Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A loss in the semi-finals to Miami

Sic transit gloria mundi. Just after everything seemed to be coming together after defeating Arizona last week we collapsed in the semi-finals against Miami. The final score is not indicative of the one-sidedness of the match, one of the worst defeats the Mechanics' has ever been administered.

San Francisco 1.5 - 2.5 Miami

1. GM Jesse Kraai (SF) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1/2-1/2
2. IM Blas Lugo (MIA) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 0-1
3. IM David Pruess (SF) vs IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (MIA) 0-1
4. NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) vs NM Yian Liou (SF) 1-0

The opening here was a bit of a surprise as GM Becerra usually favors the Slav and King's Indian but Jesse's treatment of these openings ( dxe5 and cxd5) may have persuaded him to try something more active. At any rate his use of the Grunfeld quickly paid dividends. Jesse could have and maybe should have played 15.Bd3 planning Nc5 with a solid position where he wouldn't stand worse. Instead he lashed out with 15.f4. Maybe he could have salvaged his position with the computer like 18.Bf3 Qb6 19.Rd3 Rfe8 20.Rb3. He definitely was on the road to defeat after 18.Rd4.The half point at the end was just a gift to clinch the match for Miami.

Kraai,J (2552) - Becerra,J (2615) [D85]
USCL San Francisco vs Miami Internet Chess Club (12), 16.11.2009

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2 Nb6 6.Nf3 Bg7 7.e3 0-0 8.Be2 Nc6 9.0-0 e5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.dxe5 Bxe5 12.Qc2 c6 13.Rad1 Be6 14.Ne4 Bf5 15.f4 Bg7 16.Bc3 Nd5 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Rd4 Qb6 19.Qd2 Bxe4 20.Rxe4 Rae8 21.Qd4+ Qxd4 22.Rxd4 Nxe3 23.Rf2 Rd8 24.Re4 Rfe8 25.Rxe8 Rxe8 26.Bf3 Nc4 27.Rc2 Nb6 28.Kf2 h5 29.Rd2 Re7 30.Rd8 Na4 31.b3 Nc3 32.a4 Ne4+ 33.Bxe4 Rxe4 34.g3 a5 35.Kf3 Rb4 36.Rd3 c5 37.Ke3 b6 38.Rc3 Kf6 39.h3 Ke6 40.g4 hxg4 41.hxg4 g5 42.fxg5 1/2-1/2

This game was the only bright spot for the Mechanics'. Vinay equalized out of the opening and when Blas chose 21.Nh2 instead of 21.Nf2 he was better and steadily increased his advantage and could have finished off in fine style with 33...Nf4! followed by ...g5. Instead things got ragged ( 35...Ng5? instead of 35...Nc5) and with 37.Bg4 White would have been equal - instead 37.Bd4?? lost on the spot.

Lugo,B (2351) - Bhat,V (2504) [C55]
USCL San Francisco vs Miami Internet Chess Club (12), 16.11.2009

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Be7 5.Nc3 d6 6.a4 0-0 7.0-0 Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.Be3 Qd7 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.Bxd5 Bg6 12.Nh2 Nd8 13.f4 exf4 14.Bxf4 Ne6 15.Be3 c6 16.Ba2 d5 17.exd5 cxd5 18.Qf3 Rfd8 19.Ng4 Qd6 20.Rae1 h5 21.Nh2 Bf6 22.Qf2 Be5 23.Nf3 Bg3 24.Qd2 Bxe1 25.Rxe1 Rac8 26.c3 Qa6 27.Ne5 Bh7 28.Bb3 f6 29.Nf3 Bxd3 30.Qf2 Bg6 31.Nh4 Be4 32.Bxa7 Re8 33.Bb6 Rc6 34.a5 Qb5 35.Bd1 Ng5 36.Bxh5 Re5 37.Bd4 Nxh3+ 38.gxh3 Rxh5 0-1

The famous game Steinitz-Zuckertort, London 1872, saw 8...Bc5 but IM Moreno Roman's seems quite playable as well. Maybe White had to try Rybka's suggestion of 10.g3 fxg3 11.Bg2 gxh2 12.Kf1. Instead David, who was working everything out over the board, played 10.Qe1 as seen in Chigorin-Mortimer, Paris 1900. Black's 10...Bxf3+ was a substantial improvement over 10...Re8+ as played by Mortimer and White never had a chance.

Pruess,D (2418) - Moreno Roman,A (2331) [C25]
USCL San Francisco vs Miami Internet Chess Club (12), 16.11.2009

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nc3 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2 d5 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.exd5 0-0-0 8.dxc6 Nf6 9.cxb7+ Kb8 10.Qe1 Bxf3+ 11.gxf3 Re8+ 12.Ne4 Qh5 13.Kf2 Nxe4+ 14.Kg1 Bb4 15.Qxb4 Qxf3 16.Qe1 Ng3 0-1 White forfeits on time

Yian was doing fine here ( and had a 50 minute advantage on the clock) but he should have played either 17...Nh5 18.Nxe5 Bxe5 19.Bd3 Be6 or 19...e4 with equal chances. Instead allowing White to capture on f5 and play e4 quickly led to an untenable position.

Rodriguez,E (2290) - Liou,Y (2149) [A85]
USCL San Francisco vs Miami Internet Chess Club (12), 16.11.2009

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.Qc2 g6 6.h4 h6 7.Bd2 e5 8.dxe5 Nxe5 9.0-0-0 Be6 10.Nh3 Qd7 11.b3 0-0-0 12.Nf4 Bf7 13.f3 Bg7 14.e3 g5 15.hxg5 hxg5 16.Rxh8 Bxh8 17.Nd3 Bg6 18.Nxe5 dxe5 19.g4 Qh7 20.gxf5 Bxf5 21.e4 Bd7 22.Bxg5 Qh5 23.Qd2 c6 24.Be2 Qf7 25.Qe3 b6 26.c5 b5 27.Rd6 Rg8 28.Bxb5 cxb5 29.c6 Bh3 30.Nxb5 a6 31.Rxf6 Qxf6 32.Bxf6 Bxf6 33.Qa7 1-0

Every team in the US Chess League is bit of a mystery to the rest. How they chose their lineups each week is based on insider information (who is in town, who is healthy, who is good form) that no scouting report is likely to predict, but this season much of the league might have guessed the Mechanics' were playing musical chairs. Seven of the ten players on the roster made trips to Europe during the season, some for prolonged periods. This was not fully anticipated when assembling the team roster and at times we were down to four eligible players ( i.e.. the court of last resort - Donaldson goes into the lineup). The plan was to field two of our four GMs, put Sam Shankland and his 2550 USCF rating on three, and 2300 strength NM Yian Liou on four.

The potential of this plan was shown the first four weeks of the season when we got off to a hot start with 3.5 from 4 including 3-1 wins over Dallas and Miami. Then we lost Sam who went to Europe in search of his last GM norm. Objectively speaking this was a serious loss as Sam's lifetime winning percentage in the league is over 80 percent. This meant the Mechanics' had gone from one of the most dangerous teams in the league to merely a good one. The change was immediately apparent as the team stumbled drawing only one of its next three matches to hover barely over 50 percent. Then came a good comeback with two consecutive wins and a draw to get the second seed in the West. A victory over Arizona left us only two matches short of the goal and with Sam back for the final match ( but Josh and Vinay out of town for the December 5 final) , but it was not to be as we lost to a Miami team that fully deserved their win

All things considered tying for third in the 14-team league ( + 6, -3, =3) was a respectable finish even if we still dream of what might have been. None of the successes we enjoyed would have been possible without team MVP Yian Liou. Before the start of the season David Pruess and I were uncertain how to put together the roster. Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky were both substantially high rated than the year before. Many of our GMs were likely to be unavailable at different stages of the season so we knew there were few spots we could afford for board four. Greg Young, had played well in years past, and did again this season ( 2-0 !), but demanding high school academics and basketball met he could only play a few matches. Also his rating was too high to allow the two GM plus Sam lineup. Enter Yian Liou.

NM Michael Aigner, who has worked with so many of the promising young players to come up through the Bay Area ranks ( Shankland, Naroditsky, Zierk, Young, Schwarz, etc...) wrote to David and I telling us we should check out this 12-year-old kid from Walnut Creek who just might do the trick. This proved to be a slight understatement. Yian scored 6.5 from 10 for a performance rating that was over 2400 until the final match. He not only performed excellently and was extremely durable ( no one else on the team played more than 7 matches) , he did it with an assessed rating of 2019! That's good value.

Two other players came up big during the season. Former US Champion Patrick Wolff scored 2.5 from 4 for a performance rating well over 2600. He and Vinay Bhat stepped into the lineup the second half of the season replacing European bound GMs Josh Friedel and Jesse Kraai who had been struggling. Josh has been a steady performer for the MI in the USCL over the years but 2009 is a season I am sure he would rather forget with 1.5 from 5, his only win straight from theory. Jesse's final score of 3 from 6 was good for a 2500 performance but a little deceptive as it includes a gift half point from Becerra and scrapping out the bottom of the barrel for a draw and win respectively against Krush and Felecan in the regular season. Both Josh and Jesse are perfectionists who like to think which are not necessarily good qualities in the USCL where practical players reign supreme.

Daniel Naroditsky is also a perfectionist and for much of his USCL career has had a hard time. This season looked to promise more of the same as it started out with a pair of painful losses (particularly the one against Danny Rensch) but he really rose to the occasion the last part of the year. Filling in for Sam Shankland he scored an undefeated 3 from 4 down the stretch to play a key role in helping the team turn things around.

The future is uncertain for the Mechanics'. We lose IM (soon to be GM) Sam Shankland who will be attending Brandeis University next season but will have our young Tigers Daniel and Yian back plus a bunch of GMs and IMs, but how to squeeze them in under the rating cap? The quest will be on to find the missing link. Are there any Bay Area players rated 2000 on the September 2009 rating list that will be 2300 strength come next September? Let me know!

I would like to thank our loyal tournament director Payam Tanaka for performing his duties in exemplary fashion. Payam not only made sure all was proper and by the book but his statistical analysis of other teams was very useful in guessing lineups in advance. He also made sure no one suffered from low blood sugar by providing a steady supply of pastries and drinks. Thank Payam!

One of the reasons the MI has enjoyed the success it has is due to the cultivation of its junior talent. This season was no exception and I would like to thank Michael Aigner, Sam Shankland, David Pruess and Josh Friedel for helping Yian Liou prepare for his games throughout the season. Seeing Patrick Wolff patiently explaining the intricacies of an ending to Yian in a post mortem was watching the knowledge of a great player of the past being transferred to a future star right before my eyes. The hard work and willingness to share was greatly appreciated.


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