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.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Nice USCL match wrapup!
I agree with your assessment that Becerra wasn't simply "lucky" to have beaten Joel. There are certain cases where I will most certainly claim that "luck" was involved in the outcome of a game (for example finding a critical move at the end of a line without seeing it at the beginning of the line), but I don't consider one's opponent not seeing a winning move in the midst of serious time trouble to be "lucky" in the strictest sense.
I'm constantly amazed by Becerra's opening prep. Nxc5 hadn't been played since 1955(!). The usual line apparently goes 10...Bb7 11. Qxe5+ Qe7

I feel bad about the one-sided result on board 2. Like Matan says, I think Dean was looking for a refutation of Qe2 which is new to that particular position but not a totally new idea. I think, with the advantage of hindsight, that Dean should play the typical and fairly obvious 22...Bf4! I'm guessing that in the game continuation Dean thought he would have at least a draw after 25...Qc1+. Optically it's still very hard for me to believe that white gets out of the checks, but after 26.Ke2 Qb2+ Kd1 there's unfortunately nothing.