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.