After a pair of 2.5-1.5 semifinals match wins on Saturday, the Miami Sharks and New York Knights will contest for the 2013 United States Chess League (USCL) title. New York took out New England, while Miami bested San Francisco.
The rematch of the 2009 USCL Finals will take place Saturday afternoon, November 23, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern (U.S.) time. New York will be going for their third title in franchise history, which would also be their third title in the last three odd-numbered years. Miami has never won a USCL championship and will be seeking to reverse their 0-3 record in title matches (they lost in three finals - 2005, 2009 and 2010).
Yesterday, after some scheduling difficulties, the Western Conference opened with the Sharks versus the Mechanics. Most of the Miami players were committed to playing in a local Thanksgiving-themed chess event, but broke to play their match against their trans-continental foes. This was a rematch of their week 6 tie, in which all four games were won by Black. Similarly, today players of the white pieces struggled to find an advantage.
On board one, GM Julio Becerra faced GM Vinay Bhat. Both entered after fantastic regular seasons. Becerra is the all-time winningest USCL player, amassing almost 50 percent more points than any other player over his nine years of play. After a typical Winawer struggle, Becerra bailed out early into a perpetual and the game ended in détente after only 20 moves.
GM Julio Becerra
Board three was a longer version of board one. Although FM Eric Rodriguez and FM Yian Liou reached an endgame, Rodriguez forced a repetition in a queen-and-pawn endgame. His Scotch did not provide anything exciting, and they played double the number of moves of board one before agreeing to peace.
One of the Mechanic's star players this season, the untitled Siddharth Banik, had achieved enlightenment every time he played this year. Banik was 5-0 going into the semifinals, including a win in last week's opening round of the playoffs.
Miami had plenty of options for who to play on board four, and they rolled with NM Carlos Gaston Andretta to try to break this streak. In another French Defense, an imbalance occurred when the kings chose different sides of the board. Just when it looked like a breakthrough might have materialized, Banik and Andretta also agreed to a draw.
There are no tiebreaks in the semfinals or finals, so both teams might have been aiming to take their chances in the blitz-chess tiebreak. It certainly seemed possible that scenario would unfold, as the pieces began to dwindle on board two.
GM Daniel Naroditsky forced GM Renier Gonzalez to push four pawns one square in the opening five moves, but Black's defense amounted to Mount Rainier as the young GM's passed d-pawn couldn't budge forward. It was eventually corralled, and more importantly, Gonzalez's rook was more speedy. After invading and winning the f-pawn, Black's connected passers ended the struggle, giving the match to the Sharks.
GM Renier Gonzalez (photo courtesy www.gonzalezrenier.com)
In the later match, three of the four games saw a winner emerge. New York used a double-GM lineup for only the second time this season (not counting GM-elect Irina Krush). "I'm excited about this lineup - I think it's our strongest," Team Manager Elizabeth Spiegel said prior to the match.
GM Sam Shankland got the Nor'easters on the board with a superlative exchange sacrifice on his 33rd move. All of GM Tamaz Gelashvili's pawns crumbled, and giving the exchange back did help as Black's king was too exposed. In the final position, Black's pieces hinder his own king as either 42...Rf6 or 42...Qf6 allows "Cozio's" mate after 43. Qh1+ Kg6 44. Qh7#. Instead, 42...Kh5 allows the more prosaic 43. Rh7+ Kg4 44. Qg2#.
Just as quickly, the Knights struck back as GM Pascal Charbonneau's slow buildup belied his true intentions against GM Steven Winer. The Sicilian eventually resembled a trademark Closed Ruy Lopez (a viewer at move 20 would almost certainly guess the latter). Black's listless pieces shuffled around while Charbonneau gained space on the kingside. The breakthrough was obvious and direct, but the grandmaster showed some panache with 35. Qxh5+! - surely the move of the day.
GM Pascal Charbonneau
The series of open diagonals, en passant discovered checks and windmills completely devasted Black. Enjoy Charbonneau's show:
On board four, NM Nicolas Checa (who Spiegel dubbed "probably our team's most valuable player") had a pawn similar to Naroditsky. Passed but blocked, he had to suppport it much of the game. But unlike in the other match, he was able to advance it, causing NM Lawyer Times to liquidate into an unwinnable position. Checa was slightly better but they drew the queen-and-pawn endgame, setting up board three to be the decisive encounter.
A pair of youngsters would decide who went through. NM Mika Brattain and IM Akshat Chandra, both young teenagers, played out 64 moves, the longest game of the day. In a rare rook and two knight ending, the horses were jumping everywhere. Chandra eventually tamed one steed, and the prospect of various obscure ending like rook and two knight versus rook (or even two knights versus pawn) loomed. But Brattain couldn't achieve either, and instead found his rook trapped after 60...f5+! Chandra took the full point, and carried his Knights to the finals.
IM Akshat Chandra