Monthly Archives: October 2011

Close Only Counts with Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

I’ve fallen behind in my USCL updates, although this time it was maybe some sort of “strategery.” In Week 7 (now almost 3 weeks ago), the SF Mechanics squared off against the Chicago Blaze. At the time, the Blaze were still perfect with a 6-0 record – now they’re still running away with the division, but Miami handed them a loss in Week 8.

Chicago can feature a 3 GM lineup with a current 2200-USCF player on board 4 which makes them a pretty tough matchup for any team. Against us, though, they had GMs Shulman and Amanov on boards 1 and 2, followed by IM Angelo Young, and NM Sam Schmakel. San Francisco countered with me on board 1, followed by GM Jesse Kraai, IM Daniel Naroditsky, and Uyanga Byambaa. After heading over from work, the games got underway at 5:30 PM. The full game can be replayed on the USCL website here.

Last time I played Yury, it was the 1st round of the US Championship and I surprised him with the Queen’s Gambit Declined, via a 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 move order. This time Yury played 3.Nc3 instead, so I followed through with my “threat” to play the Nimzo Indian with 3…Bb4. Then a bombshell dropped – 4.Nf3.

(FEN: rnbqk2r/pppp1ppp/4pn2/8/1bPP4/2N2N2/PP2PPPP/R1BQKB1R b KQkq - 0 4)

This is obviously pretty common, but when I saw this move, I pretty much said “oh s%!$” to myself. When preparing for the game, I did notice that he had played a bunch of games with 3.Nc3 in the past. However, all those games continued with 3…Bb4 4.e3, a line that I have played with the white pieces. With over 20 games of experience in that line and having tried virtually every move order possible for White, I felt like I’d be able to navigate the opening without much specific preparation. Moreover, I only saw one game in the past decade where Yury had gone that route.

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Burned by Becerra, Again

After the win against Khachiyan in Week 3, I was back in the lineup for Week 4 as the SF Mechanics faced off against the Miami Sharks. My guess is that we’ve played them the most of any other USCL teams and they’ve had a habit of derailing us in the playoffs in the past.

As usual, GM Julio Becerra lurked on Board 1 when the lineups were posted. He’s the MVP points leader in USCL history and has also racked up the most wins. We had played a couple times previously in the USCL and both those games ended in draws. Last time I played him with black, I played the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Winawer for the first time in my life. That game can be seen here.

Not having looked at that line or any main line Lopez in over a year, I decided that instead of rushing to update my lines (and walking into his prep), I might as well try to surprise him. I looked at what I could do, and decided on the Burn Variation of the Classical French (3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4). The lines looked relatively easy to pick up on one night’s notice …

The next day, it was the moment of truth. Becerra had played 1.c4 in his first USCL game this year, but our game started with what I expected: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4. After following the main line Burn for a few moves, his first small surprise was 8.Bg5-e3 (the whole game can be replayed here):

(FEN: r1bqkb1r/ppp2pp1/4pn1p/8/3P4/4BN2/PPP2PPP/R2QKB1R b KQkq - 0 8)

He had played this move once before, but most recently (and by far more often), he had chosen 8.Bg5-h4. That’s where I had focused my attention, but I did look at a couple games after 9.Be3. Unfortunately, at the board, I didn’t recall too much beyond my next few moves: 9…Nd5 10.Bd3 (10.Bd2 is also popular) Nxe3 11.fxe3 Bd6 12.e4 c5.

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