by Joseph Criscuolo
The New Jersey Knockouts are still perfect after winning their fifth match in a row against the Chicago Blaze by a score of 2.5-1.5 in Week 5 of the US Chess League aeason. Next week, they can make US Chess League history by beating Arizona to become the first team to start 6-0. The Knockouts already have a better record than they did in either of their previous seasons, where they were 4.5-5.5.
The Knockouts are in a great position to make the playoffs as they currently can clinch the playoffs with 2 wins and a Queens Pioneers loss or draw. The New Jersey Knockouts earned their win with wins from Joel Benjamin and Albert Kapengut and a draw from Mackenzie Molner. Andrew Ng had a rough night, but went down fighting hard. The Knockouts win gives the Chicago Blaze a sense of urgency, with a 1-4 record they will need a huge second half of the season to make the playoffs.
Joel Benjamin has been clutch all season, and kept up his MVP-caliber season with a win against Jan van de Mortel at board 1 as white. With the win, Benjamin improves his regular season record to 4-1, with 3 wins and 2 draws! Benjamin has played every game for the Knockouts this season, the only player on the team to do so. Benjamin controlled the game and earned a pawn on move 30, after that Joel’s attack continued until van de Mortel resigned after move 35 when Joel played Re7+, which would win Joel the Blaze player's Knight, and therefore, the game.
Mackenzie Molner played his first game of the season did exactly what he needs to do for the Knockouts with a draw against Angelo Young in a game where he had a winning position. Molner, playing as black, had to wait 12 minutes for Young to make his first move in the game. But Young's apparent psychological warfare tactics backfired, and put Molner in a position where he could ensure a victory for the Knockouts. Once Joel Benjamin finished his game, the score was 2-1 for the Knockouts and all Molner needed to do was draw, that’s what he would do. Molner certainly had a significant advantage at the end of the game, made possible by the devastating sacrifice 25...Nb4! (DIAGRAM). Yet, Molner put the team first and was able to force the draw and win the game for the Knockouts. Most likely in any other situation, we would’ve seen a win from Molner.
Albert Kapengut gave the Knockouts a needed win on board 3, defeating Mehemed Pasalic in his first ever US Chess League game. Kapengut barely used any time early in the match, and still was on increment time with 1 hour 19 minutes left on his clock on move 18, while Pasalic only had 19:44 left! Kapengut would take his time after that while Pasalic would be in time trouble. Passed pawns won Kapengut this match as, he had his b and c pawns on the 7th rank when Pasalic resigned on move 37. Kapengut has annotated the game here.
Andrew Ng would be the Knockouts lone loss of the match against Eric Rosen. Ng would lose his rook on move 15 but made some nice opportunities in the middle game with a nice fighting counter attack, but that wasn’t enough for the US Cadet Champion, as he would lose his first game of the US Chess League season.
Next week, the New Jersey Knockouts play again Monday October 5 at 9:00 pm against the Arizona Scorpions in their second and final interleague game of the season. Arizona is currently 2-3 after drawing the Dallas Destiny and remain in a tight battle for the playoffs - they certainly need to beat Knockouts to keep hopes alive. The Knockouts can become the first US Chess League team to go 6-0, so watch Monday Night at 9:00 pm at the Internet Chess Club to find out if they can make history!