By NM Jeremy Kane
Heading into week 10 the Blaze needed only a draw to make the playoffs for the first time in team history. In reality though, the team needed more. While a tie would qualify for the playoffs, no one wanted to have finished the season winless in the final four weeks. Furthermore, the prospect of a round one matchup giving draw odds to the stacked St. Louis lineup didn’t fill anyone with excitement. This is why there was a large, tense crowd huddled into the North Shore Chess Center Wednesday night pulling for the Blaze to win and clinch the second seed in the West. In their way stood the Dallas Destiny with a young and strong lineup, hoping to spoil the Blaze season and take a playoff spot of their own.
The first game to finish was on board one. Grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich set some problems for IM Salvijus Bercys in an unusual and strategically complicated Dutch Defense. Bercys played very well though, solved his problems and grabbed a pawn on move 18. Fortunately, Dmitry, who has been a rock on board one for the team all season kept his cool and had enough activity to win the pawn back and make a draw.
The next game to finish was a wild one on board two. Grandmaster Mesgen Amanov grabbed a pawn in the opening against IM Julio Sadorra and then hung on for dear life as Sadorra built up a terrifying kingside attack. Saddora deviated early with the rare 9. Qe2 and 10. Re1. By Move 15 Sadorra’s compensation was clear. He had a pawn on g5 controlling the key f6 square where a knight or queen could make its presence felt and an open h5 file to deliver mate if a queen and knight could ever get there. However, Amanov defended brilliantly and looked to be winning when he played 22… Nxd4! winning a second pawn and destroying white’s proud center. By move twenty five the critical position was reached.
White has just played 25. Rh1 in Sadorra-Amanov (black continued Ne2)
In the position above, black is ahead by three pawns, but must take great care because white can win with an attack on the h-file or by getting his knight to f6. Blaze manager Daniel Parmet and honorary Blaze member IM Jan van de Mortel (he now plays for New England Nor’easters) found the amazing defense 25… Bxd1! 26. Nd7 f5!! After Nxc5 fxe4 black is up material despite losing his queen and should be simply winning. Mesgen found what might be the next best defense, but unfortunately my computer, which tells me that black is winning after 25… Ne2, slowly changes its mind a few moves down the road. Despite the unfortunate outcome, this was an amazing game and strong GOTW candidate. Unfortunately, the result gave the remaining two boards no margin for error.
NM Nelson Lopez, Trevor’s opponent on board four, surprised everyone with a side variation of a side variation. This sent Trevor into an early deep think, but he came out of it with a logical plan, and an error by the opponent on move six already left black with a good position. I could tell you about the game, but I would rather let Trevor explain it himself.
With this win the fans finally relaxed a bit as Florin was clearly not losing on board 3 at this point. Yet, the presence of opposite colored bishops made the endgame look likely headed to a draw. However, powered by an enormous bottle of mango juice, Florin blitzed out one of the most impressive endgame displays I have ever seen. Now spectator, GM Dmitry Gurevich effused mountains of praise on Florin’s technique by making Karpovesque comparisons. Florin was kind enough to annotate his back and fourth game with NM (approaching 2400) Tyler Hughes. He is hard on himself in the analysis, but it is impossible to play the intense time trouble phase of USCL matches perfectly. Despite mutual mistakes, Florin’s ability to pull out the decisive endgame victory was both instructive and greatly impressive. I was particularly struck by his willingness to part with his kingside pawns in the endgame, knowing that this was the only way to play for a win.
Applause broke out throughout the cities of Skokie and Chicago, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. The entire team stuck around to see the conclusion of the Seattle-St. Louis match, to find out that not only had the Blaze made the playoffs, but also the Blaze had locked down the second seed. The Blaze will face League MVP Julio Bercerra and Miami in a rematch of week nine (where the match was a 2-2 draw). The Blaze will have draw odds this time though! GO BLAZE!