USCL Quarterfinal Thoughts

by admin on November 10, 2015

Not much going on in my chess life right now, so I’ll write a little bit more about the U.S. Chess League. The playoffs are entering their second round, and now all of the top teams are in action.

On paper we should have some very close matches, with New Jersey (6½ in the regular season) against New York (7½) and New England (7½) against Manhattan (7) in the Eastern Division. In the West, Dallas (6½) faces San Francisco (6) and Las Vegas (6) plays St. Louis (6½). In all cases the team with more regular season points has draw odds. In a year with such parity at the top, I think that the draw odds are even more important than usual. Other than that, I think the winners will be whoever wants it the most!

The New Jersey-New York match features two brothers on third and fourth boards for New Jersey, Brandon and Aaron Jacobson. This must be an interesting time in the Jacobson household, as Brandon (at 12 years old, four years younger than Aaron) has caught up to his older brother in rating and has way surpassed him this year in the USCL. Brandon has scored 4½-1½, while Aaron has scored 0-3. They remind me a bit of the Naroditsky brothers; Daniel became a world class player, while his older brother Alan has quietly withdrawn from tournament chess. But let’s not give up on Aaron Jacobson yet. Just last year, he was the young prodigy, scoring 4½-½. So while all the attention focuses on the top boards, the most important question of the night might be: Which Aaron Jacobson will show up, the 2014 version or the 2015 version?

New England-Manhattan looks to me like the easiest match to forecast, because they have taken totally opposite roads rating-wise. Manhattan’s first two boards are much stronger, but of course the average rating can’t be over 2400 so that means New England’s third and fourth boards are much stronger. The match should end 2-2, and that would give New England the win based on draw odds. But of course, all it takes is one person blundering to mess up this scenario.

Next up are Dallas and San Francisco. These two teams have faced each other nineteen times and this will be their twentieth, which means they will have gone head-to-head more times than any other pair of teams in USCL history, except for Boston and New York (who have also played 20 times). It’s like the Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears, or Army versus Navy. These guys know each other. I think that the match to watch will be on board one. Daniel Naroditsky and Conrad Holt played the USCL game of the year last year in the semifinals, a game where Danya piled on one sensational sacrifice after another but the unflappable Holt found an unbelievable way to draw the king-and-pawn endgame. I lectured on the game for ChessLecture, so I remember it well. I guarantee that Danya remembers it well. I think he’s going to get his revenge this week, and lead the Mechanics to a narrow victory in spite of Dallas’s draw odds.

Finally, Las Vegas versus St. Louis. As I wrote last week, Las Vegas hasn’t lost all year, and last week they had a real breakthrough, crushing Arizona 4-0. And they’ve got the guy who always wins, Elliott Liu, on third board. Also, St. Louis has a guy playing on board one, Ukrainian GM Illya Nyzhnyk, who has only played two games this year and didn’t do all that well (½-1½). On paper he should beat GM Kayden Troff easily, but here’s where I think that “caring more” comes into the picture. Why should Nyzhnyk care about a chess league he’s barely played in, for a city and a country he does not have any strong ties to? Compare that to Troff, who is fighting for the respectability of Rocky Mountain chess, and playing for a team that’s on a roll. When you add it all up, I think that Las Vegas gets a point from Liu and a point from Troff and scrounges half a point from somewhere else and pulls off the upset.

Finally, bear in mind that my record as a chess prognosticator is truly awful, so what really happens will probably be the exact opposite of what I’ve written here.  😎

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admin November 11, 2015 at 9:37 am

Sure enough, I got three out of four wrong. But hey, at least there was a link to my wrong predictions on the U.S. Chess League home page!


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