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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 2011 U.S. Chess League: New England Nor’easters
 IM Dave Vigorito
  November 2011

In the 2010 season, the New England Nor’easters won the USCL Championship in their inaugural year. The team did this while shattering records along the way. During the regular season, the Nor’easters scored 9.5/10 match points (the one draw was with Boston) and in the playoffs scored 2.5/3 (again, drawing with Boston). In 2010 there were four IMs, and all performed above 2650. Heading into 2011, we would see a lot of changes, even though our roster remained mostly intact.  

Sam Shankland hails from California but as he is attending Brandeis University, the Nor’easters were fortunate to have him heading up our team. In 2010 Sam was one of our IMs, but he received his long overdue GM title in the USCL offseason. IM Robert Hungaski gained well over 100 points since the start of the inaugural season. Your author, IM David Vigorito, also made some gains, the most important of which was his daughter Zoe. Unfortunately we lost IM Jan Van de Mortel, who joined our friends in Boston (or Providence, rather). We added IM Jonathan Yedidia, who recently re-entered the tournament arena after a long layoff. FM and assistant manager Charles Riordan was back, as was FM and webmaster ( Braden Bournival.
Last year NM Alex Cherniack was an absolute rock on Board 4, so he was back, although his rating gains meant that his playing time would be on Board 3, and this would certainly have some effect on the team. Due to rating compatibility NMs Chris Chase and Carey Thiel, members of the previous year’s Champion team, were not on the roster this year. We did add NMs Ben Goldberg of Rhode Island, Alex Fikiet of Connecticut, and 12 year old Mika Brattain of Massachusetts to the expanded (10 players compared to last year’s 9) team.
2011 was very different, as we did not make the playoffs. This was due to several factors. Our schedule was much tougher than it was last year. Teams were also throwing their best at us. The champs always have a target on their back, and as Boston reporter Mark LaRocca noted, we were facing each team’s best punch. We also had problems with player availability. Our biggest gun, GM Sam, could only play in three of the fi rst nine matches. With Robert coming from 2 hours away and yours truly having the additional duties of fatherhood, we were stretched out quite a bit this season. There were also signifi cant rating gains from Sam, Robert, myself, and Alex Cherniack which meant we were not go to be so underrated this year. However, the biggest factor that kept us out of the playoffs was simply the chess – we simply did not play very well.
The trouble started in week 1 as we faced our cross-town rivals, who were playing cross-region this year out of Providence. Jorge Sammour Hasbun took over most of the Board 1 duties from GM Larry Christiansen this season and he had an MVPlike season.
Jorge Sammour-Hasbun 2604
IM Robert Hungaski 2621
U.S. Chess League 2011 (1)
Last year Robert went undefeated and had a performance rating of 2780 (!), but 2011 belonged to Jorge.
26.Rxd7! Kxd7 27.Nxf5 Ke6? 28.Bh3! and White won quickly.
In this match I scored my only win of the season (despite the fact that I played more games than anyone) against a strong but rusty FM Griego but we still lost the match. At this point our record against Boston was 1-2 and against everyone else we were 11-0!
The pain continued in the second week as we lost to the powerful New York Knights. The one bright spot was Ben’s USCL debut against a well-known NY master.
Justus Williams 2265
Benjamin Goldberg 2230
U.S. Chess League 2011 (2)
25...Ng7 26.g4 Rh8 27.Rae1 Kd7 28.Bg5 Ne8 29.f4 exf4 30.Bxf4 hxg4 31.Bxd6 Nxd6 32.Nc5+ Kd8 33.Ne4 Nxe4 34.Rxe4 f5 35.Re6 Ra6! 36.Rxa6 bxa6 37.Rh1 Rh5 38.Kd3 g5 39.Ke3 Rxh4 0–1
Ben ended up going 3-0 in his first year in the USCL, despite the fact that he had Black in all three games against strong opponents.
The next week, we looked poised to win against Baltimore, but I began my stumbling and lost a pleasant position to IM Enkhbat which led to a drawn match. The slide continued and we were blown out 3.5-.5 against Philadelphia. This was the fi rst time we had ever had a match where we did not win a single game. After a 2010 season with a 9.5-0.5 regular season record, we suddenly found ourselves in a big hole after only four weeks with 0.5-3.5. We would need a tremendous run to make the playoffs now, and we almost made it. We played Boston again already in Week 5 but this time we had Sam ready and he delivered.
GM Sam Shankland 2624
Jorge Sammour-Hasbun 2604
U.S. Chess League 2011 (5)
46.Nxd6! Qxd1 47.Ne8+ Kh7 48.Qf6 Qd4 49.Qxf7+ Kh8 50.Nf6 1–0
After this we faced the defending Western Division Champions, the Miami Sharks. They were having a similar rough season. Both sides needed to win this match, so of course neither team did. Sometimes a draw feels like a loss, and sometimes a draw feels like a win. Even though we needed this match, the draw felt like a triumph after Robert held an endgame down an exchange for nothing against the all time USCL MVP, GM Julio Becerra. The tension continued as we faced the revitalized Manhattan team in Week 7.
IM Lev Milman 2480
IM Robert Hungaski 2616
U.S. Chess League 2011 (7)
We needed to win this game to win the match, and Robert, as usual, delivered.
44.a4? Nd7 45.Bg2 Qb6 46.Kc3 Nc5 47.a5 Qd6 48.Qb1 Qe5+ 49.Kd2 Qd4+ 50.Ke1 Qc3+ 51.Kf1 Qxa5 52.Qb2 Qd8 53.Bf3 Qd3+ 54.Kg2 Qxc4 55.Qf6 Kb6 56.Qxf7 Qd4 57.Qf8 Ka5 58.Qb8 Nd3 59.Qc7+ Kb4 60.Qb7+ Kc3 61.Qc7+ Kb2 62.Qb7+ Kc1 63.Qc7+ Qc5 64.Qc6 Kd2 65.Qxc5 Nxc5 66.g4 fxg4 67.Bxg4 a5 68.f4 a4 69.f5 exf5 70.Bxf5 a3 71.Bb1 Kc1 72.Ba2 Kb2 0–1
With this victory the Nor’easters were miraculously back to 50% with two weeks to go. Unfortunately, the wheels came off in week 9 when we faced last place New Jersey. If we had won this match we would not only have been right back in the playoff mix, but we would have controlled our own destiny. It was not to be, and a drawn match meant that even after we won in the fi nal two weeks against Carolina and Baltimore, in order to make the playoffs we needed either Boston (facing New Jersey) or Manhattan (facing Carolina) to falter.
Boston’s NM Krasik destroyed the veteran IM Kapengut, who was New Jersey’s biggest rating favorite, with the black pieces. Even after this setback we still had hope, however, as Carolina’s NM Craig Jones was poised for an early victory on board 4. He was up a pawn in a normal ending and had a 100+ point rating advantage to boot. Somehow he was mated in a dozen or so more moves and it all went up in smoke. After this our fate was basically sealed. It was our own fault that we were in this position in the fi rst place.
The Nor’easters set records last year and we won the championship in our very fi rst season and unfortunately we set a distinction this year too, as we became the fi rst team in USCL history to not qualify for the playoffs with a winning record. We could look back to our fi rst match against Baltimore and our match against New Jersey as ‘unnecessary’ stumbles, but of course every team has their chances, and the teams that make it are those that make the most of those chances. We succeeded beyond our dreams last year, but this season we just came up short.