Friday, October 24, 2008

Blaze Stung By Scorpions Again

Photos: (c) Betsy Dynako

As Charles Dickens once said, there are the best of times, and then there’s last Wednesday night. Yuck. That evening, the Chicago Blaze lost to our fellow expansion team the Arizona Scorpions for the second time this year, leaving us with only the slimmest chance to make the U.S. Chess League playoffs. The score was 3-1.

And after last week’s loss to the Queens Pioneers, the Blaze are now in the first losing streak in our history; until now we haven’t lost two matches in a row.

Of course, Wednesday wasn’t a total waste. IM Emory Tate won an exciting game against FM Danny Rensch. More on that later, maybe, if we can get someone who knows about chess to annotate the game.

One of the big highlights of the evening was a visit from Ilan Meerovich’s teammates at Niles North High School. Coach Harry Kyriazes pushed the ceremonial first pawn to start the match.

Another bright spot was having Betsy Dynako serve as tournament director, which meant we also got the great pictures above. Oh, yeah, and we got to hang around with IM Ben Finegold, who was on hand for one of Sevan Muradian’s FIDE tournaments, which was contemporaneous with the Blaze match. (For you Joe & Sarah Sixpacks who shun elitist erudition, that means it was happening at the same time.) Anyway, besides being an insanely great chess player, Ben is one of the funniest and most entertaining people you’re likely to meet—if you meet him, that is, which I recommend.

Our playoff hopes ride on the final match against the reigning champion Dallas Destiny next week, and on the outcome of the Arizona vs. Seattle contest. We must win.

Elsewhere, the Scorpions’ blog reviews the games in the match, and FM Joel Johnson annotates his game with Ilan at Elizabeth’s blog.

Finally, if you haven’t gotten the word yet, the Illinois Chess Association’s Web site has moved to Glenn explains.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blaze Bow to Queens Machine

The Chicago Blaze became the latest victims of the Queens Pioneers’ rolling juggernaut last night, falling to the formidable Forest Hills squad in their USCL match by a score of 3-1.

It was the worst defeat yet for Chicago and the first match in which no member of the Blaze won a game. The going was roughest on the top two boards, where FM Florin Felecan lost to strong GM Alex Stripunsky and IM Emory Tate became the latest notch in the belt of IM Alex Lenderman (pictured at left), the 19-year-old pheenom who has won all of seven of his games this season. Stripunsky and Lenderman are two of the reasons the Pioneers (6.5-1.5) are tied for the best record in the league. (See Elizabeth Vicary's interview with IM Lenderman here.)

For the Blaze, the only bright spots were boards three and four, where IM-elect Mehmed Pasalic and IM Angelo Young, both undefeated this year, drew their opponents.

You can’t win ‘em all, of course, and the defeat followed a few weeks of mostly solid performances for the new Blaze team, which had raised its record to 4-3 after last week. That record now falls back to an even .500, and we hang on dearly to our playoff hopes. The last two matches of the regular season, against Arizona and Dallas, will be decisive.

The Pioneers are an impressive team and deserve their success. To get where they are they have had to overcome obstacles, such as an undistinguished record last year, their first, and what has to be the most ill-conceived name and logo in the league. (Trust me, I was born and raised in New York City’s largest borough. Nothing about Queens even remotely suggests cowboys or pioneers or sunsets. None of it resonates. But when you’re winning, who cares?)

On the bright side, Blaze Manager Glenn Panner gave the team’s non-player personnel—all of whom very much need chess improvement—an enjoyable lesson in the Scotch Game using Charousek vs Von Popiel (Budapest, 1896) and Bruce Pandolfini’s Chess Life column on the game from August 2006 (USCF membership required).

Many thanks to Maret Thorpe for serving as tournament director last night for the second time this year. Here are the games:

  1. FM Florin Felecan (CHC) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 0-1

2. IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0

3. IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) vs NM Parker Zhao (QNS) 1/2-1/2

4. NM Michael Thaler (QNS) vs IM Angelo Young (CHC) 1/2-1/2

Friday, October 10, 2008

Game of the Week Returns

After falling down on the job for the past few rounds, we bring back the Blaze Game of the Week. This time it's Ilan Meerovich's victory over National Master Jerry Wheeler in a King's Indian game from this week's match between the Blaze and the Tennessee Tempo. The Blaze won the match 2.5-1.5, and Ilan's win was crucial to the effort.

Thanks to Ilan for annotating the game himself. The final position appears below. Go here to see the whole game.

Position after 36. Rb7. Black resigns.

photo: (c) Betsy Dynako

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blaze Slip Past Tennessee

We beat the Tempo, just not as resoundingly as last time

Ilan Meerovich (above) made a triumphant return to the Blaze lineup. IM Jan Van De Mortel (below) beat FM Todd Andrews for the second time this year.

It was a different kind of match from the last time the two teams met, but the result that mattered was the same, as the Chicago Blaze defeated the Tennessee Tempo last night for the second time this season.

The Tempo, which had definitely retooled since the 4-0 drubbing they took at the hands of the Blaze in Week 3, this time inflicted some damage in the match, which ended 2.5-1.5 in Chicago’s favor.

Meerovich Returns
The evening saw the triumphant return to the Blaze lineup of Niles North High School chess star Ilan Meerovich, who beat FM Jerry Wheeler on Board 4, giving Ilan a 2-0 record on the season.

The other Blaze victory came from IM Jan Van De Mortel, who beat the Tempo’s FM Todd Andrews, just as he had in the first match. This time, however, Tennessee got in some licks. IM Ron Burnett avenged his earlier loss to Chicago’s GM Nikola Mitkov by beating him this time on Board 1; and FM Peter Bereolos, who lost to IM Angelo Young in the team’s previous encounter, this time managed to eke out a draw against IM-elect Mehmed Pasalic.

Playoff Picture Improves
The victory gives the Blaze a 4-3 record in seven matches and lifts the team over the .500 mark for the first time in its young history. It certainly boosts our playoff chances with three weeks left in the regular season, though just how much it helps will become clearer after the rest of the leagues plays on Wednesday night. More on this later.

Many thanks to Tom Sprandel of the Evanston Chess Club, who served as tournament director for last night’s match. Here are the games, by board number:

1. IM Ron Burnett (TEN) vs GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) 1-0
IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) vs FM Todd Andrews (TEN) 1-0
FM Peter Bereolos (TEN) vs Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1/2-1/2
Ilan Meerovich (CHC) vs FM Jerry Wheeler (TEN) 1-0

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blaze Keep the Heat on Miami

Chicagoans Pull Out a Draw in Tough Match

IMs Emory Tate and Angelo Young put the shark bite on Miami last night to salvage a draw for the Blaze.
Some but not all of the Blazers on hand last night: Manager Glenn Panner, IM-elect Mehmed Pasalic, GM Nikola Mitkov, IM Emory Tate, IM Angelo Young.

On yet another night when the new Chicago Blaze could easily have gone down to defeat, the team hung tough to salvage their match yesterday evening with a 2-2 draw against the Miami Sharks, a team that was considered one of the league’s strongest as the season began.

Once again it was the middle of the lineup, IMs Emory Tate on Board 2 and IM Angelo Young on Board 3, that provided the victories. Both players are grinding it out in style these days. Emory has now won his last three games. Angelo is undefeated in USCL competition and is currently among the league’s top ten players in game MVP points.

Playing Black, Emory beat off an early but premature mating attack by IM Blas Lugo in their Caro-Kann, Two Knights game, going on methodically to squeeze his opponent’s kingside and enter the endgame up a knight to a pawn. White resigned after Move 60.

Angelo’s game against FM Charles Galofre went late into the night, generally looking drawish to most of the observers on the scene at the Holiday Inn Skokie. In an endgame that went on for about 60 moves, however, Angelo managed to capture his opponent’s last pawns while retaining one of his own. Charles resigned after Move 111, as Angelo was about to promote. (Warning: Game not for those with short attention spans.)

The draw keeps the Blaze at .500—three points in six meets—and maintains our playoff hopes without actually advancing them. Every week is different, interesting and fun. Next up: the Blaze play the Tennessee Tempo again on Monday.

Thanks to Chris Baumgartner for providing first-rate tournament direction last night. Here are the games by board number.

1. GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 0-1

IM Blas Lugo (MIA) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 0-1

IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs FM Charles Galofre (MIA) 1-0

NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) vs NM Jon Burgess (CHC) 1-0

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Blaze at Mid-Season

Staking Out the Middle Ground

IMs Emory Tate and Angelo Young have been crucial to the team's success.

It’s hard to believe, but after five matches in as many weeks, half of the USCL regular season is already over. So, as Ed Koch famously asked, how are we doing?

Pretty well, I’d say. Halfway through the season the Blaze are solidly in the middle of the league, quite an accomplishment for a first-year expansion team. Our won-lost record is at .500. In the latest “power ratings” by prominent blogger Bionic Lime, those being a composite measure based on team performance and the strength of the opponents it has faced, we are seventh in the league right now, smack in the middle. (League blogger-in-residence Arun Sharma ranks us eighth.) We started out in tenth place earlier in the year and rose briefly to 6th a few weeks ago.

We have lost two close matches, won one close one, romped to victory in another, and played one of the top teams in the league to a draw.

We’re in a four-way tie for third place in the Western Division, but because of our strong tiebreaks—game points and the average strength of our opponents—we’re technically in fourth place overall, second among the four teams with a 2.5/5 record. It’s my understanding that the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, and if I’m interpreting all of this correctly it means that if the season ended today, we’d qualify for postseason play. Just barely, of course, but we would make the cut.

Of course, the season doesn’t end today, so we’ll have to keep winning if we want to make the playoffs, and our remaining matches won’t be easy. We’ll face the best team in the league this year, the undefeated Queens Pioneers; the reigning champion Dallas Destiny; the very strong Miami Sharks; Arizona, a team that has beaten us already; and Tennessee, a team we beat so solidly on our first meeting that they will surely be focused on revenge. We’ll take it a week at a time.

As for expectations from the rest of the league, I think by and large we’ve surpassed them. The early tumult with our roster—in which two GMs we thought would be with us weren’t able to be—led some of the USCL wags to give up on the Blaze and assume we would flame out. We haven’t. On the contrary, we’ve done better in most of our matches than the forecasters predicted, and we now seem to have gained some respect. By the end of the year, I think we’ll have even more.

photo: (c) Betsy Dynako

Your Moment of Zen

Tournament directors collect players’ cell phones before USCL matches and hold them till the games are over. They're just phones, but this week’s Blaze TD, ace photographer Betsy Dynako, sees artistic possibilities in just about everything. Chess Life Online asks: Who belongs to the pink one?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Skokie Leaders Attend Blaze Match

Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, Blaze Manager Glenn Panner, North American Chess Association President Sevan Muradian, Brad Rosen, and Skokie Village Trustee Randall Roberts.

The Chicago Blaze got some high-level fan support during their Wednesday-night match against the Baltimore Kingfishers, when the mayor of Skokie, Ill., and a town trustee showed up to kick off the meet.

Mayor George Van Dusen was on hand at Skokie’s Holiday Inn, where the Blaze play their matches, to thank them for their presence in his town, a northern suburb of Chicago, and to make the ceremonial first move in the evening’s match. He was accompanied by his grandson Anthony, a third grader who plays chess, and Skokie Trustee Randy Roberts.

Skokie has lately become a major chess Mecca in the Chicago area. In addition to the Blaze games, Sevan Muradian’s North American Chess Association has held a series of FIDE-rated tournaments there, to which players come from all over the country to earn IM norms. One of those tournaments is in progress now, in fact, and was under way Wednesday night when the mayor was there.

Exclusive video footage:

Kudos to Brad Rosen ("Chessdad64") for interfacing with the mayor to arrange his visit.

More at Chess Life Online.

photo: (c) Betsy Dynako

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blaze Beat Baltimore in Nail Biter

Blaze Manager Glenn Panner watches nervously in the early going as IMs Mehmed Pasalic and Emory Tate play their Baltimore opponents. All turned out well, however, as the team gave Glenn an excellent birthday present by beating the Kingfishers. photo: (c) Betsy Dynako

For the second week in a row IM Emory Tate posted the only game victory for the Chicago Blaze, but this time, thanks to draws on the other three boards, it was enough to secure the margin of victory, as the team won its match last night against the Baltimore Kingfishers 2.5-1.5.

On a night when Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen and Trustee Randy Roberts attended the games to show the town’s support for the Blaze, which plays at Skokie’s Holiday Inn, the four masters in the night's lineup took advantage of the political encouragement to finish the night without a loss.

One of the most exciting moments of the evening came at the very end, when all the other games were finished and IM Mehmed Pasalic of the Blaze, down a piece, executed an exciting and skillful endgame against FM Ray Kaufman to secure a draw in the game and seal the match victory for the Blaze. There was a lot on the line. A loss for Mehmed would have meant a drawn match, depriving the Blaze of the victory that now puts them in a four-way tie for third place in the U.S. Chess League’s Western Division and keeps our playoff hopes alive.

Here are the games by board number:

1. FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1/2-1/2

IM Emory Tate (CHC) vs IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0

FM Ray Kaufman (BAL) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1/2-1/2

IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs NM Aaron Kahn (BAL) 1/2-1/2

More later. For now, here’s what Mehmed’s endgame looked like.

Position after 54. ... Rf7

55.Bf4 Kc5 56.Kf3 b4 57.Ke4 Kc4 58.Be5 Re7 59.Rc1+ Kb3 60.Rc8 Ka2 61.Ra8+ Kb3 62.Kd5 Kc2 63.Ra2+ Kd3 64.Rb2 Rxe5+ 65.Kxe5 Kc3 66.Rh2 b3 67.Rh3+ Kc2 68.Kd4 b2 69.Rh2+ Kb3 70.Rxb2+ Kxb2 Game drawn because neither player has mating material 1/2-1/2

Once again, thanks to Betsy Dynako for serving as tournament director for the match.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

English Novel

Why not 3. ... f5?

IM Emory Tate has annotated the opening of the game in which he beat FM Michael Lee of the Seattle Sluggers last week. I guess 3. ... f5 is something of a novelty in this position, though I gather it has been played before in master competition. In any case, it worked for Emory.

Go here to see the game, and feel free to add your own comments, kibitzing, and additional annotation.

Position after 3. ... f5!?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Where We Stand

With four weeks and 40 percent of the USCL season behind us, the Chicago Blaze are in second to last place in the Western Division, yet only a half point separates us from the three teams above us.

We lost to two of those teams--Arizona and Seattle--both in close matches, and beat the team that trails us in the standings, Tennessee.

It may not look very impressive, but I think we're stronger than our place in the standings suggests. Both of our losses, as I say, were very close, and consider the fact that we have won more games than two of the three teams that lead us by a half point.

Finally, take a look at the division leader, San Francisco. The only imperfection in their record, the only thing that has kept them from being undefeated, was a draw in the Week 2 to the Chicago Blaze. They have vanquished all other opponents.

Next week we play the Baltimore Kingfishers, for our first foray into inter-divisional competition. It's a big match: it comes at an important point in the season and gives the Blaze a chance to get back on the winning track.

What do you think? Do the Blaze have a reasonable shot at making the USCL playoffs? Take our poll in the right-hand column.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How to Play the Dragon

Today, in an effort to put this week's defeat behind us, we turn back the clock, once again to flog our glorious victory against the Tennessee Tempo in Week 3.

But seriously, folks, you’re in for a treat, because IM Jan Van De Mortel has annotated his victory over FM Todd Andrews and done so in delightful and extensive form. It was one very exciting game and got some votes for USCL Game of the Week. Jan has known Todd for a long time and obviously has great respect for him. He writes:

“I first met Todd in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1999, where he was part of a group of American youngsters (including USCL President Greg Shahade) trying their luck on the European chess scene. Most of my time during this two-week tournament was spend with the American squad, as I was rooming with Aviv Friedman (who will soon lead the US World Youth Team as coach in Vietnam). I vividly remember that after one of my opponents (who later went on to claim the FIDE World Championship) showed a mean streak in time trouble, surviving a lost position, Todd offered to 'educate' the grandmaster on ethics. I declined his gracious offer, and politely took care of that job myself.”

Click here to see the game and Jan’s analysis.

photo: (c) Betsy Dynako

Ehlvest is in the Building

Though I will be shunned by other Blazers for saying so, I think we dodged a bullet at not having to face GM Jaan Ehlvest when we played the Tennessee Tempo last week. One of the top-rated players in the country, his joining the Tempo was announced some time ago, but until now he hasn't played for them. That all ends tonight, when Ehlvest sits at the first board in Tennessee's USCL match against the Scorpions.

Says the USCL site:

“Tennessee Tempo fans are very excited to see how their team fares with a strong Grandmaster on the top board. This pushes IM Ron Burnett and FM Todd Andrews down to boards 2 and 3 for the first time in their three year history. The Tempo will be facing a snakebitten Arizona squad, who at 1-2, need this match badly to stay afloat in the playoff race.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seattle Power Lineup Nips Blaze

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Last night, the Chicago Blaze went up against one of the strongest lineups a USCL team has brought to the boards this year and came up short, losing to the Seattle Sluggers 2.5-1.5.

The Sluggers, who had struggled in the early weeks of the season, put a lot on the line, with a lineup that included two grandmasters, including super-GM Hikaru Nakamura, the former U.S. chess champion. In one of the most anticipated games of the season, Nakamura, with the White pieces, outlasted Chicago’s GM Nikola Mitkov in the 70-move marathon.

IM Emory Tate (photo: Betsy Dynako)

Seattle’s other grandmaster, Gregory Serper, didn’t fare quite as well on the second board: he had to settle for a draw against IM Jan Van De Mortel of the Blaze, who played a tough and aggressive game against the higher-rated player. The game ended when both players ran out of mating material. (Actually, it went on for a bit even after that.)

The bright spot of the evening was IM Emory Tate, playing in his second match for the Blaze, who hung on to beat a tenacious NM Michael Lee. Emory thought he had a better position early in the game and said he was impressed with how long the youngster hung in there.

Emory does a postmortem with Adam Strunk

I only have eyes for chess. Eminent local chess personages Brad "Chessdad64" Rosen (left) and Larry Cohen cut up a bit during the match. The Blaze have fun even when they lose. Come and see sometime.

On Board 4, Adam Strunk of the Blaze lost two pawns to Seattle’s Andy May and wasn’t able to recover.

Here are the games.

1. GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) vs GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) 1-0

2. IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1/2-1/2

NM Michael Lee (SEA) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 0-1

Adam Strunk (CHC) vs Andy May (SEA) 0-1

Click here for Seattle’s take on the match. Thanks to NM Len Weber for flawless tournament direction last night.

Next up: the Blaze play the Baltimore Kingfishers a week from Wednesday.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nakamura to Lead Seattle Against Blaze

Monday night, for the third time in four weeks, the Blaze go up against a team with a significantly higher average rating, when we take on the Seattle Sluggers at 8:00 Central time. Leading the Sluggers will be former U.S. champion GM Hikaru Nakamura. It's another big challenge for the new Blaze crew, so please tune in and root hard for the team.

Board 1: GM Hikaru Nakamura (2742) vs. GM Nikola Mitkov (2601)
Board 2: IM Jan van de Mortel (2460) vs. GM Gregory Serper (2592)
Board 3: NM Michael Lee (2314) vs. IM Emory Tate (2392)
Board 4: Adam Strunk (2113) vs. Andy May (2134)

Seattle Average Rating: 2446
Chicago Average Rating: 2392

The Blaze have White on Boards 2 and 4.

The Snake, Coiled and Waiting

For the first time in the illustrious three-week history of the Chicago Blaze, we have a tie for the honor of the Blaze Game of the Week. Our distinguished panel of judges agrees that IM Jan Van De Mortel’s victory over FM Todd Andrews with the Sicilian Dragon should share honors with this game by IM Angelo Young.

I had the privilege of being in the car last Wednesday night after the game, when IM Emory Tate, who wasn’t playing that night but had come to cheer his team, characterized IM Angelo’s style of play. As Angelo mentions here, Emory said Angelo is like a snake: he sits lying in wait, camouflaged, as it were. By the time his opponent realizes he’s a snake, it’s too late: he’s set his trap and is ready to strike.

Here’s Angelo’s game, annotated by him personally. He dedicates the game to all Chicago Blaze Fans.

M Young, A. - FM Bereolos, P [E67]USCL CHI- TEN Chicago USA, 2008

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3
King's Indian (g3 System)

3...Bg7 4. Bg2 0-0 5. c4 d6 6. 0-0 Nbd7 7. Nc3 e5
All book.

This is not the first time I used this line. Solid and good for the team play.

8...c6 9.Qc2 Qe7 10.b3 Ne8? 11.Ba3 f5 12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.Nd4!
Quiet and effective.

13...Bd7 14.Rad1 Rd8 15.Rfe1
After the game IM Tate mentioned comparing my play to a snake, waiting to strike anytime, and when the venom is injected it will paralyze the victim.

15...Bc8 16.f4
The first strike!

Noticed black pieces.

17.e4 fxe4 18.Nxe4 Qc7 19.Kh1 Qa5 20.Bb2 Nc7 21.Bc3 Qh5 22.Nxc6!!
A very deep move considering I don't have much time to think as I have to see the end when I played this move.

22...bxc6 23.Bxg7 Kxg7 24.Qc3+ Kh6
Only move! bad was [24...Kg8 25.Nf6+]

The root of the combination.

25...Qc5 26.g4 g5 27.Ne4!

Brutal! After the game IM Tate said people watching from all over the world and there is no need to play this fancy but brilliant move although the move stops Bg4 when Ne4 is already enough to win. Maybe with Nd7!! it can be considered a brilliant game.

27...Bxg4 28.Qf6+ Kh5 29.Nxc5 Bxd1 30.Rxd1 Nd5 31.Bxd5
Black resigned, not waiting for Ne6, Bf3+, Bf7+. 1-0

Play through the whole game:

photo: Sevan Muradian

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Blaze Sweep Tennessee

Windy City woodpushers get on the board with blowout against the Tempo

When Ron Burnett’s flag fell at about 11:00 last night, the din that went up in Patios A/B at the Holiday Inn Skokie was deafening. Despite the hurt it put on my ears, however, I was neither surprised nor irritated by the applause—from players, fans, managers, even the players’ parents—because it signaled that GM Nikola Mitkov, playing in his first game for the Chicago Blaze, had beaten IM Burnett of the Tennessee Tempo on the first board of this week’s U.S. Chess League match.

Of course, it meant much more than that. As the last game of the night to end, it meant not only that the Blaze had won the first match in the team’s brief history, but that they had done it in stunning fashion, sweeping all games against the Tempo to finish 4-0 on the night. It was the first sweep in the league this season.

Look at all those ones in the Blaze colunm

Moments before Nikola’s game ended, the Tempo’s John Bick resigned his game against Adam Strunk of the Blaze, in a hard-fought game that represented the most challenging matchup of the night for a Chicago player as measured by ratings difference. Earlier, the old pros, IMs Jan Van De Mortel and Angelo Young, disposed of their opponents, both in very exciting games. Here are the games. The Blaze players are in bold:

GM Nikola Mitkov vs. IM Ron Burnett 1-0

FM John Bick vs. Adam Strunk 0-1

Which game to choose as Blaze Game of the Week? Tough call. What do you think?

It was an exciting night, and it means that the Blaze have arrived and demonstrated that they belong in the USCL. We’ll try to have details and analysis in the next couple of days, but there’s not much time to celebrate: the Blaze have a short week and face the Seattle Sluggers on Monday night.
Once again: thanks to Betsy Dynako for first-rate tournament direction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tennesee Matchups

Here are the board-by-board matchups in tonight's meet between the Blaze and the Tennessee Tempo. The Blaze players are in bold. We have White on boards 1 and 3.

Board 1
GM Nikola Mitkov (2601) vs. IM Ron Burnett (2412),

Board 2

FM Todd Andrews (2350) vs. IM Jan Van De Mortel (2460),

Board 3

IM Angelo Young (2356) vs. FM Peter Bereolos (2304)

Board 4

FM John Bick (2249) vs. Adam Strunk (2113)

The games begin early this week – 7:00 Chicago time. Come to the Holiday Inn Skokie to cheer the team in person or tune in live to the Internet Chess Club.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Naroditsky-Young Analyzed

Chicago Blaze Manager Glenn Panner has annotated the team’s Game of the Week.

FM Daniel Naroditsky vs. IM Angelo Young

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 c6 4. Nf3 Qa5 5. Bd2 Qc7 6. Bc4 b5 7. Bd3 e5 8. dxe5 dxe5 9. a4 b4 10. Ne2 a5 11. Ng3 Nbd7 12. Qe2 g6

13. O-O
I liked Bc4 here better activating the bishop and leaving the option open to castle on either wing.

13. ... h5 14. Bg5?
Losing a tempo and allowing Black to get the h4 push in. Rfd1 (or e1 even) would have been better.

14. ... Nh7 15. Be3 Be7 16. Nd2 h4 17. Nh1
Entombing the knight on h1, White will now essentially have to play a piece down.

17. ... Nhf6 18. Nc4 Nh5 19. g4 Nf4 20. Bxf4 exf4 21. e5?!
Here White has an interesting choice to make, either play f3 helping his knight escape the corner to f2, or to try to punish Angelo for keeping his king in the center. Daniel opts for the counterplay.

21. ... Nc5
controlling key center squares and giving the bishop access to e6 to slow White's push.

22. Nd6+ Kf8
Playing Bxd6?? would have dropped the queen after exd6+ with the discovery.

23. Nxc8 Rxc8 24. Bc4 Re8
White had to get the knight loose. Now Black can target the weak pawn on e5 that can't be held.

25. Qf3 Bg5 26. Rfe1 Kg7 27. Rad1 Rxe5 28. Rxe5 Qxe5 29. Qxc6 Rd8 30. Rxd8 Bxd8 31. Kf1 Qd4!
Such a strong active positional move putting the queen in control of the board on offense and defense.

32. Be2 h3
Preventing any chance of the king escaping to g2 and preparing for Bh4.

33. Ke1 Be7 34. Qc7 Bh4
Now White is very vulnerable on f2 and the knight can come to e4 to put even more pressure there.

35. Bf3 Qe3+!
cute and forcing.

36. Be2 Ne4 37. Qe5+ Kh7 38. Qd5 Bxf2+ 39. Kd1 Kg8 40. Qd8+ Kg7
just desparate checks going on now for White.

41. Qd5 Bh4
clearing the way for the finishing Qg1+.

42. c3 bxc3
White resigns.

Play through the game move by move here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Other Game of the Week

While we prefer to tout games that the Blaze win, the USCL, for understandable reasons, has chosen as its Game of the Week this game in which San Francisco's IM Vinay Bhat beat IM Emory Tate of the Blaze. It was a truly wild game:

More at the USCL blog.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Big Squeeze

Blaze Game of the Week: Naroditsky vs. Young

“A knight on the rim is grim,” as chess players always say. But if you can force your opponent’s knight into the corner, where two “rims” meet, well, as Chessdad64 says, “A knight in the corner will make you a mourner.” Or maybe Sevan Muradian said it first.

No matter. What matters is that IM Angelo Young did indeed force a knight of San Francisco's FM Daniel Naroditsky into the h1 square during their game this week, rendering it ineffective. With strong pawn pushes, first on the queenside and then the kingside, Angelo squeezed his opponent and won the game.

Here it is. There’s no annotation, but I figure in this age of “user-generated content” we can count on you to supply that in the comments section. Those of you who know something about chess: please have at it.

Update (09/08): The game is now annotated here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Blaze Hold on for Draw Vs. Frisco Powerhouse

Blaze chief technology officer Sevan Muradian served as the official team glad-hander last night, congratulating the winning players: Mehmed Pasalic (top) and Angelo Young.

After beating the Dallas Destiny last week, the San Francisco Mechanics may have thought they’d make short work of the Chicago Blaze. But the Bay Area powerhouse, which some say is the strongest team in the U.S. Chess League after their defeat of the defending champions from Texas, were thwarted in their march to glory as the new team from the Windy City posted two victories last night to come away with a draw for the match.

Though the Mechanics’ blog spoke of compounding the Blaze’s misery after our opening-week loss to the Arizona Scorpions, the Blaze gave as good as they got from the Holiday Inn Skokie, as FM (IM-elect) Mehmed Pasalic beat FM Sam Shankland and FM Daniel Naroditsky fell to IM Angelo Young of the Blaze.

Mehmed, who is undefeated in the first two weeks of play, posted the first victory of the night. At that point it looked like it could be a big evening for the Blaze, but then FM Florin Felecan lost a hard-fought game to GM-elect Josh Friedel, and IM Emory Tate’s characteristically wild and wooly game with IM Vinay Bhat dropped into the San Francisco W column. It fell to Angelo to pull it out for the Blaze, and he did so masterfully, going up on time against Daniel Naroditsky and squeezing the California FIDE Master’s position. Naroditsky resigned at about 10:45 PM Chicago time.

Don’t get me wrong: the Blaze would have been thrilled with a victory for the night, but considering this was only our second match and we were again facing an opponent with an overall ratings advantage, most of the team was satisfied with the result.

Here are the games, in order of board number:

1. FM Florin Felecan (CHC) vs IM Josh Friedel (SF) 0-1
2. IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0
3. FM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) vs FM Sam Shankland (SF) 1-0
4. FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) vs IM Angelo Young (CHC) 0-1

We hope to have more later on—maybe some analysis later in the week. Please look at the games, leave your comments, and stay tuned. The Blaze are starting to set the league on fire.

P.S. Many thanks to Maret Thorpe for first-rate tournament direction last night.
photos by Chessdad64
Update (09/06): See a commentary on the match by IM Vinay Bhat of the Mechanics.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Week's Opponent: San Francisco

Here are the matchups for this week's meet between the Chicago Blaze and the San Francisco Mechanics. The Mechanics beat the defending champion Dallas Destiny in their first meet last week, and they have significant ratings advantages against Chicago on two of the fours boards. "Really tough match this week, but there should be some interesting games," Manager Glenn Panner told the players tonight.

Please tune in at 7:30 Wednesday night on the Internet Chess Club, or better yet come to the Holiday Inn Skokie and cheer the team in person.

Here's the lineup. The Blaze players are in bold.

Chicago Blaze (0.0-1.0) vs San Francisco Mechanics (1.0-0.0)
Starts at 7:30 PM Central time

Wednesday, September 3
Time Control - Game 75 with 30 second increment

FM Florin Felecan (2449) vs. IM Josh Friedel(2595)

IM Vinay Bhat (2481) vs. IM Emory Tate (2392)

FM Mehmed Pasalic (2375) vs. FM Sam Shankland (2364)

FM Daniel Naroditsky (2321) vs. IM Angelo Young (2356)

Blaze Avg Rating: 2393

Mechanics Avg Rating: 2440

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blaze Game of the Week

Ilan Meerovich vs Warren Harper
Board 4, Chicago vs Arizona, 08/25/08
Annotation by Chicago Blaze Manager Glenn Panner

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3
Here Ilan surprises the Arizona preparation, which was looking for 4. e3.

4. ... Bxc3 5. bxc3 c5 6. f3 d5
The Saemisch variation, from a different move order. Normally White will play f3 on move 4, with the idea of pushing e4 and getting a rolling pawn mass in the center. Black's plan would be to play b6 and Ba6 to pile up on the weak doubled c pawn.

7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Qd3
Protecting c3 and reinforcing the e3 push. The Q also is now in a better spot to get to black's kingside if needed.

8. ... f5?
While this move can be played in e3 Nimzo-Indians, here it does not prevent the e4 push and weakens the e6 pawn, and can even create a super-highway to the kingside.

9. e4 fxe4 10. fxe4 Ne7 11. Nf3 0-0
White is free to develop here naturally without much pressure and a choice of plans, either to roll his pawns down the center or to attack kingside. Black does not have a clear plan here, and is cramped.

12. Be2 Nec6 13. O-O Nd7
I believe the Black plan here is to try to force e5 to get some counterplay. Blockade the d6 square, allow the B to activate, and perhaps find some holes for the Ns to park in.

14. Be3 Qe7 15. e5!
Ilan has decided here that the e5 push seals off several black pieces from getting to the kingside to defend, cements the e6 pawn as a permanent weakness, and takes clear advantage of the more mobile white pieces. This is a great example of when to lock up the center for White.

15. ... h6
Harper had to stop White from playing Ng5 not only with the idea of the Qxh7 mate threat but the nearly as threatening N tour from g5 to e4 to land on d6 crippling Black. The problem now for Black is the weakening of the light squares.

16. Qg6! Qf7 17. Qg3! Qh5
Two very accurate moves preparing for the lightning and thunder.

18. Nh4!
I would call this a sacrifice, but Ilan gets the material back so quickly I don't know that I can. This pretty move deflects the lone black defender from the king.

18. ... Qxe2 19. Bxh6 Rf7 20. Rxf7 Kxf7
Removing the defender.

21. Qxg7+ Ke8
Meerovich puts Harper out of his misery very efficiently here.

22. Qg8 Nf8 23. Qxf8 Kd7 24. Qd6+ Ke8 25. Rf1
Black resigns. 1-0

photo: © Betsy Dynako

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Greg Pulls Back the Curtain

A producer of chess videos named “curtains,” who is generally understood to be U.S. Chess League Commissioner Greg Shahade, has annotated the games in last Monday's match between the Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions at
Good stuff and well worth watching. Notice how Greg describes the key move in Ilan Meerovich’s victory over NM Warren Harper: 18. Nh4.

Hat tip: Brad and Sevan.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More Pictures

The Blaze may not have won our first match, but we did have the good fortune to have Betsy Dynako as our tournament director last night. In addition to being a certified TD, Betsy is also the best chess photographer in the country. If you read Chess Life or Chess Life Online, you've seen plenty of her photos. Here are some she took during last nights' match with the Arizona Scorpions. More photos here.

Ilan Meerovich is nonchalant about his victory, but Sevan Muradian is pretty psyched about it.

Jan does a long think

IM Mehmed Pasalic battled IM Mark Ginsburg to a draw.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blaze Fall to Arizona in Season Opener

The Blaze lineup for its first match, from left: IM Jan Van De Mortel, IM Mehmed Pasalic, Ilan Meerovich, NM Jon Burgess

Jon Burgess and Tournament Director Betsy Dynako joke as Betsy collects the players' cell phones before the game.

Niles North High School star Ilan Meerovich overcame a 170-point ratings deficit against National Master Warren Harper last night to post the sole victory for the Chicago Blaze, as the Windy City's new chess team lost its first match, the U.S. Chess League season opener, to the Arizona Scorpions.

The score was 2.5-1.5, a perfectly respectable showing for the Blaze considering that Arizona enjoyed a ratings advantage on all fours boards. IM Mehmed Pasalic was the other Blaze player to get on the scoreboard, with a 70-move draw against Arizona IM Mark Ginsburg that went late into the night.

The key to victory for Ilan was a ferocious kingside attack that deconstructed Harper's Nimzo-Indian Defense, prompting the Arizona master to resign on move 25. See all the games here:

Thanks to the four Blaze players and also to Betsy Dynako for serving as tournament director. Next up: the Blaze face the San Franciso Mechanics on Wednesday, September 3, at 7:30 Central Time.

Update (8/27): Blaze Manager Glenn Panner, who unfortunately had to be out of town for the first match, has this to say on his blog.

Friday, August 22, 2008

USCL Season Kicks Off with Blaze-Scorpions Match

The Chicago Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions, both new expansion teams in the United States Chess League, will go head to head Monday night in a match that will lead off the league's 2008 season, and the chess world is all abuzz about it.

According to an article just posted on the U.S. Chess Federation's Web site:

"The United States Chess League kicks off its 4th Season starting this Monday, August 25, 2008, with a match between the two newest teams in the league, the Arizona Scorpions and the Chicago Blaze. Both of these expansion teams are excited to participate in such a prestigious league. The remaining matches for Week 1 (see below) will be played on Wednesday, August 27,

The Blaze will gather for its historic first match at the Holiday Inn in Skokie, the new mecca for chess on the North Shore, where they will play against the Scorpions via the Internet Chess Club. The matchups for Monday night's meet are:

Board 1 IM Levon Altounian v IM Jan Van De Mortel
Board 2 IM Mehmed Pasalic v IM Mark Ginsburg
Board 3 FM Robby Adamson v NM Jon Burgess
Board 4 CM Ilan Meerovich v NM Warren Harper

The Blaze players are in bold. They all live in Chicago or the surrounding suburbs.

Tune in Monday night to ICC at 8:30 Central time Monday night, or come to the Holiday Inn to cheer the team in person. The Blaze are here to set the league on fire!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Leader of the Pack

The fortunes of America's top chess players in this year's championship tournament are chronicled in the current issue of Chess Life magazine, and top billing goes to Barrington, Ill.-based GM Yury Shuman, who led the pack and brought the championship home to the Prairie State.

Yury, a member of the Chicago Blaze, had finished a close second at the championship meet two years ago. This year he arrived at the event in Tulsa knowing he had a good chance to win. He also knew he'd have to outplay reigning champion Alex Shabalov as well as former champs GMs Boris Gulko and Alexander Onischuk and other hungry competitors, like GM Sergey Kudrin, GM Varuzhan Akobian, IM Josh Friedel (who earned his final grandmaster norm in Tulsa), and Blaze teammate GM Dmitry Gurevich.

Here are two of Yury's most exciting games from the eight-round event. Check out the tripled-pawn situation he overcame in the endgame against IM David Preuss. And see why Chess Life Online used the word "carnage" to characterize Yury's seventh-round confrontation with GM Julio Becerra-Rivero.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chicago Blaze Announced

The Illinois Chess Association and the Chicago Blaze have issued this press release today:

For Immediate Release

Big League Chess Comes to Chicago

Illinois Chess Association Forms Chicago Blaze for U.S. Chess League

CHICAGO, July 10, 2008
—Big league chess will finally come to Chicago this summer, when the Chicago Blaze (, a new team with several of the area’s top chess players, joins the United States Chess League (USCL) and competes against teams across the country.

The Blaze is an initiative of the Illinois Chess Association, which made the announcement today.

The Blaze boasts several of America’s strongest chess players, all of whom live and play in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. The initial roster includes Grandmaster Yury Shulman, the 2008 United States Chess Champion; Grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich; International Masters Angelo Young and Jan Van De Mortel; FIDE Master Mehmed Pasalic, and experts Adam Strunk and Ilan Meerovich. Pasalic recently completed the requirements for the international master title and is expected to receive it shortly from the World Chess Federation.

The team will be managed by Glenn Panner, a chess expert and national tournament director based in Frankfort, Ill. Chicago-based Sevan Muradian, the U.S. Chess Federation’s organizer of the year for 2007, will serve as assistant manager.

“It’s great to have a team from Chicago in the league,” said International Master Greg Shahade, commissioner of the USCL. “It’s a town with a great chess tradition, and with all their talent, the Blaze could be a contender from day one.”

The USCL is a organization of professional chess teams from across the country that play matches during a ten-week season that runs from late August through late October and is then followed by playoffs and a championship. Last year the league had twelve teams, from New York and Boston to Seattle and San Francisco, but until now none from Chicago. Two expansion teams will be admitted for the 2008 regular season, the Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions. USCL matches are played online, via the Internet Chess Club.

The schedule is available at

“The Blaze will be an integral part of the Chicago and Illinois chess communities,” said Panner. “We want everyone who enjoys chess to be part of the fan base. It will be good for the city, good for the state, and good for the game.”

About the Illinois Chess Association
The Illinois Chess Association is the official U.S. Chess Federation affiliate for the Prairie State. The ICA organizes major tournaments such as the Illinois Open and the Illinois Class Championships and helps bring national tournaments to the state. Members receive the award-winning Illinois Chess Bulletin. The Illinois Chess Association is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, and donations to the group are tax-deductible.

About Chess Titles
Superior chess players can earn a variety of titles from the World Chess Federation (French acronym: FIDE) and the U.S. Chess Federation based on their tournament performances.

FIDE titles are the highest and include, in descending order of strength, grandmaster, international master, and FIDE master. American players can earn titles such as national master and expert from the U.S. Chess Federation.

# # #

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blaze Schedule Announced

The U.S. Chess League has announced the schedule for the 2008 season, and here's the lineup of matches for the Chicago Blaze:

Monday, August 25
Arizona Scorpions vs Chicago Blaze
8:30 PM CT

Wednesday, September 3
Chicago Blaze vs San Francisco Mechanics
7:30 PM CT

Wednesday, September 10
Chicago Blaze vs Tennessee Tempo
7:00 PM CT

Monday, September 15
Seattle Sluggers vs Chicago Blaze
8:00 PM CT

Wednesday, September 24
Baltimore Kingfishers vs Chicago Blaze
6:15 PM CT

Wednesday, October 1
Chicago Blaze vs Miami Sharks
7:00 PM CT

Wednesday, October 8th
Tennessee Tempo vs Chicago Blaze
7:15 PM CT

Wednesday, October 15
Chicago Blaze vs Queens Pioneers
7:00 PM CT

Wednesday, October 22
Chicago Blaze vs Arizona Scorpions
8:30 PM CT

Wednesday, October 29
Dallas Destiny vs Chicago Blaze
7:15 PM CT

All USCL games are played online, on the Internet Chess Club. The Blaze will play their games at IM Angelo Young's Touch Move Chess Center, 5639 North Ashland Avenue, in Chicago.

Please mark you calendar and plan to follow the games. Fans are welcome to attend each match in person, or they can follow them on ICC.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Pasalic Earns Third IM Norm

Congratulations to Chicago FM Mehmed Pasalic, who has just earned his third norm for the International Master title during the 11th North American FIDE Invitational, at the Touch Move Chess Center in Chicago.

“Last night after a draw with Robert Loncarevic, Mehmed played Aleksander Stamnov and won, securing his final IM norm,” said tournament organizer Sevan Muradian of the North American Chess Association.

Mehmed is a member of the Chicago Blaze and will become the team's third IM, joining Angelo Young and Jan van Der Mortel.

The tournament action concludes tonight. Go up to Touch Move to see it in person, or follow it on MonRoi.

In other news, congratulations to the Niles North High School chess team, which got a nice write-up in a North Suburban newspaper this week. The team's star, Ilan Meerovich is, you guessed it, a member of the Chicago Blaze.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shulman is U.S. Champion!

The new United States Chess Champion is Chicago-area Grandmaster Yury Shulman, a member of the new Chicago Blaze chess team. Details at USCF. Anna Zatonskih won the women's title (her second time, I think) beating incumbent Irina Krush and others in a tough tournament.

In other news, Chicago chess will be "blazing" this summer, according to USCF. Next on tap: the Chicago Open, where Ray School Chess Club members Sonam Ford and Phillip Parker-Turner will be playing this weekend. (Note to Hyde Parkers: members of the University of Chicago Chess Team will be there, too.)

More as I have the time.

Congratulations to Yury and everyone else.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dateline: Skokie

Adam Strunk (left) of the Chicago Blaze with tournament organizer Sevan Muradian

The Holiday Inn in Skokie was the center of local chess action this weekend, combing tournaments for the Illinois Girls’ State Championship, the Susan Polgar girls qualifier, and the Arnold Denker meet to determine the top high school chess player in Illinois.

Your humble blogger was there, and so was that national chess power couple IM Irina Krush and GM Pascal Charbonneau. Pascal reviewed games with the Denker guys as Irina helped preside over the Polgar tournament while preparing to face Armenian women’s champion IM Lilit Mkrtchian this week.

Members of the Chicago Blaze were on hand, including Adam Strunk and Ilan Meerovich, who competed in the Denker tournament. IM Jan van de Mortel stopped in as well, and it was all copasetic, despite the fact that Irina and Pascal are part of the Blaze’s U.S. Chess League rivals, the New York Knights (she as the team’s manager; he as Board One).

It wasn’t all sweetness and light, however. I lost a game to Chessdad64 that I probably could have won, since I was up a piece at one point. Once again my weakness in middle-game tactics (and his tactical strength) got the better of me, and I blew my advantage. Worst of all, since I botched the recording of the game, I’ll never figure out where I went wrong. Hence don’t look for that game on Wacky Wednesday.

U.S. Women's Champion IM Irina Krush (center) presents trophies to Polgar competition winners Sonya Vohra and Victoria Bian. (Hat tip: Glenn)

GM Pascal Charbonneau (right) reviews a game with two Denker players. That's Kevin Velazquez in the foreground.

Local chess leaders Maret Thorpe and Chris Christmas explore the Exchange Variantion of the Ruy Lopez.

More from Glenn.

(Revised 03/31/08)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blaze Logo Unveiled

In one of the first steps toward making the Chicago Blaze a full part of the U.S. Chess League, Commissioner Greg Shahade today unveiled the team’s new logo on the league’s Web site. I think it’s gorgeous. The logo was created by Michael LeGrand and Dan Halka under Greg’s direction and with a lot of input from Blaze people here in Chicago. Many thanks for a great job. As the USCL site explains, the emblem represents the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the surviving Water Tower on North Michigan Ave., whose structure conveniently happens to suggest a bunch of chess rooks.

The Chicago Blaze will be a new expansion team in the USCL, a league of professional chess teams from around the country. Until now the league has had no Chicago team, but the area’s top players have rallied around the Blaze and should make it a contender from day one. Details here and here, and stay tuned for more Blaze developments in the weeks and months ahead.

By the way, in case you hadn’t heard, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow has been all but totally exonerated and cleared of any culpability in starting the fire. Alas, however: justice delayed is justice denied, and the poor bovine is no longer here to enjoy the sweet satisfaction of getting her good name back.