Huge Upset for Unicorns

by admin on February 10, 2020

In week six of the PRO Chess League, the California Unicorns picked the right time to play their best match of the season. Against the heavily favored New York Marshalls, who were led by Hikaru Nakamura on board one, California not only pulled off an upset but did it by a comfortable margin, 9.5-6.5.

I started watching the match when it was halfway through and the Marshalls were leading 4.5-3.5. Not bad, I thought; the Unicorns are at least putting up a fight. But in the last two rounds they did more than put up a fight. In round three Dariusz Swiercz blew out Nakamura in very impressive style, and our dynamic duo from Russia, Grigoriy Oparin and Alexey Sarana, also won their games to give the Unicorns a 6.5-5.5 lead.

In the last round the wheels completely came off for the Marshalls. At one point the Marshalls seemed to have better positions on three boards, but they ended up losing the round, 3-1. Nakamura had what looked like a great attack but Sarana came up with a neat idea that forced queens off and led to an easily drawn opposite color bishop endgame. And here is a great draw save by Daniel Naroditsky, our fourth board, against Wojciech Moranda.

White to move.

FEN: 8/b4pk1/p2Qqpp1/4p3/7P/PP3RN1/2r2PK1/8 w – – 0 42

Naroditsky is White here, and Moranda is Black. It seems as if Black’s king, surrounded by defenders, could not possibly be in danger — but one move changes all of that.

42. Nh5+! …

Moranda must have just overlooked this. It’s blitz chess, and stuff like that happens. He can’t really decline the sacrifice, because White would trade queens and then take the pawn on f6.

42. … gh 43. Rg3+ Qg4!

A good way to keep the game alive. Black gets a ton of material for the queen.

44. Rxg4+ hg 45. Kg3 Rxf2

If White were playing for a win, he would probably take the pawn with 46. Qxa6, with a double-edged game where either player could win. According to Fritz, Black has to find a couple of good moves to draw: 46. … Bd4! 47. Kxg4 e4! (a tough move to find because it seems to weaken both the pawn and the bishop) 48. Qc4 Be5. Now 49. Qxe4? loses the queen, and Black is threatening … e4-e3-e2, so this is a good time for White to sue for peace with 49. Kh5 e3 50. Qg4+.

Fortunately for Danya, he did not have to play for a win because we were already a game ahead and the other games were already starting to turn in California’s favor. What we really needed here was a draw, so he played

46. h5 Bd4 47. h6+ Kxh6 48. Qf8+ Kg6 49. Qg8+ Kh6

Of course, 49. … Kf5?? would walk into 50. Qxg4 mate, so Black has to accept a draw by repetition.

The convincing match win clinches a berth in the playoffs for California. Even better, if New York loses to Canada next week while California beats the U.K., then California would move up to third place and get an easier opponent in the playoffs. Here are the standings in the Western Division.

  • St. Louis — 124.5
  • Canada — 111.5
  • New York — 100.5
  • California — 90
  • Chicago — 60
  • United Kingdom — 50.5
  • Brazil — 46.5
  • Argentina — 41.5

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