Monday, August 17, 2009

Introducing the 2009 Carolina Cobras

Reports of the Cobras’ demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to team manager NM Craig Jones. The Chapel Hill based chess teacher, a big fan of Mark Twain quotes, also reminds the league that “a lie gets halfway around the world before truth can get its pants on.” In addition to obscure literary references, Jones has cobbled together a statewide rabble of chess talent to help defray the loss of Cobra veteran GM Lev Milman. The former top Cobra waited until after the season to get his GM title and Jones thanked him for his good play, his dedication, and his sandbagging while on the team.

IM Jonathan Schroer, the longtime number-one active player in North Carolina, will supplant Milman on board one. Jones called Schroer a “fantastic theorist” while others have been known to call him a “rook-and-pawn endgame masochist.” At a chess camp this summer, a peak into Schroer’s preparation revealed Adgestein-esque boots from the defensive back position and also an instense devotion to the fledgling sport of Chinet-plate Frisbee.

Jones once again signaled for the righty on board two – Duke University wunderkind FM Oleg Zaikov. Though many Blue Devils spend four years popping no-dose in the mornings and doing keg-stands at night, Zaikov has been invaluable to the team during his tenure. In Jones opinion, Zaikov was the second most valuable player in the league last year. Though on hiatus from most over-the-board tournaments, Zaikov was paired up 12 consecutive weeks last season but still scored +1.

Board three will be the usual home of FM Ron Simpson, who is coming off a long winning streak in the 2008 campaign. He has been experiencing a mid-life chess renaissance over the last few years, thanks to some unconventional methods. Simpson has an arsenal of game preparation techniques, including visualization, meditation, and voodoo. Trust me – you do not want to give this man your height, weight, and hair color.

Rounding out the “big four” of what the French call “Les Serpents,” is Jones. Like longtime Atlanta Braves captain Chipper Jones, the Cobras have benefited from his leadership over the years (but without the catcalls of “Larry, Larry” when the Cobras face the New York teams).

Two new faces to the team will be Charlotte-based chess teachers FM Mike Klein and NM Chris Mabe. When asked why he plucked these two players from down Interstate-85, Jones said that at his captains draft, Nakamura and Shabalov were already taken. Klein adds nothing more than levity to the team (and a strange desire to play Ng5), but Mabe brings a rising geothermic geyser of talent and a healthy pre-match preparation technique. Mabe is a past winner of the World Open under 2200 section and recently broke 2300. He is also a pool shark but Jones has informed him that league rules prohibit slapping a twenty down on the board before matches.

Raleigh area NMs Carlito Agner and Udayan Bapat (who recently achieved the title) ensure that the Cobras are one of the few teams who post a roster of eight masters. Some would say this is like having five of the same color in poker, but since when are chess players good at poker anyway? Cobra assistant manager John Timmel, who has been with the team since inception, will return as an alternate.

Jones admitted that the team is the lowest-rated in the league but he reminded others that the Cobras were within a whisker of winning the pennant last year. He had his team doing two-a-days during training camp to prepare for next week’s match against the Baltimore Kingfishers; no one has given him a good reason yet why they are named after an Indian airline.

The team, as always, will play matches in the Duke University Student Union, also known as “The House that Trust Funds Built.” Check back each week for updates on the team that promise to be full of puns on the words “venom,” “uncoil,” and “fang.” Don’t be rattled – it’s just another season of Cobra-Kai chess.

- Mike Klein


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