Category Archives: USCL 2013

A Broken Record

After our win against LA last week, we faced Miami in the USCL Semifinals yesterday. With newly minted GM Daniel Naroditsky on Board 2, FM Yian Liou on 3, and soon to be NM Siddharth Banik on board 4, I was actually the “old man” of a talented team with hopes of winning it all. Unfortunately, we lost the match and dropped to 0-4 against the Sharks in the USCL Playoffs.

At this point, I have to ask – what is Miami doing in Western Conference anyway? Maybe they can swap with Philadelphia: at least they’re not right on the EASTERN coastline! I’m sure at least Dallas would vote for realignment at this point too …

My own game was the quickest of the match. Due to their better regular season record, Miami chose White on Boards 1 and 3, so I had Black versus GM Julio Becerra. There are a number of strong players in the league, but Becerra is by far the USCL leader in terms of wins. And with the white pieces in normal league games, he’s been incredibly strong – by my count, 21 wins, 18 draws, and only 1 loss for a 2698 FIDE performance rating against opposition with an average FIDE rating of 2507. His last loss in any tournament as White in my database was in 2011. All this is to say that while I would have liked to win, my primary goal was to at least hold the line as Black.

For the 4th time this year, I played the Winawer French, and for the second straight match, I played (or was allowed to play) the Poison Pawn Variation (full game here). This marks the 5th time I’ve played it, and amusingly, the 1st time I did was also against Becerra in the USCL (that game can be found here).

Becerra - Bhat 2013 1

(FEN: r1b1k1r1/ppq1np1Q/2n1p3/3pP3/5P2/P1p5/2P1N1PP/R1B1KB1R w KQq - 0 12)

Last week, Melik played the normal 12.Qd3 here and that is what Julio played against me back in 2008. This time though, he responded immediately with 12.Nxc3. It now seems like an obvious move, but this wasn’t always the case, and looking back at my notes for that 2008 game with Becerra, I had no mention of 12.Nxc3 in my preparation. In the past couple years though, Karjakin and Svidler have chosen it in serious games, so it has some pedigree now and I had looked at it in advance of the Melik game. I had not focused on it for Becerra though, as I had predicted some other lines from him.

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Playoffs? Playoffs.

We’re already past the first round of the USCL playoffs, but as I haven’t written about any of our prior matches, I’ll have to fill in the back-story over the next few weeks. In the meantime, SF has advanced to the Semifinals!

Like in 2011, we were facing the LA Vibe, but unlike that year, we had draw odds in the match by virtue of winning the Pacific Division pretty handily. Our lineup was youth heavy with me as the elder statesman (!) on board 1 followed by GM Daniel Naroditsky, FM Yian Liou, and Siddharth Banik.

On Board 1, I had the black pieces versus GM Melik Khachiyan (follow link to play through the whole game). Melik and I have played a few times before, and in both games with the black pieces, I chose 1…e5 (one Ruy Lopez Exchange that was drawn and one Italian Game that I won). This time around though, I decided to mix it up with the French and even more so, with the 12…d4 version of the Winawer Poison Pawn.

Khachiyan - Bhat USCL 2013 1

(FEN: R1BK1B1R/PP1N1P2/4Qp1P/2P1p3/3P4/3p1n2/2pn1qpp/1r1k1b1r)

While I’ve long played the French against 1.e4, I didn’t start out playing the Winawer and this actually marks the 4th time that I’ve played the Poisoned Pawn Variation. I started with the 3.Nc3 Nf6 lines, switching over to mostly the Winawer starting in the mid-2000s. But after becoming a GM, I went back to 1…e5 (which I played before the French), albeit with the Lopez instead of the Petroff or other lines. All this is to say that when another annotator writes something like, “Vinay Bhat is a French, in particular, a Poisoned Pawn devotee” (when annotating 1 of the now 4 Poison Pawn games I’ve played), take it with a grain of salt.

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