Monday, August 25

US Chess League 2014

The 10th season of the US Chess League kicks off this week!  The defending champion Miami Sharks face stiff competition from St. Louis ("Arch Bishops" feature three 2700s), New York ("Knights" star US Champion Gata Kamsky) and more than a dozen other cities around the nation. The league expanded to 18 teams, adding squads from Atlanta ("Kings") and Rio Grande ("Ospreys" from Brownsville TX).  The season stretches 10 weeks through the end of October, with 4 rounds of playoffs culminating in the Championship Match on December 3.  Teams will battle in three divisions (East, South and West), with the Top 3 in each, plus one 4th place, qualifying for the playoffs.

The San Francisco Mechanics joined the USCL in the inaugural season and have reached the playoffs in 7 out of 9 years.  Playing at the historic Mechanics' Institute, the club won the 2006 league championship, but also lost three times in the semifinals, including last year to the Sharks.  Team captain IM John Donaldson has successfully relied on one strategy while recruiting the roster each year: fill the lower boards with underrated juniors.  Case in point: the talented junior Daniel Naroditsky, who recently broke 2600 FIDE rating, will play for the 9th straight year, progressing from bottom rated in 2006 up to first board.

2014 Mechanics Roster
(Use January USCF list for official ratings.)
  1. GM Daniel Naroditsky (age 18), 2675 (August), 2614* (January), +61 (gain)
  2. GM Jesse Kraai, 2589, 2574, +15
  3. GM Vinay Bhat, 2555, 2555, 0
  4. IM-elect Yian Liou (17), 2475, 2478, -3
  5. FM Andy Lee, 2361, 2314, +47
  6. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (14), 2332, 2306, +26
  7. FM Cameron Wheeler (14), 2368, 2300, +68
  8. NM Siddharth Banik (14), 2236, 2212, +24
  9. Hans Niemann (11), 2136, 1979*, +157
(* League rules count Naroditsky as 2600 and Niemann as 2000.)

The kid on board 4: Hans!
The youthfulness of the San Francisco delegation jumps right out.  If you still consider 18-year old  Daniel as a junior, then the kids comprise 2/3 of the team!  The first round lineup (1-4-6-8) is one of the youngest in league history--an average age under 16.  Incredibly, the average August rating of 2430 still ranks among the highest for Week 1.  In fact, captain Donaldson can select from an assortment of lineups ranked above 2400 by platooning the Grandmasters on board 1 and substituting on boards 3 and 4.  The Mechanics can even field two GMs, balanced out by the rapidly improving expert Hans on board 4.  The three strongest (legal) lineups appear to be (1-4-7-8), (1-5-6-7) and (1-2-5-9), each rated between 2434 and 2440 USCF.

The US Chess League returns to the Internet Chess Club (ICC) this fall, with games scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings of every week.  Good luck to the Mechanics as they face the expansion team from the Rio Grande on Wednesday, August 27 at 5:30pm.

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