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.
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!