The make-or-break battle for the playoffs makes the Blaze and breaks Texas
For the first time in their history the Chicago Blaze have made it to the USCL playoffs. They did it by beating the Dallas Destiny last night by a score of 2.5-1.5 in the final match of the regular season. It was a make-or-break night for both teams; it made the Blaze and broke the Destiny.
The margin of victory came from wins by IM Florin Felecan and NM Trevor Magness and a draw by GM Dmitry Gurevich. As a result of the win the Blaze finish the regular season in sole possession of second place in the Western Division of the USCL, half a match point behind the division-leading Arizona Scorpions.
“I still can't believe we won it!” said a stunned and elated Dmitry, whose draw with IM Salvijus Bercys was critical to the match victory for the Blaze. “What a match! What a team!”
All of the games were exciting, interesting, and highly competitive, including GM Mesgen Amanov’s hard-fought loss to GM Julio Sadorra, our only defeat of the night. But it was Florin’s mango-juice-stoked strategic and tactical brilliance that really brought the crowd at the North Shore Chess Center to its feet. It was last game of the evening to end, and with the score tied at 1.5 games each, the entire season was riding on the outcome. If Florin had lost, it would have meant the end of the season right there. A draw would have been enough to get us into the playoffs, but Florin obviously sensed that victory was important to give the team momentum going into next week’s quarterfinals.
He was right. After starting out the season strong and holding first place at the end of Week 6, the Blaze struggled in Weeks 7, 8, and 9, losing two matches and drawing one. It was vital that we finish the regular season on a winning note, and we did.
Dmitry had praise for his two victorious colleagues. “Trevor played on a very high level, great performance!” he said. “It was a new opening position for him, and Trevor played it safe and sound increasing his advantage in a masterful style! For Florin what started as an about-equal endgame came out as a great victory! The R+B vs R+N encounter reminds me old classics.”
Our debt to NM Len Weber, who drove up from the south suburbs at the last minute to serve as our Celebrity Tournament Director, is beyond expression. Len has stepped up so many times this year to back the team, and we are very grateful.
We now go on to play the Miami Sharks next Wednesday night in the first round of the Western Division playoffs. That match will come only two weeks after our last meeting with the Sharks, which ended in a draw. They are a tough team, an excellent team, which has come on strong in the final weeks of the season. Their third-place finish in standings doesn’t reflect their true strength so much as it does the poor start they got in the season. Right now they’re playing well and have a lot of momentum.
But so do the Blaze, and next week a draw won’t be good enough for the Sharks. As the higher-seeded team, we have draw odds, which means in a drawn match we advance to the next round of the playoffs. To do the same, Miami will have to win, and that will make them tough indeed. Plan to be at the North Shore Chess Center to root for the team, and if you can’t be there tune in on ICC and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Go Blaze!
Photos: Jae Lim, Mike Mei, Andi Rosen