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.