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!

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