by Joseph Criscuolo
The New Jersey Knockouts have clinched the Eastern Division Title after overwhelming the Philadelphia Inventors a score of 3.5-0.5. The Knockouts' Eastern Division Title was earned once the Boston Blitz failed to defeat the Miami Sharks, with a 2-2 draw. The Knockouts dominated the match with wins from Boris Gulko, Victor Shen, and Sean Finn and a draw from the Knockouts' top player, Joel Benjamin. The Knockouts currently have the best record in the US Chess League with an 8-1 record, a point ahead of the Western Division leading Seattle Sluggers (7-2).
New Jersey can break the all-time single season record, held by the San Francisco Mechanics at 8.5/10, with a win in their match next week against the Queens Pioneers. Queens will try to beat the Knockouts and hope for a rematch the next week in the US Chess League Playoffs. The Knockouts will own the best record in the US Chess League with either a win or draw.
On November 9th, the Knockouts will be slated to play the fourth seed in the Eastern Division, which has not yet been decided. Three teams are battling for this position, the Baltimore Kingfishers with 3.5 points, the Philadelphia Inventors with 3.0 points, and the Queens Pioneers with 2.5 points. While Baltimore is in the lead, they face the eliminated Tennessee Tempo who definitely could play spoiler and ruin their playoff chances. The Philadelphia Inventors will face the Carolina Cobras and can get in if they can get help from the Tennessee Tempo. The Queens Pioneers are the most unlikely playoff opponent as they trail Baltimore by a point and will need help from Tennessee and Carolina as well as defeat New Jersey.
While owning bragging rights for best team in the East the Knockouts also earned something more important, they will own draw odds for the quarterfinals and semifinals, meaning that if they draw the opponent they will win the round. This is why winning the Eastern Division title is more important. The Knockouts will have color choice in the first round, and if Boston fails to beat New York in the quarterfinals, the Knockouts will own color choice in the Semifinals as well. The Knockouts are guaranteed color choice in the champion match if they can win or draw against Queens or if Seattle draws or loses against Chicago.
Joel Benjamin continues on what has been a great season for him with a draw against Sergey Kudrin. In the eight games he has played this year he has only lost one match. The match between the two Grandmasters was relatively short as neither could find an advantage in the 16 moves that they played up until the two agreed with a draw.
Boris Gulko continues his domination of the US Chess League as he defeated Tom Bartell for his fifth consecutive win of the season as well as his eighth consecutive win in his perfect US Chess League. Gulko took advantage of Bartell early as he gained Bartell’s pawn on d5 on move fifteen with his bishop on c3. Bartell attempted a full attack to try to come back to defeat Gulko but in the end it wasn’t enough as Bartell resigned after move twenty three.
Victor Shen defeated Richard Costigan in a tight battle that was determined late in the game under time pressure for both sides. On move forty one Costigan had the opportunity to open up the game with a move such as Qg3 to set up what could be a winning advantage, instead he took a pawn with his Rook and lost his Knight and this eventually became an unbalanced endgame. However Victor Shen set up an attack that overwhelmed Costigan, and after a series of precise moves with his Queen, Rook, and Bishop (in severe time pressure no less), weaved a mating net from which Costigan could not escape.
Sean Finn magaged to earn his first ever US Chess League win over the 2002 and 2004 U.S. Women's Champion, and much higher rated, Jennifer Shahade. Finn went up a pawn on move twenty one with the move exf5 after Shahade played f5, the move also weakened the safety of her king as well. Finn would have a huge attack on Shahade which proved to be decisive as he was up by a Bishop and a pawn after thirty three moves. Shahade resigned after thirty five moves after Finn set up a beautiful attack which was more than the WGM and chess author could handle.
The Knockouts move to 8-1 and will play again next Wednesday in the last game of the season against the Queens Pioneers. Most games in the league has playoff implications, so tune into the Internet Chess Club for all fourteen teams in action!