Category Archives: USCL 2011

The USCL Roundup: 2011 and all-time

The 2011 USCL season is over, with the NY Knights winning in the finals against the Chicago Blaze (both teams fielded less than optimal lineups because of tournament conflicts).

For me, the 2011 campaign was a return to chess after a full year away from OTB chess and two years away from the USCL. I got off to a great start, beating GM Melik Khachiyan when my main hope was not to embarrass myself, but my play was somewhat uneven. Some weeks I played well (that game and the game against Shulman), while on some weeks I was out of it (like against Amanov). Part of that was probably due to me not working on chess in between matches, so I never got into a groove. The games felt a lot more tiring than I remember then being, and I imagine most of that it because I’m not used to playing long chess games anymore.

One of the interesting things about this year was that in 4 of the 5 games, I played something totally new. In the first game against Khachiyan, I had played a few games from the black side of the Giouco Pianissimo (and many more from the white side). After that, though, I played a totally new line of the French (and was playing it well for a while) followed by the Nimzo a couple times and a Slav/Grunfeld hybrid against the Reti (that didn’t work out so well …).

I have played 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 in a few rated games before, but the “threat” of the Nimzo seemed to be too strong and I never actually faced 3.Nc3. Instead after 3.Nf3 or 3.g3, I played 3…d5. This year, though, both Shulman and Bercys chose 3.Nc3 against me, clearly indicating that the “threat” of the QGD was too much! My score with the Nimzo now is 2.5/3, so I haven’t done too badly there.

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I am the Bluest of Blues, Every Day a Different Way to Lose

For the first round of the playoffs, we were facing the LA Vibe. As they finished just ahead of us in the regular season, they received draw-odds while we had color choice on board 1. Taking white makes sense mostly because having the white pieces is relatively more important for GM games, while Board 4 games tend to be more of a tossup.

As an aside, with our season over, I think it’s safe to reveal a facet of the team’s strategy this year: maximize the number of whites for GMs Patrick Wolff and Jesse Kraai, and fit me in if needed. Thus, after Week 1 when I was in NY, every time we had black on board 1, I was in the lineup. Whenever we had white on board 1, I didn’t leave work early.

It’s not that I’m so great with the black pieces, but I guess I don’t show as big a differential in results by color as many other GMs. Looking at my database, my performance rating for the past handful of years is only a couple points below my average rating for that time. Given that the standard performance “boost” for white or “penalty” for black is around 35-40 rating points, I guess I have done relatively better than average with the black pieces. If I have to win, it’s not ideal, but otherwise I also don’t really mind playing with the black pieces.

So, with us having white on 1 and 3, the lineup that matched our color strategy was for all 3 GMs to finally play together with Uyanga Byambaa on board 4. I could play above Wolff, but then that’d break the color pattern, so our lineup was Wolff – Bhat – Kraai – Byambaa. As black on board 2, I faced IM Zhanibek Amanov, who’s played all of 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.Nf3 in the past few years. The full game can be seen at http://www.uschessleague.com/games/zamanovbhat11.htm.

The game started out 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2, and here I played 4…g6. This was a new move for me – I’ve normally played 4…Bg4 or 4…Bf5 setups – but I was looking for something more solid. Maybe it wasn’t the right decision, though, as the positions are often pretty dry and don’t provide too many active prospects for Black. White followed with a double fianchetto and we brought out the rest of our pieces. After 14.e3, we reached the position in the diagram below:

(FEN: r3r1k1/1p1n1pbp/1qp2np1/p2pp3/2P5/1P1PPNPP/PBQ2PB1/1R3RK1 b - - 0 14)

This is a general problem with Black’s whole setup – he isn’t really much worse at the moment, but he doesn’t have much to do while White can still improve his position. The e5/d5 center is nice but not particularly mobile, and Black’s pieces are largely stuck guarding those pawns. I had trouble coming up with a plan, and the result maybe was a bit artificial, but I think it was reasonable given the situation.

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Just Another – Ha ha ha ha – Laugher

Last year, when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the first time (they’d only won in their previous incarnation on the East Coast), the name of the game seemed to be “torture.” With an anemic offense and stellar pitching staff, the Giants made it a habit of making every game close. Often when it was an apparent blowout, they’d let the other team back in only to sneak out with a win in the end. This game was an (unplanned) homage to that spirit.

The full game can be replayed here (http://www.uschessleague.com/games/bercysbhat11.htm).

I saw that Bercys had played 3.Nf3 a bunch of times, but more recently he had been favoring 4.Qc2, so this didn’t come as a surprise. A welcome difference from my game with Shulman! Bercys repeated a line that he had played a few times before with 4…0-0 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6 7.c6.

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1p1ppp/n1P1pn2/8/1bP5/2N2N2/PPQ1PPPP/R1B1KB1R b KQ - 0 7)

Morozevich introduced this move in 2008 against Ponomariov and won a miniature. He’s since played it a bunch of times with great results – 7/9 with 2900+ performance rating. Interestingly, the rest of the crowd hasn’t scored well with it – 50% and no performance rating bump for having the white pieces.

Anyways, I think there are two reasons behind the move: (1) it’s relatively new, which is already something these days;  and (2), it attempts to close the c-file as later on in the usual lines, the c4-pawn and Queen can be a bit exposed.

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Shout-out: Amateur Chess Organization

I recently learned about a new international chess organization – the Amateur Chess Organization (ACO). It’s mainly intended for players below 2400 FIDE, the 99% in the chess world …

The CEOs of the organization are GM Falko Bindrich and IM Tobias Hirneise. For those interested in some more info, here’s an interview with the ACO’s President, Lothar Hirneise. (permalink here).

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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Don’t Call it a Comeback

I’ve neglected this blog recently – I’ve had various ideas of what to blog about, but then I shift back into the lazy gear and don’t actually write anything. Now that I’ve played a couple games again, though, I’ll try and get back on track. (Even this post covers a match from a week ago, but I’m getting there!)

After having played in the USCL from 2005 through 2009, I skipped the 2010 season and I wasn’t particularly certain about playing this year. But with my office moving to just a couple blocks away from the Mechanics Institute and one of the regular SF GMs moving away (Josh Friedel moved to Wisconsin, opening up an extra spot), I decided to give it a go.

My first game back was going to be as black against GM Melik Khachiyan. I was pretty nervous before the game. I had played a handful of blitz games on ICC since August 2010 and no slow games, and I never executed on my grand plans to study before the USCL season. It’s one thing when you’re playing individually, but here, in addition to not wanting to embarrass myself, I didn’t want the team to lose because I missed a mate in 1.

Luckily that didn’t happen … (the whole game can be replaced here)

(FEN: r2qr1k1/bpp2pp1/p1npbn1p/4p3/4P3/1BPP1N1P/PP3PP1/R1BQRNK1 w - - 0 12)

I had expected an Exchange Ruy Lopez, but I guess Melik wanted to change things up from our last (in-person) game. Instead, he went with the Giuoco Pianissimo, and while I had some trouble recalling all the correct move orders, I did get to a position I recognized at this point. During the game, I actually thought this was how my game against Vocaturo last summer went, but it was only a marginally different move order and position. We could have transposed to that after 12.Be3 Bxb3 13.Qxb3 Qd7.

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