The Baltimore Kingfishers (2-1, 8.0) continued their road back to prominence with a 3.5-0.5 victory over the Carolina Cobras (0-3, 3.5). With IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and IM Ray Kaufman dominating on boards 2 and 4 for Baltimore, Carolina's best chances to equalize the match were with the black pieces on boards 1 and 3. On the top board, IM Jonathan Schroer missed the incredible 20. ..Qf2! 21. Kf2 Bf5 22. Qg5 Bb1 23. Qf6 gf 24. Rb1 with an extra pawn, instead trading queens and being squeezed in a painful endgame by GM Larry Kaufman.
On board 3, NM Carlito Agner eschewed the free pawn offered by WGM Sabina Foisor with 34. Ne3?, instead playing 34. ..Rg6 35. Rg6 hg and again ignored it after 36. Qg3? and soon the game petered into a draw.
The Seattle Sluggers (1-2, 5.5) sent the defending Western Divison Champion Miami Sharks (0-3, 3.5) to a stunning third loss in a row to start the season. GM Varuzhan Akobian dominated two-time league MVP Julio Becerra in a Grunfeld to get things started for Seattle. Play on boards 2-4 was not so clean, with wild swings falling Seattle's way on boards 2 and 4 to compensate for a shocking loss on board 3, where FM Charles Galofre was the recipient of a gift from WGM Katerina Rohonyan. In the popular g4 sacrifice line of the Semi-Slav, Galofre has just played the rare 8. ..Nh6 (diagram). Rohonyan blitzed out 9. Rg7?? and after 9. ..Qf6! white was down a piece and could have resigned.
On board 4, Miami's Robert Perez was up two pawns before slowly bleeding away his advantage and eventually losing to Seattle's Alex Guo. In a must-win game on board 2, FM Marcel Martinez was pressing FM Costin Cozianu in a R+B vs R+N ending before dropping a piece with 60. Bd5??.
Cozianu frittered away his edge after 60. ..Nb4 61. Rd4 Rc5 62. Ke4 f5 63. Kf4 Nd5? (63. ..Rd5! was winning) and Martinez retained decent drawing chances (though not enough to save the match) after 64. Kf5 Nc7 65. Kg6 Rg5 66. Kh6 Rg2 67. b4 Ne6
Seeking to keep the black knight restrained, Martinez played 68. Re4?? (68. Rd1! would have sufficed), but lacked sufficient checking distance after 68. ..Kf6!, after which there was no way to avoid mate or a devastating loss of material. Cozianu finished nicely after 69. ba Rg6 70. Kh5 Ng7 71. Kh4 Nf5 72. Kh5 Rg5#!, giving Seattle a 3-1 margin of victory.
It's been a great start to the season for two of the league's newer franchises, the Arizona Scorpions (3-0, 9.0) and the New England Nor'easters (3-0, 7.5). Arizona took sole possession of first place in the West with a 3.5-0.5 destruction of another new team, the Los Angeles Vibe (1-2, 4.0). IM Rogelio Barcenilla won a smooth game on board 1 against GM Melikset Khachiyan, as did Amanda Mateer against NM Christian Tanaka on board 4. With an exciting and complicated draw on board 2 between FM Joel Banawa and IM Dionisio Aldama providing the winning margin, what's left, you ask? Merely an early contender for Game of the Year by IM Daniel Rensch whose 2/2 start has leaguewatchers forgetting his disastrous 2/10 debut. His foil was the dangerous WFM Tatev Abrahamyan who took the black side of a French Winawer.
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Ne7 5. a3 Bc3 6. bc c5 7. Qg4 0-0 8. Bd3 Nbc6 9. Bg5
A rare move, championed by GM Lenier Dominguez against legendary GMs Artur Yusupov and Evgeny Bareev in 2006. More popular is 9. Qh5 Ng6 10. Nf3 Qc7 11. Be3 when after both 11. ..c4 and 11. ..Ne7, white has done quite well.
9. ..Qa5 10. Ne2 Ng6 11. 0-0 c4 12. Bg6 fg! 13. a4 Bd7!?
This logical move appears to be new. Yusupov and Bareev both chose 13. ..Qc7.
14. f3 Rf7 15. h4 Raf8 16. Bc1 Re8 17. Bd2 Ne7 18. Rfb1 b6 19. Nf4 Ref8 20. Nh3 Nf5 21. Rb4 b5!
With black now gaining a passed a-pawn, white has no choice but to assail the seemingly untouchable black king.
22. h5 gh 23. Qh5 ba?!
Better was 23. ..g6!, driving white's queen to either g4/g5 and making it harder for white to develop his h-file counterplay.
24. Ng5 g6 25. Qh3 Rg7 26. g4 Ne7 27. Kf2!
White makes his intentions clear. Ra1-h1 and crash through on the h-file. Who will get there first?
Abrahamyan goes for it.
28. Rh1 a2 29. Nh7 a1Q 30. Nf8! Qh1!
Forced! Black perishes after 30. ..Q1a3?? 31. Qh8 Kf7 32. Nd7 Ng8 33. Rh7! Rh7 34. Qh7 Ke8 35. Rb8.
The knight is taboo! 31. ..Kf8 32. Qh8! Rg8 33. Qf6 Ke8 34. Bg5! Nc6 35. Rb8!! and white wins
32. Bg5 Nc6??
After walking a tightrope for the last dozen moves, Abrahamyan loses the thread, though her position may already be lost. After 32. ..Qd8!? 33. Ng6!! Rg6 34. Bf6 Rg7 35. Bg7 Kg7 36. Qh4! Kf7 37. Qf6 Ke8 38. Ra4! Qc7 39. g5! white has a big advantage. More practical chances, as defined by forcing white to find a more narrow winning path, were offered by 32. ..Qc7!? 33. Qh6! Kf8 34. Qh8 Rg8 35. Qh7!! (threatening 36. Rb8!!) Rg7 36. Bh6 Ng8 37. Qh8!! a6! 38. Rb8! Qb8 39. Qg7 Ke8 40. Qg8 Kd7 41. Qf7 Kc6 42. Qe8 Kb6 43. g5! a5! 44. Bf8! (diagram) when it will be impossible to stop white's g-pawn in this picturesque position.
Missing the immediate win to be had with 33. Qh6! Kf8 34. Qh8 Rg8 35. Bh6 Kf7 36. Qh7 Ke8 37. Qg8 Kd7 38. Qf7 Ne7 39. Bg5 Qd8 40. Rb8!
The knight is still untouchable! Forced was 33. ..Qc7! 34. Ng6! Rh7! 35. Qc1! Rh2! 36. Kg3! Qh7! 37. Nh4! Rh4 38. Bh4 Nb4 39. cb Qg6! when black may try to grovel in the BOOC ending. Instead, Rensch finishes in style.
34. Qh8 Rg8 35. Qh6 Ke8 36. Qh7 Rf8 37. Rb8! 1:0
The Nor'Easters (3-0, 7.5) maintained command of the East with a 2.5-1.5 victory over the New Jersey Knockouts (1-2, 5.0), dispelling the chatter about NE's easy schedule during the first two weeks. With GM Joel Benjamin creating magic on board 1 against US Junior Champion IM Sam Shankland and IM Dean Ippolito finding a three-fold repetition against IM Jan van de Mortel (in the position below, van de Mortel is winning a pawn after 50. ..Bc8!), New Jersey had to feel great about their chances. Unfortunately for them, New England's dangerous third and fourth boards, FM Christopher Chase and NM Alex Cherniack outplayed the Brothers Shen to win the match. [Ed: As David Vigorito correctly points out in the comments, van de Mortel's draw was the last game to finish, with the repetition draw providing the winning margin for NE, and was the most team-friendly/pragmatic decision. In most cases, I'm looking to highlight critical moments on the board and will occasionally get the match chronology wrong.]
Arthur Shen missed the venom in Cherniack's 23. ..Qe7 (diagram) and responded with 24. h4??. After 24. ..Nc5!, white's queen is trapped and he can safely resign.
Boston (2-1, 6.0) appears to have fully recovered from their week 1 debacle and is back to their traditional regular season dominance, dispatching the Manhattan Applesauce (1-2, 4.0) with a 3.5-0.5 drubbing. GM Eugene Perelshteyn held a comfortable draw on board 1 against GM Alex Stripunsky and WGM Anya Corke and NM Vadim Martirosov won smooth games against the volatile FM Andrei Zaremba and Shaun Smith. Board 2 saw the return of IM Marc Esserman, coming off a first-place finish in the New York State Championship. His face-off against IM Eli Vovsha, who started the season with two straight wins with the black pieces was another spectacular win for Esserman, his sixth straight with the white pieces in USCL play (and 9.5/11 lifetime).
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3!?
2. ..d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. 0-0 b5 8. Bb3 b4!?
This line has an excellent pedigree, having been played by Anand and Najdorf expert Matthew Sadler, both in games against French GM Joel Lautier. Vovsha lost a tough game to GM Hikaru Nakamura in 2007 in this line, no fault of the opening.
9. Na4 Bd7 10. c3!
Lautier's improvement against Sadler and also played in Kudrin-Fedorowicz, US-ch 1999, a miniature where Kudrin followed Lautier's analysis to an 18 move victory. Nakamura chose 10. f4.
Fedorowicz lost quickly after 10. ..Ne4? 11. Qf3 d5 12. c4 Nc6? 13. Ne6!!. Sadler survived a few more moves with 12. ..Qf6 13. cd! Qd4 14. Be3 Qe5 15. Bf4! Qf5 16. Rfe1 and white's attack offered tremendous compensation for the piece.
11. cb Nb4 12. Be3!
This logical move is new.
Most prudent. If 12. ..Ne4 13. Rc1 Nc5 14. Nc5 dc 15. Ne6!! (calculated by Esserman during the game, diagram). Either capture loses as 15. ..Be6 16. Ba4! Bd7 17. Re1! creates a deadly discovery or 15. ..fe 16. Qh5! g6 17. Qe5! Nd3 18. Qh8 Nc1 19. Rc1 Qe7 20. Bh6 0-0-0 21. Bf8 Rf8 22. Qc3! and black's position is riddled with weaknesses.
13. Rc1 Ne4 14. Nb6!
Esserman spent a full 22 minutes weaving his way through the complications before uncorking this nice shot.
14. ..Qb6 15. Ne6 Nc5 16. Ng7 and if 16. ..Kd8 17. Bf7! or 16. ..Kf8 17. Bh6! and white's attack rages.
15. a3! Qb6 16. Ne6 Qb5 17. Nf8 Rf8 18. ab Qb4 19. Rc7 Nf6 20. Bd4 Bd8 21. Rc3 Be6 22. Re1 Re8 23. Rce3 d5 24. Bc3 Qb6 25. Bd5! Nd5 26. Qd5 h6 27. Rg3!
And the rest is a rout.
27. ..f6 28. Qh5! Kf8 29. Rg7! Kg7 30. Qe8 Bf7 31. Qe4 Qd6 32. Qg4 Kh7 33. Rd1 Qe7 34. Qd7 1:0
The St. Louis Archbishops (1.5-1.5, 6.0) got back to .500 by defeating the Dallas Destiny (1-2, 5.0) who, now two years removed from their back-to-back championships, are in an early fight for their playoff life. It was the first victory for St. Louis' impressive 3GM lineup, as GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Yury Shulman (recovering from his shocking upset defeat at the hands of Chicago's IM Florin Felecan in the week 2 Game of the Week) defeated GM Alejandro Ramirez and NM Tyler Hughes on the top two boards. Although Tony Rich nearly held a draw on board 4 against NM Nelson Lopez, the match could have had a dramatically different outcome. On board 3, FM Keaton Kiewra had a promising opening position against GM Ben Finegold after 18 moves (diagram)
After 19. f3!, temporarily preventing black from castling and securing e4 against the b7 bishop, white would have had a good opportunity to squeeze black's weakened pawn structure. Instead, after 19. Rac1?! 0-0! 20. Qd7 Qd7 21. Rd7 Be4, a drawish endgame was soon reached, snuffing out Dallas' chances.
Last, but certainly not least, was a marquee matchup between two previously undefeated teams, the Chicago Blaze (2.5-0.5, 7.0) and the San Francisco Mechanics (2-1, 8.0). Chicago's GM Dmitry Gurevich conducted a sparkling mating attack against IM Dmitry Zilberstein, providing Chicago the winning margin as boards 2-4 were drawn. [Ed: As Chaos correctly observes, after surviving an inferior opening, Andy Lee had winning chances against Gauri Shankar on board 4, before 45. Re4?? allowed the stunning 45. ..Reb3! which converted the game into a holdable R+P endgame.] San Francisco's best chance to level the match seemed to be on board 2, where FM Daniel Naroditsky was squeezing early MVP candidate IM Florin Felecan in a Pirc. In the position below, the prophylactic 14. c3! would have prevented Felecan's equalizing plan of Na6-b4 and d6-d5 and given white an opportunity to exploit the advantage indicated by his bishop pair and extra space. Instead, after 14. 0-0 Nb4! 15. Bc4 d5 16. Bb3 Nb6, black had untangled and comfortably held the draw.
Also of note was FM Steven Zierk's cute defensive move 18. ..h6!? (see diagram) against IM Angelo Young creating a rare sight - tripled e-pawns after 19. Ne4 Ne4 20. fe. Though Young played on for an additional 79 moves, once Zierk's king reached e6, the drawish outcome was never in doubt. [Ed: As correctly pointed out by Chaos in the comments, Young had a winning opportunity late in the game, but only after a gross blunder by Zierk - the endgame itself was drawn until that point.]