Friday, September 28, 2007

GM Joel Benjamin annotates his win over GM Pascal Charbonneau

Editor's Note: GM Joel Benjamin has generously annotated this game for the blog. In it, you can clearly see Joel's wry sense of humor and dry wit. And, furthermore, the detail and clarity of his annotations really give good insight to a grandmaster's thinking process. Thanks GM Joel!

Joel Benjamin
–Pascal Charbonneau [B80]

USCL NJ vs. NY, 26.09.2007

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 a6

Move order can be quite sophisticated for GMs. If 3…Nc6 White could switch into a Rossolimo with 4.Bb5.

4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 Nf6 6.0–0 d6

In the 2005 World Open Pascal tried 6…Qc7 against me.

7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7

Now I had to think for a few minutes to remember what I liked to do in this line. Fortunately, my memory still works on occasion.

9.a4 Be7 10.Nb3

The plan with Be3, trading on c6, and a5 is more common (see a million Alexander Ivanov games) but I think it's a bit boring. The knight retreat to b3 is logical with Black’s bishop committed to d7. I once won a nice game in this line over Aussie GM Darryl Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter.


I must have defended this position against deFirmian at some point. With me a Taimanov maven and Nick a g3 devotee, it seems likely. I probably tried Na5 here. After Pascal's move Black's position just doesn't look right.

11.f4 0–0 12.g4

I thought for a moment about 12.e5 to stick his knight on e8, but I didn't want to let him sack the exchange with 12.e5 dxe5 13.fxe5 Nxe5. The g4 push is well timed, because Black doesn't have time to get the d7 square for his knight.


Of course not 12...Bc8? 13.e5. I thought during the game that 12…d5!? was a good practical chance. After 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 exd5 Black has at least has freed his position.

13.Qe2 Ne8

I thought 13...Qc7 would be more natural, and wondered about 14.e5!? Ne8 15.exd6 Nxd6 16.f5.

14.Be3 Ng7 15.Rad1 Qc7

15...f5 16.exf5 gxf5 17.Nd4 (other moves are strong too) leaves Black too loose.


With the Black queen no longer observing the dark squares on the kingside, it seems like the right time to pounce.

16...Bf6 17.Bh6


Black’s position is getting increasingly uncomfortable. Pascal was running low on time looking for a way out. 17...Rae8 18.e5! kills Black with f6 or Ne4 to follow. Fritz recommends 17...Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rfc8, but Black’s dark squares look pretty scary in that event.

18.exf5 exf5

18...d5 (preventing 19.Ne4) was definitely a better try. 19.g5 (I considered 19.Bf4 followed by 20.Bd6 as well) 19...Bxc3 20.bxc3 Nxf5 21.Bxf8 Rxf8 22.c4 looks strong for White but is a bit messier.

19.Nd5 Qd8 20.gxf5

I didn’t consider the Fritz suggestion 20.Nxf6+ Qxf6 21.g5 Qg6 22.Qd3, but I don’t think it’s any stronger anyway.


This loses quickly but I don’t think there’s much hope anyway. After a plausible move like 20...Kh8, 21.Qd2 Rg8 22.Nxf6 Qxf6 23.Qxd6 wins easily.


This was a tough call for me. I was tempted to play 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.f6+ Kh8 (I knew 22...Kh6 had to lead to mate; 23.h4 Bxh4 24.Rf4 Bg5 25.Kf2! was one line I calculated) and now:

A) 23. Qh5 Rg8 24. h4 Bg4 (24...Rg6 25. hxg5 Qg8 is of course lost but I found it slightly annoying) 25.Qxg4 Be3+ 26.Nxe3 Rxg4 27.Nxg4 and White’s three pieces should triumph over the queen.

B) 23.h4 (probably even stronger) 23…Re8 24.Qh5 Be3+ 25.Nxe3 Rxe3 26.Qg5 wins the rook. 23…Bxh4 or 23…Bh6 24.Qh5 traps the bishop.

In the end I decided the other continuation was simpler and left less to chance.

21...Qxg5 22.Nxb6 Rad8

Or 22...Rae8 23.Qd2 and White will clean up pawns in the endgame.


This isn’t necessary to win, but it wins a piece and isn’t difficult to calculate.

23…Qg3 24.Rd3 Qe5 25.Re3 1–0

As an infrequent tournament competitor these days, I can go a long time between wins as satisfying as this one (especially because we won the match, woo-hoo!)

Pascal is working full time on Wall Street so he has an even greater challenge to play up to his level. Given the few minutes he already spent on his second move, I would say he didn’t have much time to prepare for this game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Real-time blogging: Week 5 -- battle of NJ and NY


Finally! They've agreed to a draw! And the Knew Jersey Knockouts win!! 2.5 - 1.5 over the Knew York Knights.

Next week, Wednesday October 3 at 7:00pm against the Carolina Cobras!


We're all tired, but the game continues. Is it a win for white or a draw?


The commentary is buzzing. It looks like it might end up with three pawns (NY) versus a rook (NJ). But things are still unclear.


Hess offered a draw to Mike Zlotnikov, but we don't think Zlotnikov acutally saw the offer, else he would have immediately accepted, since that would have won us the match. Oh boy...


Zlotnikov is still playing. Hess lost a pawn, but that seems to make his position freer, and he needs to win. They are shuffling pieces around the board, but Zlotinkov has got his rook in Hess's face, but it isn't clear how much it can do there.


Evan just blundered, and fell victim to ...Rxg6+ Kxg6 Qg5+ and then he resigned, as his rook was about to become victim to a Queen fork.

So the match stands at 2.0 - 1.0, with New Jersey still in the lead.


Hess knows he needs to win, and is justifiably reluctant to draw his game (and thus, lose the match for his team).


We've at least drawn the match. Evan is struggling to hold on on board 4, but it doesn't look good. He's exchanged his queen, and now has three minor pieces for White's queen and two pawns. She's pretty low on time, though. She needs to win, as it looks like Zlotnikov Hess has turned into the closed position shuffle.


Boom! Boom! Two wins back to back! Benjamin and Molner both won within seconds of one another, and the Knockouts lead 2.0 - 0.0!


Zlotnikov has offered a draw to Hess. Zlotnikov is way up on the clock, but the consensus seems to be that the position is roughly equal.


Evan Ju is still thinking. His time has now gone below his opponent. I am still blogging.


Mac played 30. Re7 ... he sacced another piece! Will it work? Does it win?? Is this the game of the week????


Mac is staring intently on the screen. Does 30. Re7 win for him?

Oh, and Bionic Woman is over.


The room is very tense. Mac is making waiting moves, trying to gain some time on the clock, but he is still very low on time. Zlotnikov and Hess are locked up in a very closed position. Evan Ju is still trying to figure out how to convert his advantage. The consensus is, though, that Joel has a significant advantage against Charbonneau.


Evan Ju has been thinking hard about his his opponent's 28. Rc3. He may be trying to calculate how the endgame will look for him if all the pieces have been swapped off. While he has a knight and a bishop for a rook and a pawn, the pawn on g3 will be lost soon, one way or another. He is up on the clock, though, and has the luxury of planning how to grasp a victory from the Tree of Winners.


There is a tactical possibility that has arisen on the Molner board, which Mac missed. 26. Re7 Bxe7 27. dxe7 Qc7 28. Qxh5!! +/-


Unlike most of the other weeks, the Knockouts are actually up on the clock on three of the four boards. The only board on where we are down is the Molner board, and that was due to the 49 minute think on the piece sac.


Molner (white) is trying to press his advantage. Looks rather dangerous for black, but if he comes out of it okay, then black is a piece up.


Eighteen minutes into the Bionic Woman premiere, and all four games are still going. Here are some random observations.

On Board 1, Charbonneau has forgotten that pawns can move two squares on their first move.
On Board 2, Hess gives new meaning to the phrase bad bishop.
On Board 3, the Big Mac Attack is still on track.
On Board 4, there is unbalance on the board and on the clock.


I didn't fully give credit to Mac Molner's piece sacrifice on Board 3. The jury is out on whether it is sound or not, but the crowd seems to think it is at least dangerous for black.


The coffee is especially good tonight. But the cups are a little too flexible. There are two choices of donuts, cinnamon and powdered sugar, but the powdered sugar has orange food coloring in it. Halloween is coming early, it seems.


Ugh. The series premiere of Bionic Woman starts in 11 minutes. I have to get a donut to console myself.


Life master Dr.Brian McCarthy (DropZone on ICC) made these comments about GM Joel's play in his game:
Joel has saved a tempo on Nigel Short's system of Be2-f3-g2 and g4, vs g3 g4 and bg2, and Nigel has been wiping the floor with people lately in one of the only lines he still scores with. Joel can try to save the Be3 tempo for something else (a trick Nigel also uses) but Joel can think he is 2 tempi up on a main line, maybe even 3, since he has left out Kh1, a universal Nigel move.Thanks for letting us use the comments, DropZone!


The general consensus is that Joel Benjamin seems to have a very good position against Charbonneau, and he's up on the clock to boot. One observer made what appears to be astute comments about the game, and claimed that Joel has made improvements on Nigel Short's system of beating the Sicilian.


Observers at each of the games...
Board 1: 86
Board 2: 43
Board 3: 34
Board 4: 37


Mac still hasn't moved. He's gone from looking at the physical board to the screen.


Wow! On Board 3, Mac Molner has gone into a very long think. It is almost 40 minutes so far. The wide open position allows a lot of possibilities for attack and Molner is ready for a Big Mac Attack! (image taken from:


On Board 1, Joel Benjamin's 12. g4 has confused Charbonneau, who is thinking long and hard as to why he only occupies 3/8 of the board.


I'm hopeful the Knockouts can win the matches quickly tonight, so I can go home and catch the premiere of "Bionic Woman".


As many of you know, at the playing site, the players have the option of playing on the physical board or on the computer screen. The rules state that once you make a move on the board, you must make that move on the screen. Most of the players seem to use the physical board for the first half of the game, and then they move to the screen.


On Board 1, captain GM Joel Benjamin is on the White side of some strange "Marmotta Nordamericana" opening, which is actually Italian for 'woodchuck', since I was trying to find hedgehog in Italian, cause to me it started as a Sicilian and turned into a hedgehog.

Ok, I'm losing it.


On Board 2, IM Mike Zlotnikov wields the ebony warriors against the ivory soldiers controlled by IM Robert Hess. Mike has played a Modern-like opening, jettisoned his bad bishop and has eyes on the big hole on g3.

Here's Mike setting up his pieces at the beginning of the game, while GM Joel Benjamin looks on.


On Board 3, the Knockouts' Mac Molner is playing white against FM Marc Arnold. Already on the 16th move, Mac has castled long and has flung his kingside pawns in what appears to be a kitchen sink attack against Arnold's wing. Arnold's king is stuck in the center, and it appears that this will be a wild ride.

Here's a picture of Mac in his pre-match warmup -- trademark headphones, playing a 5-minute game.


We'll go around the horn now, and check out each of the games. Let's start with Board 4...

On Board 4, the Knockouts' Evan Ju, the current US Cadet Champion, has the black pieces against WFM Irina Zenyuk. 26 people are tuned in watch Evan skillfully rearranging his pieces on the back row, while keeping an eye on the closed phalanxed center.


Finally all the games have started. Because of their delay in starting the games 2 and 3, the Knights were given a 12 minute penalty on those two boards. USCL commissioner Greg Shahade threw the yellow flag, blew his whistle, crossed his arms, and said "Delay of game!"


A picture of GM Joel Benjamin's board, awaiting Charbonneau's response to 2. Nf3.


The Knights are having trouble getting their act together. Maybe they are helping each other set up the boards properly? :-)


And two of the games have started! Evan Ju is black in a King's Indian Defense, and !st board Joel Benjamin seems to have completely stumped New York's Pascal Charbonneau, with 1. e4 c5 2. Nf6 ... Charbonneau is having a long think about this incredibly unusual move from Benjamin.


Evan Ju is here, he's here from the Garden State Parkway.


The matches are scheduled to start in five minutes. Most of the New Jersey team is here, the remainder is on the Garden State Parkway, again...


Its getting time for the battle of the Hudson River, the battle of the silent Ks. The Knew Jersey Knockouts and the Knew York Knights have Knever met, and the clash begins at seven tonight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Real Time Blog (Week 4) - NJ vs. Queens rematch!

Next week, the Knockouts take on preseason favorite the New York Knights. Will we see the huge potential matchup of former US champions Benjamin - Nakamura? Stay tuned to this blog and the United States Chess League for next weeks 7:00pm match!


Evan spun a mating web, and Parker Zhao resigned. So, the Knockouts lose by the slimmest of margins, 2.5 - 1.5.


And its official. Joel has resigned, and the Knockouts are unable to pluck another miracle from the Miracle Tree. We've already picked the tree dry, it seems. Queens has won the match, and is ahead 2.5 - 0.5, with only Evan Ju left to finish his game.


Stunning. In a matter of a few short minutes, IM Zlotnikov looked like he dropped an exchange, which his opponent didn't take for some reason that isn't clear to me and several others, and then a few moves later fell victim to a knight fork on e2. He promptly resigned, and now Queens leads New Jersey 1.5 - 0.5. It will take another amazing comeback to draw this match, let alone win it.


It is looking still pretty tense. On Board 4, Evan is up in the endgame and on the clock, and should be able to pull it off with some good technique and solid play. Board 1 is not looking good for NJ. Zlotnikov is up on the clock and may have a slight advantage -- there's a disagreement whether he's better or its equal, so I'm splitting the difference and saying +=.

However, in the past three weeks of the Knockouts' matches, we've had some wacky finishes, so anything can happen. It's probably the water. Or the refineries. Or all the secretly buried bodies. There's just something about New Jersey!


Molner and Critelli finally saw each others' draw offer, and the score is now 0.5 - 0.5.


Things are getting tense. Joel's position on Board 1 is not looking good. Zlotnikov's position on Board 2 is looking good, and he's up on the clock to boot. Molner and Critelli are in a drawn position, but neither seems to be either (a) seeing or (b) accepting each others' draw offers. On Board 4, Evan Ju has to get out of some complications, but he should emerge with a material advantage. Michael Khodarkovsky shrugs.


The Knocnkouts' Michael Khodarkovsky believes that 22.Qg4 is winning for Stripunsky on Board 1. His dispassionate analysis hits the Knockouts like a cold fish on a frozen Siberian lake.


Molner has offered a draw on board 3, to which Critelli is pondering his response.


Back to the clocks. The Knockouts have an advantage on the clock on boards 2 and 4, where we are way behind on the clocks on the other two boards.


Pre-teen, or just-teen Parker Zhao is loading up his pieces on the a7-g1 diagonal, with his surprising 15...Qb6.


Meanwhile back on board 1, Joel's move of 17...Kxe7 has surprised the crowd of over 150 observers. Most expected the natural recapture 17...Qxe7. Joel's move, however, may allow white to take a pawn and centralize his queen, forcing a queen exchange. The crowd now is buzzing with hints of "what if" and "but then" analysis.


Of course, the Knight on f6 is en prise. There are complications though, and it will be interesting how it plays out.


I confess I don't understand Evan's response of 15. Qh3 as it seems to me that 15...Nf2+ is a good move that wins the exchange. I'm clearly missing something. Here's the position.


Does Zhao's 14...h4 just drop a pawn? Or is he opening up the h-file for an assault on Ju's king?


Taking a stroll around the room, here's what I see. We're in a computer lab at the Chapel Hill Academy in Lincoln Park, NJ

Board 4, Evan Ju, is sipping a bottle of ice cold water, leaning back in chair, looking at the screen. He's just played 14. e5, and is now walking around the room, checking out the other games.

Board 3, Mackensie Molner has his ubiquitous headphones on, a Montclair Soccer t-shirt, and has played 12...Rad8. He's staying close to his machine, as if he's expecting a reply soon. He's also down on the clock a bit.

Board 2, IM Mikhail Zlotnikov, is finally standing up. I don't believe he's gotten up at all in the past two hours, but now he's standing, taking a short stroll around the room, checking out GM Joel's game over Joel's shoulder.

Board 1, GM Joel Benjamin, however, is all business. He's upright in his chair, no longer leaning on the table. He's in front of the physical board, but looking at the screen. His body is still, yet relaxed, in a focused beam of concentration on the task at hand, namely, to force the Pioneers to circle their wagons, and wait for the fourth board jab, the third board cross, the second board hook, and the first board uppercut to finish them off.


The kibitzing in Board 1 is starting to center around the excitement of the USCL. People are excited to have their own teams in Canada, Mexico, even Israel, although I think that the time difference between Israel and the USA may be a bit much.


Perhaps surprised by the fact that Stripunsky didn't take his knoght on e4, GM Benjamin has sunk into a long deep think. He's hunched over the physical board, hands on the table, perfectly still.


We have turtle!


On Board 2, IM Zlotnikov has flown his rook over to the open c-file, starting a staring contest with the Black queen, which has settled on c7. The Black Queen is no longer comfortable in her little nest. Time to decide, Black queen. Time to figure out where to park yourself for the rest of the game... Will you bravely move out and center yourself? Or will you retreat, like a frightened turtle, back toward the corner of the board. (Apologies to Seinfeld for the turtle reference)


Queen's Board 4, Parker Zhao, is taking his time on his twelfth move. The Knockouts' Board 4, US Cadet Champion Evan Ju, prophylactically slid his king into the corner of the board, which has Zhao in a long think... Shao just moved 11...Bd7 after 14 minutes of thought.


After almost 6 minutes of thought, GM Joel did play 13...Nxe4.


GM Joel Benjamin is taking is time on his thirteenth move. It appears that he's calculating whether 13...Nex4 works.


You might ask, why do so many players take a long time on somewhat obvious recaptures? The reason why is that (when it is their opponent's turn) many of the players spend their time looking at the plastic pieces and vinyl board in front of them, and glance at the screen every minute or so, to see if their opponent moved.


To those that noticed. No pictures tonight, sorry. I could recycle more donut pictures. In a few minutes, though, I will go around and give physical profiles of all the players.


I noticed that last week, and it looks like this week too, our lower boards seem to get into time trouble early. Molner and Ju are both down on the clock, and it is pretty early in the game. Ju has used 40 minutes, and it is only the eleventh move in his game!


On Board 3, Queen's Critelli clearly took Nakamura's time management class. He's used less than three minutes off the starting time. Remember, though, there's a 30 second increment.


New Jersey Knockout's team member Victor Shen said, and I quote, "BENJAMIN PLAYED THE TAIMANOV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


Ratings update. No not Elo ratings... Observer ratings.

Board 1: 142 people
Board 2: 42 people
Board 3: 42 people
Board 4: 33 people

As a comparison, the end of the Gelfand-Morozevich game has 827 people.


On Board 1, GM Joel has slammed down the left-click button of his mouth, in a gesture that resembled the chisel's first strike on the stone that became David, and pushed 10...b4 which seems to have completed flummoxed, befuddled, and indeed, flabbergasted GM Stripunsky. Lost in thought, Stripunsky may be calculating whether he can lash out with the risky knight foray 11.Nd5 or whether he needs to play a little more cautiously. The clock ticks while we await his loaded reply. His move will tell a lot about the character of the Queens team, and indeed, the character of the entire borough. Maybe.


That's really not too easy to see... hmm..


Here's an update of the state of all four boards.


Back to the games... On Board 3, The Pioneer's player FM Critelli, has not taken more than 14 seconds on any of his moves so far.... and that 14 seconds was on his first move 1. e4 !!


As the games zip toward the middlegame, it is time to reflect on week 1's match versus Queens. It was a 2-2 tie, and this week, we see the early rematch. Also, this week there are donuts again. There were donuts last time.


Someone in the crowd has predicted a 2.5 - 1.5 New Jersey win. The masses are coming to the side of the Garden State.


The combined ages of the players on Board 4 is a whopping 29! Evan Ju just turned 16, I believe, and Parker Zhao is all of 13, maybe even only 12. Parker has just zinged his h-pawn toward Ju's castled king position. The elder statesman, Evan, is concentrating at the board, trying to find the reply that will show the whippersnapper, Parker, the errors of his youth.


Apparently, I love blogging. See screenshot below from the US Chess Leag website...


On Board 2, IM Zlotnikov's game versus IM Vovsha has turned into an English opening versus some sort of hedgehog type formation. In week 1, IM Vovsha beat former NJKO member FM Tom Bartell. Bartell, unfortunately, had to resign from the team due to a scheduling conflict. It is hoped, of course, the Zlotnikov can take the momentum from his great World Open finish this past July and use it to crush Vovsha tonight.


Evan Ju is patiently sitting here, awaiting the start of his game. His opponent, Parker Zhao, is apparently not yet available.


Mac Molner has blazed ahead in his game. They are already on the ninth move, and Mac has his queen-knight's pawn on b5.


And we've started... Benjamin has played a Sicilian on board 1. Zlotnikov is finachettoing his kingside bishop. Molner in a Pirc.


Slight delay to the start, but any moment, we hear!


The matches are about to start. The crowd here is intense. The players are intense. The sleeping bags are in tents. Ha ha ha...


Mac Molner and IM Mikhail Zlotnikov have just arrived and are getting set up. We are awaiting our Board 4, Evan Ju.


Joel Benjamin has arrived and is getting psyched to crush the opposition.

3:03 pm

USCL Commissioner Greg Shahade predicts that Board 1's epic rematch between GM Joel Benjamin of the Knockouts and his Pioneer opponent GM Alex Stripunsky is the premiere matchup of the night. Watch all the live blogging from the NJ playing site at the Chapel Hill Academy in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, starting at 7:00pm tonight!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IM Ippolito annotates his win versus Baltimore

(Editor's note: Dean Ippolito has generously agreed to annotate his win from the match against Baltimore. You can replay an unannotated version here. IM Ippolito is the New Jersey State Chess Federation's Teacher of the Year, and so you can learn a great deal from his insightful annotations. Thank you Dean!)

IM Ippolito - FM Enkhbat [D15]
USCL, Baltimore vs. New Jersey, 12SEP2007

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3

4.Nf3 a6 5.c5 I recently played this against Kritz at the NE Masters and got a winning position. I thought he might have prepared something so I went back to a line that I had only played once before.

4...a6 5.Nf3 b5 6.b3 Bg4 7.Be2 e6 8.0-0

8.h3 Bf5

8...Nbd7 9.h3 Bf5

9...Bh5 is the main move and goes into my Itkis game from the 2006 US Championships.


10.Nh4 Ne4;
Better is 10.Bd3!+= which is known to be best for white. I tried getting a little creative here.

10...Nxe5 11.dxe5 Nd7

11...Ne4 12.Nxe4 Bxe4 13.f3 Bg6 is also fine for black.

12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Bb2 Bc5

13...Nxe5? 14.Nxb5

14.Bg4 (diagram 1)


14...Qg5! was the move I missed when playing 10.Ne5. This gives black no problems and only black can be better. When playing 14.Bg4, I had a decent response lined up against 14...Qg5!, though I was still concerned about it. 15.Bxf5 Qxf5 16.Qe2! was my idea when 16...Nxe5 ( 16...Qxe5 17.Nxb5; Better would be 16...0-0 17.e4 Qxe5 18.Nxd5 Qg5=) 17.e4 with initiative;
14...Bg6 15.Nxd5 was another idea though he can play (even stronger is 15.Ne2 and white is a little better) 15...h5! ( 15...exd5! 16.Qxd5 Rc8 17.Rfd1 Rc7 18.Rac1) 16.Nf4 hxg4 17.Nxg6 fxg6 18.Qxg4 Qe7 19.Qxg6+ Qf7 and black covers up.

15.Qxg4 0-0 16.Ne2

16.Qg3 f6

16...Qe7 17.Nf4 Rfc8 18.Rfc1


18...Bb6 19.a4?!

Better was 19.Nh5 g6 20.Nf6+ Nxf6 21.exf6 and black has to worry about g7 for a long time to come. I wanted to try for more, and as in most cases of asking too much from a position, got much less.

19...Qb4! 20.axb5 Rxc1+ 21.Rxc1 axb5 22.Bd4 Qd2!

22...Bxd4 23.Nxe6! fxe6 24.Qxe6+ Kf8 25.exd4 Qd2 26.Rf1 and black is in danger. I saw this position after 20.ab but missed his 22nd move which is very strong.

23.Rd1 Qc2 24.Re1?

This is inconsistent with my previous play of going for an attack. Here, time was getting low and I played a passive move. 24.Nxe6! fxe6 25.Qxe6+ Kh8 26.Rf1 and while the position is unbalanced, white is at least no worse.

24...Bxd4 25.exd4 Qc3 26.Qd1

Better is 26.Rd1

26...Ra3 27.Re3

Better is 27.Kh2

27...Ra1 28.Rxc3 Rxd1+ 29.Kh2 Rxd4

Now black is much better.

30.Rc8+ Nf8 31.g3 g6


32.Kg2 Rb4

32...Kg7 33.Ne2 Re4

33.Rc3 Re4 34.Nd3 Kg7 35.Rc7 g5 36.Rb7 Ng6 37.b4 h5

37...Nxe5!? is safer though it's still difficult to demonstrate a win 38.Nc5 Rxb4 39.Nxe6+ Kg6 40.Nxg5 ( 40.Nf8+) 40...Kxg5 41.f4+ Kf5 42.fxe5

38.Nc5 Rxe5 39.Rxb5

Black's advantage is now in doubt due to white's passed b-pawn.

39...Re1 40.Rb7 g4?

Better was 40...Kf6

41.hxg4 hxg4 42.b5

White is now very active and black needs to be careful.

42...Kf6 43.Nd7+ Kg7?

Better was 43...Kf5


Black is the one who needs to be careful now. I had seen the coming tactical idea for the previous couple of moves.

44...Ne5?? (diagram 2)


45.Nxe5 Rxe5 46.Rxf7+!

Now white will queen.

46...Kxf7 47.b7 Re4 48.b8Q Rc4 49.Qe5 Re4 50.Qg5 Rc4 51.Qh6 Ra4 52.Qh7+ Kf6 53.Qh8+ Kf7 54.Qe5 Rc4 55.f4

The easiest way to win is to create a passed pawn.

55...gxf3+ 56.Kxf3 Re4 57.Qh5+

Now the g-pawn will advance and white will win easily. A very lucky win!


Monday, September 17, 2007

Announcement of upcoming articles

Last week, the Knockouts remained one the three undefeated teams in the USCL, and this week they are ready to floor the other expansion team, the Queens Pioneers, in a grudge rematch of their first week tussle.

Here's a preview of what's coming up on the blog this week.

Real time blogging on Wednesday

This week, there will be real-time blogging of the New Jersey Knockouts' rematch against the Queens Pioneers. Board 1 will feature a rematch of Week 1's matchup, GM Joel Benjamin versus GM Alex Stripunsky, which Benjamin won in 48 moves.. This time, however, Stripunsky gets White.

IM Ippolito annotates his win from last week

IM Dean Ippolito will annotate his win last week against FM Teghsuren Enkhbat. Called a swindle by some, in reality, it was an astute and perceptive display of tactical skill by IM Ippolito from a worse position. Dean is the New Jersey State Chess Federation's Teacher of the Year, and his insight will be helpful for anyone seeking to improve their game.

Knockout Victor Shen is profiled

Finally, we will soon have another profile of one of the Knockouts, 14 year old national master Victor Shen. Victor gave a lively, humorous, and self-deprecating interview, which belies his tender age. It is something you won't want to miss!

All coming soon, on the New Jersey Knockouts blog, right here!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Real Time Blog (Week 3) - NJKOs vs. Baltimore Kingfishers

This is the real time blog for the New Jersey Knockouts in Week Three of the USCL. The match tonight is the Knockouts versus the Baltimore Fish... I mean Kingfishers.


And it is over. Another miracle drawn match from the Knockouts! 2.0 - 2.0!! Still undefeated!


Ok, I count one chicken. Dean won, and the score now is 1.5 - 1.5. Joel may as well play on and try to win, because he's a pawn up in a generally drawn endgame.


Dean just needs to wrap things up. But, in this league, anything is possible, so listen... ZERE VILL BE NO CHICKEN COUNTEENK!


Unreal!!! Dean has sacced his rook, and looks like he may win it by queening his pawn. He's smirking... :)


Down to two games. Joel is up a pawn in the endgame, but it is a very drawable endgame (a rook apiece, 2P vs 3P all connected on the kingside). USCL commissioner Greg Shahade says that Joel drew that same endgame (on the pawn down side) versus Kasparov in the past!


Boy it is tense in here. Dean Ippolito is glaring at the screen. Joel Benjamin looks calm, but he's likely in the zone. Don't know how much more I can get in here before the games end, but we'll see...


It comes down to two very similar looking R+N versus R+N endgames. Ipplolito had one of these last week. Can the Knockouts pull out two wins here and win the match? A win and a draw to tie the match? Anything less than that, and the Knockouts lose their first one of the year. Stay tuned.


Victor fell. After defending well and running his king from the kingside to the queenside, he finally succumbed to a tactical trick, and either had to give up his queen or be mated. It is not looking good for New Jersey now, as the Knockouts trail 0.5 - 1.5 to the Kingfishers.


Baltimore tried to hold on to the win, but Lunna pulled off the draw on Board 4. Therefore the match is tied at 0.5 - 0.5, after one complete game!


Victor is holding on. He has a nice little trap (... Qxc2, where Rxc2?? is mate after Rb1+) but that's a real long shot. But, remember last week! Victor has a habit (sample size of one) of making a long shot.


Shen is valiantly trying to defend, but is getting viciously attacked. He's in time trouble, less than 10 seconds left now.


Lunna played Kf7, protecting the queening square. It seemed like an obvious move, but Lunna took his time, checking all the variations.


On Board 4, Rouleau sacced his Bishop so he could queen his c-pawn with check. Lunna's thinking about this response.


Shen just got a bigger rock in his sneakers after 27. Bxg7, and he has less than a minute left.


Ippolito-Enkhbhat is still really a complex struggle. Enkhbat just injected his queen into Ippolito's second rank 22. ... Qd2 after a 12 minute think . Dean is concentrating hard at the physical board, not looking at the screen, head in hands, still. That black queen seems to me like it feels like a small rock in your sneakers after a nice day at the beach.


On board 4, looks like we are getting some queens back!


On Board 3, Victor has only 3 minutes left, but his 24. ... Qc5 has dropped his opponent into a long think. She still has 40+ minutes on his, though.


Some real long calculation required on Board 4. Can White sac his Bishop and take the pawn and still draw?


Here's the position on Board 1, the GM versus GM battle. White's (Blehm) connected pawns versus Black's (Benjamin) isolated pawns on the queenside, and White's doubled pawns on the kingside.


Victor is really low on time now, only 4+ minutes left.


A pair of rooks have come off in the Ippolito game, but other than that, the position look eerily similar to an hour ago.


Lunna has picked up the h-pawn. But at what cost? Looks like his a-pawn will fall.


Tense maneuvering in the Lunna-Rouleau game. Both kings are making feints and false starts, trying to decide how to penetrate into the opponents position. Lunna's bishop on a5 is making a nice dark-squared block, and coordinating well with his queenside pawns, which are on light squares. Rouleau's king can't just come waltzing into the a-file, because many of the squareson the b-file are covered.


Back to Board 1. GM Joel Benjamin's French Defense id facing a phalanx of pawns, with the tip on c5, and the flankers on b4 and d4. The commentary has virtually stopped on the game, even though there are exactly 100 people watching. Everyone is wondering how Joel will break out of the slightly cramped position that he has.

Here's a picture of GM Joel at the start of the match.


Victor is way down on the clock. He has 17 minutes left, to his opponent's 63 minutes.


I've ignored Victor Shen's game on board 3. Let's have a look... Hmm... Well, both have pretty bad light-squared bishops. Rohonyan has a nice knight planted right in the center of the board. It coulf be kicked out with ... f6, but the hole it leaves on g6 doesn't look too nice for Victor. If only Victor would move his bishops back to his first rank, then he would be setting up to practice a Fischer Random game. Rohonyan has just played f4, and here's the current position.


As I thought, it was a long planning session on Board 2, as Dean took about 20 minutes before he played 19. a4 ...


Todd Lunna (White) on Board 4 has ended up in a very interesting position. Material is equal is a same-colored-square Bishop ending. Todd has a doubled f-pawn, and his opponent connected pawns on the g and h files. Clearly Black has the better pawn structure, but is it enough to win?


I may have been right about the planning. Dean Ippolito is taking his time to play his move in what I thought to be the critical position. Here's the position with White to move...


Board 2 (NJ's Dean Ippolito is White) is complicated. I usually rely on some titled player's commentary to repeat here and make it look like I know what I'm talking about, but no titled player is really saying anything. So, I can sum up what I see. Material is equal. Ippolito has a pawn on e5, but it is doubled with its friend on e3. Minor pieces are equivalent (one dark-squared bishop and one knight apiece) and queens are still on the board. Rooks are fighting over the open c-file.

It is one of those positions that appears to require some definite long-term planning, and the player that can execute a decent plan while countering his opponent's plan will prevail. As far as I can see, there are no bang-bang tactics on the board. And, yes, I'm ready to take that back when they prove me wrong.

Here's IM Dean Ippolito at the start of the match.


Nope, Joel has retreated his bishop to g6, after 16 1/2 minutes of thought.


On board 1, Joel Benjamin has his chin resting on his right palm, and he's staring intently at the board. GM Blehm has thrust his c-pawn forward to c4, challenging Benjamin's isolated pawn on d5. I'm guessing that Joel is deciding whether to swap it off, which would leave Blehm with two central pawns, or not.


Boy, I must be missing something. On board 4, Rouleau castled right into an open file. Lunna slammed his rook down on g1. Well, ok, it wasn't slamming, but it was a loud mouse click.


Now, for a recap of board 4. Todd Lunna (picture below), one of the Knockout's alternates, has played an exchange Ruy Lopez against Baltimore's John Rouleau. The queens are off the board, and Lunna has been cursed with tripled isolated f-pawns. And, yes, I mean the f-file, not as an abbreviation for some word that begins with "f". Although, I don't know -- it might be the same to Todd.


Once again, I am fascinated by the different things players do when playing these games on ICC. Lunna (board 4) started by playing on his physical board next to him, but keeps going back to the screen. Shen (14yoNMVS, board 3) is watching the physical board. IM Ippolito (board 2) tends to look at the physical board, hunched over it actually, but is also prone to a lot of pacing during the games. Benjamine (board 1) is back at the screen.

All players do, however, seem to make their move on the physical board first, and then on the screen.


Speaking of Board 3, the Knockout's Shen (I was going to say again "14 year old national master Victor Shen", but it seems like a waste of typing and aggravating any carpal tunnel syndrome I might develop) has played the Sicilian against WGM Katerina Rohonyan. By my untrained eye, both have bad light-squared bishops, but Rohonyan's dark-squared bishop is taking aim for Shen's kingside castled position, with a nice hold on the center. WARNING: All analysis provided herein is for amusement and entertainment purposes only.


I took this picture as the games were starting. It is third board, 14 year old national master Victor Shen, awaiting his opponent's first move. If you're reading this for the first time, read about Victor's last second stalemate escape from last week's match under the headline "Knockouts are Undefeated".


On ICC, an amusing comment from someone named "kruupy", suggesting that on Board 2, Black has "checker syndrome". :-)


On board 2, IM Dean Ippolito started the game with his customary 1. d4, to which his opponent, FM Enkhbat, responded with a Slav Defense. Now, remember gentle readers, I am not anywhere near a master-level player, but to my eye, it seems odd that Black has put so many of his pawns on light squares, even though his bad bishop is outside of the chain. But, perhaps, someone else can explain it to me.


On board 1 with the black pieces, GM Joel has played the French. White has developed a few minor pieces, but Black's c-pawn has already crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Of course, Maryland was a boarder state, and had its share of people loyal to the Union as well as the Confederacy. But I digress. Actually, I'm digressing a lot. Maybe too much. Board 2 update in a few minutes.


Apparently Baltimore is having connection problems on boards 1 and 3. GM Benjamin and 14 year old master Victor Shen are taking it in stride. We'll get to the chess in a minute.


The match started a little late, and we've already had a couple of disconnections. But, all is well now. Here's a picture of fourth board Todd Lunna (with the hat) and second board IM Dean Ippolito getting ready for their match.


Everyone is here. We've all encountered bad traffic on the Garden State Parkway. But, we're all here now. The players are getting their game faces on. Grrrr.... Hook the FISH.


Here's a picture of GM Joel Benjamin indicating this real-time blog. Whoa. Very self-referential. Think Godel, Escher, Bach.


More at 6:56. I lied. GM Joel is here, and our arbiter is setting up the boards and the programs. I should be able to take multiple pictures tonight, so keep a lookout!


The playing room is being vacated by the students of Chapel Hill Academy. They probably have no idea of the carnage that will be on view tonight, when the Knockouts throw their hooks into the Fish.... I mean Kingfish... Kingfishers...

More at 7:15 pm when the match actually starts!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Zlotnikov annotates last week's win versus Tennessee

IM Mikhail Zlotnikov generously agreed to annotate his win from last week versus FM Todd Andrews of the Tempo. I edited some of his comments, but the annotations are his. You can replay the game unannotated here.

Editor's note: Zlotnikov and Andrews played in the last round of the U-2400 section of the 2007 World Open. Zlotnikov won that game, and tied for first.

I played my last and critical game in the World Open's U2400 section and won a game against Andrews by playing 1. c4. So, in this game, I decided to use 1. Nf3, so I wouldn't be surprised by my opponent's possible preparation. Our game went a familiar route; my opponent likes to develop his bishops on b7 and b4 and Queen via e8 to h5 to attack my king.

1.Nf3 e6 2.g3 b6 3.Bg2 Bb7 4.0-0 f5 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bb4 Black would like to eliminate the Knight on c3, before starting an attack on the kingside, so it doesn't participate in struggle for the center.

7.Qc2 In order to take Knight with the Queen after exchange on c3.

7...0-0 8.d3 Bxc3 9.Qxc3 Qe8 10.b4 This attacks the center and queenside, which counterbalances Black on the kingside. It also allows me to develop my Bishop to b2 and threaten g7.

10...d6 11.c5! This forces Black's Knight to develop to a6 instead of d7 because of the threat of the pawn fork on c6.

11...Na6 12.cxd6 cxd6 13.Bb2 Rc8 14.Qd2 14. Qd4 looked promising, but I didn't want to allow ... Rc2.

14...e5 15.a3 Allows the Queen to be flexible.

15...Qh5 16.Rac1 Trying to exchange both Rooks and relieve pressure on my King, which also has the benefit of a favorable endgame.

16...Nc7 Black tries to avoid exchanging, and instead, moves his Knight to e6 to support his kingside attack.

17.b5!! The start of a good strategic plan, which includes several moves with Queen from d2-b4-h4. Black can't take the pawn, because of Qb4, followed by a4.

17...Ne6 18.Qb4 Rcd8 19.Qh4 Qe8 If instead, 19... Bxf3 20. Bxf3 Qxh4 21. gxh4, and White has a slightly better endgame.

20.a4 Protecting the b-pawn and leaving open the option to move Bishop to a3 to attack the pawn on d6.

20...h6 Black tries to attack the queen; White must find a way to attack the center or queenside. I decided to exchange my Bishop on g2 and get access with my Rook to square c6.

21.Nd2 Bxg2 22.Kxg2 f4 23.Rc6 Rd7 Preparing to move ... g5, and if I take the pawn on h6, Black will kidnap my Queen.

24.Qh3 Before I mount attack on the pawn on d6, I must first prepare the defense of my kingside.

24...g5 25.f3 h5 26.Nc4 g4 27.Qh4 Nd4 Black's attack has reached a dead end, so he tries to create some counterplay, but it's too late.

28.Rxd6 Attacking Black's Knight on f6.

28...gxf3+ 29.exf3 Rxd6 30.Nxd6 Qe6 Only move. The rest is easy.

31.Qg5+ Kh8 32.Bxd4 exd4 33.Nf5 Ne8 34.Qxh5+ Kg8 35.g4 Ng7 36.Qg5 Qf6 37.Qxf6 Rxf6 38.Nxg7 Kxg7 39.Re1 1-0

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Knockouts are Undefeated!

In a roller-coaster of a match, the Knockouts remained undefeated in match play with a draw against the Tennessee Tempo. Their record stands now at 1-1, and the KOs are tied for 3rd-4th in the Eastern division of the USCL.

The match started off well for the good guys, with Evan Ju securing a draw by repetition as black, and IM Mikhail Zlotnikov slowly putting the squeeze on FM Todd Andrews of Tennessee, getting to the endgame a couple of pawns up and in a better position. Andrews resigned, and the KOs were leading 1.5 to 0.5.

In a conversation between myself and team captain GM Joel Benjamin, GM Benjamin commented that the other two games looked really good for the Knockouts. First board, IM Dean Ippolito was in a tense game as black with equal material. As the game progressed, Ippolito had slightly better pawn structure, although it was not clear whether it would be enough to win, but a draw would secure at least a drawn match. Then, a couple of slight inaccuracies, and Ippolito found his king webbed in on the queenside toward the center of the board -- his opponent's (IM Burnett) rook cut off his escape from behind, and his knight was threatening a mating net. Ippolito wriggled out of the mating net, but ended in a losing position, and eventually had to resign, as Burnett iced his win with a deadly knight fork.

In the other game, 14 year old master Victor Shen was in a double rook endgame with his opponent. But again, disaster struck. Shen made some errors, and ended up a pawn down with doubled a-pawns, while his expert opponent had two connected passed pawns (g and h files). After a trade of rooks, and all of Victor's pawns, it became R vs R+2P(g&h). Victor's opponent, Gerald Larson, was playing the endgame well, according to GM Benjamin. It looked bad for the KOs -- they were about to lose the match to last year's last place finishers in the Western division.

But then, I remembered last year's championship match... Another board 4 matchup between Herman of the New York Knights, and Shankland of the San Francisco Mechanics. Herman was unable to win the same endgame, Rook and g-pawn and h-pawn versus Rook. (You can read about that and replay that game here.) I wondered... would the same USCL magic strike again?

GM Benjamin was skeptical. (I believe he used a stronger word than skeptical, but I digress.)

Back to the KO-Tempo match. As I said, Larson of the Tempo, was playing the endgame well. But then, I noticed that if Larson tried pushing his pawn to h2 (protected by his rook also on the second rank) checking Victor's king, and Victor hid his king on h1, then the king would have no moves, and, you guessed it, stalemate possibilities. Victor would then just have to keep checking the king and White would be stalemated, once Black took the Rook.

GM Benjamin was very skeptical. (And, yes, he used a much stronger word this time.)

But, lo and behold, it happened. 77... h2+ 78. Kh1 Rf2 and Victor's rook threw itself on its serrated crenelations with 79. Rg3+!

The comments from the gallery were a mixture of shock, disbelief, dismay, joy, and exhilaration.

Larson played a few more moves, but it was over. A draw, and a 2-2 tie.

You can play over all the games as the USCL site here.

Next week, the Knockouts will take on the team with which they are tied in the division for 3rd-4th place, the Baltimore Kingfishers. 7:15pm Eastern time, Wednesday September 12th. Hopefully real-time blogging for that match. See you then!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Player Profile: IM Dean Ippolito

This week marks the New Jersey Knockouts debut of 29 year old International Master, Dean Ippolito. Ippolito currently lives in Whitehouse Station, but grew up in the northern New Jersey town of Boonton.

Dean learned how to play chess at the remarkably early age of two-and-a-half, from his father, Joe Ippolito, current president of the New Jersey State Chess Federation. Many of the lessons his dad gave him 26 years ago paid off handsomely this summer, as Dean had a great result at the New England Masters, where he scored 6.5/9 and tied for 2nd-3rd, and he's especially proud of his eighth round encounter with Shabalov, which you can read about here.

While he excels at the mental sport of chess, Dean also enjoys a variety of physical sports, including soccer, weight-lifting, running, basketball, and tennis. Sounds like something Ben Franklin would approve of (Dean is a big fan of Franklin's autobiography).

His favorite game he has played was against Morozevich in the 1997 NY Open. It features a Petroff Defense, with some really masterful defense and endgame play by Ippolito against the notorious attacker, who at the time was rated over 300 points above Dean. You can replay it here.

Dean is excited about the Greg Shahade bringing team chess to the public through the USCL, and he's appreciative of the league atmosphere that other professional sports have.

Dean's favorite film, The Rookie, is also sports related, but it has a greater message. In the film (which is based on a true story), an older (late 30s) baseball coach gets the opportunity to try out for a spot on a major-league baseball team. He makes the team, of course. Dean coaches chess players at his own school, but he's been finding more time to play chess himself. Let's hope that -- similar to The Rookie -- Dean soon achieves the GM title, as well as any other goals he has for himself. His recent results suggest that they are not far off.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hess in the NY Daily News

Did linebacker and IM Robert Hess, of the New York Knights, take a few too many hits in practice prior to the attached picture being taken and this article being written about him? Look carefully in the picture of the chess board set up in front of him...

Yup, you guessed it, the board is oriented with the wrong colored corner squares.

Maybe IM Hess can defend himself... was the board Photoshopped in the picture after the fact?