Monday, August 26

US Chess League Kicks Off!

The San Francisco Mechanics kick off the 9th season of the US Chess League on Tuesday evening.  Always competitive, the local team reached the playoffs in six of the previous eight seasons, winning the league championship in 2006.  Over the years, noteworthy titled players included GM Josh Friedel, GM Sam Shankland, GM Vinay Bhat, GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky, IM David Pruess and captain IM John Donaldson.  The San Francisco recipe for success, now copied throughout the league, depends on cultivating underrated young talent to man board 4, thereby opening enough space under the 2401 rating cap for the highly rated professionals on boards 1 and 2.

The 2013 roster for the San Francisco Mechanics consists of 10 players: 6 kids and 4 adults.  The top five, representing the team nucleus, have earned at least 25 caps each.  The next three also saw playing time last season.  The bottom four represent the Bay Area's latest crop of young stars--all age 13 or less and National Scholastic Champions!  The team selected January 2013 as the official rating list for determining a legal weekly lineup.

2013 Mechanics Roster
(January Rating, September Rating, Difference)
  1. GM Jesse Kraai (2567, 2567, 0)
  2. GM Vinay Bhat (2555, 2555, 0)
  3. GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky (2553, 2590, +37)
  4. FM Yian Liou (2432, 2492, +60)
  5. IM David Pruess (2431, 2431, 0)
  6. FM Andy Lee (2294, 2316, +22)
  7. FM Cameron Wheeler (2276, 2276, 0)
  8. NM Kesav Viswanadha (2213, 2261, +48)
  9. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (2191, 2278, +87)
  10. Siddharth Banik (2033, 2151, +118)
A glance at the above roster reveals several observations.  The trio of Grandmasters are interchangeable, and, depending on availability, I expect to see them take turns on boards 1 and 2 for much of the season.  Likewise, the three "Chess Punks" (Cameron, Kesav and Vignesh) appear close in strength and will divvy up many weeks on boards 3 and 4.  Finally, if bottom-rated Siddharth simply holds his own against master level opposition, then the team can afford to field a top-heavy power lineup more often.

Check out some of the possible lineups at captain Donaldson's disposal.  Unfortunately, availability may again become a driving factor in determining who can play, as in recent years.
  • two of Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + Liou/Pruess + Banik
  • two of Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + two of Lee/Wheeler/Viswanadha/Panchanatham
  • Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + Pruess + two of Lee/Wheeler/Viswanadha/Panchanatham

One peculiarity of the US Chess League allows captains to submit a lineup rated over 2400 in spite of the 2401 rating cap. Indeed, 60% of the San Francisco team is currently rated north of their "official" January rating.  Consider the lineup of Kraai + Naroditsky + Liou + Banik, rated 2450 on the September list!!  Few teams can equal that.  Even stronger may be substituting Bhat, the club's all-time leading scorer, on board 1--exactly as Donaldson has done for week 1.

The league schedule shows one match per week for the next 10 weeks, on either Tuesday or Wednesday evening.  The Mechanics compete in the Pacific Division and will face the Arizona Scorpions, Los Angeles Vibe and Seattle Sluggers twice each.  The top pair of teams from each of the four Divisions will participate in the league playoffs in November.

In a big change, the US Chess League has moved to  Basic accounts are free, allowing anyone to follow the action live.  The planned coverage includes a live TV broadcast of every round.  The action kicks off with a California Clásico against Los Angeles on Tuesday at 6:15pm!

No comments: