Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Season is Over for the Knockouts

A glorious first season came to a tragic end tonight, as the New Jersey Knockouts lost to the New York Knights, by a score of 2.5 - 1.5. GM Joel Benjamin won on first board against GM Pascal Charbonneau, but the Knockout's Mike Zlotnikov and Mackenzie Molner, lost on boards 2 and 3 respectively. Evan Ju, on Board 4, fought a long difficult struggle, but had to settle for a draw, after 117 moves and the 50 move rule. The Knockouts end their inaugural season with a respectable record of 4.5 - 5.5.

All Knockouts' matches in the year were extremely close, all ending by a score of 2 - 2 or 2.5 - 1.5. The Knockouts were competitive all year long, and, although counted out by some at the beginning of the season, put up a resilient and brave fight.

Congratulations to the winner of the match tonight, the New York Knights, who take third place in the Eastern division of the USCL, and play Philadelphia in the playoffs.

Thanks go to Greg Shahade, commissioner of the United States Chess League, for all his hard work. Check back periodically throughout the year for updates on the Knockouts' players, and other events in Garden State.

Knockouts flooring the Knights

Tonight, the New Jersey Knockouts are flooring the New York Knights. I was unable to real-time blog, tonight, but Debbie Benjamin was kind enough to send me a picture of the Halloween donuts at the site, for all you donut lovers.

Until next week, when the Knockouts are in the playoffs!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Justice Prevails: Molner wins game of the week!

For the first time in the Knockouts' brief history, a player has won game of the week in the USCL. Mackensie Molner's (a.k.a. Big Mac and the Sac Attack) thrilling and innovative crush of Baltimore's IM Larry Kaufman on Board 3 has prevailed.

While Molner came in second in the GotW contest several weeks ago, this week the judges rightly came to their senses and awarded Big Mac and this Sac Attack this weeks prize. His innovative knight sacrifice and resourceful, and well-timed, defense maneuvering clinched it for him. Plus, as the tiebreak judge remarked, it was quite an interesting game.

Congrats to Big Mac and have fun replaying the wild game here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Real Time Blog for Week 9: KO and Fish

Next week is the last week in the USCL. Unfortunately, this will be last real-time blog of the regular season. If (when) New Jersey makes the playoffs, I should be back in November for another blog.

But next week, when New York and New Jersey will play, it might be for the final playoff spot! Watch the United States Chess League action next week on the Internet Chess Club, sponsored by


Blehm resigned! And the Knockouts have tied the match 2.0 - 2.0!


And Joel has won a piece, but Blehm is trying to mate him and get a perpetual.


And Molner put the final crush on Kaufman, and Kaufman resigned! The Knockouts now are behind only 1.0 - 2.0.


Molner's got Kaufman in a nasty zugzwang. He just needs to push his pawns to victory, it seems.


But Khodarkovsky's game really wasn't as interesting as I made it out to be. A few short moves later, White's central passed pawn stopped the dancing monarch, and Michael had to resign. Therefore, the Knockouts are down 0.0 - 2.0.

A bad taste of donuts infects the bile within me.


Khodarkovsky's game is rather interesting. In this R+B vs. R+B, his king is kind of tied up dancing around White's pieces, but at the same time, when not dancing, he's pushing is outside passed baby queens toward their birthing center.


After a furious exchange of pieces, Mac's game has turned into a very unbalanced position. Mac has a Queen and two pawns for Kaufman's Bishop, Knight, and Rook. Point-wise it is straight up, but Molner's queen is well-positioned, and if he can take advantage of it before Kaufman manages to coordinate his pieces, then he's in good shape.


Blehm make what looked like a threatening move, but Joel has calmly and quickly moved his queen to g3, attacking Blehm's queen and threatening further to simplify the position. Joel would be living off the increment, but in a materially equal endgame.


The Knockouts are low on time on all the other boards too. Molder has three-and-a-half minutes left, but Khodarkovsky and Benjamin have less than two minutes each.


And Aviv has resigned. The mating attack was just too strong. The Knockouts are down 0.0 - 1.0 to the Kingfishers.


Uh-oh. It looks like Board 2 is in bad shape for the Knockouts. Enkhbat has what appears to be a crushing attack against Friedman. He's just sacced a Rook for what appears to be a smash up mating attack.

Molner is still trying to figure out a way to wipe out Kaufman, and hope his knight sac was not in vain.


Another Mac sac! He let go of his light-squared bishop for another rook lift. If he can pull this out, he's definitely in contention for game of the week again... although Irina Krush's rook sac in her game is also pretty.

Here is Mac's game...


Battsetseg - Khodarkovsky is looking pretty drawish. Michael's pawns are on square colors that complement his bishop, but there's a lot of harmonic tension in the position. My guess is that they are going for a repetition soon.


Mac's pieces are all posed for the attack. He's standing up now, striking an imposing figure over the physical board. The smack is back!


I've been too busy watching the games to actually blog. For which I apologize. Profusely.

What I did notice that Mac's attack ain't wack, and we're gonna see a sac, that will hack Black.


Ratings for the games at the 10:00pm hour.
Board 1: 72 observers (+9%)
Board 2: 30 observers (=0%)
Board 3: 27 observers (+4%)
Board 4: 21 observers (=0%)


While we await the photos of the donuts at the Boston Blitz site, let's check out Aviv's game on Board 2. It looks like there are three little two pawn islands for White, while Aviv (as Black) has a three-pawn island on both coasts of the board. Aviv is lining up his heavy pieces to fire at the central island. Clocks are approximately equal.


On Board 1, Joel is currently playing from the screen, not the physical board.

On Board 2, Aviv is angled between the screen and the board, but mostly looking at the board itself.

On Board 3, Molner is close to the screen, with his hand poised on the mouse.

On Board 4, Khodarkovsky is ignoring the screen, and his hunched over the board, hand ovre mouth, thumb on cheek.


On Board 4, we have a pretty equal looking endgame, although Khodarkovsky is down a bit on time. Nevertheless, it is R+B vs. R+B and bishops are same color and pawns are equal. Looks drawish.


Indeed, Blehm is having a long think about what to do with a pawn stuck in his throat.


On Board 1, GM Joel and GM Blehm are getting ready to set up the pieces for a game of Fischer Random. Pieces are slowly moving back to the first couple of ranks.

Actually, you know what it really reminds me of. A cat. Both sides, actually. A cat that this ready to spring forth and pounce on a rodent. The pieces on both sides are lying in wait for the opportunity to strike.


Molner is viscious. He's castled on the queenside (opposite), moved his king a tad safer to b1, and has now started another attack against poor Kaufman's king. He grabbed the mouse, pressed and held the mouse-button for a perceptible instant, while slowly -- with the deliberation of a Senator pondering a response to a question from an Ethics committee -- shifting his mouse cursor north, guiding his determined and grim h-pawn toward its ultimate sacrificial goal, of smashing the living crap out of the pawn shield that feebly guards Kaufman's emasculated monarch.


Ratings for the games at the 9:00pm hour.
Board 1: 61 observers (+43%)
Board 2: 30 observers (+20%)
Board 3: 26 observers (+4%)
Board 4: 21 observers (+5%)


Let's move onto Board 4. The Knockouts' assistant manager, Michael Khodarkovsky, played his Alekhine against his opponent, WIM Tsagaan Battseteg. As you may know, Michael is the president of the Kasparov Chess Foundation, and was a coach/manager of the 2004 US Women's Olympiad team. Michael may be mumbling "oil can" to shake off the rust, but he's already in a dynamic position, lining up the big guns on White's isolated d-pawn. I sense there may be a big exchange of pieces soon.


Let's see what Big Mac is up to on Board 3. As everyone knows, Mac was inexplicably ripped off in a complete travesty of justice as he missed out on the Game of the Week prize (he lost to this pedestrian effort) with his brilliant win from late September (which you can replay here), and the USCL tried to justify their shameful voting in this post.

Anyway, he's attempting to win the prize again this week, as he is gobbling up space on Kaufman's side of the board, and showing once again, that the French reputation (shrink and surrender) is not wholly undeserved.


On Board 2, Enkhbhat declined the draw by playing 15. Qc4. He will regret that Aviv gave him an opportunity to live and play another day. Now, the crushing begins.


Only 75 minutes in, and Friedman has offered a draw to his opponent on board 2!


Back to Board 2... FM Aviv Freidman has traded off three minor pieces a side, to reach what appears to me to be a relatively equal position. Both sides have a Knight and their heavy pieces, Aviv has a 3-2 majority on the queenside, but his e-pawn is pretty far advanced and looks lonely. It might need some more protection at some point soon.


The destruction has begun. GM Joel has blasted open the a-file for his rook, who smartly stayed at home, while the Fish's rook, went, um... fishing on the b-file, looking for a tasty snack. All he found was a worm, and GM Joel is poised to gut him and fry him. Perhaps with a bit of tarragon and a side of leeks.


Let's look back in a little more depth at the situation on the boards.

On Board 1, the DMZ seems to be the line separating the fourth and fifth rank. No one seems willing to cross it. The real question is, though... where will the pawn break occur? Will the a-file open up for both sides? What about the center? Who will make the first pawn capture? Both sides just castled. When will the destruction begin??


The coffee is excellent tonight. And the donuts, well... The munchkins are covered with Halloween-theme-colored sprinkles. And the sprinkles are crunchy, not chewy.


As I said, Mac Molner, New Jersey's third board tonight, just completed the World Junior Championship. You can see the final standings at their website, here.


Ratings for the games at the 8:00pm hour.
Board 1: 43 observers
Board 2: 25 observers
Board 3: 25 observers
Board 4: 20 observers


Finally, on Board 1, GM Joel Benjamin has forcefully slammed his finger down on the mouse, when he smashed out 3 Bb5+ to his unsuspecting, and fashionably late, opponent, GM Pawel Blehm. Blehm tried the supposedly more unusual reply 3...Nbd7, and they are only at move 6, already 40 minutes into the game.


On Board 2, the Knockouts' late roster replacement, FM Aviv "Sveshi" Friedman has surprised his opponent FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat with a Chigorin Defense. Morozevich would be proud. Aviv has clearly shaken off the rust of his long layoff, and will soon be tempting the Kingfisher with his wily ways.


On Board 3, the Knockouts' Mackensie "Big Mac Attack" Molner, is White against IM Larry Kaufman. Molner just returned last week from a solid showing at the World Junior Championships in Armenia. Despite starting ranked 60th, he finished in a tie for 48th-56th, with 6.0/13.0, and a performance rating 122 points over his FIDE rating. The experience he gained there is bound to help him in the White side of Kaufman's French Defense.


A quick look around the four boards before a deeper look. Let's start with Board 4. The Knockouts Assistant Manager and Team Alternate Michael Khodarkovsky, has played the Alekhine defense against US Women's Championship participant WIM Tsagaan Battseteg. They have already hit move 8, and Khodarkovsky's fianchettoed bishop aims at White's pawn center, consisting of a c- and d-pawn.


Three of the four games have started. GM Joel Benjamin has been unable to start his game as his opponent is late. We're the only team that seems to get to the matches on time!


Everyone has arrived, and the matches are about to start. We are waiting on the Fish to swim up to our hooks.


GM Joel Benjamin and his wife Debbie are here. Mac Molner just walked in. Ready to hook the fish.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pictures from Tonight's Contest versus the Boston Blitz

Even though I'm not in New Jersey tonight, Debbie Benjamin was kind enough to email me a few pictures from tonight's match.

ABOVE: Joel Benjamin showing off his loyalties, although the placement of the Indians hat is probably not a coincidence, considering Cleveland is playing Boston in the American League Championship Series (in baseball).

ABOVE: Evan Ju (far) and Victor Shen (close) start their games. Dean Ippolito is on the left in the back.

ABOVE: Dean Ippolito prepping before the game. With him, is his ubiquitous Red Bull.

Player Profile: Victor Shen

Victor Shen is a 14 year old national master, living in Edison, New Jersey. After being taught to play at age seven by his father, Victor admires from afar the attacking games of Kasparov and Tal, and his former coach Scott Massey, and current coach (and Knouckouts' manager) Joel Benjamin. Interestingly, he also mentions that current American #3 Alexander Onischuk is a favorite because of his superb opening preparation and his classical style.

Besides the hundreds of Kasparov games that Victor claims he doesn't actually study, a particular game that he admires is Tal's victory against Smyslov in the 1964 USSR team championship. Victor is awed by 24...Qe2!! and extraordinarily impressed by Tal's endgame technique at the end. You can replay the Tal-Smyslov game here.

Victor has played two games so far for the Knockouts with a loss and a draw. The draw, especially, was an amazing save, and if you don't know the story, you should check it out here. Despite his 0.5 - 1.5 record, he thinks the USCL is a brilliant idea. The camaraderie of being on a team with others from your area, the possibility of being in "must win" situtations, and the practice with the FIDE time control, all make playing for the Knockouts a great experience for which Victor is thankful.

Highly emotional experiences make for lasting memories, and while most people's memorable experiences over a chess board are joyous, Victor's was on the other end of the happiness spectrum. It happened earlier this year in the last round of the 2007 Liberty Bell Open, where he was playing Alex Shabalov. Coming out of the opening in good shape, he blundered the exchange for a pawn, but it was a blunder of serendipity, as he came out of the opening with a big positional advantage that became winning. But then, disaster struck. He missed some wins in time trouble, then exchanged queens. The last board in the last round of the top section is always a harrowing experience, since the spectators crowd around you. In Victor's case, the pressure of the spectators was far greater than the pressure on the board, since the queen exchange produced a dead drawn endgame. Shabalov declined Victor's draw offer, and Victor traded rooks to produce what he thought was an even deader position. But it didn't work, and tactical shots by Shabalov caused Victor to resign. We've all likely experienced situations like Victor's -- I know I have -- but Shabalov's "I'm sorry" during the postmortem permanently etched this episode in Victor's mind.

He confesses to not being an avid reader or purveyor of television and movies, spending most of his time on chess and schoolwork. While he may relax for a few minutes, playing basketball with his friends, he takes the time he used to spend playing sports and studies his opening theory.

Finally, in my interactions with Victor, I've noticed that he has a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humor. He claims that he sucks at chess and has never have played a game of chess of which he was proud. Indeed, everytime he ruminates on his game versus Shabalov, he wonders why he still actually plays this maddening game. And, he claims that if he ever does play a game of which he is proud, he will send it in. I expect, though, that the remainder of his games this year with the Knockouts will provide moments of pride and glory.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Real-time Blog Week 7: Knocking out the Inventors

Next week, the Knockouts play the first place Boston Blitz. Tune in on Wednesday October 17th at 7:00pm for all the action. And this week, watch all the Wednesday night action of the USCL on the ICC sponsored by


And Jayson Lian resigned... And the Knockouts have lost the match 2.5 - 1.5. This takes the Knockouts back to a 3.5 - 3.5 record.


Another draw on Board 3 by repetition. It is 1.5 - 1.5... Only Jayson Lian's game on board 4 remaining!


And 10 seconds later, IM Dean has drawn by repetition on Board 2. The match is tied now 1.0 - 1.0! These two games were not expected to go for the Knockouts, so that fact that the KOs have drawn is another amazing accomplishment by the good guys!


And GM Joel has drown by repetition on Board 1. The match is currently tied 0.5 - 0.5!


Everyone is away from the physical board now, and all are working directly from the computer screen.


Boy, it is close, but not clear exactly what is happening. All boards could draw, all could lose. It is really interesting....


On Board 1, no one is quite clear how Benjamin came out of this, but material is equal, even if Joel has a disadvantage.

On Board 2, Ippolito and Smith are in what looks to be a complete draw.

On Board 3, Friedman is a pawn up, but Costigan's pieces seem a little better placed.

On Board 4, Yeager is way down on the clock, and will be living on the increment soon, while Lian's bishop is still trip for the taking.

It is looking up a little for the KOs!


Another grandmaster agrees with the first, but it is unclear to many others. Here's the critical position, where Kudrin just played 20. Bxe4, and Joel responded with 20...Bg4!


While the majority of titled players believe that Joel is lost on Board 1, one grandmaster is holding out, saying the Joel is, in fact, better. It seems odd to me, but what do I know?


It doesn't look too good for the Knockouts' chances inthe match. GM Joel is having a very tough time on Board 1. IM Dean may exchange into an endgame, but perhaps with a slight disadvantage. On Board 4, Jayson Lian's bishop sac was not accepted, but he still remains in a difficult position. Board 3 is relatively equal.


Jayson Lian has sacced his Bishop on f5. The consensus in the commentary is that is won't work, but in the USCL, you never know. New Jersey has been known to escape with miracles in the past.


Comments on the games are favoring Philadelphia on all boards. GM Hikaru Nakamura is predicting a 4-0 sweep for Philadelphia! Certainly the results cannot be that dramatic for the KOs!?!


Clock check time. Board 1 - Joel is down 22 minutes, and has only 12 minutes remaining. Board 2 - Dean is up 3 minutes, with 27 minutes remaining. Board 3 - Aviv is down 12 minutes with 19 minutes remaining. Board 4 - Jayson is down 8 minutes, with 23 minutes remaining.


An ICC observer with the handle 'mote' made an interesting comment: "Joel Benjamin is the Derek Jeter of American chess". While I'm sure Joel appreciates being compared to Jeter (as Jeter's work ethic and character are impeccable), Joel probably would recoil in horror when he remembered that Jeter is a Yankee. Of course, 'mote' also compared Joel to Joey Ramone. I'll let Joel decide how to respond to that one.


Dean took 33 minutes, and had to retreat his Queen back to f2. The times on the clocks are now approximately equal, and his 35 minutes time advantage has disappeared.


Well, I'm back commenting on the players' physical positions. All of them are actually looking at their physical boards, rather than the screen. That's unusual for so late in the evening. In previous matches, at a few minutes past the two hour point, about half the players are usually at the screen.


Everyone keeps asking about the donuts. Well, there are only six left, and I'm certain they were eaten so quickly tonight because we all need the extra calories to fight the 58 degree temperature of the room.


It appears that Dean Ippolito did not anticipate Smith's 16...Qe7, because he has spent a great deal of time pondering his move. The position does look critical -- here it is...

He is hunched over the board, his head actually extending beyond the fourth rank, and he's looking straight down at the position.


Joel has taken a walk around the room, looked at a few of the Knockouts' games. Them curiously, he turned to face the wall, put his hand on his chin, and pondered the green chalkboard for about 15 seconds. Then, he briskly walked back to his chair.


Finally, on to Board 1. The Knockouts' first board, and team manager GM Joel Benjamin (read office NJKO profile here) has the Black pieces against veteran GM Sergey Kudrin. Kudrin's Giuoco Piano has turned into a deceptively simple position. If I had to guess, it looks very much like a position someone would diagram in a book, with the caption "The End of the Opening Phase", and then discuss the middlegame. Chances for both sides, nothing crazy looking, only one pawn exchanged.

And, after 14 moves, Joel is down only 8 minutes on the clock, which is pretty good for him.


What's up on Board 2? The game started a half-hour late, as the Inventors' IM Bryan Smith (who in his picture looks a little like Seth Green, from Austin Powers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) got caught in traffic - perhaps he needed to invent a flying car. Anyway, Smith has the Black pieces against noted teacher IM Dean Ippolito - you can read his NJKO profile here. Dean has some space in the center, and a Queen and Rook battery aiming down the f-file at Black's castled king position. While White has more space in the center, his Bishop is bad. However, Black is still lagging a bit in development.

Ippolito is up 20 minutes on the clock, but remember he started with an extra 35 minutes. A pawn and a couple of minor pieces have been exchanged for both sides.


Let's move to Board 3. The Inventors' IM Rick Costigan has White against the Knockouts' FM Aviv "sveshi" Friedman. With the Black pieces, Friedman responded with 1...e6 to White's d-pawn sortie, perhaps hoping for White to play 2. e4 and transpose into a French. But White made the unusual move 2. Bf4, which to me looks like from the "Getoutofbookquickly Opening". Most people do not know, but Vladimir Borisovich Getoutofbookquickly was a Ukrainian master of the 19th century, who played what looked like reasonable moves according to Opening Principles 101, but no one ever played before or afterward. FM Friedman responded with 2...Nf6, which according to the statistics at, has a 49% success rate with Black, and only a 33% success rate with white. Only 18% of games that start 1. d4 e6 2. Bf6 Nf6 are drawn, (granted, small sample size).

Looks like Board 2 may turn out to be an exciting battle. After a dozen moves, Costigan is only up 5 minutes on the clock, and while two minor pieces have been exchanged, all the foot soldiers remain.


Let's start on Board 4. We see the Inventors' Daniel Yeager as Black against the Knockouts' sole winner last week, Jayson "I wasn't really born in 1995" Lian, as White.

Jayson started the game with the Queen Pawn, and it quickly went into a Nimzo Indian. Black ended up with what appeared to be an oddly placed dark-squared bishop on a5, outside his pawn chain. On move 11, Black pushed his d-pawn to d5, and we had one of the most fun pawn structures around, the c- and d-pawns of each side in a staredown on c4, c5, d4, and d5. A flurry of exchanges has left white with a half-open c-file and a kingside fill of pawns. Black has a full complement of pawns on the queenside, and some space. Minor pieces are equal. White may need to shelter his king, but his Bishop on d3 peers down both diagonals on the board.

Jayson is up on the clock too, by about 18 minutes. 15 moves have been completed.


It is almost 8:00pm. Time to go around the horn for each game!


I usually wear a sport coat to work, but today I wore a turtleneck and no jacket. I am a fool because it is about 58 degrees in this room. Even the hot coffee is growing icicles.


Tonight, the room is exceedingly cold. The air conditioning is blowing strong and hard, and I'm freezing!


And the Ippolito-Smith game has started! It is a Modern system I've seen a lot. The Bangiev Squares Strategy recommendation for Black is this system with 1...g6, 2...Bg7, 3...c5 against almost anything that White plays (except a queenside fianchetto). Ippolito has decided to gain some space in the center with 4. d5, and now has a strong looking light-squared pawn phalanx in the middle of the board.


The more things change... Bryan Smith will play board 2 after all. There will be a 35 minute time penalty, and the Knockouts' IM Ippolito will have 90 minutes and the Inventors' Smith will have 55 minutes.


From the USCL Commissioner:

**UPDATE** There will be a last second replacement on Board 2. FM Mike Shahade will be replacing IM Bryan Smith. Rules dictate that he will start with a 90-45 time disadvantage... however New Jersey has waived this penalty and it will just be 90-70, as it's 20 minutes past starting time.

Some have commented that this was good sportsmanship on New Jersey's part. Which it is, but it is entirely due to the donuts, which I think Dean is out in the hall devouring right now.


The Inventors' Board 2 has bagged. An emergency replacement for Board 2 has been announced. It is FM Michael Shahade, father of the USCL's commissioner, Greg Shahade. The game has yet to start, and IM Dean Ippolito awaits.


Quietly, on Board 4, young Jayson Lian has the white pieces in a Nimzo Indian. In the line that's there, according to the statistics at, 6. a3 leads only to a 32% winning percentage for white (34% draw, 34% black win).


Conference on the mound. Board 2 of Philadelphia still has not shown.


No pictures tonight, unfortunately. You will just have to imagine the donuts. There are about equal numbers of glazed, powdered, and cinnamon. There are only a few chocolate ones. That will tick off GM Joel, and it is likely he will take out his rage on Kudrin on board one, turning his Giuoco Piano into a Giouco Fortissimo!


According to the statistics at, the line GM Joel Benjamin chose for himself in this line (6...Ba7) is pretty drawish, with 48% of games ending in draws. White does win 33% of the time and Black wins 19% of the time.


On Board 1, Kudrin-Benjamin have played a Giuoco Piano, that apparently follows Sadvakasov - Becerra (Miami 2007) according to IM Mark Ginsburg.


All these crazy openings! On Board 3, we have 1. d4 e6 2. Bf4 ... what?!?


Three of the four games starts. Philly's second board, Bryan Smith, is stuck in his garage inventing something.


The games are about to start. Everyone is here.


Prepare for the epic showdown tonight, as the Knockouts try to extend their winning streak to three matches by lobotomizing the Inventors, who are desperate for a win, which would get them back into playoff contention.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Goeller annotates KOs-Snakes games

Michael Goeller, of the Kenilworth Chess Club (which is a nice club that I attended a few times last year, but unfortunately never got back to for a number of reasons) has annotated this past week's games versus Carolina.

You can get the annotated games here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Real Time Blog (Week 6) - NJKOs vs. Cobras


And Dean drew! And the Knockouts have won the match, 2.5 - 1.5! Two in a row! The Cobras have proved themselves to be nothing but garter snakes!

Stay tuned next Monday, for Monday night chess versus Philadelphia!


And not a minute later, Zaikov offered a draw to Friedman, and it was accepted! The Knockouts are assured to draw the match. It is 2.0 - 1.0 for the good guys over the Snakes.


Jayson survived the attack, and his extra exchange proved worthwhile, as he crushed Jones! The Knockouts now lead 1.5 - 0.5!


Still two pawns up on Board 2, but they are pretty ugly pawns.


Yes, game drawn by repetition on board 1. So the current score is 0.5 - 0.5...


Looks like we have a repetition upcoming on Board 1. Wait for details...


Craig Jones, on board 4, has what looks like a dangerous attack on Jayson's king. Can Jayson survive it?


The games are speeding up. It is difficult to go from board to board. All boards are low on time, and the games are all complex. Most likely just results from now on.


On Board 4, Carolina has sacced the exchange, for an attack, but Jayon is holding on so far with a little over three minutes remainins.


Milman declined the draw, and he an Benjamin play on, while the clock is now far more balanced.


A bunch of trades in the Friedman game, and there's what looks to be an interesting, and difficult, B+R ending.


GM John Fedorowicz is commenting on Friedman's game, and saying that Aviv got his money worth. The end here is exciting!


How interesting. Three pawns down, down on the clock, and FM Friedman has offered a draw to his opponent on Board 3. It is an interesting offer; while materially and temporally, Friedman is far worse, his most recent move, 25. Nf5 suggests that he may have a devastating attack, that is not 100% sound. But, will Zaikov risk that it is, in fact, unsound? Or will he take the draw?


The Knockout's Board 4, Jayson "I'm not 12 even though the USCL website claims I am" Lian, has rammed a knight down the throat of his Cobric opponent. 21...Ne3. Blam!


Zaikov didn't do a Kramnik.


On Board 3, Friedman is threatening mate in 1 with 24...Qd7#. Will Zaikov see it? Or will he do a Kramnik?


IM Milman is still thinking about the draw offer....


The crowd is buzzing. Has Joel made a "team" decision, because the KOs are looking good on Board 2? Or, Joel, cognizant of his own clock status, has made a strategic decision to call it a day, even though he may be a tad better, and has White.


On Board 1, GM Joel has offered a draw to IM Milman. The crowd seems in disbelief.


A look around the room here would suggest that the match is not going well for the Knockouts. Players are slouched, chewing on themselves, grumpy. The KOs are down on the clock on most boards. The time is getting short. The scramble should start soon.


I've determined that for next year, I will have a better camera!


The situation doesn't look so promising for a few reasons.

First, the Knockouts are losing time on the clock. GM Joel has 14 minutes left compared with IM Milman's 32 minutes. And they are still only on move 19. And on Boards 3 and 4, the KOs are down to 18 and 12 minutes respectively, while their opponents have move.

Moreover, on Board 3 FM Aviv Friedman is a pawn down, but his opponent has a 3-1 majority on the queenside -- soon perhaps 3-0.

The guys need some water. Like this...


Boston is having a good night. The Red Sox won the baseball playoff, and their Board 4, Chris "is Awesome and 0 friends" Williams won his game quickly versus San Francisco. Whatever you may think of young Mr. Williams and his "awesomeness" at chess and (ahem) "music", it cannot be denied that his 4-0 record in USCL is pretty awesome.


Knockouts player Victor "Stalemate" Shen informs me that Jayson Lian was born in 1992, not 1995 as stated on the website. That makes much more sense, as he would be really tall for a 12 year old.


On Board 2, Dean Ippolito looks like he's returned one of the two pawns.


The games have all still not reached the 20th move yet. And, unlike other Knockout matches, the clocks remain reasonably balanced for both sides.

Looks like the increment rush will happen in an hour or so.


It is an hour and forty-two minutes later. Only 13 1/3 donuts left. See below. These people are animals!!


Almost 9:oo, and here are my assessments of the Knockouts' games so far.

Board 1: Benjamin's game looks like it is a game between GMs, so therefore, it is far too complicated for me to figure out.
Board 2: Ippolito's game has him up material, and way behind in development. I wouldn't want to be Ippolito is I was playing against Zapfrybizkapa.
Board 3: Friedman's game looks like it was plucked from the library of bullet games.
Board 4: Lian's game has too much mixing of the colors -- the pieces need to go back to their own sides!


Time used on the clocks is very balanced across the teams. (Team with more time indicated)
(1) 43-49 (CAR)
(2) 36-51 (NJK)
(3) 44-46 (CAR)
(4) 50-38 (CAR)


Interesting factoid: All games are on a different odd move (11, 13, 15, 17). Concidence?? I think not!


Back to the physical layout of the room. If you've read the blog before, you know that the Knockouts play at the Chapel Hill Academy in Lincoln Park, New Jersey. It is a charter school. We're in the computer lab, and the players are spread out in the room. GM Joel is in the corner of the room by himself. Big Dean is at the head of the room at his own table with his dual drinks (Poland Spring water and Nestle strawberry milk). Young Lian, and "Sveshi" Friedman are at opposite ends of a long table.


It just seems like the atmosphere in the room tonight is a little different than the other matches I've attended. There is more of a determined atmosphere.

It is also a little hotter in here than it has been the previous weeks.


Back to the unusual opening on Board 2... Ippolito is up 30 minutes on the clock, two pawns ahead. White didn't take the apparent draw, and castled instead.


"They" have commented on whether I have better things to do, than take pictures of donuts. So.... here's a picture of the coffee, instead.


Comments on the Ippolito games suggest that White may have a "perpetual" attack on Black's queen, with this line.

9. Be3 Qe5 10. f4 Qa5 11. b4 Qb4 12. Rb1 Qa5 13. Rb5 Qc3 14. Rb3, etc.

But it seems like taking a quick draw with White may not be in Carolina's best interests. However, White down some material, so maybe it is best at this point? What will Schroer do?


Board 2, Ippolito versus Schroer has acquired its own gravity. Not that I'm anywhere near qualified to comment on the quality of the chess, but... Dean Ippolito did get a little greedy, it seems, when he played 8...Nxe4. Will White chase Dean's queen clean from the scene?


All the games have interesting positions. On Board 1, GM Joel Benjamin's position looks more serpentine than the Cobra's player's position. His pieces are lurking back, ready to strike at any moment. On Board 2, IM Dean Ippolito looks like he may be a pawn or two ahead, but whether White's compensation will give him anything is unclear -- Dean just can't get too greedy, I suspect. On Board 3, the acreage that FM Aviv Friedman has encountered is impressive looking, but will black just squat his pieces in White's space? On Board 4, young Jason Lian has some potential holes in White's position at which to poke.


FM Aviv Friedman is munching on peanuts from a Ziploc bag.


On Board 1, GM Joel seems to be a little underdeveloped. His light-squared bishop flew out to c4 early, and now has backed into c2, after a few moves. The consensus of the 80 people watching the game is the White is playing a Ruy Lopez, and Black is playing a Sicilian Dragon. The question is, though... who will prove triumphant? The Spaniard or the Italian?


On Board 2, the Cobra's Schroer took over seventeen minutes to figure out how to recapture Ippolito's cleric, who giving check. It looks like Ippolito is a pawn up, maybe more.


The first week, there were sandwiches, chips, donuts, coffee, soda, and water all very generously provided to the players. The second week, the sandwiches were gone, but the chips, donuts, coffee, soda, and water were still available.

But now, it is the staples of life. Donuts, coffee, and water.

Here are the donuts.

I know that I and the players are all very grateful for the food. Thanks!


On Board 3, our newest player, FM Aviv Friedman is gaining a great deal of space on the kingside, with pawns on e4, f4, g4, and h4. He's White in a Sicilian, and he's prepping his kingside attack, although Black hasn't quite castled over there yet.


More on Dean Ippolito's game. His 4...Bb4+ is a relatively rare move. More common is4...Be7. His move scores 38% for white and 30% for black. However, Schroer's response 5. Nbd2 is extremely uncommon, only played about 2% of the time. 98% of the time, 5. Nc3 is the move.


On Board 2, IM Dean Ippolito, playing black, is in a Queen's Gambit Declined, which is a nice change from all the Slavs we've seen recently in the World Championships.


On Board 4, Craig Jones decided to give up his advantage of the first move by playing Nf3 and e3.


And we're off! The games started on time tonight... On Board 1, GM Joel Benjamin takes on IM Lev Milman, while on Board 2, IM Dean Ippolito tackles IM Jonathan Schroer.

The Knockouts tonight feature the debut of two player on board 3 and 4. On Board 3, FM Aviv Friedman, who was an early roster substitution for FM Tom Bartell plays youngster FM Oleg Zaikov. And on Board 4, the Knockouts youngest member, Jason Lian (born 1995, you do the math) plans on not pulling his punches against Carolina's Craig Jones.


The KOs versus the Snakes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

GM Joel Benjamin annotates his win over GM Pascal Charbonneau

Editor's Note: GM Joel Benjamin has generously annotated this game for the blog. In it, you can clearly see Joel's wry sense of humor and dry wit. And, furthermore, the detail and clarity of his annotations really give good insight to a grandmaster's thinking process. Thanks GM Joel!

Joel Benjamin
–Pascal Charbonneau [B80]

USCL NJ vs. NY, 26.09.2007

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 a6

Move order can be quite sophisticated for GMs. If 3…Nc6 White could switch into a Rossolimo with 4.Bb5.

4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 Nf6 6.0–0 d6

In the 2005 World Open Pascal tried 6…Qc7 against me.

7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7

Now I had to think for a few minutes to remember what I liked to do in this line. Fortunately, my memory still works on occasion.

9.a4 Be7 10.Nb3

The plan with Be3, trading on c6, and a5 is more common (see a million Alexander Ivanov games) but I think it's a bit boring. The knight retreat to b3 is logical with Black’s bishop committed to d7. I once won a nice game in this line over Aussie GM Darryl Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter.


I must have defended this position against deFirmian at some point. With me a Taimanov maven and Nick a g3 devotee, it seems likely. I probably tried Na5 here. After Pascal's move Black's position just doesn't look right.

11.f4 0–0 12.g4

I thought for a moment about 12.e5 to stick his knight on e8, but I didn't want to let him sack the exchange with 12.e5 dxe5 13.fxe5 Nxe5. The g4 push is well timed, because Black doesn't have time to get the d7 square for his knight.


Of course not 12...Bc8? 13.e5. I thought during the game that 12…d5!? was a good practical chance. After 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 exd5 Black has at least has freed his position.

13.Qe2 Ne8

I thought 13...Qc7 would be more natural, and wondered about 14.e5!? Ne8 15.exd6 Nxd6 16.f5.

14.Be3 Ng7 15.Rad1 Qc7

15...f5 16.exf5 gxf5 17.Nd4 (other moves are strong too) leaves Black too loose.


With the Black queen no longer observing the dark squares on the kingside, it seems like the right time to pounce.

16...Bf6 17.Bh6


Black’s position is getting increasingly uncomfortable. Pascal was running low on time looking for a way out. 17...Rae8 18.e5! kills Black with f6 or Ne4 to follow. Fritz recommends 17...Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rfc8, but Black’s dark squares look pretty scary in that event.

18.exf5 exf5

18...d5 (preventing 19.Ne4) was definitely a better try. 19.g5 (I considered 19.Bf4 followed by 20.Bd6 as well) 19...Bxc3 20.bxc3 Nxf5 21.Bxf8 Rxf8 22.c4 looks strong for White but is a bit messier.

19.Nd5 Qd8 20.gxf5

I didn’t consider the Fritz suggestion 20.Nxf6+ Qxf6 21.g5 Qg6 22.Qd3, but I don’t think it’s any stronger anyway.


This loses quickly but I don’t think there’s much hope anyway. After a plausible move like 20...Kh8, 21.Qd2 Rg8 22.Nxf6 Qxf6 23.Qxd6 wins easily.


This was a tough call for me. I was tempted to play 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.f6+ Kh8 (I knew 22...Kh6 had to lead to mate; 23.h4 Bxh4 24.Rf4 Bg5 25.Kf2! was one line I calculated) and now:

A) 23. Qh5 Rg8 24. h4 Bg4 (24...Rg6 25. hxg5 Qg8 is of course lost but I found it slightly annoying) 25.Qxg4 Be3+ 26.Nxe3 Rxg4 27.Nxg4 and White’s three pieces should triumph over the queen.

B) 23.h4 (probably even stronger) 23…Re8 24.Qh5 Be3+ 25.Nxe3 Rxe3 26.Qg5 wins the rook. 23…Bxh4 or 23…Bh6 24.Qh5 traps the bishop.

In the end I decided the other continuation was simpler and left less to chance.

21...Qxg5 22.Nxb6 Rad8

Or 22...Rae8 23.Qd2 and White will clean up pawns in the endgame.


This isn’t necessary to win, but it wins a piece and isn’t difficult to calculate.

23…Qg3 24.Rd3 Qe5 25.Re3 1–0

As an infrequent tournament competitor these days, I can go a long time between wins as satisfying as this one (especially because we won the match, woo-hoo!)

Pascal is working full time on Wall Street so he has an even greater challenge to play up to his level. Given the few minutes he already spent on his second move, I would say he didn’t have much time to prepare for this game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Real-time blogging: Week 5 -- battle of NJ and NY


Finally! They've agreed to a draw! And the Knew Jersey Knockouts win!! 2.5 - 1.5 over the Knew York Knights.

Next week, Wednesday October 3 at 7:00pm against the Carolina Cobras!


We're all tired, but the game continues. Is it a win for white or a draw?


The commentary is buzzing. It looks like it might end up with three pawns (NY) versus a rook (NJ). But things are still unclear.


Hess offered a draw to Mike Zlotnikov, but we don't think Zlotnikov acutally saw the offer, else he would have immediately accepted, since that would have won us the match. Oh boy...


Zlotnikov is still playing. Hess lost a pawn, but that seems to make his position freer, and he needs to win. They are shuffling pieces around the board, but Zlotinkov has got his rook in Hess's face, but it isn't clear how much it can do there.


Evan just blundered, and fell victim to ...Rxg6+ Kxg6 Qg5+ and then he resigned, as his rook was about to become victim to a Queen fork.

So the match stands at 2.0 - 1.0, with New Jersey still in the lead.


Hess knows he needs to win, and is justifiably reluctant to draw his game (and thus, lose the match for his team).


We've at least drawn the match. Evan is struggling to hold on on board 4, but it doesn't look good. He's exchanged his queen, and now has three minor pieces for White's queen and two pawns. She's pretty low on time, though. She needs to win, as it looks like Zlotnikov Hess has turned into the closed position shuffle.


Boom! Boom! Two wins back to back! Benjamin and Molner both won within seconds of one another, and the Knockouts lead 2.0 - 0.0!


Zlotnikov has offered a draw to Hess. Zlotnikov is way up on the clock, but the consensus seems to be that the position is roughly equal.


Evan Ju is still thinking. His time has now gone below his opponent. I am still blogging.


Mac played 30. Re7 ... he sacced another piece! Will it work? Does it win?? Is this the game of the week????


Mac is staring intently on the screen. Does 30. Re7 win for him?

Oh, and Bionic Woman is over.


The room is very tense. Mac is making waiting moves, trying to gain some time on the clock, but he is still very low on time. Zlotnikov and Hess are locked up in a very closed position. Evan Ju is still trying to figure out how to convert his advantage. The consensus is, though, that Joel has a significant advantage against Charbonneau.


Evan Ju has been thinking hard about his his opponent's 28. Rc3. He may be trying to calculate how the endgame will look for him if all the pieces have been swapped off. While he has a knight and a bishop for a rook and a pawn, the pawn on g3 will be lost soon, one way or another. He is up on the clock, though, and has the luxury of planning how to grasp a victory from the Tree of Winners.


There is a tactical possibility that has arisen on the Molner board, which Mac missed. 26. Re7 Bxe7 27. dxe7 Qc7 28. Qxh5!! +/-


Unlike most of the other weeks, the Knockouts are actually up on the clock on three of the four boards. The only board on where we are down is the Molner board, and that was due to the 49 minute think on the piece sac.


Molner (white) is trying to press his advantage. Looks rather dangerous for black, but if he comes out of it okay, then black is a piece up.


Eighteen minutes into the Bionic Woman premiere, and all four games are still going. Here are some random observations.

On Board 1, Charbonneau has forgotten that pawns can move two squares on their first move.
On Board 2, Hess gives new meaning to the phrase bad bishop.
On Board 3, the Big Mac Attack is still on track.
On Board 4, there is unbalance on the board and on the clock.


I didn't fully give credit to Mac Molner's piece sacrifice on Board 3. The jury is out on whether it is sound or not, but the crowd seems to think it is at least dangerous for black.


The coffee is especially good tonight. But the cups are a little too flexible. There are two choices of donuts, cinnamon and powdered sugar, but the powdered sugar has orange food coloring in it. Halloween is coming early, it seems.


Ugh. The series premiere of Bionic Woman starts in 11 minutes. I have to get a donut to console myself.


Life master Dr.Brian McCarthy (DropZone on ICC) made these comments about GM Joel's play in his game:
Joel has saved a tempo on Nigel Short's system of Be2-f3-g2 and g4, vs g3 g4 and bg2, and Nigel has been wiping the floor with people lately in one of the only lines he still scores with. Joel can try to save the Be3 tempo for something else (a trick Nigel also uses) but Joel can think he is 2 tempi up on a main line, maybe even 3, since he has left out Kh1, a universal Nigel move.Thanks for letting us use the comments, DropZone!


The general consensus is that Joel Benjamin seems to have a very good position against Charbonneau, and he's up on the clock to boot. One observer made what appears to be astute comments about the game, and claimed that Joel has made improvements on Nigel Short's system of beating the Sicilian.


Observers at each of the games...
Board 1: 86
Board 2: 43
Board 3: 34
Board 4: 37


Mac still hasn't moved. He's gone from looking at the physical board to the screen.


Wow! On Board 3, Mac Molner has gone into a very long think. It is almost 40 minutes so far. The wide open position allows a lot of possibilities for attack and Molner is ready for a Big Mac Attack! (image taken from:


On Board 1, Joel Benjamin's 12. g4 has confused Charbonneau, who is thinking long and hard as to why he only occupies 3/8 of the board.


I'm hopeful the Knockouts can win the matches quickly tonight, so I can go home and catch the premiere of "Bionic Woman".


As many of you know, at the playing site, the players have the option of playing on the physical board or on the computer screen. The rules state that once you make a move on the board, you must make that move on the screen. Most of the players seem to use the physical board for the first half of the game, and then they move to the screen.


On Board 1, captain GM Joel Benjamin is on the White side of some strange "Marmotta Nordamericana" opening, which is actually Italian for 'woodchuck', since I was trying to find hedgehog in Italian, cause to me it started as a Sicilian and turned into a hedgehog.

Ok, I'm losing it.


On Board 2, IM Mike Zlotnikov wields the ebony warriors against the ivory soldiers controlled by IM Robert Hess. Mike has played a Modern-like opening, jettisoned his bad bishop and has eyes on the big hole on g3.

Here's Mike setting up his pieces at the beginning of the game, while GM Joel Benjamin looks on.


On Board 3, the Knockouts' Mac Molner is playing white against FM Marc Arnold. Already on the 16th move, Mac has castled long and has flung his kingside pawns in what appears to be a kitchen sink attack against Arnold's wing. Arnold's king is stuck in the center, and it appears that this will be a wild ride.

Here's a picture of Mac in his pre-match warmup -- trademark headphones, playing a 5-minute game.


We'll go around the horn now, and check out each of the games. Let's start with Board 4...

On Board 4, the Knockouts' Evan Ju, the current US Cadet Champion, has the black pieces against WFM Irina Zenyuk. 26 people are tuned in watch Evan skillfully rearranging his pieces on the back row, while keeping an eye on the closed phalanxed center.


Finally all the games have started. Because of their delay in starting the games 2 and 3, the Knights were given a 12 minute penalty on those two boards. USCL commissioner Greg Shahade threw the yellow flag, blew his whistle, crossed his arms, and said "Delay of game!"


A picture of GM Joel Benjamin's board, awaiting Charbonneau's response to 2. Nf3.


The Knights are having trouble getting their act together. Maybe they are helping each other set up the boards properly? :-)


And two of the games have started! Evan Ju is black in a King's Indian Defense, and !st board Joel Benjamin seems to have completely stumped New York's Pascal Charbonneau, with 1. e4 c5 2. Nf6 ... Charbonneau is having a long think about this incredibly unusual move from Benjamin.


Evan Ju is here, he's here from the Garden State Parkway.


The matches are scheduled to start in five minutes. Most of the New Jersey team is here, the remainder is on the Garden State Parkway, again...


Its getting time for the battle of the Hudson River, the battle of the silent Ks. The Knew Jersey Knockouts and the Knew York Knights have Knever met, and the clash begins at seven tonight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Real Time Blog (Week 4) - NJ vs. Queens rematch!

Next week, the Knockouts take on preseason favorite the New York Knights. Will we see the huge potential matchup of former US champions Benjamin - Nakamura? Stay tuned to this blog and the United States Chess League for next weeks 7:00pm match!


Evan spun a mating web, and Parker Zhao resigned. So, the Knockouts lose by the slimmest of margins, 2.5 - 1.5.


And its official. Joel has resigned, and the Knockouts are unable to pluck another miracle from the Miracle Tree. We've already picked the tree dry, it seems. Queens has won the match, and is ahead 2.5 - 0.5, with only Evan Ju left to finish his game.


Stunning. In a matter of a few short minutes, IM Zlotnikov looked like he dropped an exchange, which his opponent didn't take for some reason that isn't clear to me and several others, and then a few moves later fell victim to a knight fork on e2. He promptly resigned, and now Queens leads New Jersey 1.5 - 0.5. It will take another amazing comeback to draw this match, let alone win it.


It is looking still pretty tense. On Board 4, Evan is up in the endgame and on the clock, and should be able to pull it off with some good technique and solid play. Board 1 is not looking good for NJ. Zlotnikov is up on the clock and may have a slight advantage -- there's a disagreement whether he's better or its equal, so I'm splitting the difference and saying +=.

However, in the past three weeks of the Knockouts' matches, we've had some wacky finishes, so anything can happen. It's probably the water. Or the refineries. Or all the secretly buried bodies. There's just something about New Jersey!


Molner and Critelli finally saw each others' draw offer, and the score is now 0.5 - 0.5.


Things are getting tense. Joel's position on Board 1 is not looking good. Zlotnikov's position on Board 2 is looking good, and he's up on the clock to boot. Molner and Critelli are in a drawn position, but neither seems to be either (a) seeing or (b) accepting each others' draw offers. On Board 4, Evan Ju has to get out of some complications, but he should emerge with a material advantage. Michael Khodarkovsky shrugs.


The Knocnkouts' Michael Khodarkovsky believes that 22.Qg4 is winning for Stripunsky on Board 1. His dispassionate analysis hits the Knockouts like a cold fish on a frozen Siberian lake.


Molner has offered a draw on board 3, to which Critelli is pondering his response.


Back to the clocks. The Knockouts have an advantage on the clock on boards 2 and 4, where we are way behind on the clocks on the other two boards.


Pre-teen, or just-teen Parker Zhao is loading up his pieces on the a7-g1 diagonal, with his surprising 15...Qb6.


Meanwhile back on board 1, Joel's move of 17...Kxe7 has surprised the crowd of over 150 observers. Most expected the natural recapture 17...Qxe7. Joel's move, however, may allow white to take a pawn and centralize his queen, forcing a queen exchange. The crowd now is buzzing with hints of "what if" and "but then" analysis.


Of course, the Knight on f6 is en prise. There are complications though, and it will be interesting how it plays out.


I confess I don't understand Evan's response of 15. Qh3 as it seems to me that 15...Nf2+ is a good move that wins the exchange. I'm clearly missing something. Here's the position.


Does Zhao's 14...h4 just drop a pawn? Or is he opening up the h-file for an assault on Ju's king?


Taking a stroll around the room, here's what I see. We're in a computer lab at the Chapel Hill Academy in Lincoln Park, NJ

Board 4, Evan Ju, is sipping a bottle of ice cold water, leaning back in chair, looking at the screen. He's just played 14. e5, and is now walking around the room, checking out the other games.

Board 3, Mackensie Molner has his ubiquitous headphones on, a Montclair Soccer t-shirt, and has played 12...Rad8. He's staying close to his machine, as if he's expecting a reply soon. He's also down on the clock a bit.

Board 2, IM Mikhail Zlotnikov, is finally standing up. I don't believe he's gotten up at all in the past two hours, but now he's standing, taking a short stroll around the room, checking out GM Joel's game over Joel's shoulder.

Board 1, GM Joel Benjamin, however, is all business. He's upright in his chair, no longer leaning on the table. He's in front of the physical board, but looking at the screen. His body is still, yet relaxed, in a focused beam of concentration on the task at hand, namely, to force the Pioneers to circle their wagons, and wait for the fourth board jab, the third board cross, the second board hook, and the first board uppercut to finish them off.


The kibitzing in Board 1 is starting to center around the excitement of the USCL. People are excited to have their own teams in Canada, Mexico, even Israel, although I think that the time difference between Israel and the USA may be a bit much.


Perhaps surprised by the fact that Stripunsky didn't take his knoght on e4, GM Benjamin has sunk into a long deep think. He's hunched over the physical board, hands on the table, perfectly still.


We have turtle!


On Board 2, IM Zlotnikov has flown his rook over to the open c-file, starting a staring contest with the Black queen, which has settled on c7. The Black Queen is no longer comfortable in her little nest. Time to decide, Black queen. Time to figure out where to park yourself for the rest of the game... Will you bravely move out and center yourself? Or will you retreat, like a frightened turtle, back toward the corner of the board. (Apologies to Seinfeld for the turtle reference)


Queen's Board 4, Parker Zhao, is taking his time on his twelfth move. The Knockouts' Board 4, US Cadet Champion Evan Ju, prophylactically slid his king into the corner of the board, which has Zhao in a long think... Shao just moved 11...Bd7 after 14 minutes of thought.


After almost 6 minutes of thought, GM Joel did play 13...Nxe4.


GM Joel Benjamin is taking is time on his thirteenth move. It appears that he's calculating whether 13...Nex4 works.


You might ask, why do so many players take a long time on somewhat obvious recaptures? The reason why is that (when it is their opponent's turn) many of the players spend their time looking at the plastic pieces and vinyl board in front of them, and glance at the screen every minute or so, to see if their opponent moved.


To those that noticed. No pictures tonight, sorry. I could recycle more donut pictures. In a few minutes, though, I will go around and give physical profiles of all the players.


I noticed that last week, and it looks like this week too, our lower boards seem to get into time trouble early. Molner and Ju are both down on the clock, and it is pretty early in the game. Ju has used 40 minutes, and it is only the eleventh move in his game!


On Board 3, Queen's Critelli clearly took Nakamura's time management class. He's used less than three minutes off the starting time. Remember, though, there's a 30 second increment.


New Jersey Knockout's team member Victor Shen said, and I quote, "BENJAMIN PLAYED THE TAIMANOV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


Ratings update. No not Elo ratings... Observer ratings.

Board 1: 142 people
Board 2: 42 people
Board 3: 42 people
Board 4: 33 people

As a comparison, the end of the Gelfand-Morozevich game has 827 people.


On Board 1, GM Joel has slammed down the left-click button of his mouth, in a gesture that resembled the chisel's first strike on the stone that became David, and pushed 10...b4 which seems to have completed flummoxed, befuddled, and indeed, flabbergasted GM Stripunsky. Lost in thought, Stripunsky may be calculating whether he can lash out with the risky knight foray 11.Nd5 or whether he needs to play a little more cautiously. The clock ticks while we await his loaded reply. His move will tell a lot about the character of the Queens team, and indeed, the character of the entire borough. Maybe.


That's really not too easy to see... hmm..


Here's an update of the state of all four boards.


Back to the games... On Board 3, The Pioneer's player FM Critelli, has not taken more than 14 seconds on any of his moves so far.... and that 14 seconds was on his first move 1. e4 !!


As the games zip toward the middlegame, it is time to reflect on week 1's match versus Queens. It was a 2-2 tie, and this week, we see the early rematch. Also, this week there are donuts again. There were donuts last time.


Someone in the crowd has predicted a 2.5 - 1.5 New Jersey win. The masses are coming to the side of the Garden State.


The combined ages of the players on Board 4 is a whopping 29! Evan Ju just turned 16, I believe, and Parker Zhao is all of 13, maybe even only 12. Parker has just zinged his h-pawn toward Ju's castled king position. The elder statesman, Evan, is concentrating at the board, trying to find the reply that will show the whippersnapper, Parker, the errors of his youth.


Apparently, I love blogging. See screenshot below from the US Chess Leag website...


On Board 2, IM Zlotnikov's game versus IM Vovsha has turned into an English opening versus some sort of hedgehog type formation. In week 1, IM Vovsha beat former NJKO member FM Tom Bartell. Bartell, unfortunately, had to resign from the team due to a scheduling conflict. It is hoped, of course, the Zlotnikov can take the momentum from his great World Open finish this past July and use it to crush Vovsha tonight.


Evan Ju is patiently sitting here, awaiting the start of his game. His opponent, Parker Zhao, is apparently not yet available.


Mac Molner has blazed ahead in his game. They are already on the ninth move, and Mac has his queen-knight's pawn on b5.


And we've started... Benjamin has played a Sicilian on board 1. Zlotnikov is finachettoing his kingside bishop. Molner in a Pirc.


Slight delay to the start, but any moment, we hear!


The matches are about to start. The crowd here is intense. The players are intense. The sleeping bags are in tents. Ha ha ha...


Mac Molner and IM Mikhail Zlotnikov have just arrived and are getting set up. We are awaiting our Board 4, Evan Ju.


Joel Benjamin has arrived and is getting psyched to crush the opposition.

3:03 pm

USCL Commissioner Greg Shahade predicts that Board 1's epic rematch between GM Joel Benjamin of the Knockouts and his Pioneer opponent GM Alex Stripunsky is the premiere matchup of the night. Watch all the live blogging from the NJ playing site at the Chapel Hill Academy in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, starting at 7:00pm tonight!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IM Ippolito annotates his win versus Baltimore

(Editor's note: Dean Ippolito has generously agreed to annotate his win from the match against Baltimore. You can replay an unannotated version here. IM Ippolito is the New Jersey State Chess Federation's Teacher of the Year, and so you can learn a great deal from his insightful annotations. Thank you Dean!)

IM Ippolito - FM Enkhbat [D15]
USCL, Baltimore vs. New Jersey, 12SEP2007

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3

4.Nf3 a6 5.c5 I recently played this against Kritz at the NE Masters and got a winning position. I thought he might have prepared something so I went back to a line that I had only played once before.

4...a6 5.Nf3 b5 6.b3 Bg4 7.Be2 e6 8.0-0

8.h3 Bf5

8...Nbd7 9.h3 Bf5

9...Bh5 is the main move and goes into my Itkis game from the 2006 US Championships.


10.Nh4 Ne4;
Better is 10.Bd3!+= which is known to be best for white. I tried getting a little creative here.

10...Nxe5 11.dxe5 Nd7

11...Ne4 12.Nxe4 Bxe4 13.f3 Bg6 is also fine for black.

12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Bb2 Bc5

13...Nxe5? 14.Nxb5

14.Bg4 (diagram 1)


14...Qg5! was the move I missed when playing 10.Ne5. This gives black no problems and only black can be better. When playing 14.Bg4, I had a decent response lined up against 14...Qg5!, though I was still concerned about it. 15.Bxf5 Qxf5 16.Qe2! was my idea when 16...Nxe5 ( 16...Qxe5 17.Nxb5; Better would be 16...0-0 17.e4 Qxe5 18.Nxd5 Qg5=) 17.e4 with initiative;
14...Bg6 15.Nxd5 was another idea though he can play (even stronger is 15.Ne2 and white is a little better) 15...h5! ( 15...exd5! 16.Qxd5 Rc8 17.Rfd1 Rc7 18.Rac1) 16.Nf4 hxg4 17.Nxg6 fxg6 18.Qxg4 Qe7 19.Qxg6+ Qf7 and black covers up.

15.Qxg4 0-0 16.Ne2

16.Qg3 f6

16...Qe7 17.Nf4 Rfc8 18.Rfc1


18...Bb6 19.a4?!

Better was 19.Nh5 g6 20.Nf6+ Nxf6 21.exf6 and black has to worry about g7 for a long time to come. I wanted to try for more, and as in most cases of asking too much from a position, got much less.

19...Qb4! 20.axb5 Rxc1+ 21.Rxc1 axb5 22.Bd4 Qd2!

22...Bxd4 23.Nxe6! fxe6 24.Qxe6+ Kf8 25.exd4 Qd2 26.Rf1 and black is in danger. I saw this position after 20.ab but missed his 22nd move which is very strong.

23.Rd1 Qc2 24.Re1?

This is inconsistent with my previous play of going for an attack. Here, time was getting low and I played a passive move. 24.Nxe6! fxe6 25.Qxe6+ Kh8 26.Rf1 and while the position is unbalanced, white is at least no worse.

24...Bxd4 25.exd4 Qc3 26.Qd1

Better is 26.Rd1

26...Ra3 27.Re3

Better is 27.Kh2

27...Ra1 28.Rxc3 Rxd1+ 29.Kh2 Rxd4

Now black is much better.

30.Rc8+ Nf8 31.g3 g6


32.Kg2 Rb4

32...Kg7 33.Ne2 Re4

33.Rc3 Re4 34.Nd3 Kg7 35.Rc7 g5 36.Rb7 Ng6 37.b4 h5

37...Nxe5!? is safer though it's still difficult to demonstrate a win 38.Nc5 Rxb4 39.Nxe6+ Kg6 40.Nxg5 ( 40.Nf8+) 40...Kxg5 41.f4+ Kf5 42.fxe5

38.Nc5 Rxe5 39.Rxb5

Black's advantage is now in doubt due to white's passed b-pawn.

39...Re1 40.Rb7 g4?

Better was 40...Kf6

41.hxg4 hxg4 42.b5

White is now very active and black needs to be careful.

42...Kf6 43.Nd7+ Kg7?

Better was 43...Kf5


Black is the one who needs to be careful now. I had seen the coming tactical idea for the previous couple of moves.

44...Ne5?? (diagram 2)


45.Nxe5 Rxe5 46.Rxf7+!

Now white will queen.

46...Kxf7 47.b7 Re4 48.b8Q Rc4 49.Qe5 Re4 50.Qg5 Rc4 51.Qh6 Ra4 52.Qh7+ Kf6 53.Qh8+ Kf7 54.Qe5 Rc4 55.f4

The easiest way to win is to create a passed pawn.

55...gxf3+ 56.Kxf3 Re4 57.Qh5+

Now the g-pawn will advance and white will win easily. A very lucky win!


Monday, September 17, 2007

Announcement of upcoming articles

Last week, the Knockouts remained one the three undefeated teams in the USCL, and this week they are ready to floor the other expansion team, the Queens Pioneers, in a grudge rematch of their first week tussle.

Here's a preview of what's coming up on the blog this week.

Real time blogging on Wednesday

This week, there will be real-time blogging of the New Jersey Knockouts' rematch against the Queens Pioneers. Board 1 will feature a rematch of Week 1's matchup, GM Joel Benjamin versus GM Alex Stripunsky, which Benjamin won in 48 moves.. This time, however, Stripunsky gets White.

IM Ippolito annotates his win from last week

IM Dean Ippolito will annotate his win last week against FM Teghsuren Enkhbat. Called a swindle by some, in reality, it was an astute and perceptive display of tactical skill by IM Ippolito from a worse position. Dean is the New Jersey State Chess Federation's Teacher of the Year, and his insight will be helpful for anyone seeking to improve their game.

Knockout Victor Shen is profiled

Finally, we will soon have another profile of one of the Knockouts, 14 year old national master Victor Shen. Victor gave a lively, humorous, and self-deprecating interview, which belies his tender age. It is something you won't want to miss!

All coming soon, on the New Jersey Knockouts blog, right here!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Real Time Blog (Week 3) - NJKOs vs. Baltimore Kingfishers

This is the real time blog for the New Jersey Knockouts in Week Three of the USCL. The match tonight is the Knockouts versus the Baltimore Fish... I mean Kingfishers.


And it is over. Another miracle drawn match from the Knockouts! 2.0 - 2.0!! Still undefeated!


Ok, I count one chicken. Dean won, and the score now is 1.5 - 1.5. Joel may as well play on and try to win, because he's a pawn up in a generally drawn endgame.


Dean just needs to wrap things up. But, in this league, anything is possible, so listen... ZERE VILL BE NO CHICKEN COUNTEENK!


Unreal!!! Dean has sacced his rook, and looks like he may win it by queening his pawn. He's smirking... :)


Down to two games. Joel is up a pawn in the endgame, but it is a very drawable endgame (a rook apiece, 2P vs 3P all connected on the kingside). USCL commissioner Greg Shahade says that Joel drew that same endgame (on the pawn down side) versus Kasparov in the past!


Boy it is tense in here. Dean Ippolito is glaring at the screen. Joel Benjamin looks calm, but he's likely in the zone. Don't know how much more I can get in here before the games end, but we'll see...


It comes down to two very similar looking R+N versus R+N endgames. Ipplolito had one of these last week. Can the Knockouts pull out two wins here and win the match? A win and a draw to tie the match? Anything less than that, and the Knockouts lose their first one of the year. Stay tuned.


Victor fell. After defending well and running his king from the kingside to the queenside, he finally succumbed to a tactical trick, and either had to give up his queen or be mated. It is not looking good for New Jersey now, as the Knockouts trail 0.5 - 1.5 to the Kingfishers.


Baltimore tried to hold on to the win, but Lunna pulled off the draw on Board 4. Therefore the match is tied at 0.5 - 0.5, after one complete game!


Victor is holding on. He has a nice little trap (... Qxc2, where Rxc2?? is mate after Rb1+) but that's a real long shot. But, remember last week! Victor has a habit (sample size of one) of making a long shot.


Shen is valiantly trying to defend, but is getting viciously attacked. He's in time trouble, less than 10 seconds left now.


Lunna played Kf7, protecting the queening square. It seemed like an obvious move, but Lunna took his time, checking all the variations.


On Board 4, Rouleau sacced his Bishop so he could queen his c-pawn with check. Lunna's thinking about this response.


Shen just got a bigger rock in his sneakers after 27. Bxg7, and he has less than a minute left.


Ippolito-Enkhbhat is still really a complex struggle. Enkhbat just injected his queen into Ippolito's second rank 22. ... Qd2 after a 12 minute think . Dean is concentrating hard at the physical board, not looking at the screen, head in hands, still. That black queen seems to me like it feels like a small rock in your sneakers after a nice day at the beach.


On board 4, looks like we are getting some queens back!


On Board 3, Victor has only 3 minutes left, but his 24. ... Qc5 has dropped his opponent into a long think. She still has 40+ minutes on his, though.


Some real long calculation required on Board 4. Can White sac his Bishop and take the pawn and still draw?


Here's the position on Board 1, the GM versus GM battle. White's (Blehm) connected pawns versus Black's (Benjamin) isolated pawns on the queenside, and White's doubled pawns on the kingside.


Victor is really low on time now, only 4+ minutes left.


A pair of rooks have come off in the Ippolito game, but other than that, the position look eerily similar to an hour ago.


Lunna has picked up the h-pawn. But at what cost? Looks like his a-pawn will fall.


Tense maneuvering in the Lunna-Rouleau game. Both kings are making feints and false starts, trying to decide how to penetrate into the opponents position. Lunna's bishop on a5 is making a nice dark-squared block, and coordinating well with his queenside pawns, which are on light squares. Rouleau's king can't just come waltzing into the a-file, because many of the squareson the b-file are covered.


Back to Board 1. GM Joel Benjamin's French Defense id facing a phalanx of pawns, with the tip on c5, and the flankers on b4 and d4. The commentary has virtually stopped on the game, even though there are exactly 100 people watching. Everyone is wondering how Joel will break out of the slightly cramped position that he has.

Here's a picture of GM Joel at the start of the match.


Victor is way down on the clock. He has 17 minutes left, to his opponent's 63 minutes.


I've ignored Victor Shen's game on board 3. Let's have a look... Hmm... Well, both have pretty bad light-squared bishops. Rohonyan has a nice knight planted right in the center of the board. It coulf be kicked out with ... f6, but the hole it leaves on g6 doesn't look too nice for Victor. If only Victor would move his bishops back to his first rank, then he would be setting up to practice a Fischer Random game. Rohonyan has just played f4, and here's the current position.


As I thought, it was a long planning session on Board 2, as Dean took about 20 minutes before he played 19. a4 ...


Todd Lunna (White) on Board 4 has ended up in a very interesting position. Material is equal is a same-colored-square Bishop ending. Todd has a doubled f-pawn, and his opponent connected pawns on the g and h files. Clearly Black has the better pawn structure, but is it enough to win?


I may have been right about the planning. Dean Ippolito is taking his time to play his move in what I thought to be the critical position. Here's the position with White to move...


Board 2 (NJ's Dean Ippolito is White) is complicated. I usually rely on some titled player's commentary to repeat here and make it look like I know what I'm talking about, but no titled player is really saying anything. So, I can sum up what I see. Material is equal. Ippolito has a pawn on e5, but it is doubled with its friend on e3. Minor pieces are equivalent (one dark-squared bishop and one knight apiece) and queens are still on the board. Rooks are fighting over the open c-file.

It is one of those positions that appears to require some definite long-term planning, and the player that can execute a decent plan while countering his opponent's plan will prevail. As far as I can see, there are no bang-bang tactics on the board. And, yes, I'm ready to take that back when they prove me wrong.

Here's IM Dean Ippolito at the start of the match.


Nope, Joel has retreated his bishop to g6, after 16 1/2 minutes of thought.


On board 1, Joel Benjamin has his chin resting on his right palm, and he's staring intently at the board. GM Blehm has thrust his c-pawn forward to c4, challenging Benjamin's isolated pawn on d5. I'm guessing that Joel is deciding whether to swap it off, which would leave Blehm with two central pawns, or not.


Boy, I must be missing something. On board 4, Rouleau castled right into an open file. Lunna slammed his rook down on g1. Well, ok, it wasn't slamming, but it was a loud mouse click.


Now, for a recap of board 4. Todd Lunna (picture below), one of the Knockout's alternates, has played an exchange Ruy Lopez against Baltimore's John Rouleau. The queens are off the board, and Lunna has been cursed with tripled isolated f-pawns. And, yes, I mean the f-file, not as an abbreviation for some word that begins with "f". Although, I don't know -- it might be the same to Todd.


Once again, I am fascinated by the different things players do when playing these games on ICC. Lunna (board 4) started by playing on his physical board next to him, but keeps going back to the screen. Shen (14yoNMVS, board 3) is watching the physical board. IM Ippolito (board 2) tends to look at the physical board, hunched over it actually, but is also prone to a lot of pacing during the games. Benjamine (board 1) is back at the screen.

All players do, however, seem to make their move on the physical board first, and then on the screen.


Speaking of Board 3, the Knockout's Shen (I was going to say again "14 year old national master Victor Shen", but it seems like a waste of typing and aggravating any carpal tunnel syndrome I might develop) has played the Sicilian against WGM Katerina Rohonyan. By my untrained eye, both have bad light-squared bishops, but Rohonyan's dark-squared bishop is taking aim for Shen's kingside castled position, with a nice hold on the center. WARNING: All analysis provided herein is for amusement and entertainment purposes only.


I took this picture as the games were starting. It is third board, 14 year old national master Victor Shen, awaiting his opponent's first move. If you're reading this for the first time, read about Victor's last second stalemate escape from last week's match under the headline "Knockouts are Undefeated".


On ICC, an amusing comment from someone named "kruupy", suggesting that on Board 2, Black has "checker syndrome". :-)


On board 2, IM Dean Ippolito started the game with his customary 1. d4, to which his opponent, FM Enkhbat, responded with a Slav Defense. Now, remember gentle readers, I am not anywhere near a master-level player, but to my eye, it seems odd that Black has put so many of his pawns on light squares, even though his bad bishop is outside of the chain. But, perhaps, someone else can explain it to me.


On board 1 with the black pieces, GM Joel has played the French. White has developed a few minor pieces, but Black's c-pawn has already crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Of course, Maryland was a boarder state, and had its share of people loyal to the Union as well as the Confederacy. But I digress. Actually, I'm digressing a lot. Maybe too much. Board 2 update in a few minutes.


Apparently Baltimore is having connection problems on boards 1 and 3. GM Benjamin and 14 year old master Victor Shen are taking it in stride. We'll get to the chess in a minute.


The match started a little late, and we've already had a couple of disconnections. But, all is well now. Here's a picture of fourth board Todd Lunna (with the hat) and second board IM Dean Ippolito getting ready for their match.


Everyone is here. We've all encountered bad traffic on the Garden State Parkway. But, we're all here now. The players are getting their game faces on. Grrrr.... Hook the FISH.


Here's a picture of GM Joel Benjamin indicating this real-time blog. Whoa. Very self-referential. Think Godel, Escher, Bach.


More at 6:56. I lied. GM Joel is here, and our arbiter is setting up the boards and the programs. I should be able to take multiple pictures tonight, so keep a lookout!


The playing room is being vacated by the students of Chapel Hill Academy. They probably have no idea of the carnage that will be on view tonight, when the Knockouts throw their hooks into the Fish.... I mean Kingfish... Kingfishers...

More at 7:15 pm when the match actually starts!