Friday, September 3, 2010


If you’re looking for a hard-fought battle between two professional teams, don’t look here. The Baltimore Kingfishers defeated the Manhattan Applesauce Wednesday night in a match that made the spectators wonder if the participants were substituted by clones of Mr. Magoo. Players arrived late, the quality of the games was poor, and we couldn’t help but wonder if certain people didn’t prepare at all.

Schoch-It-To-Me Baby

James Black arrived early and was roaring to go. He said he prepared for the match and would play better than he did last week. To our surprise, Ian Schoch was twenty-five minutes late! James’ time advantage was increased even more as he seemed to know exactly what his opponent would do in the opening. James obtained what every strong player dreams of: control of the center, a safe king position, and a kingside space advantage. Schoch’s original idea was to make use of his queenside pawn majority. This did more harm than good. Not only was it too slow, it weakened the light squares in a way that allowed James to play 19.Ba4!

Everyone in the spectators’ room was clueless as to how black can defend. 19…Bd7 allows 20.e5 and black is in deep trouble. Schoch played a whopper: 19…Re6? This move was so bizarre that James rejected the obvious 20.d5, which gives white a clear advantage. “I wanted to look at other ways to win,” he claimed after the game. Indeed, there was another way to win, but why go into complications when it’s totally unnecessary? 20.h3 Bh5 21.e5? let Schoch back into the game. He reeled off a series of forcing moves, putting James into a difficult position. James made the final mistake with 27.Nxe4? (27.Bxc6 Rxc6 28.Qf3 was more tenacious), and after 27…Bxe4 his light squares were ripped to pieces. He resigned five moves later.

When It Rains, It Pours

When half of your team works in finance, somebody is bound to be late. The recent economic downturn has motivated many Wall Street bosses to be harder on their employees. There was a rumor that Lev Milman was working under some Gordon-Gekko-type. I didn’t believe the rumor myself, until Lev showed up five minutes late. He was pale white and sweating bullets, as if someone had just told him, “Get me some inside information, or you’re fired.”
Oddly enough, Lev’s opponent (grandmaster Larry Kaufman) was fifteen minutes later than he was. However, this made no difference. Lev hasn’t played a serious game in nine months, while Kaufman is coming off a solid, third-place finish at the U.S. Senior Open. Lev began by playing very uninspiring chess, allowing Kaufman to equalize with no troubles at all. After twenty-two moves they reached an insipid position. Like countless other young players, Lev became impatient, when in fact he needed to bide his time and maneuver a bit more. He lashed out with 23.e5?! “I felt I had to do something,” he admitted after the game.
Kaufman replied with 23…f5!, an excellent positional move that reduces the scope of Lev’s bishop and keep’s white’s rooks at bay. Lev spent the next five moves trying to drum up an illusory kingside attack; in reality he was going nowhere fast. Lev’s attacking pieces became targets, and when opportunity knocked, the seasoned veteran did not hesitate to seize his chance.
28…g5! came as a surprise to everyone, including Lev. Superficially, it looks wrong: black pushes a pawn that guards his king, and the pawn can’t take anything because it’s pinned! But Kaufman had seen more deeply, and knew that the pin was only temporary, after which Lev will be down a piece with no compensation. Lev tried a cheapo, then resigned. We were left in an 0-2 hole.

Forced Variation

It was a welcome sight to have grandmaster Alex Stripunsky playing for us again; earlier this year he finished 6th at the U.S. Championship. Alex had a very difficult game against grandmaster Sergey Erenburg. He worked hard to create weaknesses in Erenburg’s position, but Erenburg was up to the task. Erenburg was able to win a pawn, although Alex would not quit. He fought a back until he could secure a fortress for his king and keep white’s passed pawn on its starting square. Unfortunately for Alex, he had to play for a win no matter what, since were already down 0-2.
Therefore, he rejected 37…h4, which likely would have secured a draw, and instead played the more disruptive 37…fxg3 e.p.?!, hoping for some kind—any kind—of Erenburg mistake. The match situation would also explain why Alex rejected the tenacious 40...h4+ for the "hopeful" 40...Kf6?! Thus, Erenburg was given the opportunity to play the precise 41.h4, which ended all hope. Baltimore won the game and the match.
After the final game The Strip gathered everyone who was still there. Eli Vovsha’s grind-it-out victory over Tegshsuren Enkhbat was for naught. “We played like a bunch of idiots!” exclaimed Alex. He wasted no time in getting right down to what we’re going to do against Boston next week. We lost to The Blitz twice last year, and there’s no indication that anything will change. Wait a sec…
Where the hell is Zaremba?
-Jeff Kelleher

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Week 1 Results - Manhattan Applesauce survive a scare versus Carolina; win 2.5-1.5

Manhattan’s victory over the Carolina Cobras Wednesday night was not pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly.

The Applesauce played like a baby eating a product of the same name, making many sloppy decisions over the board which made this match very painful for the spectators to watch. The only solace for the viewers is that none of the games were spoiled by any errant mouse-slips (a la last year’s Stripunsky-Christiansen debacle).
On paper, this looked like just what the doctor ordered. The Sauce (formerly the Queens Pioneers) had a heartbreaking debut vs. Boston in ’09 and things never got rolling, despite all-star performances from Andrei Zaremba and Alex Stripunsky. Our ’10 opener would be against the Cobras, by far the lowest-rated team in the league. Carolina was one of the best in ’08, but seemed to fall off the charts last season. The team got weaker during the off-season when they lost Oleg Zaikov.
With this in mind we decided to “rest” Zaremba and Stripunsky, so as to give some playing time to our “new blood:” long-time master (and former New York Knight) Greg Braylovsky, and the youngest member of our team, James Black, last year’s sixth grade national champion.

Black is Beautiful

Playing against Udayan Bapat in his first-ever game in this format, we didn’t expect much from James. He wasted no time in putting himself in a bind; at one point he was struggling to find any kind of useful move. Bapat’s position was so good that his biggest problem was choosing which way (among several) he was going to win. Luckily, chess in 99% tactics, and all of us blunder once in a while.
Black’s 28…Kg7?? was one of those blunders that was so bad it threw off his opponent’s concentration.

Bapat returned the favor with 29.c5?, allowing James to mount a comeback. It is comical to note that Black’s useful 31…Rh8 would not have been possible had he not blundered! Bapat made the final error with 32.Qc1, when 32…Nf4 ended things nicely. Congratulations James!

James also shared his thoughts on winning his first game in the USCL in the video below.

Role Reversal

For a guy who hasn’t played in a year, Braylovsky seemed to be playing without rust. He broke the kingside wide open, giving himself a powerful attack on Craig Jones’ king; Greg even had a pair of connect passers to boot. Suddenly, as quick as lightning, Jones launched an all-or-nothing counterattack on the queenside.

The hubris of Jones’ going-for-broke energy threw Greg for a loop. Greg’s defense faltered, and before any of us could blink, he went from being the hunter to the hunted. He got mated in the middle of the board, and the match had completely changed momentum.

Give Me a Heart Attack

On paper, the Schneider-Schroer game looked to be the most competitive. It turned out to be the driest game of the match. Dmitry followed an old theoretical line in the Panov-Botvinnik attack which Fischer famously used to defeat Benko many decades ago.
Dmitry obtained the slight advantage he was looking for, but after a few inaccuracies the game fizzled out into a draw.

That put the weight of the whole match on the shoulders of Eli Vovsha, who once again played the masochistic tango, this time against Ron Simpson. As we’ve come to expect from Eli, he carefully strutted along the edge of defeat. In the style of the Gruenfeld defense that Anand has always been so keen on, Vovsha snatched a pawn in the opening and said “Prove it” to his opponent. Simpson tried to make the game even more intriguing to the viewers by offering the exchange sacrifice 16.Re5!?

If nothing else, this move had the practical effect of putting Vovsha into a deep think. We were alarmed when Eli spent most of his remaining time contemplating whether or not to take, and in the end he declined! “He could have played [16…e6] in twenty seconds,” someone commented in the spectator’s area, shaking their head. “Now he’s gonna have to hurry [insert explicative] up.”
Ron Simpson fought like a warrior. He turned Eli’s connected queenside passers into doubled, isolated pawns which he easily blockaded. He then created a protected passed pawn of his own. Vovsha had one thing going for him, however: the two bishops. They began spreading over the board like a pair of twin pythons, poised to spit their venom at the white pieces, all of which looked as frightened as mice. The break 38…g5 was key in deploying Eli’s other rook into action. As soon as he had the passed f-pawn it was all over.

Don’t get too excited. Although this was a victory for us, we walked out of the Eighth Avenue building with a sigh of relief more than anything else. If we keep cutting it this close we’ll be cruising for a bruising. Nevertheless, we’ve got the players to give us a realistic chance for a 2-0 start.
Baltimore will be butting heads with us next Wednesday, and they’ll be hungry for their first victory. You can count on it.
-Jeff Kelleher

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Queens vs. Boston: the rematch

For the first time this year, the Queens Pioneers will be playing a rematch. It will be against The Boston Blitz, who are currently tied for the best record in the USCL. I must admit I was very apprehensive when I saw that we would be without Alex Stripunsky. I knew he would not play every match, but I figured he would be really psyched up for a rematch with Larry C. I also felt just a tad of wistfulness that Andrei Zaremba won't be playing. He has been red-hot this year, and his 80% win percentage has to be one of the highest in the league.

But there's no point in dwelling on any of this. It's time to focus. A double-GM lineup is not to be trifled with, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that we're big underdogs here. What, if any, is the team strategy? The only way I see it happening is this: instead of trying to win, we need to just not lose. Hunker down, avoid tactical blunders, and use good clock management. Here are the match-ups:

BOARD ONE: Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs. Eli Vovsha (QUE)
"Ask and ye shall receive." Vovsha loves playing positions where he has to defend accurately, and I'm sure Christiansen will be happy to oblige him. Will Eli do the same thing against Larry that he did against Perelshteyn in week one? Yeesh...
EDGE: Boston

BOARD TWO: Dmitry Schnieder (QUE) vs. Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS)
The fans would love to see a double-edged Sicilian battle. Schneider and Perelshteyn are both dynamic players. I just hope Dima doesn't have another long day at the office.
EDGE: Boston

BOARD THREE: Marc Esserman (BOS) vs. Yuri Lapshun (QUE)
I still cannot believe that Yuri is playing board three. There are a few other teams in the league for whom he would be playing board one. Having said that, he'll be taking on a very sharp Marc Esserman. Marc's games are generally a lot of fun to watch, and I'm sure the viewers on the ICC wouldn't mind seeing another Smith-Morra Slug-Fest. Don't be surprised if Yuri answers with something outrageous.
EDGE: Even

BOARD FOUR: Jeff Kelleher (QUE) vs. Andrew Wang (BOS)
This one looks pretty frickin' grim. I don't see how I can escape the opening unscathed, let alone the middlegame. If anyone has any advice, I'm all ears.
EDGE: Boston

With things the way they are, my plan is just to have fun and enjoy watching my teammates' games. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Week 6 Preview: Queens vs. Seattle

Well it looks like it’s my turn to write our team’s blog since I’m playing board 4. This week is a big occasion for the Pioneers, probably one of the most pivotal moments of our season: the 2009 season debut of GM elect Lev Milman (I was tempted to say that my 2009 debut would be the most pivotal moment of the season, but then I came to my senses). We’ve been eagerly awaiting his debut and it couldn’t have come at a better time as we’re one win away from getting back to .500. He’s a very experienced player in the USCL, and we’re happy to welcome him the Queens/Manhattan “Applesauce” Pioneers.

I’m a fan of all of the USCL blogs (whenever there’s downtime at work I often catch myself reading them), but I have no idea what to write so I’ll just talk about hanging out with some of my teammates this past weekend. Shaun Smith, our board 4 / Assistant Manager / hookup for our amazing playing site organized a birthday party for his girlfriend Christina at a Middle-Eastern themed bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It was a really fun night, and several Pioneers (as well as one New York Knight) joined in on the festivities. Camaraderie is an underrated quality to have in team chess, and I’m happy to say that we’re all friends on and off the board.

As for my thoughts on our upcoming match with Seattle, they’re a tough team. While we should consider ourselves fortunate to not have to face their double GM lineup, they’re no pushover and I predict a difficult match, with a slight advantage for us purely because Dunkin Donuts is better than Starbucks.

Till next time, Ben

Monday, September 28, 2009

Week 5 Preview: Queens Pioneers vs. Philadelphia Inventors

It has been quite some time since I have been able to post to this blog. Unfortunately, my laptop simply died leaving me without a computer for a couple of weeks (Dell Inspiron 1720 motherboards are dying by the thousands in the last couple of months- I am now fighting with Dell to have to have my computer fixed or replaced.) In any case, I am now back on-line and will continue to post on a weekly basis.

I would like to thank Jeff Kelleher for reporting on our last match in my absence. Since I do not play every week and have a million things to do, I have decided that whoever plays board 4 for our team should write the preview and report of the match they are involved in (most board fours are lucky to be on a team and be given the chance to play, so it is the least us lower rated players can do for the team.). Since I am back in action I will make sure the match is well covered, before and after the games. Since Jeff correctly pointed out that making a match prediction could be a bad thing for us, I will hold off and simply say that this match will be very close since there are tough match-ups of closely rated players on each board---we are essentially using the same type of line-up. I wonder how often extremely close match-ups in terms of ratings occurs. From now on I will no longer predict the result of our matches, but will instead predict the results for all other matches in the league- See the end of this post.

We have white on boards 2 + 4 and black on boards 1+3. We will be employing our week one line-up and try to make up for what happened in that match by coming out strong. Lets take a closer look at this week's games:

Board 1: GM Sergey Kudrin vs. GM Alex Stripunsky
GM Kudrin has had a rough start to the 2009 USCL Season losing all four of his games. Granted he is playing other strong players each week, but still I am sure most would agree this was not expected. His competition gets no easier with GM Alex Stripunsky who also is looking for his first win of the season. I am always confident with Stripunsky on board 1 for our team and this week is no different. This should be a fun game to watch.

Board 2: IM Eli Vovsha vs. IM Bryan Smith
Like myself, Eli will get his first try with the White pieces and I hope this change brings him good luck. Bryan and Eli are very equally matched players and I expect this game to be very close with a small edge to Eli because he has the white pieces.

Board 3: FM Tom Bartell vs FM Andrei Zaremba
All I will say here is that I will make sure Andrei has an XL Iced Coffee from DD.

Board 4: Shaun M. Smith (Me) vs. Kavinayan Sivakumar
I am 0-2 in the USCL in the last 2 seasons and have played both games with the black pieces and am happy to have a change in this game and hope I can be as important for our team as Jeff K. was for our team last week. Like week 1, I am playing another young expert-- I hope for better results this week.

Tune in on Wednesday as this should be an exciting match with clear play-off implications. I can only promise that this will be very close

Other Match Predictions:

Baltimore Kingfishers vs Boston Blitz (Boston wins 2.5-1.5)

Miami Sharks vs Carolina Cobras (Miami wins 3-1)

Philadelphia Inventors vs Queens Pioneers (No Comment)

New Jersey Knockouts vs Chicago Blaze (New Jersey wins 2.5-1.5)

New York Knights vs SF Mechanics (Draw)

Arizona Scorpions vs Dallas Destiny (Arizona wins 2.5-1.5)

Seattle Sluggers vs Tennessee Tempo (Draw)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Carolina vs. Queens: Climate Change

"You want me. You know you want me." Do I grab it? It looks so appetizing at the moment. I could get away with taking it, couldn't I? After all, what's the worst that could happen if I do? But something inside me made me feel that there would be bad consequences if I did. Better to just lay off, and avoid that post-traumatic moment when I think, "Why didn't I trust my instincts?"

I was staring into the heart of the refrigerator at the Chess-In-The-Schools offices, looking for a little cream to put in my coffee. All of a sudden, there it was: a hot-pocket. I had no idea how hungry I was until that moment. With the match set to begin in less than 30 minutes it would certainly do no harm to eat something and avoid feeling famished. As I began to reach for it I instantly had a flashback. Someone else on the team had been in the same situation last week, and things had gone horribly wrong...

No. I must be strong. I walked over to DD next door and bought a bagel. I came back, sat down and got ready to play Craig Jones, the 4th board of the Carolina Cobras. The good thing about this match (for me) was that nobody was really expecting me to win. This is not to say that my teammates didn't believe in me (they did); just that we were so strong on the top three boards I felt we could win even if I lost.

After a few technical issues, the match started, and very quickly I liked the positions we had on boards two and three (Dmitry Schneider and Yuri Lapshun, respectively). Eli Vovsha got into one of his usual masochistic positions. I don't understand Eli's style of play, but he seems to prefer it, so I try to have faith that he knows what he's doing.

In my game, I made a lot of second- and third-best moves in the opening, and after 12...a6! Mr. Jones began an excellent plan to create a queenside initiative. My attempt to counter this in the center was futile. After the thematic knight centralization, 20...Ne5, black had a clear advantage. At this point I thought our team had good chances to win the match without me, so instead of suffering a long and agonizing defeat I decided to sac a pawn go down swinging. My plan was 21.Nxe5 Bxg5 22.f4 Rxe5! 23.fxg5 Qxg5 24.Qf2, with the idea of creating pressure down the f-file. I would be worse, but not completely lost. Who knows? Maybe someday I get into one of those notorious rook endings where black is up a pawn but can't figure out how to win.

But none of this never happened. For whatever reason, Craig hallucinated and played 22...Bh6? which threw away black's advantage and allowed my knight to reach a dream square. Then it was my turn to mess up when instead of playing the safe 26.Kh2 I erred with 26.Kh1? which left my queen overloaded and black could have played 26...Bxb2. But I was allowed to equalize yet again when Craig tried to get fancy and played an unnecessary exchange sacrifice.

After 29...Bc3 30.Qf2 Bd4 31.Qe1 I took a walk around he room. Eli had equalized, and both Dmitry and Yuri had achieved winning positions. Wonderful! In my mind I was thinking, "Okay. He'll just keep attacking my queen, I'll repeat moves, and take the draw." Craig apparently realized the trouble his team was in, so he (understandably) avoided the draw and played 31...Qd8?! Those queenside pawns were looking a bit menacing, and as I began to think what to do about them, I heard Dmitry cry out in agony, "Oh my God!" He had blundered, going from completely winning to totally busted in the blink of an eye. He resigned in disgust, which changed the climate of the match. I couldn't afford to lose anymore! For the first time I felt pressure. What do I do now? I was in severe time trouble, and the endgame hadn't even started yet.

I lunged out and attacked with 36.f5! if only because I wanted to put pressure on Mr. Jones and make him use more time on his clock. After 38...Qb6, my teammates were in the adjacent room watching. Dmitry and Shaun spotted the exquisite 39.Rxf7!! which wins on the spot. Honestly, this move never occurred to me. As soon as I had my plan I proceeded without looking back. The position was double-edged, and with both of us having less that two minutes on our clocks, just one mistake by either player would cost the game. I was leaning forward in my chair, being extra-cautious not to have any mouse-slips. Craig wasn't playing it safe; he wanted his team to win, so he went for broke. His pushed his passers forward, but my passed c-pawn beat him to the punch. It became unstoppable, and Mr. Jones soon resigned.

When the bell rang, I leaned back in relief. I had had a long day of work, which took away some of the exhilaration. What made me the happiest were the smiles on my teammates' faces. When I saw those grins I thought, "This is why I wanted to be on the team." :)

Our first victory! What it lacked in style it more than made up for in excitement. Being an alternate, I may not have the chance to play again this year, but that's okay. One's first victory in the U.S. Chess League is like one's first girlfriend: it may not be the best, but you'll remember it for a long time.

By the way, it may just be a coincidence, but our first victory came after the first time we didn't make any match predictions. Until next time...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Match Preview: Queens vs. New York

This Monday the Pioneers will be matched up against the "other" New York team --- The Knights. Like the Pioneers, even with super strong line-ups the Knights find themselves sitting at 0.5/2. I am sure both teams feel they should have a better record, and after tomorrow's match one of our teams surely will.

When looking at the schedule in the beginning of the season I asked Dimitry, our team manager, if we could play our week three match over the board since we play only 3 train stops away. As I assumed, the answer was no, since the point of the USCL is to give viewers and fans from all over the country the chance to tune in to the action on the ICC. However, if either of us have internet problems we always have live over the board play as an option.

This Monday the Pioneers will send out a different line-up for the third week in a row. Below is a closer look at the individual board match-ups.

Board 1: GM Alex Stripunsky vs. GM Giorgi Kacheishvilli
Board 1 continues to match strong GMs, and this week is no exception. In spite of the way GM Stripunsky's last game ended, he played extremely well and I expect him to continue to in Monday's match. Because he has the White pieces the advantage goes to GM Alex Stripunsky.

Board 2: GM Pascal Charbonneau vs. IM Dimitry Schneider
As you may have read on the USCL page the other day, board 2 pits two players who share an apartment and have been friends for quite some time. This match should be quite interesting since they will depart from home together and see each other when they return. Each knows more about the other than most USCL players knows about their respective opponents. In their last USCL game, Dmitry won with the white pieces and tomorrow I expect a tough game from both sides. Board 2 should be at least a draw for Dmitry.

Board 3: FM Andrei Zaremba vs. NM Matt Herman
Andrei is the only player on our team to play in all of our matches this year. For the third week in a row he will have the white pieces--- a nice way to start the year. Like last week, Andrei is matched with a lower rated opponent and should have a clear advantage. However, Matt has played well since last season and is definately more experienced than Andrei's last opponent. Even so, Advantage Zaremba.

Board 4: NM Yaacov Norowitz vs. WFM Elizabeth Vicary
Elizabeth will play on board 4 for the second week in a row. Last week she played a nice game even though the result was not what she expected. I expect Elizabeth to be well prepared for this game to make up for the large rating difference. There is no doubt that Norowitz is the clear favorite in this game. However, I expect this game to be a toss up and it may decide the match if our top boards do not play as I predicted.

Match Prediction: Queens wins 2.5-1.5

Check out the games live on the ICC on Monday at 7:15pm