Monday, September 28, 2009

Next Up: Jersey

Can the Garden State powerhouse keep it up, and is the Blaze manager their Board One?

This week, at long last, the Chicago Blaze come up against the New Jersey Knockouts, the Eastern Division leaders and the only 4-0 team in the league. The pressure the Knockouts must feel at having to risk their perfect record against a 1-3 team recently described on the USCL Web site as “struggling” has got to be enormous, but they’re pros, and on game night no doubt they’ll be ready to give it their all.

They’d better be. Because like so many teams that have faced the Blaze this season and last, the Knockouts are burdened with a large overall ratings advantage. This week, in fact, they outrank their Chicago opponents on every board. Here’s what they’re up against (the Blaze players are in bold. We have White on Boards 2 and 4):

Board 1
GM Joel Benjamin (2641) vs. IM Jan van de Mortel (2456)

Board 2
SM Mackenzie Molner (2446) vs. IM Angelo Young (2325)

Board 3
IM Albert Kapengut (2379) vs. IM Mehmed Pasalic (2346)

Board 4
NM Andrew Ng (2182) vs. NM Eric Rosen (2164)

New Jersey Average Rating: 2412
Chicago Average Rating: 2323

Has anyone ever seen Glenn Panner and Joel Benjamin in the same place at the same time?

This could be a great match, though inevitably talk of what happens on the boards will be eclipsed by the perennially vexing question of whether Blaze Manager Glenn Panner and Jersey’s GM Joel Benjamin are one and the same person. Does anyone know for sure? Like the many purported Elvis sightings by people claiming to have seen the King of rock and roll alive, rumors of Glenn and Joel being spotted together have never been confirmed.

To add to the mystery, Glenn says he will miss this week’s match and will hand the reins for the evening over to Assistant Manager Daniel Parmet, who ably steered the Blaze to victory two weeks ago against Tennessee. The reason for Glenn’s absence? I don’t know, but GM Joel is playing Board 1 for Jersey. . . .

What do you think? Please vote in the poll in the right-hand column.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Young Scores USCL “Upset of the Week”

As adumbrated on this very site earlier in the week, IM Angelo Young of the Chicago Blaze has won the U.S. Chess League's Upset of the Week prize for his victory last Monday night over IM Sam Shankland.

The prize goes to the USCL player who defeats an opponent with a higher rating advantage than in any other pairing in the league for that week. Shankland is rated 235 points higher than Angelo, yet his Slav Defense was not adequate to IM Young's attack the other night. For his achievement, Angelo gets a t-shirt from the stunning array of chesswear by Endgame clothing. (Delicious irony: IM Shankland appears on the Endgame site modeling one of their shirts.)

Congratulations, Angelo! It's great to see our star player, who is still undefeated in league play, get some of the recognition he so richly deserves. Here's the game:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Frisco Holds Blaze at Bay

Chicago bows to Mechanics 2.5-1.5

It was a seesaw match that seemed at first to be going our way, but the storybook ending was not to be, as the San Francisco Mechanics held on, as widely predicted, to beat Chicago Blaze last night 2.5-1.5.

The match, which went well past 11:00 PM Chicago time, ended when San Francisco’s GM Jesse Kraai succeeded in pushing an imminently promotable pawn down the g-file, against the valiant endgame efforts of Chicago’s FM Florin Felecan to prevent it, giving Kraai the game and San Francisco the edge in the match. The Blaze now fall to 1-3 after four weeks, with six matches left in the season.

As usual, there were bright spots for the Blaze. In a game that should be in the running for the league’s new Upset of the Week prize, IM Angelo Young defeated IM Sam Shankland and maintained his undefeated record in USCL play. On Board 1, where Blaze players have often struggled, IM Jan van De Mortel held the much higher rated GM Josh Friedel to a draw.

Here are the games, by board number:

1. IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC)vs GM Josh Friedel (SF) 1/2-1/2

2. GM Jesse Kraai (SF) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0

3. IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs IMSam Shankland (SF) 1-0

4. NM Yian Liou (SF) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1-0

Special thanks to NM Len Weber, who served as our Celebrity Tournament Director for the evening. Thanks also to GM Nikola Mitkov and Betsy Dynako, neither of whom had official duties with the team last night, for showing up and cheering the Blaze all the same. As always, we were honored to host Professor Gary Alan Fine of Northwestern University, who is following the Blaze and the USCL as part of a larger study on the sociology of chess. Finally, personal thanks to Chessdad64 (Brad Rosen), for a tough and interesting G/40 game.

Our next match is a week from Wednesday against the New Jersey Knockouts, who are jabbing their way through the league this year with a one-two combination of superb chess and bad puns. They’ll be tough, but we’ll be ready. Please join us next week and lend your voice to the cheering section. Go Blaze!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines

Tomorrow the Blaze go up against the formidable San Francisco Mechanics. Earlier this summer, I paid a visit to the Mechanics Institute Library and Chess Room, where the Mechanics play their games. It's a classy joint if ever there was one. It's nice, old, opulent, and about as different from Patio A/B at the Skokie Holiday Inn as a place could be. Wood and brass appointments abound. Did I forget to mention that it's refined and cultured? The chess tables with embedded boards have pockets for the captured pieces. Very classy. You can tell chess and other intellectual pursuits have been going on there for a long time. Here's more:

“The Institute has a rich and colorful history. Founded just after the Gold Rush to provide technical education and training for mechanics and to promote local and California industry, the Institute today is a vibrant intellectual and cultural center serving the entire Bay Area.

“Housed in its one hundred year-old landmark building on Post Street, the Institute serves its members with a large general-interest circulating and research library, offering book discussion groups, writers’ groups, and Internet research classes; the oldest chess club in the United States with activities for players of all abilities from beginners to grand masters; and an active program of literary and cultural events, including author programs, film series, salons, special events and art exhibitions.”

I offer this in the hope that visualizing where the Mechanics are playing will help the Blaze beat them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It’s Dark and We’re Wearing Sunglasses

So what if the Blaze are underdogs in Monday night’s match? We’re on a mission from Caissa.

The Chicago Blaze find themselves in familiar territory as they prepare to face the undefeated San Francisco Mechanics Monday night in Week 4 of the U.S. Chess League season. The Blaze are again clear underdogs, as they have been so many times before.

The redoubtable might of the Mechanics squad is clear in the board-by-board matchups below. The Blaze players are in bold.

IM Jan van de Mortel (2456) - GM Josh Friedel (2612)
FM Florin Felecan (2430) - GM Jesse Kraai (2552)
IM Angelo Young (2325) - IM Sam Shankland (2564)
IM Mehmed Pasalic (2346) - NM Yian Liou (2149)

Chicago Blaze average rating: 2389
San Francisco Mechanics average rating: 2469

  • The Mechanics have grandmasters on the top two boards.
  • Three of their four players are rated over 2500.
  • The average rating of their lineup is 80 points above that of the Blaze.
  • They enjoy an advantage of more than 120 points on each of the top three boards.

So what? For inspiration, we channel the greatest of Chicago epic heroes:

Tune in Monday night:
Week 4: Monday September 21st
Chicago Blaze vs San Francisco Mechanics
8:30 PM ET (7:30 Central)

Live broadcast on the Internet Chess Club; play-by-play coverage Chicago's Midway Chess Club; and with any luck some running commentary on Twitter.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Blaze Ignite

Chicago finally gets on the board with a 2.5-1.5 victory over Tennessee

Photos: Daniel Parmet

It’s good to win. That was the sentiment at the Holiday Inn Skokie last night as the Chicago Blaze finally posted their first victory of the 2009 season, beating the Tennessee Tempo 2.5-1.5 and breaking a five-match losing streak that extended to the end of last season.

As might be expected, it was the ever-reliable IM Angelo Young, still undefeated in USCL play, who hit the Volunteer State crew first, with a victory over FM Todd Andrews to spur his teammates and even the score, after FM Florin Felecan, with the Black pieces and a near-impossible match-up against Jaan Ehlvest on Board 1, had fallen to his super-GM opponent.

That left IM Mehmed Pasalic on Board 3, and NM Jon Burgess, Board 4, with the burden of determining the outcome of the match. Both games looked iffy, and a somber mood momentarily descended on the venue until both players rallied, Mehmed to victory over FM Peter Bereolos and Jon to hold FM John Bick to a draw.

Here are the games:

1. GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0

2. IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs FM Todd Andrews (TEN) 1-0

3. FM Peter Bereolos (TEN) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 0-1

4. NM Jon Burgess (CHC) vs FM John Bick (TEN) 1/2-1/2

Tennessee was one of the weaker teams in the league last year, but with Ehlvest and former U.S. Champion GM Alexander Shabalov now playing for the Nashville cats, they started this season strong and, as the USCL site put it, look like “a different team” this year. Last night’s match was their first defeat of the season. It came harder, and is in some ways more satisfying, than the two Blaze victories over the Tempo last year.

Special thanks to Larry Cohen, who served as our Celebrity Tournament Director for the evening’s match. Kudos also to Blaze Assistant Manager Daniel Parmet, who ran the match superbly in the absence of Manager Glenn Panner.

It’s a short week, and there won’t be much time to celebrate. We come back and play the mighty San Francisco Mechanics on Monday. Tune in to the Internet Chess Club, or watch the live coverage by Chicago’s Midway Chess Club.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Man on Campus

Newly minted National Master Eric Rosen, a member of the Blaze, has gotten a lot of national attention in the chess world for his recent victory over one grandmaster and draw with another. Finally, his classmates at Niles North High School in Skokie are hearing about Eric's achievements, thanks to this article in the local school district's house organ.


‘Rosen’s win against a player in the top echelon was no fluke. In July 2009 he won the U.S. Junior Open in Milwaukee, which qualified him for the 2010 Junior Invitational, in which the top junior players in the country compete. He is coached by Grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich and he practices one to two hours a day. He also reads books on the game to stay sharp and prepares for matches by doing puzzles and reviewing past games. He is a member of the Niles North Chess Team and also plays for the Chicago Blaze, part of the U.S. Chess League andcomposed of the best chess players in Chicago. He is the number two-ranked highschool chess player in the state, with a rating of 2,230, which is considered a National Master (ranking of 2,200). “My goal,” he said, “is to break 2,300 and that’s called a FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs or World ChessFederation) Master and it’s one of the highest titles you can receive inchess.”’

Congratulations, Eric. Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blaze Game of the Week

IM Angelo Young annotates his victory over NM Eric Rodriguez in last week's match between the Blaze and the Miami Sharks.

1. Nf3 {I called this game "The lone Survivor"}

1... Nf6 2. g3 {Always the safest play for your team.} 2... c5 3. Bg2 g6 4. c3 d5 5. O-O Bg7 6. d4 O-O 7. Ne5 (7. dxc5 a5 8. c4 Na6 9. Nc3 dxc4 10. Qxd8 Rxd8 11. Ne5 Nxc5 12.
Be3 Nfe4 13. Nxe4 Nxe4 14. Nxc4 Nd6 15. Rfd1 Be6 16. Nxd6 Rxd6 17. Rxd6 exd6 {Zisman-Mikhalevski 1/2-1/2})

7... Qb6 8. a4 cxd4 9. a5 Qa6 {Not a very good choice for the queen.} 10. cxd4 Ne4 11. f3 Nd6 12. Nc3 {I was thinking of (12. Bf4 g5 13. Be3 Nf5 14. Bf2 Qd6 15. Qd2 f6 16. Nd3 with a slight plus for white.}) 12... e6 13. e3 Rd8 14. f4 {Safe and sound! another try} (14. Rf2 Bxe5 15. dxe5 Nc4 16. Bf1 Qc6 17. f4 $18)

14... f6 15. Nd3 Qc6 16. Rf2 Qe8 17. Rc2 Na6 18. b3 Bd7 {Black is close to equalizing.}

19. Ba3 Nb5 20. Bc5 Bc6 21. Nxb5 Bxb5 22. Rac1 Bxd3 23. Qxd3 Bf8 24. Qd2 $1 {So i can advance the b pawn and will also stop Nb4.}

24... Bxc5 25. dxc5 Nb8 {Black is trying to make a fortress with a6-Nc6 then will start advancing his center. but I seem futher from this position.}

26. Qd4 Qe7 27. a6 $3

27... Nxa6 {If} (27... Nc6 28. Qa4 Rac8 29. Bf1 bxa6 30. Bxa6 Rc7)

31. b4 Nb8 32. Bd3 {I like my passer on the queenside.})

28. c6 Nb4 29. cxb7
(29... Qxb7 30. Rc7 Qb6 31. Qxf6)

30. bxa8=Q Nxd4 31. Rc8 $1 {This is the plan I saw beginning with Qd4.}

31... Rxc8 32. Qxc8+ Kg7 33. exd4 {The rest is simple just watch for any perpetual checks.}

33... Qb4 34. Qc7+ Kh6 35. Qc5 a5 36. Qxb4 axb4 37. Kf2 f5 38. h3 Kg7 39. g4 Kf6 40. Kg3 h6 41. Bf1 g5 42. Bd3 Kg6 43. gxf5+ exf5 44. Ba6 Kf6 45. Bc8 h5 46. fxg5+ Kxg5 47. h4+ Kg6 48. Kf4 Kf6 49. Bxf5 1-0

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Miami Puts the Shark Bite on the Blaze

But IM Young comes through again

Angelo Young always shows up.

As any Blaze fan will tell you, the popular international master and seven-time Illinois champion plays hard and always gives the team 100 percent. True to his reputation and record, Angelo came through again last night, posting an impressive victory with the Reti/King’s Indian Attack against NM Eric Rodriguez of the Miami Sharks to give the Blaze a lift and maintain his undefeated record in USCL play.

That, however, was the good news, and unfortunately, there wasn't anymore of it, as Angelo’s teammates, GM Nikola Mitkov, IM Jan van DeMortel, and expert Trevor Magness each fell to their Miami opponents. The Sharks won the match 3-1, handing the Blaze their second consecutive defeat of the new season and leaving us with an 0-2 record heading into the third week of the ten-week season.

Here are the games.

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

Board 2. FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) vs IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0

Board 3. IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) 1-0

Board 4. Miguel Recio (MIA) vs Trevor Magness (CHC) 1-0

Special thanks to Mike Cardinale of the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago, who served as our celebrity tournament director for the evening. Mike will be back with us again later in the season.

Next up, the Tennessee Tempo:

Week 3:
Wednesday, September 16th
Tennessee Tempo vs Chicago Blaze
7:00 PM Central Time

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Felecan Shares State Championship

Congratulations to FM Florin Felecan of the Chicago Blaze, who finished in a tie for first place with IM GM Mesgen Amanov in this weekend's Illinois Open. The two players, who both went 5.0/6 for the weekend, are now the co-champions of Illinois.

Other Blazers playing in the tournament were IM Angelo Young, Trevor Magness, NM Eric Rosen, and Assistant Manager Daniel Parmet. Special congratulations to Blaze tech guru Sevan Muradian, who went undefeated in his section and raised his rating to 1744. Sevan's rating has spiked about 250 points in the past year. Is he doing de la Maza?

Left: Florin Felecan ponders his position in last year's Blaze match against the Baltimore Kingfishers.

photo: Betsy Dynako

Friday, September 4, 2009

Your Moment of Zen

Do we keep the Scorpions up late at night?

The Arizona Scorpions may have clobbered us this week, but we're certainly on their minds. In fact, “Chicago” is one of the biggest items on the Scorpion blog tag cloud. Do they write about us because despite their good fortune in beating us three times this year and last, they secretly fear we’re a smoldering fire ready to ignite and that their string against us is about to end?

Yes, that must be it.

Anyway, their bloggers have done an interesting job of analyzing the games from this week's match, so have a look, here and here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Deja Vu

Blaze Stung by Scorpions in Season Opener Again

In the short rivalry between the Chicago Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions, there really hasn’t been much of a rivalry at all. In fact, the “rivalry” can be summed up easily: they own us.

Aside from the fact that both teams joined the U.S. Chess League at the same time last year, there are few similarities between them, especially when they go head to head. The Blaze dropped both of their matches to Arizona last year, and last night the Scorpions’ streak against the Windy City squad went to three as they handed us our most lopsided defeat ever, 3.5-.5. For the second year in a row, the Blaze lost their opening match of the season to the same team.

A Few Bright Spots
There weren’t many bright spots in last night’s match, but there were a few. FM Florin Felecan managed to hold IM Levon Altounian for a draw. And as Blaze Manager Glenn Panner sees it, the remaining three games, which the Blaze lost, could have gone either way for most of the night.

There was no shortage of excitement. Trevor Magness, this year’s Illinois Denker champion, playing in his first game for the Blaze, gave a sharp and aggressive response to David Adelberg’s Sicilian. IM Mehmed Pasalic of the Blaze blitzed valiantly against FM Robby Adamson, as both of them drew short on time for about the last twenty moves of their game. GM Nikola Mitkov of the Blaze made GM Alejandro Ramirez work and sweat to grind out a victory in the last game of the night to end.

“I think we can be about as happy as you can be after a 3.5-.5 defeat,” said Glenn optimistically at the end of the night. Here are the games:

Board 1. GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) vs GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) 1-0

Board 2. FM Florin Felecan (CHC) vs IM Levon Altounian (ARZ) 1/2-1/2

Board 3. FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1-0

Board 4. Trevor Magness (CHC) vs David Adelberg (ARZ) 0-1

The Blaze as the Object of Scholarship
Off the board, we had a distinguished guest at the Holiday Inn Skokie, where the Blaze play their games. Professor Gary Alan Fine of Northwestern University, a leading expert on the sociology of leisure and popular culture, was on hand in his capacity as a researcher studying chess. That’s right: the Blaze have attracted the attention of scholars, so have a little respect. Happily, Gary will be with us a good part of the season.

Of course we were delighted to have our celebrity tournament director Betsy Dynako on hand. Betsy not only officiated during a mouse-slip in one game but as always took great pictures, this time doing it with my ancient point-and-shoot camera and despite technical difficulties with her own. We were also joined by the new Blaze assistant manager, Daniel Parmet, about which you'll be hearing more. He knows alot about chess, Indian food, and apparently many other things.

Props also to William Shehan of the Midway Chess Club, which did a webcast from their perch on the Southwest Side to which several people tuned in and NM Len Weber provided excellent play-by-play. I'd also like to thank the Internet Chess Club for providing me with access to the lives games, which enabled me to give real-time commentary on Twitter, such as it was.

It’s good to have our ignominious defeat for the season out of the way. Now the Blaze can concentrate on winning, which we’ll do beginning next week when we take on the Miami Sharks. And we get another shot at the Scorpions later in the year. So things are looking up. Stay tuned: the Blaze have not yet caught fire.

Photos: Betsy Dynako

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Season Kicks Off with Scholastic Fundraiser, Season Opener

The Chicago Blaze, Illinois’s very own chess team, is about to begin its second season in the U.S. Chess League. Our first game of 2009 takes place tonight, and I would like to invite all chess fans in Chicago and Illinois to follow the team, root for it, enjoy it, and support it.

Chess at the Ballpark
Also part of the season opening will be a scholastic tournament to raise funds for the team on Saturday, September 12, at U.S. Cellular Field. Here is a flyer with the details that you can tack up on the fridge. Please help spread the word about this tournament to kids and the parents of kids in grades K-12 who play chess. We need a good turnout, and it should be a lot of fun. Every kid who plays in the rated tournament will get a spiffy, new Chicago Blaze t-shirt.

Here’s how you can follow the Blaze.

  • First, go to our main Web site to find out more about the team. In particular, take a look at the season schedule. The regular season runs through early November, and since we hope to make the playoffs this year, we expect to be playing beyond that. (Please bear with us if portions of the site aren’t entirely up to date; the Blaze is a volunteer effort, and we’re doing our best.)
  • Come back regularly to this blog as we post news.
  • Follow us on Twitter. We’ll be posting news about the team and the league, and if we can manage it we’ll be doing some live tweeting during the matches.
  • Become a fan of the Blaze on Facebook.
  • Attend the matches at the Holiday Inn Skokie, 5300 West Touhy. Fans are welcome to attend the games at no charge.
  • If you can’t make it to the games, follow them live on the Internet Chess Club.

First Match Tonight Night
The first match is tonight, 8:00 Central time, against the Arizona Scorpions. The Blaze will gather at the Holiday Inn and play the Scorpions online, via the Internet Chess Club. I hope you can join us either in person or virtually. (If you don’t have an ICC subscription, tune in to Twitter.)

The Blaze has the blessing and support of the Illinois Chess Association, along with many individual people whom we hope to thank profusely in due course. (And one person I'd like to thank right now: Maret Thorpe, for creating the gorgeous flyer for the Celluar Field tournament)

Please let me know if you have any questions. The goal of the Blaze is to be a contributing part of the Chicago and Illinois chess communities and to help chess grow and prosper in the Windy City and the Prairie State. Please join the fun. Thanks.