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.