Most of the clashes in week seven of the United States Chess League (USCL) were definitive. All but one of the eight meetings produced a winner, and a 4-0 whitewash occurred for only the second time this season out of 56 total matches.
The season is also getting long in the tooth, and mathematical probabilites and impossibilites began to be calculated.
By virtue of their painless 3.5-0.5 win against Los Angeles (2.5-4.5), the New England Nor'easters (6-1) are tied for the best record in the league and are a virtual lock for the playoffs. Their FM and NM took out two IMs on boards two and three, while NM Lawyer Times continued his great board four play to notch his team's third win of the night.
The only way the Nor'easters could miss the playoffs would be if they lost the next three weeks, and the third-place Boston Blitz (3-4) won out, and the Connecticut Dreadnoughts (4-3) won in weeks nine and 10 (Connecticut plays Boston in week eight), and Boston made up a six-game individual game point deficit. In short, welcome to the 2013 USCL playoffs, New England! If they make it, they have their first and especially fourth boards to thank - the Nor'easters lead the league with 6.5/7 on the final board.
They are of course still fighting for a top seed and the subsequent tiebreak advantage in the post-season.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Cobras (0.5-6.5) lost a narrow match to New Jersey (3.5-3.5) by a score of 2.5-1.5 and are eliminated from playoff contention.
New England could have absolutely sewn up a spot, except that Connecticut slipped past Arizona (2-5) with a 2.5-1.5 margin. IM (and GM-elect) Mackenzie Molner had his English Attack in the Sicilian stall against GM Michael Rohde, whose pieces and connectors were too much to handle. Rohde is now 3.5/5 in his first season in the USCL. A board four win clinched the match for Connecticut.
GM Michael Rohde
The lone bright spot for the Scorpions was the innovative play from IM Levon Altounian on the second board. Pawns were treated like empty food wrappers as Black had tripled pawns by move seven and White had a pawn on e7 by move 15 (that Black didn't capture for eight more moves!). The unique pawn advances and mutual rook sacrifices earned Altounian a Game of the Week nomination.
IM Levon Altounian
Altounian is now 4/5 on board two, while other Scorpions are 0-2 on the same board.
After opening the season at 3-0, San Francisco (4.5-2.5) ended its three-week winless drought by taking out Boston 2.5-1.5. The key game was board two, where IM (and GM-elect) Daniel Naroditsky hoodwinked IM Marc Esserman and broke through for the win. In the final position, Naroditsky had six pawns overpowering Black's lone bishop.
A complicated struggle ensued on board three, where FM Sam Sevian evened the score with a deft king march that netted him a second queen. Then the leaders of the Pacific Division got a win on board four to give them team victory.
Seattle's (3-4) two game winning streak ended with their tie with Baltimore (2.5-4.5); all four boards were decisive as the Kingfishers got wins on the outer boards. Even with the split match, the Sluggers inch above Vibe for second place in the Pacific.
The Atlantic played the South Wednesday. At night's end, each division picked up a pair of wins.
Joining the Knockouts in the win column and keeping pace with them were the Manhattan Applesauce (3.5-3.5), who blanked the St. Louis Arch Bishops (3.5-3.5). It was Manhattan's first-ever shutout in 67 regular season matches.
The Applesauce continue to play well when their top player performs. They have three match wins on the year and GM Zviad Izoria has his only three wins in those matches. This time he upset GM Varuzhan Akobian, the league's top player.
GM Zviad Izoria
Things didn't get better for St. Louis. IM Priyadharshan Kannappan lost his first-ever regular season game, and IM Vitaly Neimer didn't make use of his 200-point rating advantage. Board four hero Jacob Wilkins was instead a huge underdog and suffered the same fate. In 2013, only the Kingfishers in the opening week suffered a 4-0 loss.
Next week sets up huge for St. Louis, as if they lose to the team they are chasing, Miami, they will be out of the playoffs. A Sharks win would also guarantee both they and Dallas would represent the South Division in the post season.
Miami (5.5-1.5) stretched its lead over the Arch Bishops to two matches by virtue of wins on boards two and three. FM Eric Rodriguez earned his second Game of the Week nomination of the season while spoiling Irina Krush's first USCL game since becoming a GM-elect.
FM Eric Rodriguez
The Shark's GM Julio Becerra is the new and once again team leader as GM Yuniesky Quesada has left the team.
GM Tamaz Gelashvili won for the second straight week, but it was not enough for the Knights, as NM Tony Arencibia got a second win for Miami on board three.
Dallas (6-1) has the best record in the Western Conference, yet is only a half-point clear of second place Miami. The Destiny kept their slim lead by beating Philadelphia (2-5) by the score of 2.5-1.5. Like their closest foes, they dropped board one but won on two and three.
FM Alec Getz played the Breyer Variation, but the quiet maneuver eventually became a blistering attack on NM Peter Minear's king. The third Game of the Week nomination means that a grandmaster will not win for week seven, as they had for five of the first six weeks (FM Tom Bartell won in week four).
FM Alec Getz