Fortunately, at least one San Francisco franchise has made the playoffs for five straight seasons! Congratulations to the Mechanics, competing in the US Chess League, for making local fans proud. The Mechanics finished at 6.5-3.5 in the regular season standings, earning second place in the competitive Western Division.
Featuring four strong Grandmasters and three International Masters each with two GM norms, the team has strength and depth unparalleled in the league. This season, the Mechanics' captain IM John Donaldson submitted four different lineups featuring Grandmasters on both boards 1 and 2: Josh Friedel + Jesse Kraai (see photo at left), Patrick Wolff + Kraai, Wolff + Vinay Bhat and Kraai + Bhat. In fact, the 2469 rated lineup of Friedel, Kraai, IM Sam Shankland and NM Yian Liou likely was the strongest in the history of the league, at least by numbers.
However, the formula of success for the San Francisco team always has been the play of talented (and underrated) juniors on boards 3 and 4. This year's roster included four members age 18 or younger: IM Shankland, FM Daniel Naroditsky, NM Gregory Young and NM Yian Liou (see photo at right). The first three were veterans, having participated already in previous years. Newcomer Yian Liou, the #2 ranked 12 year old in the nation, turned out to be the team's star! Playing in all but two weeks, Yian scored 6.5 out of 9 for a performance rating of 2412, including wins against IM Mehmed Pasalic of Chicago and WFM Bayaraa Zorigt of Dallas.
Tonight, the Mechanics face the Miami Sharks in the semifinal round of the playoffs! These rivals squared off twice in the regular season, with the local boys winning 3:1 in week 3 and drawing 2:2 in week 6. But the playoffs have favored Miami over the years, with the Sharks eliminating the Mechanics in both 2005 and 2007. Who will win this year? Tune into ICC between 5:30 and 9:00 to watch the action LIVE!
Playoff Semifinals: San Francisco vs Miami
- GM Jesse Kraai vs GM Julio Becerra 1/2
- IM Blas Lugo vs GM Vinay Bhat 0-1
- IM David Pruess vs IM Alejandro Moreno Roman 0-1
- NM Eric Rodriguez vs NM Yian Liou 1-0
UPDATE on Wednesday night: Read the thorough post mortem by team captain IM John Donaldson at the Mechanics' blog.