The 2008 United States Chess League commences play in less than a week! The New Jersey Knockouts are set to begin their second season, ready to lay some bone-crushing hurt to the souls of their feeble competition. (Hey, this blog isn't supposed to be objective.)
The USCL has two new teams this year, the Chicago Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions. Fortunately, for the Blase and the 'Pions , they do not have to face the mighty Knockouts this year, except perhaps in the playoffs.
But the big news for the Knockouts is the addition of veteran Grandmaster Boris Gulko to the roster. GM Gulko adds cassiac gravitas and a potent left hook to the line-up.
Let's take a look at the schedule. (Ratings are from the unofficial 2007 USCL rating list.)
Week 1: Baltimore Kingfishers
The opening week sees the Knockouts taking on the Kingfishers of Baltimore, and last year the Knockouts drew Baltimore in two matches. The 'Fish are 2005 league champions, but their glorious past is well behind them, as they finished in the cellar of the Eastern division last year. Their top board, GM Sergey Erenburg (USCL 2558), has had some excellent tournament success this past year (including winning the NJ Futurity II), but we'll see if his success can translate to his team.
Week 2: Queens Pioneers
The Pioneers, last year's fifth place team in the East, battle the Knockouts in the second week. Last year, the Knockouts drew one match and lost another to the Queensmen. GM Alex Stripunsky (USCL 2525) returns as top board.
Week 3: Seattle Sluggers
The Knockouts and the Sluggers parlay their pugilistic proclivities in week three. Its the first meeting between the teams. The Sluggers have acquired GM Hikaru Nakamura (USCL 2580), formerly of the New York Knights, as their top board. Nakamura now lives in Vancouver, and will have to drive a ways to get to their matches. Will the drive tire him out? In week three, we may get to see.
Week 4: Boston Blitz
The Knockouts light up the board with the Blitz in the fourth week of the season -- they drew last year's match. GM Larry Christiansen (USCL 2581) and GM Eugene Perelshteyn (USCL 2481) head up the team, but don't forget about USCL All-Star Jorge Sammour Hasbun (USCL 2579), who ruled board 2 last year.
Week 5: Philadelphia Inventors
In the fifth week, the Knockouts will attempt to avenge last year's loss to the Inventors. The Inventors are led by USCL rating leader GM Sergey Kudrin (USCL 2591), who undefeated consistency last year lead Philly to the playoffs. Notable also is the inclusion of the Inventors' latest addition, FM Tom Bartell (USCL UNR), who fought for the Knockouts last season. Tom moved to Philadelphia, and is better known to New Jerseyites as Benedict Arnold!
Week 6: Baltimore Kingfishers
Midway through the season, the Knockouts pluck the Kingfishers in a rematch of week one.
Week 7: Queens Pioneers
Week seven is a rematch of week two. As northern New Jersey resident Yogi Berra apparently once said, "Its deja vu all over again."
Week 8: Carolina Cobras
The geographically challenged (or perhaps they are simply peripatetically inclined) Cobras are back in the Eastern division, after a one year foray into the West. The Knockouts de-venomed and fang-extracted the Cobras last year. FM Oleg Zaikov (USCL 2423) was a USCL All-Star in 2006.
Week 9: Miami Sharks
The penultimate week of the regular season sees the Knockouts tackling the Miami Sharks for the first time. Lead by two-time USCL MVP GM Julio Becerra (USCL 2566), the Sharks almost drowned in the first half of last season, only to perform swimmingly in the last half and make the playoffs.
Week 10: New York Knights
The last week of the season sees the Knockouts joust with the nearby New York Knights, in a contest that is hailed as "The Battle of the Silent Ks". Two GMs take over the top two slots in the roster, GM John Fedorowicz and 2007 US Champion (and former USCL Game-of-the-Week judge and Chris Berman of ESPN imitator) GM Alex Shabalov. The Knockouts also have to watch out for fourth board All-Star Iryna Zenyuk (USCL 2402), who tends to pull of big wins.
In the next post (early next week), I'll post a Knockouts' player preview.