by Joseph Criscuolo
The New Jersey Knockouts made it big this week, clinching a playoff spot for the first time in team history by beating the Baltimore Kingfishers by a score of 3.5-0.5 (click here for pictures and a blow-by-blow description). The Knockouts earned wins from Boris Gulko, Albert Kapengut, and Anna Matlin and a draw from their first board Joel Benjamin, the only player on the Knockouts to have played every game this year. The Knockouts record is now 6-1 and the team must look to battle hard next week against their co-leader in the Eastern Division, the Boston Blitz, who also clinched a playoff spot this week. Benjamin and Gulko were all smiles after the completion of the match (see photo).
Joel Benjamin came into the match after a tough loss against Arizona with a nice draw against Tegshsuren Enkhbat on board one as black. The game was approximately even as there were not many opportunities for either side and was drawn by repetition after 47 moves. The draw moved the Knockouts closer to voctgory, as the match score became 1.5-0.5 at the time. The draw gives Joel Benjamin a record of 4.5-2.5 and establishes him as one of the most important and reliable players in the league, as few are capable of showing the stamina to consistently play at a high level for seven weeks in a row.
Playing on board two, Boris Gulko's record in the US Chess League remains perfect after defeating World Senior Champion Larry Kaufman on board two to keep his career record perfect at 6-0, with 3-0 this season. Not many players remain perfect after six games, let alone go undefeated, but Boris Gulko has been spectacular for the Knockouts. The game was tense, with Gulko's menacing bishops on a2 and a3 pressure Kaufman thourghout the first part of the game. Gulko kept the pressure on, but Kaufman defended tenaciously. Gulko lost a pawn after move 52. Nxf2, but this lead wouldn’t last after a nasty little tactic that left Kaufman rookless. Good players find ways to win and certainly this game was a great example of it.
Albert Kapengut defeated Shinsaku Uesugi on board three as black when Uesugi ran out of time on move 38 (see Kapengut's annotations here). Similar to the game against Pasalic, Kapengut was up on time by a lot as he had 40:20 on his clock when Uesugi’s clock went to 0:00. While there were no major advantages, the Kapengut move that caused Uesugi to lose on time was dxe3 which might have put a lot of pressure on Uesugi with not that much time remaining. Often a chess player is taught that it is better to lose on time rather than make a move that loses on the spot. Interestingly enough Uesugi could have earned a draw by simply accepting Kapengut’s earlier draw offer, but Uesugi declined and Kapengut earned more than what he expected to earn and that’s a win!
Anna Matlin defeated the higher rated Jared Defibaugh on board four in dominating fashion to earn her second win of the season. Matlin would begin her domination over Defibaugh after winning a pawn after move 23 Rxc7 and taking control of the game. Matlin was up two pawns on move 39 when she played the neat little Bxf6 and Defibaugh accepting the loss of a pawn, rather than trading the last minor pieces on the board. Not being able to stop the march of the pawns, Defibaugh resigned on move 46, giving Matlin a 2-1 record this season.
Now that the Knockouts have achieved their first goal of making the playoffs, they must now push for first place in the East next week against the Boston Blitz on Monday, October 19. The game starts at 7:00 Eastern Time and can be seen on the Internet Chess Club. Afterwards the Knockouts face two teams that are currently attempting to make the playoffs, the Philadelphia Inventors and Queens Pioneers. Most importantly, the Knockouts have guaranteed their first playoff game on Monday November 9th. This season has been a great one for the Knockouts as they have already guaranteed that they will be in the playoffs, something they were so close to the last two seasons.