Sunday, November 22, 2009

Knockouts' Season Ends with loss to Knights

by Joseph Criscuolo

In a breakthrough season, the New Jersey Knockouts were two points away from making the US Chess League Finals, but unfortunately they fell short. Despite having the best record in the league during the regular season, the Knockouts fell to the New York Knights by a score of 2.5-1.5, a worthy team that the week before, defeated the second place Boston Blitz by the same score. The Knights will play the Miami Sharks in the US Chess League finals. The Knockouts' match was close the entire time, ending with three draws and one decisive game. The Knights' Yaacov Norowitz was the difference maker, as he defeated Sean Finn on board four. Certainly this match was another chapter in a short but exciting rivalry between the two teams, and one that should be exciting to follow for years to come.

On board one, it appeared that Joel Benjamin would earn his first win this year against Giorgi Kacheishvili but that would not be the case. Joel Benjamin was up by a pawn on move 55, but Kacheishvili would find a combination that would allow him to win an exchange and a pawn. The two players would then play on into a drawn endgame, something that would be costly at the end for the Knockouts.

On board two Dean Ippolito would end up drawing Pascal Charbonneau in a game that was unbalanced from early on. At move 19, Ippolito had a queen, two rooks, bishop, and five pawns against Charbonneau’s two rooks, two bishops, knight, and seven pawns. By move 44, it appeared that Charbonneau was clearly winning but Ippolito found a draw, a draw that Charbonneau happily accepted in what would help determine the match for the Knights.

Mackenzie Molner had a lot of chances to make this a 2-2 match with a board three win against Matt Herman, but time trouble was potentially the difference in this game. Molner managed to earn a pawn on move 10, one that would evaporate 5 moves later on move 15. The clock was not friendly to Molner as seen on move 17, when Herman owned 1:27:20 of clock while Molner just had 18:35 on his clock. As the game progressed the game became more and more equal and the two played to a draw.

Sean Finn had a tough challenge to make on board four, playing against Yaacov Norowitz, possibly the most dangerous player on board four. Move 22 was the defining move, one that would allow Norowitz to gain an important pawn, after Finn took Norowitz’s bishop, Norowitz would take the pawn with his bishop attacking the queen allowing for him to take Finn’s knight and become the hero of the match as he would checkmate Finn after thirty eight moves.

The Knockouts had never made the playoffs in their history, and despite their league-best record, the loss was a heartbreaker. Still, building on the success of this season should place the Knockouts as an elite team in the US Chess League for years to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Knock, Knock, Knockouts on Final's Door

by Joseph Criscuolo

The New Jersey began their quest for the US Chess League Championship with a big win over the Baltimore Kingfishers last week. Now, they must defeat the New York Knights for the third straight time this season in order to face the surprising Western Conference Champion Miami Sharks, who defeated the San Francisco Mechanics.

The Knockouts won both battles between themselves and the Knights, New York Knights is a team that's better than their marginally winning record. The Knockouts chose White on first board and will field the exact same lineup that led them to their decisive 3-1 victory against Baltimore. The lineup features GM Joel Benjamin, IM Dean Ippolito, Mackenzie Molner, and Sean Finn. The New York Knights do the same, bringing the same lineup that upset the Boston Blitz in the first round. Their lineup is GM Giorgi Kacheishvili, GM Pascal Charbonneau, Matt Herman, and Yaacov Norowitz. The Knockouts own draw odds for this match, meaning that all the Knockouts need are two points to make their first championship appearance, against Miami Sharks. While the championship is nice, the Knockouts must concentrate on this match first to prevent a letdown. This game will be played at 7:00 PM ET on Wednesday November 18, with the time control of game 90 with 30 seconds increments after each move.

On board one we see a matchup that already resulted in two draws this season, GM Joel Benjamin playing as white against GM Giorgi Kacheishvili. In the two matchups between the GMs this year, they were all even, though Joel Benjamin probably could have won the second game between the two GMs.

Board two features a matchup that was played the first game of the week of the season, IM Dean Ippolito ( plays as black against GM Pascal Charbonneau. In that game, Ippolito won the USCL Game of the Week prize, weaving a two knights versus pawn mating net against the former Canadian Champion. This type of win is something that may be easy for a player of Ippolito’s caliber, but certainly not one of the easier for those who enjoy this game.

On board three, Mackenzie Molner faces off as white against Matt Herman. The two have met earlier this season, with Mackenzie Molner earning the win in what would be one of two wins for the Knockouts help that decided the match for New Jerseys fourth consecutive win.

On board four, Sean Finn has the dark pieces and will try to beat Yaacov Norowitz. While ratings alone favor Norowitz, Finn’s two wins this season have both come against players with higher ratings, he has defeated WGM Jennifer Shahade for his first ever US Chess League win and earned his first playoff win against WIM Tsagaan Batsettseg.

This game can be seen at the Internet Chess Club (ICC) Wednesday November 18th at 7:00 PM. Change of schedule changed the Western Championship game to Monday so this will be the only game of the night for what has been an exciting season. Watch along as a new Eastern Division Champion will be crowned on this historic night!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Knockouts Win and Draw in Quarterfinal

by Robert N. Bernard

The New Jersey Knockouts defeated the Baltimore Kingfishers on Monday night by a score of 3-1, in United States Chess League playoff action. With the win, New Jersey advanced to the Eastern conference finals, where they will play the New York Knights, who defeated the Boston Blitz 2.5-1.5. New Jersey won on boards one and four, and held Baltimore to draws on boards two and three.
(GM Joel Benjamin, pictured below)

The match was closer than the 3-1 score might indicate. Because of a better regular season record, New Jersey had draw-odds, meaning that a drawn match (2-2) would count as a New Jersey win. Three of the boards had sharp, double-edged positions that could have gone either way with a misstep by one player or the other. Baltimore, which had won the USCL Championship in 2005, was hoping to get back the the playoffs, which had eluded the Kingfishers for the last few years. They put up a valiant fight, but in the end, the Knockouts' sharp and aggressive play proved to be a gamble that paid off with a handsome victory.

Board Two, which had IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat as White against the Knockouts' IM Dean Ippolito, (pictured above) was the only tame affair of the evening. In a Slav Defense, an early queen exchange and several other trades led to an early endgame, with Enkbhat's bishop and rook against Ippolito's knight and rook. After the minors were traded, a repetition in a drawn rook endgame seemed to be a logical conclusion. Ippolito commented after the game that a draw with Black in a match with draw odds is a favorable result.

Board Four saw WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg as White against Sean Finn (pictured above) of New Jersey. Finn brought out a King's Indian Defense, and while Finn opened up lines on the queenside, Battsetseg countered with a pawn rush on the kingside. Finn played the speculative and quite possibly unsound exchange sacrifice 24...Rxa4, but was rewarded when his opponent blundered in time pressure, and allowed 28...Nxd5. From then, Finn won back the exchange, had some extra pawns, consolidated, was vigilant for any perpetuals, and brought home the win. At this point, the score was 1.5-0.5 for New Jersey, and the Knockouts just need to score a draw in one of the final two games.

On Board Three, the Knockouts'
Mac Molner was on the white side of a Sveshnikov Sicilian against FM Shinsaku Uesugi. The game followed known theory for a while. Molner showed signs of an attack, but queenside counterplay foiled his efforts. Molner fought valiantly until the endgame, when Uesugi was a pawn up in a rook and opposite colored bishop endgame. Uesugi allowed the exchange of rooks, which turned a possible slight advantage into a pawn up, but drawn position. When Uesugi realized that there was no point in paying further, he offered a draw, which Molner accepted and clinched the match for New Jersey. (Sean Finn and Mac Molner rejoice in the thrill of victory, below.)

On Board One, the game between GM Joel Benjamin as White and GM Sergey Erenburg was an exciting and interesting affair. Benjamin trotted out the Spanish Four Knights when he encountered Erenbug's unusual looking 4...Bd6. Of course, as everyone knows, this move has been discussed in the inaugural volume of Secrets of Opening Surprises as "Solokov's Surprise". Benjamin tossed out the aggressive, but thematic 8. g4, which he mentioned after the game is an idea in these types of positions. Benjamin has a vicious attack going, but low on time, and keeping his eye on the other games, simplified to an approximately equal position. While the other players were celebrating New Jersey's victory, Benjamin walked Erenburg's king to the queenside, wove a mating net, and eventually Erenburg had to concede after losing some material.

The victory was met by joy and celebration throughout the Garden State. Or, at least throughout the Garden State Parkway. (Dean Ippolito and Joel Benjamin celebrate the big win, below.)

The lineups for the Eastern Conference Championship -- the Battle of the Hudson -- will be posted on Sunday evening. New Jersey will have the White pieces on boards 1 and 3. This blog will have a preview of the match early next week.

Monday, November 9, 2009

First Round Playoffs: Knockouts Look to Piscatorially Dethrone Kingfishers

by Joseph Criscuolo

The New Jersey Knockouts enter their first playoff game in team history in a great position to contend for a US Chess League Championship. To get there, they must first concentrate on defeating the Baltimore Kingfishers. By virtue of finishing first, the Knockouts own draw odds and thus a score of 2-2 will be good enough to advance to the Eastern Division finals. The Knockouts defeated the Kingfishers in Week 7 by a score of 3.5-0.5, but both lineups in this match definitely have a different look to them. For the Knockouts they feature a lineup of Joel Benjamin, Dean Ippolito, Mackenzie Molner, and Sean Finn against a Baltimore Kingfishers' lineup of Sergey Erenburg, Tegshsuren Enkhbat, Shinsaku Uesugi, and Tsagaan Battsetseg. The Knockouts will own white on boards one and three, and black on boards two and four. If Knockouts can stay consistent with history they have a good shot at winning, the Knockouts own the record against the two teams with a record of 3.5-1.5.

GM Joel Benjamin makes his USCL playoffs debut as white against GM Sergey Erenburg on board one. Joel Benjamin had a huge season for the Knockouts earning five out of nine points in nine games with three wins, four draws, and only two losses. The two grandmasters met two times last season with Sergey Erenburg winning both of those matchups. Sergey Erenburg is undefeated in five games with two wins and three draws.

On board two is IM Dean Ippolito facing off as black against IM
Tegshsuren Enkhbat. Dean Ippoltio had a huge regular season, in five games he won three, drew one, and only lost once. Tegshsuren Enkhbat’s season has featured him earning points in six out of seven games, with five draws and one win, with one of those draws coming against Knockouts top board Joel Benjamin. The two international masters have met twice, in 2008 and 2007 with Dean Ippolito winning both of these matches for the Knockouts.

SM Mackenzie Molner plays as white on board three against FM Shinsaku Uesugi. These two have never faced each other before in the US Chess League. Mackenzie Molner played four games this season, earning a win and two draws, and only losing one game. Shinsaku Uesugi earned three out of the team’s six points, with two wins, two draws, and two losses in his first season in the US Chess League. Uesugi lost to the Knockout's IM Albert Kapengut in the New Jersey - Baltimore this year.

Sean Finn faces off against WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg with black on board four. In the short time he’s been a Knockout, Finn has done his job well, earning a win and a draw. Finn’s first win came against WGM Jennifer Shahade in a big upset that helped solidify the Knockouts in the game that clinched the Eastern Division. Tsagaan Battsegseg played two games this year, winning one and losing once.

This match can be seen at the Internet Chess Club as always at 7:15 PM Eastern Time, tonight. Time control will be the traditional game 90 with 30 second increments. The other game affecting the Knockouts as long as the Knockouts win, is the game between the New York Knights and Boston Blitz, with the winner of that match facing the winner of the Knockouts-Kingfishers game. The Boston Blitz will win the match if they draw, as they too have received draw odds. Games in the Western Division can be seen on Wednesday, November 11th.

The Knockouts are sponsored by the New Jersey State Chess Federation.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Benjamin Frankly: GM Joel Previews New Jersey's Playoffs

by GM Joel Benjamin

The New Jersey Knockouts find itself in an unaccustomed position. We weren’t quite prepared to clinch a playoff spot midway through the season, not after the brutal finishes to our first two seasons. And clinching the Eastern Division title with a round to spare…we kind of had to pinch ourselves after that. So we go into the playoffs with the top seed, giving us draw odds and choice of colors in the opening round. Our opponents, the Baltimore Kingfishers, are a formidable squad with a strong first board and good balance in their lineup. You can throw out the regular season records when you get to the playoffs, a point driven home to me by the Sunday Sports section of the New York Times. They assessed the strength of all 27 World Series Champion Yankee teams, rating the 2000 team as the worst, one of the worst World Series winners in history. That team, which won only 87 games, defeated my beloved Mets in five games. So while we remain confident, we temper our optimism with caution.

Lineups are affected by player availability. Probably every team will be kept from its ideal lineup at some point in the playoffs by logistical concerns. Both teams will have one of the two grandmasters on the roster in the match. Sergey Erenburg beat me twice last season, so I will be particularly determined to make a good showing on Monday night. We are going with Dean Ippolito and Mac Molner, two of our core players from the beginning, on two and three. Both of them played a bit less than in the past this year, but will be primed for the playoffs. Our fourth board, Sean Finn, was added to the roster late in the season as insurance for the playoffs. He looked good in two games for us—a draw with David Adelberg of Arizona, and a win over Jennifer Shahade of Philadelphia—so we think he’ll do a good job as well.

As the top seed, we got choice of colors. We had to choose before we knew their lineup, though they are fielding pretty much what we expected. With some teams, in may be clear on which boards you want the White pieces, but not always. I think the conventional wisdom is to choose White on one and three, on the theory that color makes a bigger difference for higher rated players than lower rated players. That seemed as good a reason as any to choose white on the odd boards. Indeed, New York and Arizona made the same call, with only Seattle choosing Black. I’m not surprised by the Sluggers’ decision, as Nakamura feels he can beat anybody with either color. If I were that good, maybe I would feel the same way. (If we make it through to the final against Seattle, we will have choice of color.)

The Kingfisher trio of Enkhbat, Uesugi, and Battsetseg are not particularly well versed in opening theory, but they are scrappy players who can be strong if they get the right type of position. On paper the teams are pretty even, but only needing to score two points to advance should make us a slight favorite. Hopefully we will be able to “reel in” their kings (or any other Baltimore-themed phrase in Bioniclime style) and advance to the Division finals.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Jersey Tops Throughout Playoffs, Despite Being Sacrificed to Queens

by Robert N. Bernard

A new location, flaky internet connections, and lack of donuts all contributed to New Jersey's loss last night to the Queens Pioneers, 3-1. Despite the loss, New Jersey will still be going to the United States Chess League playoffs, facing Baltimore in the first round. New Jersey is the top seed, retaining draw-odds and color choice in the first round, draw-odds in the second round, and color choice in the finals. Queens, on the other hand, will be staying home watching the playoffs on the Internet Chess Club, wishing that the magic they invoked to beat the Knockouts could have been summoned for their other matches.

The night did not start well for the Knockouts. Because the New Jersey public schools have off Thursday and Friday of this week, the regular playing location, Chapel Hill Academy, was closed for the evening. This necessitated a move to
Dean of Chess Academy, a beautiful facility in Branchburg, run by the Knockouts' Dean Ippolito. Dean of Chess is in a new location, having just moved a little over a month ago. That left one of our players lost, as he had gone to the old location first, eventually showing up to the game almost 15 minutes late.

Then, while we were setting up, the wireless internet connection that had been working flawlessly for the past month, decided not to work any more. The internet company had (ahem) "repaired" and "improved" the internet connection the previous day, but alas, in NewSpeak, "repaired" now means "broke" and "improved" now means "degraded". So, after some scrambling, we were able to find unsecured wireless to which we connected. The manager of the Knockouts (your writer) was apprehensive that this randomly-selected internet connection had a very good chance of being lost in the middle of the game, and he would have to turn into a relayer. Fortunately, that didn't happen.

All these set up problems were insignificant, however, to the final issue. There were
no donuts again. There was simply no time to purchase them before the match started, and when substitute donuts arrived around 10:30pm, it was already too late. The Legend of the Deep Fried Tori continues.

The games did not go much better, either.

On Board 1, Joel Benjamin took some chances in attacking Stripunsky's king, but a sufficient defense was employed, and Joel came out a couple of pawns down -- the perpetual he sought was as elusive as a unicorn in a pristine glade. He played on until Stripunsky's forced an exchange of queens, and Benjamin was lost.

On Board 2, Mac Molner (pictured, right) pressed in a tough position against Milman. With Mac low on time, Milman eventually penetrated Mac's position, and Mac was forced to call it a day.

On Board 3, Andrew Ng (pictured, left) whipped up a kingside attack on blogger-extraordinaire, Liz Vicary. At a crucial moment, where he may have been able to solidify his advantage, he blundered, losing a rook to a cute zwischenzug. Shaking his head, and casting his eyes down to his shattered position, he lay down his arms.

On Board 4, young Arthur Shen (pictured, right) was the bright spot of the night, slowly and deliberately outplaying his opponent Fritz Gaspard. Shen got a little too excited, though, as the pawn being jammed down Gaspard's throat was a little too tempting. Shen pushed the pawn, inexplicably missing that Gaspard could mate him in two moves. The crowd on ICC went wild, including Arthur's brother (the Knockouts' own Victor Shen) whose finger was stuck on the question mark key for what seemed like an eternity. And then, even more inexplicably, Gaspard missed the mate. Shen consolidated, avoided last ditch stalemate tricks, and Gaspard gave up. When the potential mate was verbally pointed out to Arthur after the game, Arthur looked to the ceiling, paused a second, gave an infectious smile, and said, "Boy, was I lucky!"

That was it for the Knockouts' regular season, as they finished with a record of 8-2, the best in the Eastern division. But it is not over! Tune in to the Internet Chess Club Monday November 9th at 7:15pm to watch New Jersey play Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Knockouts to Force Queens' Abdication

by Joseph Criscuolo

Now that the New Jersey Knockouts have won the Eastern Division Title in the US Chess League, there is one more thing at stake for them, and that is owning the best record league. They can earn this with a great performance against the Queens Pioneers, who themselves have to win big to make it to the US Chess League playoffs. To own the best record in the league, the Knockouts simply need to clinch, but to own the best record via the first tiebreaker, the Knockouts simply need to get one win out of the four games in this match!

The Knockouts will have a change of scenery for this match as they will be playing at the Dean of Chess Academy in Branchburg, New Jersey which is owned by the Knockouts' own Dean Ippolito. The Knockouts' regular site, Chapel Hill Academy, is closed this week. Because of the location change, the match begins at 8:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday November. The time control has changed as well, with the game being in 75 minutes with 30 second increments. For the season finale Joel Benjamin, Mackenzie Molner, Andrew Ng, and Arthur Shen face off against Alex Stipunsky, Lev Milman, Elizabeth Vicary, and Fritz Gaspard. Even though everything is set, the Knockouts can't afford a letdown. Even though the Pioneers appear to be the weakest team that still have playoff hopes, losing big to them and being forced to face them again in the first round of the playoffs facing them again would give a huge amount of momentum to Queens.

Queens can only make the US Chess League playoffs they must beat the Knockouts, while hoping the Baltimore Blitz lose to the Tennessee Tempo and the Philadelphia Inventors lose or draw to the Carolina Cobras. To make that a less likely opportunity for Queens the Tennessee Tempo and Carolina Cobras currently are last place in their division. In terms of game points, which are the first tiebreaker, the Queens Pioneers have to earn more points than the Baltimore Kingfishers, who have two more points than them, and the Philadelphia Inventors who only are up by half a game. If Queens wins 4-0 and Baltimore loses 1.5-2.5, Queens would win that tiebreaker over Baltimore by only a half a point. However they also need Philadelphia to lose as well, in the same situation where Queens sweeps and Philadelphia draws, Queens would win the game point tiebreaker as well. Thus, a sweep seems like the only thing Queens can do to better their chances of making the playoffs. Perhaps if Stripunsky’s mouse didn’t slip in week one, the Pioneers could have gotten a draw that week and be even closer to the playoff picture.

GM Joel Benjamin will have white and face off against GM Alex Stripunsky on board one playing. Benjamin's season has been nothing short of spectacular -- in eight games, he has only lost once. His three wins and four draws made it so that the Knockouts had true support at their first board. His performance has put him fifth in the 2009 MVP Standings with 12 points. Alex Stripunsky has performed well this season with two wins, one draw, and one loss in four games. Stripunsky’s lone loss came against Larry Christiansen due to an unfortunate mouse slip late in the game. In three games between these two players, the two grandmasters have both have won once, drawn once, and lost once. A win will give Joel Benjamin a great case for making the US Chess League All Star team!

SM Mackenzie Molner will be using the black pieces on board two against IM Lev Milman. In the three games Molner has played, he has one win and two draws, with one of the draws being a game where he could have won but decided to go with the draw to earn what was most important, a Knockout victory. In Lev Milman’s two games, he has lost both of them against John Donaldson of San Francisco and Gregory Serper of Seattle.

Playing as white at board three, Andrew Ng faces off against WFM Elizabeth Vicary. Ng has played two games this season with a win and a loss. His win came in the week eight Boston Massacre, where the Knockouts won by a decisive score of 4-0. In her two games, Elizabeth Vicary has lost both of them, one against Tsaagan Battsetseg of Baltimore and the other against Yaacov Norowitz of New York.

On board four is Arthur Shen facing off with the dark pieces against Fritz Gaspard. This is Arthur Shen’s third game of the season, in his previous two games he has lost both matches against opponents that were rated much higher than him, Craig Jones of Carolina and Yaacov Norowitz of New York who was up by at least 200 points in rating.

This match can be seen along with six other matches at the Internet Chess Club. Game time is 8:00 PM Eastern time . This looks to be an exciting match as the Knockouts gear up for the playoffs!