd7 Chigorin Variation. Black's 17...f5 was supposedly refuted by Khalifman, but maybe Becerra has resurrected it? The first key position was probably on move 24, when Josh decided to go with 24.Bxf5 instead of the tempting alternative of just pushing his central passed pawns down the board. It worked out great, and Josh was well on his way to victory, when he played 34.Kg2?, walking right into ...Qg5+ and ...Qxc5. The idea of Kg2 was to trade queens with Qg3, which is a good idea (as then the pawns will run), but the execution could have been better. 34.Rg2, with the same idea is virtually curtains for Black. Instead, Josh accidentally dropped the c-pawn first, and the d-pawn wasn't destined to live too much longer after that.

(2) Martinez (MIA) - Zilberstein (SF), 1/2,

Dima's 2007 USCL debut was an exciting affair. Don't let the result fool you - this was an exciting game. As John Donaldson wrote, "Marcel sacs the house for mate but Dima comes up with 24...Nf3+!, 28...e3! and 30...Rb3! and Marcel has to bail out with a perpetual. Nice defense!" An amusing sidenote is that the game followed Becerra-Friedel, USCL 2006 for the first 17 moves!

(3) Pruess (SF) - Espino (MIA), 1-0,

A nice, smooth win from David, who was due to get back on track. Maybe 5...Nf6 and 6...Ng4 is already the wrong idea, as Black's position just doesn't impress there. Burmakin likes to play the positions after 5...dxe4, and he tends to have some ideas about these positions. As it was, David just developed all his pieces, pried open a kingside file, and then his activity (and Black's lack of development) carried the day.

(4) Rodriguez (MIA) - Naroditsky (SF), 1-0,

A tough loss for Daniel, whose first mistake was probably 12...e5. A more standard plan with 12...b5 was probably called for. In a tough middlegame, Black just got outplayed, and made a serious error with 28...g5, blocking the path of the bishop on h6 and allowing Nc2-e4 (preparing to jump into d5 in some cases).

Coming off the loss against Boston, this loss to Miami dropped us to 3-4 and into 4th place in the West. Meanwhile, we headed into the home stretch, with one match apiece against each team in front of us at the time - first Carolina (one spot ahead of us), then Seattle (two spots ahead), and finally Dallas (who continued to put up good result after good result and was leading the division).

Week 8: SF (3) - Carolina (1)

(3) Zaikov (CAR) - Donaldson (SF), 1/2,

A relatively tame game from both players. Queens were exchange on move 7, and after further piece exchanges, peace was the exchange. A solid, uneventful draw that worked well for us given the other boards.

(4) Shankland (SF) - Jones (CAR), 1-0,

Sam has been a beast for us in the league (putting up a massive 6.5/8), but this year was relegated to alternate duty because of other commitments. His game with Jones followed Pruess-Jones from week 1 until 12.Na4. Black never seemed to get any real activity, and in the meantime, was left with a hemmed-in light-squared bishop and kingside pawn weaknesses. Sam played quite well, with 25.Bxg6! (25...fxg6 26.Rh8+ and 29.R1h7# is the point) and then 29.Rxe8+!. The only blemish was that he didn't play 32.Bg8#, and instead went for the prosaic 32.Bxe8+ (which led to mate anyways).

(1) Milman (CAR) - Bhat (SF), 0-1,

I had come into the game expecting a tamer opening (the Ruy Lopez Exchange, in fact), and instead I got a slugfest. We went down the main line of the ...Nd7 Chigorin, but instead of the ...f5 idea as Becerra played, I went with the more traditional idea of ...Bh4. I hadn't played this line before, and hadn't specifically prepared it for this game, and so when Nf3-g5xh7 was quickly played by Lev, I was a little worried I had walked into something bad. A 35 minute think convinced me otherwise, although the position is still a mess - White has a major alternative in 25.e5 that wasn't clear to me then and still isn't clear to me now. 25.Qd2 was tempting though, and I'd like to say I came up with the best defensive plan - 28...c4 (threatening ...Qb6+ and so forcing the King to the h-file), 29...Rb7, and 30...Ng4, clearing the way for ...f6 and opening the 2nd rank for my rook. However, White could've secured a likely draw with 30.Qh4 instead of 30.Raf3, as then 30...Kg7 31.Qh6+ Kg8 32.Qh4, and Black has nothing great to do. Alternatively, if White tries to play on there with 30...Kg7 31.Raf3 Rh8 32.Bxf6+ Bxf6 33.Qxf6+ Qxf6 34.Rxf6, I think he's worse after 34...Rd8. Black threatens 35...Bf5, which forces the rook back from f6, after which Black's rooks aren't so tied down while White is saddled with a horrible bishop on c2. 35.R6f3 b4 is slightly better for Black. As it was, after 31...f6, it was all over.

(2) Pruess (SF) - Schroer (CAR), 1/2,

A marathon game that essentially went on until closing time at the Mechanics. People were noting at the recent Mexico World Championship event that the Ruy Lopez had taken over for the Sicilian as the opening du jour recently, and for the 2nd week in a row, we had our pair of Spanish Games on the top 2 boards. David played what appears to be a sideline of the Zaitsev and after some small fireworks on the queenside and in the center, came out a pawn ahead. However, by about move 30, we had already secured the match with 2.5 points, and maybe David lost his concentration for a little bit. His advantage slipped and then he had to fight to make sure he wasn't worse. The endgame was quite interesting with chances for both sides - maybe 45.Bc2 was better, similarly 50...g4 instead of 50...Nxd4. In the end, a draw was a logical result.

This win let us switch places in the standings with Carolina. With Dallas' victory over Seattle, we were only half a match point behind them for 2nd place, and we were facing them the following week.


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