In week 8, the Knights inexorable sideways march continued, with a tense 2-2 draw against the cellar-dwelling Carolina Cobras. The white pieces went 4-0 as tight and tough losses on boards 2 and 4 were balanced by Pascal's masterful handling of the two bishops and space advantage on board 1 against IM Jonathan Schroer and SM Greg Braylovsky's steady victory against FM Ron Simpson on board 3.
This match marked NY Knights all-time MVP points leader Braylovsky's 2009 debut and NM Raven Sturt's 2nd match of the season, making him eligible for playoff action.
On board 1, a Bb5/Bb4 Four Knights led to a position where Pascal seemingly held all the positional trumps: space, two bishops, pawn breaks. Schroer's response was to, borrowing a phrase from John Fernandez, "barnacle" -- retreat his knights to f8 and d7, and shuffle his rook between e8 and d8, hoping that white could not defeat his fortress. With the match situation looking critical, Pascal finally began pushing his kingside pawns, eventually winning the f7 pawn. He temporarily sacrificed the exchange to reach an easily winning rook and pawn endgame.
On board 2, Irina solidly defended a Queens Indian Declined against FM Oleg Zaikov, but faltered in time pressure, as her weaknesses on the light squares and back rank proved too much to handle.
On board 3, Greg built a massive time advantage with the subtle 3. c3, a move that Simpson had apparently not prepared for. After a tactical hallucination (..c4), Simpson played with extreme resourcefulness, developing significant kingside counterplay. Greg was up to the challenge, eventually giving back his extra pawn to activate his knight. The very pretty Qd8 ended all of black's hopes and he lost on time.
On board 4, Raven and NM Craig Jones engaged in a move-order duel, as an English became a KID became a Maroczy Bind/Accelerated Dragon. Raven played quickly and confidently, building a dynamic position while Jones slipped behind on the clock. Unfortunately, Raven went for the positionally dubious ..d5, after which Jones' pieces activated and he soon won a pawn. Undeterred and perhaps assisted by some dubious technique from white, Raven soon developed massive counterplay and looked to be better in the rook, knight and pawn endgame. In mutual time pressure, though, Raven managed to lose back a pawn and could not hold the resulting rook and pawn endgame, as Jones reeled in the full point.
Playoffs?? Don't talk about Playoffs!
With two weeks remaining, the Knights are a half point ahead of fourth-place Baltimore, whom we will conveniently play next week. To modify the Russian adage, four results are possible. If the Knights can beat Baltimore, we'll practically wrap up 3rd, with a shot at 2nd if Boston loses to Miami (not San Francisco as pointed out by Ilya). A drawn match would also keep the Knights in good playoff position, but require another draw in week 10 to hold on to 3rd. A loss to Baltimore would have the Knights in 4th going into the final week, potentially needing a win against a motivated Boston team.