Tonight the Knights beat the Baltimore Kingfishers 3-1 to clinch the #3 seed in the East. In the process, we moved over .500 for the regular season for the first time since October 1, 2006(!). Despite our middling regular season play, we've reached the playoffs for the fifth straight season (out of five), joined only by San Francisco in accomplishing that feat. Next week we play Boston in a preview of our first round playoff match.
On board 1, Giorgi got the better of an Advance Caro-Kann against GM Sergey Erenburg, soon building a massive time advantage. Erenburg was able to wriggle free and forced perpetual.
On board 2, another Advance Caro, Pascal dominated the opening and looked to be on a smooth path to victory before IM Enkhbat played a series of stunning moves (..Rh6 and ..Rh4 to start) that complicated the position. If black had found the natural 31. ..Qb5!, white would be forced to give back his material advantage after 32. Rcc3! (32. Qh6 Ba6 is winning for black) a4 33. Qh6 Ba6 34. Rcd3 Qc6 and black is perhaps even slightly better. Pascal found the accurate Rf3!, Kc2! and e6! to consolidate, reel in the full point and punch our ticket to the playoffs.
On board 4, Yaacov looked to have a comfortable +/= against Jared Defibaugh. Defibaugh defended well and after a tactical miss by Yaacov (29. Qb2! Bc2 30. Bb7!! +/-), Defibaugh had a queen for a rook, piece and pawn and due to white's temporary lack of coordination, good winning chances. The first try was 30. ..Bc2! 31. Rc1 Qd7 32. Rc2 Qd4 33. Kg2 Qd3 34. Rc8 Bf8 35. e6 g5!! and the black queen works miracles, forcing white to shed significant material. After the less accurate 30. ..Bf5, Yaacov improved his pieces and soon liquidated the queenside. Defibaugh's 33. ..a5!? would have been looked back upon as a extraordinarily devious trap if, after the natural-looking 37. Nd5??, black had found the stunning 37. ..Qe2! 38. Ne7 Kg7(h7)!! (not 38. ..Kf8 39. Rd8! Ke7 40. Bc6! and black has to force perpetual). White has a nominally crushing material advantage (rook/bishop/knight/two pawns for a queen), but cannot avoid severe losses and eventual mate!
On board 3, I had the black pieces against WGM Sabina Foisor, fresh off of an appearance at the US Women's Championship in St. Louis.
Foisor - Herman
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 Nbd7 5. cd?!
Foisor exchanges on d5, as did Andrei Zaremba in our week 3 match. Neither experiment seemed to have worked.
5. ..cd 6. Nf3 e6 7. Bd3 Bd6 8. Bd2 a6 9. Qe2 b5!
Black has won the battle for e4 (10. e4 b4!) and is better.
10. 0-0 Bb7 11. Rfc1 0-0 12. a3
White prevents b5-b4, but seems to have no concrete plan.
12. ..Ne4! 13. Ne1 e5!
It was tempting to go 13. ..f5, but white responds f2-f4 and can grovel for equality. With Foisor's pieces in retreat, it's time to open the center.
14. Ne4 de 15. Bb1 Qh4!?
Also possible was to interpose 15. ..cd 16. ed, when the game has a decidedly different flavor. Black would have a permanent positional edge, but also potentially free white's pieces. I decided instead to restrain the white N, Q and d2 bishop.
16. g3 Qh3 17. Bc3 Rae8 18. Qf1 Qh5
White's Q is out of moves, unless you count the fianchetto!
19. Ba2 Kh8 20. Rd1 Bb8 21. Bb4 Rg8 22. d5?
White tries to gain counterplay by pushing her d-pawn, but it was necessary to try to simplify with 22. de Ne5 23. Bd6. Now black has a free hand on the kingside.
22. ..f5 23. a4 f4!
The queenside is of no importance as white's king is under siege!
24. ab Ba7! 25. Ng2
A fianchettoed knight with no prospects is never a good sign. Now white has problems defending h2!
25. ..Nf6! 26. d6 Ng4 27. h4 fe
A critical moment. Those who have allowed Rybka to atrophy their calculation skills will declare that 28. d7 provides white sufficient counterplay. Time to take the red pill!
28. ..ef 29. Kh1 Rd8!! 30. Bg8 e3!!
31. Bd5 Bd5 32. Rd5 Qf7!! with threats of Qf3-g3-h3 and Qf3/e3-e2.
White is forced to play 33. Qd1 f1Q 34. Qf1 Qd5 35. Ba5 Rd7 36. Qf8 Qg8 37. Qg8 Kg8 38. b6 Bb8 39. Bc3 Rf7! (the Ng2 continues to be a source of discomfort) 40. Ne1 e4! and black is winning.
28. fe Ne3 29. Ne3 Be3 30. Kh2 Ref8! 31. Bg8 Rf1 32. Rf1 Qe2 33. Kh1 Bf2!
The last finesse. It was not too late to blunder the game away with the over-cute 33. ..Bg1 34. Kg1 e3 35. Bd5!! and wins. White decides to play til mate.
34. Kh2 Bd4 35. Kh3 Bc8 36. g4 Qg4 37. Kh2 Qh3#
Playoffs?? Don't talk about playoffs!
With New Jersey's win and Boston's draw, the first three seeds in the East are set, while Baltimore and Philly will battle for the 4th and final playoff spot in week 10 [Chris correctly points out that Queens has not been eliminated, though they need some help]. Amanda Mateer's stunning 300-point upset over Josh Sinanan means that 1/2/3/4 are up for grabs in the West, though Seattle is still in the driver's seat, with a one match lead. Miami has clinched at least the #4 seed with their draw against Boston.