Thursday, October 30, 2008

How the West was Won

That's right, the Miami Sharks are Western Conference Champions! This gives us the significant advantage of draw odds through to the championship game. To borrow a hackneyed sportswriter's term, there are also some "intangible" benefits: Momentum, confidence, etc.

The title of this post is a tad misleading, since I'm barely going to talk about the games right now. In a couple days I'll have a thorough look at my game; for now suffice to say that I was very lucky. Despite getting a perfectly solid position out of the opening, I was outplayed by my opponent once we were both on our own. By the time I played ...g6 (basically permanently exposing my king; I'm not sure if I had something better) it dawned on me that things had gone rather pearshaped. Once I fortuitiously escaped into a late-middlegame where white had a passed isolated d-pawn (Jonathan Rowson refers to this pawn as "delroy" in his interesting book on the Grunfeld) I was able to get good play by keeping my queen active and basically harassing my opponent in mutual time pressure. After my opponent dropped a piece, I offered a draw that was immediately accepted to clinch the match and Western Conference for the Sharks.

Of course, the real reason we won this match was the only decisive game, FM Perea's very smooth win over San Francisco's IM Zilberstein. Perea plays positional openings and has a very harmonious style. SM Esserman once observed that this sense of harmony seems characteristic of strong Cuban players, and it's difficult to disagree with him. Although he plays completely different openings, GM Becerra is another player who seems to frequently win games very easily.

With draw odds and a couple strong lineups available, bring on Seattle!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Week 10 Predictions


Welcome to prediction time for the final week of the season. The final playoff spot is up for grabs in both conferences, so tomorrow night is going to be very exciting. Without further ado, my picks:

Carolina vs. Philadelphia
Carolina looks a bit more solid overall; I give then a 2.5-1.5 win.

Boston vs. Queens
A powerhouse Boston lineup should see them through; I was going to say 3-1, but I should give the overachieving Pioneers more respect than that. Boston wins, 2.5-1.5.

New York vs. New Jersey
Just like last years, the Knights have risen from the crypt. I predict their slightly superior lineup to take them into the playoffs, 2.5-1.5.

Tennessee vs. Baltimore
Bit of a funny match to use Ehlvest for, but whatever! Baltimore wins, 2.5-1.5.

Miami vs. San Francisco
Like last week, I predict a win for the good guys.

Dallas vs. Chicago
The Blaze are unlucky to have to field such a weakened lineup for such a clutch match. Dallas wins, 3-1.

Arizona vs. Seattle
Given the special significance attached ot this game, I have absolutely no idea what will happen and will not make a prediction!

Prilleltensky vs. Lian, Annotated

Prilleltensky - Lian, Sharks vs. Knockouts, USCL

1. e4 c5

[1...c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nf3 Be7 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Bd3 0-0 9. 0-0 Nc6]

2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Bc4 Nb6 7. Bb3 d5 8. exd6 e6 9. cxd4 Bxd6

It's interesting to compare this position to the standard Panov attack position that arises on move 9 in my note to Black's first move. There the two sides have what I consider standard setups for IQP positions: Black will usually drop his Knight back to f6 and play to restraining d4 - d5, stay solid, and reach an ending where the isolani is a weakness while White is ready to play Re1/a3/Bc2/Qd3, with pressure on the Black Kingside. Looking at how strong players have handled the position in my game shows that the same plan features prominently there as well. Of course, there are also differences: In my game, Black has developed a bit faster compared to White, but will probably have to spend some time rerouting his Knights. The Knight on b6 in particular wishes it was on f6, where it could help defend the Kingside. The dark squared Bishop would also look more normally placed on e7. For these reasons, this line is supposed to be a good IQP position for White, but I still think the edge is only small though.

10. Nc3

[10. 0-0 0-0 (10... Nd5 11. Nc3 Nxc3 12. bxc3 0-0 13. Qd3 e5 14. Ng5 g6 15. Qf3 Qe7 16. Re1 Kg7 17. Ne4 Bc7 18. Nf6! Bd8 19. Bg5 +/-; 10... Ne7 11. Nc3 Bd7 12. Ng5 h6 13. Nge4 Bc7 14. Qg4 Nf5 15. Rd1 0-0 16. Nc5 Bc8 17. g3 Nd5 18. Nxd5 exd5 19. Qf3 left White with a nagging pull in Short-Krasenkow.) 11. Nc3 Be7 12. Re1 (12. a3 Bf6 13.Be3 Na5 this doesn't look right. 14. Bc2 Nd5 15. Nxd5 (15. Qd3 would be my choice, probably because I just love that battery.) 15... Qxd5 16. Re1 Nc6 17. Qd3 g6 18. Bb3) 12... Nb4 13. a3 N4d5 14. Qd3 Bd7 (14... Nxc3?! 15. bxc3 is very nice for White; the exchange on c3 has left Black's Kingside looking rather bare.) 15. Bc2 g6 16. Bh6 Re8 17. Ne5 Bf8 18. Qh3 +/=]

10... 0-0 11. 0-0 Nb4 12. Ne4

[12. Re1 is more natural, and probably somewhat better. 12... N4d5 (12... Bd7 13. Ne5 Bc6 14. Qg4 +/= is a healthy reminder (for me!) that there are times when the best treatment does not involve the b1-h7 battery.) 13. Ne4 Bb4 was part of the motivation for a quick a3, but let's see what Fritz says: 14. Bg5 Qe8 15. Bd2 +/= I didn't even consider Bd2, almost certainly due to the bias against trading minor pieces with the IQP. 15... Bxd2 16. Qxd2 Bd7 17. Ne5 should be a little something for White, not that I was thinking about it during the game!]

12... Be7 13. a3 N4d5 14. Qd3 Bd7 15. Bc2 g6

Since this isn't forced, it looks like a premature concession. That said, the desire to block the diagonal is very human! I imagine Black figured he would have to play this move anyways. That's true, but he should make me work a tiny bit to force it. Here I get a nice setup without having to move my centralized knight. [15... Qc7]

16. Bh6 Re8 17. Rfe1

[17. h4 a6! is no problem for Black.]

17... Rc8 18. Bb3

It's normal to reroute back to the a2-g8 diagonal once Black has closed the road to h7 (weakening his dark squares in the process) with ...g6.

18... Bc6

[18... Ba4 was what I expected; it's much harder for White to attack the King without his light-squared Bishop. 19. Ba2 Bc2 20. Qe2 Bxe4 21. Qxe4 was my intention, preserving the Bishop, but Black is nonetheless very solid after trading White's centralized Knight.]

19. Ne5 Nd7

The product of a twenty minute think, leaving my opponent with just under half an hour for the rest of the game. I imagine the idea was either to trade on e5 or eventually go to f6. Oddly, the Knight doesn't move again.

20. Rac1

A perfectly good move, but thirteen minutes for it? Hopeless time management!


Thirteen minutes on this very committal move. Black will be left with a weakened structure, although White needs to play accurately to demonstrate this.

[20... Nb4 I saw this right after playing Rac1; quite frankly, I'm just lucky it doesn't work. 21. Qg3 Bxe4 22. Rxc8 Qxc8 23. Rxe4 +/-]

21. Nxc6

Best, but I spent close to half my remaining time on this capture.

21... bxc6 22. Nd2! +/-

I was quite happy with this move; the stereotyped retreat to c3 would leave the Knight without many options. Up to this point I have played quite well, but now I begin to drift.

22... Bf6 23. Nc4?!

There's something inharmonious about this; on c4 the Knight gets in the way of two of my own pieces. Nf3 was much more natural and better.

23... Qc7 24. Bd2

Perfectly good, but the fact that there isn't really anything better than this speaks to the problems of 23. Nc4.

24... c5!

Somehow I hadn't even considered this, which completely changes the game. Play now shifts in character from maneuvering to concrete. In addition to this, both players have just entered time pressure. I had just abandoned my board for the computer screen. A similar thing happened in my USCL debut, vs Dallas's Karina Vazirova. Like that game, I quickly make a tactical oversight, but fortunately, as in that game, I was not punished for it. In light of how White's positive trend begins reversing after my next move, this is a critical position.

25. Ba5

After this inaccuracy, Black quickly equalizes. Over to the silicon chip: [25. Ne5! Looks best. 25... Bxe5 (25... Nxe5 26. dxe5 Bxe5 27. Bxd5 exd5 28. Qxd5+ Kf8 29. Bh6+ Bg7 30. Bxg7+ Kxg7 31. b3 +/=) 26. dxe5 Nxe5 27. Qg3 f4 28. Bxf4 Nxf4 29. Qxf4 Nd3 30. Bxe6+ Kg7 31. Qd2 Nxe1 32. Bxc8 Nxg2 33. Qd4+ with an advantage for White. Right, whatever! I think the real lesson is to have more time on the clock when critical positions arise. Given the low tactical content of the game until 24... c5!, it doesn't really make sense for some 90% of my time to be spent by move 25.]

25... Qb8 26. Ba4 Re7 27. Bxd7 Rxd7 28. dxc5 Rxc5 = 29. Rxe6

Since we were already 2 - 0 up, I made a pointless and irritating draw offer here, which my opponent obviously declined. [29. b4 Rc6; 29. b3 Rb5 are both rather equal.]

29... Qb5!

I completely missed this. With my equanimity wrecked, I saw very little of anything before playing my next move.

30. b3?!

[30. Qf1 Bxb2 31. Nxb2 Qxf1+ 32. Rxf1 Rxa5 is solidly better for Black!; 30. Qc2! is the way to hold the balance: 30...Nc7! 31. Rxf6 (31. Ree1 Rd4 32. b3 Rcxc4 33. bxc4 Qxa5) 31... Qxc4 32. Qxc4+ Rxc4 33. Bc3 (33. Re1? Kg7! -/+) 33... Nd5 34. Ra6 Nxc3 35. bxc3 Rxc3 36. Re1 Kf7 = and barring something out of the ordinary, a draw will result. This would have been a fair conclusion to the game.]

30... Qxa5 31. b4 Qd8?

An unfortunate blunder; instead of having an edge, Black is now in big trouble. In his defense, he was in extreme time trouble. [31... Rxc4 32. Qxc4 Qd8 33. Rce1 Kg7 =/+]

32. bxc5 +/- Nf4 33. Qe3 Nxe6 34. Qxe6+ Kg7 35. Nd6

A satisfying move to play; I was very confident now.

35... Re7 36. Qd5 Qa5 37. g3 Qxa3 38. Rb1

Black has regained his pawn, but the combination of his exposed King, White's passer, and the Q + N duo leave him lost.

38... Qc3 39. Rb7 +- Rxb7?!

Losing immediately.

40. Qxb7+ Kh6 41. Nf7+ Kh5 42. Kg2!

Black cannot allow the trade of Queens, since the endgame is lost for him. However, preventing it is refuted quite convincingly! To be honest, I would be lying if I said I saw my next move at this point, but this "combination" is still aesthetically pleasing. [42. Qd5! Bd4 43. Kg2! is a nice computer variation; Black can't really move. The plan chosen in the game is also fine.]

42... Bd4

[42... Qd3 43. Qf3+ Qxf3+ 44. Kxf3 Bd4 45. c6 Bb6 46. Nd6 a5 47. Nb5 a4 48. Kf4 Ba5 49. f3 Kh6 50. Ke5 Kg7 51. Kd6 +-]

43. Qe7!

Checkmate is threatened on three different squares. An intense fight! I can safely say that winning in the USCL is far more satisfying than winning a regular tournament game.

43... Qd2 44. Qh4#

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sharks vs. Knockouts Recap


The Sharks got a big win on Wednesday, taking down the New Jersey Knockouts 3-1 to secure our place in the playoffs. A win over San Francisco would even see us win the division and the coveted draw odds through to the championship game. Of course, it's probably best to take this thing one match at a time. GM Becerra and NM Eric Rodriguez have both talked about how the most important thing is just getting to the playoffs, and we're very pleased to have locked up our spot with a week to spare.

As for the match itself, it was arguably closer than the 3-1 scoreline suggested. The top board was probably the week's headline matchup, with two of the strongest US Grandmasters facing off. IM Greg Shahade observed in his USCL video that GM Benjamin had a totally winning position, only going astray in terrible time pressure. But I would disagree with his assertion that Becerra was simply lucky to grab the full point. I think Chigorin once said something like "Just because your opponent is too stupid to find mate in 2, it does not mean you are lucky." Obviously I'm not saying Benjamin is stupid, but rather trying to make a point. If Becerra was lucky his opponent blundered, he was unlucky that his opponent had played well for the rest of the game. Besides, Benjamin was in terrible time pressure as a result of Becerra's good preparation and typically fast play. Was this also "lucky"?

Board 2 definitely looked like our most accurate game of the match. FM Bruci Lopez aggressively interpreted the positional line he played against the Sveshnikov, playing a quick h4 (without Nce3; the games I've seen with h2-h4 have it coming after that knight move) and very quickly winning a piece when IM Ippolito blundered with the overambitious 22...e4?. I probably shouldn't speculate about the mentality of a strong IM playing an opening I know nothing about, but maybe he thought Bruci's direct idea demanded a refutation. I think Ippolito is typically a Petroffs player, and maybe a lack of familiarity with the opening contributed to his uncharacteristic blunder.

Board 3 was a battle of two underrated players, with Molner coming out on top in his pet Italian Game. Just from seeing him play a little, I get the impression he understands his systems extremely well. I'll unusually say too little rather than too much about this game, since I've never seen Perea's treatment of the opening and the game has already been discussed at GOTW voting. Interestingly, games 1-3 of the match featured players among the strongest or stronger players in the league for their respective boards.

Board 4 was a highly satisfying game for me, getting my first USCL win (my first two games were draws) at a relatively important moment. (We were 2-0 up, with Perea losing; a loss for me would have let New Jersey draw the match). I've already extensively annotated the game on this blog (no diagrams yet, but they're coming!) but I'll say a little bit more. The game was a nontheoretical 2. c3 Sicilian, producing an IQP position with a small edge for white. Although I managed to keep my plus for quite awhile, my opponent began to play very good moves as we got short on time, while I began to drift somewhat. "Luckily", my opponent blundered in extreme time pressure, after which my dominating Q+N duo were too much to handle.

Until next time, take care! And do let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Hey guys! This is my first blog, so I'll briefly introduce myself. I'm Matan Prilleltensky, sometime Miami Sharks bd 4. I grew up in Canada, Australia, and Nashville, and currently find myself in Miami, where I'm a senior at "The U". Awful writing; you're never supposed to "find yourself" anywhere. Whatever. After a bit of pestering IM Marcel Martinez (our captain/fearless leader), he decided to put me on the roster for this season.

In my first game against Dallas' Karina Vazirova, I was shocked to discover how much pressure playing in the US Chess League entails. The combination of the team element and the live ICC broadcasting seems to raise the stakes in a way that even a last round game doesn't compare to. Noticing my jangly nerves, our bd 1 and MVP, GM Julio Becerra assured that I should play without pressure, relax, etc. I managed to play a semireasonable game and press for the win, but couldn't find an appropriate plan in the ending and allowed my opponent to hold without much difficulty. Unfortunately, the team went down to a narrow defeat.

My last showing for the Sharks (again vs. Dallas' Vazirova) was wholly more successful for the team. The quality of my individual play was also higher than in my previous outing; I was far more relaxed and comfortable with the format. A highly resourceful win by Becerra on board 1 set the tone for the match, giving rise to an interesting team chess situation when my opponent offered me a draw from her slightly worse position. Noticing that Bruci Lopez was clearly better on his board (at least as far as I could see), I accepted the draw in order to bring us closer to the necessary 2.5 points. Interestingly, I wasn't even considering the realistic ways to make progress when my opponent offered the draw. I think I was so caught up in the narrative of "playing solidly with black" that the standard plan of expanding on the kingside (and slightly weakening my king in the process) didn't even occur to me. Either way, a definite advantage of playing with such strong players is having absolute confidence in your teammates. I was particularly impressed with how FM Osmany Perea managed to keep an extremely messy position under control to reel in the full point against IM John Bartholomew.

I figured I'd do what some other bloggers have taken to, and predict the results for tomorrow night's matches.

New York vs Baltimore:
Almost too close to call, as both sides field strong lineups. I'll give New York the nod, 2.5-1.5; after all, ratings have to count for something!

Philadelphia vs. Boston:
This looks like a big mismatch; Boston 3-1.

New Jersey vs. Miami:
I'll do what Arizona's Robby Adamson does, and just quietly predict a win for the good guys.

Dallas vs. San Francisco:
Both teams field strong lineups; San Francisco have to be slight favorites, but I think Dallas will escape with a 2-2 tie. That said, this year's San Francisco team is brutally strong.

Seattle vs. Tennessee:
Too close to call; 2-2. Nice to see the Tempo with such a strong lineup.

Chicago vs. Arizona:
I expect the Scorpions' struggles to continue here, by a 2.5-1.5 margin.

Alright, let me know what you think! Take care.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Week 2 vs the New York Knights

The Miami Sharks win again by the same margin!! (3.5 - 0.5) vs the New York Knights. On Board One we got our main gun back, super MVP Alex Rodriguez, sorry I meant to say GM Julio Becerra who seemed to toy with GM Pascal Charbonneau in something known as the Kozul Variation in the Richter-Rauzer Sicilian. Julio told me after the game he played based on some ideas of GM Michael Adams in similar positions, and it was a positional masterpiece from what I saw.

On Board Two, one of our other new super additions to the team, FM Osmany Perea, another Cuban newcomer who hasn't had much time for chess in the US is trying to get back into form, and he seemed to start in a very nice way defeating WGM-IM Irina Krush with the Black pieces. He played very smoothly and after Irina bravely refused a repetition of moves, he went on to convert his pawn advantage with ease for the second point for the Sharks. I am particularly happy for Osmany since I've known him since we were both about ten years old back in our native country. He really loves chess and hopes to have the chance to play more often if work permits him to.

On Board Three, brand new FM Charles Galofre had a nice advantage in the opening with the White pieces vs SM Greg Braylovsky (a former rival of mine in US Junior Championships), but somehow Greg got the best out of it right at the end of the middlegame but failed to prove his edge as White managed to trade all of the pieces to basically clinch the match for the Sharks.

Eric Rodriguez on Board Four won once again vs Matthew Herman by playing one of the first Sicilian Defenses of his career. Matthew played f4 which did not seem very good as he got into trouble quickly, and Eric converted without too much trouble. I thought this opening might be a bad choice for Eric while watching since I know Matthew is quite familiar with the Sicilian Najdorf with the Black pieces, but somehow things worked out for us, and I am feeling great about our results so far. I think this year may well bring the Sharks a title. Next week most of us will be playing in the Miami Open starting on Wednesday which is why we have to play our match on Monday vs the strong San Francisco Team. See you then!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Miami vs Seattle in Week One

The Sharks faced the Seattle Sluggers in the first match of season four. We didn't field a lineup with our biggest guns due to various time issues which did not allow us to plan as well as we would have liked, but nevertheless, we had a pretty good lineup, and I think this year we have a better tuned team than any of our previous seasons. One of our newest and most important additions to the team is FM Bruci Lopez who recently graduated from UMBC and is now once again a part of the "Miami Cuban Mafia".

In the match itself, on the top board, Bruci battled against GM Serper. He knew he would probably be facing Gregory's ever dynamic Paulsen Sicilian, but still unfortunately Bruci did not have too much time to prepare for the game due to work issues. While watching the game I felt he had gotten the worst out of the opening as swapping on e5 fortified Black's position in the center and enabled him to place a strong Knight on d4. But in exchange for this Bruci got a pawn majority on the Queenside which he was later able to utilize to good effect. I think Serper played a little bit too aggressively on the Kingside also which caused him some serious problems. A nice victory for the Sharks on Board One against a very strong opponent.

On Board Two, I was looking for revenge from my last year's loss to IM Tangborn. I felt in that game I had had a nice position with a pretty good edge but played it badly and lost at the end. This time I was much more accurate and did not give White any unneeded chances. In the opening I think I misplaced the dark squared Bishop, putting it on d6 instead of e7, but I played largely on auto-pilot, not thinking too much about that detail and later on picked up a nice initiative and did not let go of it until White resigned.

On Board Three, Blas Lugo faced a Pirc Defense which is supposed to be FM Readey's best weapon. Blas got a nice attacking position similar to that of the English Attack and Sicilian Dragon set ups but somehow later on it became a slug fest of mistakes in the complicated struggle for which a draw was probably the fairest result.

On Board Four, the most improved player of the Miami Sharks, Eric Rodriguez won fairly easily on the Black side of a Slav Defense. A nice victory over Seattle by a 3.5 - 0.5 score and a nice start to the season. Next week we face the New York Knights. Watch out for the Sharks this year!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Season IV of the US Chess League begins

With two expansion teams, the Chicago Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions joining, the US Chess League is adding many more titled players and young talents to the fray. I would like to thank League Commissioner Greg Shahade for his efforts in keeping this great initiative running. In future weeks, I will begin to comment on Miami's (hopefully successful!) results.