Team chess played at G/90 or faster is exciting. A shift on one board can change the entire match. A player intent on making a draw, content with his team's margin, can be forced to play for the win. A lost position, previously coupled with poor chances on the other boards, can turn into a no-risk shot at a match victory. The 'won game' conversion can prove difficult when victory lap turns into a fight for two, or even three results for the team.
The Knights remain undefeated through six weeks, but that "solid plus two" record belies the twists and turns of the season's first half. Here's a short recap of some pivotal moments.
A tough match against uptown rival Manhattan left the Knights trailing 2-1, as Michael Bodek's victory against Oleg Zaikov on board 3 was outweighed by Vladimir Romanenko's GOTW performance against Tamaz Gelashvili on board 1 and Alex King's win over Nicolas Checa on board 4.
Alex Lenderman was in a must win situation on board 2 against Lev Milman. Milman, despite a slightly worse position out of the opening, played aggressively and creatively, running his king into the heart of white's position: c8-d7-e6-d5-c4-b3-b2 and disdaining equality with 37. ..b6 and 38. ..a5, creating an outside passed pawn, later sacrificing a piece to enable it to reach a2.
Alex conducted the game with remarkable composure, aiming for the last remaining winning chances - an exchange sacrifice that left white with two connected queenside passers. Alex had just played 45. c3-c4
and Milman had a chance to hold the balance. Instead of 45. ..Rd8 46. c5! Rb8 47. b5! (the point is 47. ..Rb5 48. Ra2! wins), 45. ..Rd4!? 46. Nd2 g4! 47. fg f3! 48. Ke3 Rd6!! 49. Rd6 a1Q (or 49. Ra8 f2 50. Nf1 a1Q 51. Ra1 Ka1 and black can hold the passers) allows black to stay in the game, though white still plays for two results.
The 2012 USCL schedule emphasized inter-division play, with three cross-matches and a single-round-robin against your home division. The Los Angeles Vibe proved a formidable opponent, as Zhanibek Amanov outplayed Alex Lenderman on board 2 and Nicky Korba, with his position deteriorating, received a gift from Isaac Barayev's miscalculation (backward-looking defenses are tricky!) on board 4. Justus Williams won a very smooth game for the Knights on board 3, grinding down Michael Casella in a Maroczy Bind.
For the second straight week, a Knight GM had the white pieces and a must-win to hold the match. Tamaz Gelashvili unfortunately missed an early opportunity to put the game away with 23. Rd2! trapping Andranik Matikozyan's queen
Matikozyan returned the favor by missing 35. ..Rd1!
when after 36. Qe4 Be4 37. hg fg, white cannot stop Be4-d3 and must seek the drawn but difficult to hold KRB vs KR ending with 38. h5.
Matikozyan managed to reach a theoretically drawn K+R+2p vs K+R ending (white's too far advanced g-pawn should cost a half point).
but finally blundered on move 48
with 48. ..Rb1-f1, when keeping the R in touch with the 5th rank (anywhere on the b-file, or to the left of e1) would have maintained the draw. After 49. f2-f4!, black had to play 49. ..Kf6 to stop the white K from reaching g5 and then resigned after 50. g7 Rh1 51. Kg3 Rg1 52. Kf3 as the pawn ending is lost.
The Knights and Blitz have a long and evenly-matched rivalry and have represented the East in the finals five of the last six years. Boston was looking for redemption after last year's collapse in the conference semifinals. The final score of 3.5-0.5 reflected Boston missing critical opportunities on boards 1, 3 and 4 and scoring a dismal 0.5/3 on those boards. I managed to outplay MVP-candidate Kazim Gulamali on board 2.
Michael Vilenchuk's miss against Justus Williams on board 3 was the most dramatic. Justus had just played 39. Ne4??
planning to re-route his queen to e5 and N to f6 and later d5, consolidating a slightly better position. Vilenchuk had 39. ..Qd1 40. Kg2 h3! 41. Kh3 Qh5 42. Kg2 Nh4! picking up the queen on a5 - one for the tactics books!
San Francisco proved a tough opponent in week 4 and looked to have at least the match draw in hand. Michael Bodek and Yian Liou drew quickly in a Berlin on board 3 and Daniel Naroditsky's fine opening preparation and determined play beat me on board 2.
Alex Katz played a wild game against Kesav Viswanadha on board 4, both following theory/Houdini well past move twenty.
Viswanadha was the first to err with 30. ..Kb8?, further disconnecting his rooks (instead 30. ..Kb6! seems to be accurate). 31. ..Rd8 (31. ..Ra7 allows black to stay in the game after 32. fe8Q Qe8) compounded the error and left Alex on the brink of victory after 32. Re7 Ne7 33. Re7 Qc8 34. Qd4 Qc6
Alex started correctly with 35. Qb4 Kc8 (if 35. ..Qb5, then 36. f8Q! wins immediately) and repeated moves with 36. Qg4 Kb8, but erred with 37. Qg8 when 37. Qb4 Kc8 38. Qf4! (threatening f8Q) Rf8 39. Qh6 simply wins as black cannot defend his back rank. After 37. ..Rc8 38. c3 Qc4 only 39. Qg3 held the edge. Katz blundered again with 39. Re8 Qf1 40. Kd2 Qf2 41. Kd3 Qf1 42. Ke3 Kb7 43. Qh7 and after 43. ..Kb6, his position was critical. The match dynamic came into play as it wasn't clear who was playing for the win!
44. Re4? (44. Rc8 Rc8 45. Qg7! is equal) Rc4? (44. ..Ra7!) 45. Re8?? put Katz on the brink of defeat. Viswanadha needed 45. ..Rg4!, forcing mate or decisive material gain. After 45. ..Rcc8?? 46. Re4? (46. Rc8! equal) a5? (to avoid repetition), Katz stabilized with 47. Qg6 Qe1 48. Kf3 Qd1, but blundered again with 49. Kg3.
Viswanadha returned the favor with 49. ..Qd5?? (49. ..Qd3! 50. Kf4 Rc4 and wins) and finally 50. Re8 deserved exclaims, leading to a winning endgame.
But that was not all! Giorgi Kacheishvili played an impressive game with the black pieces against Jesse Kraai on board 1, squeezing the most out of a slightly better endgame. Kraai's last chance to hold came on move 83
Kraai had to find 83. Nf6! f4 84. Ke1! Ke3 85. Ng4!! and the black K cannot transfer to g3 as the f3 square is mined. Once ensconced on f2, white is in time if black's K goes after the queenside as the black bishop cannot hold the f3 square and defend a4. The position remains difficult but holdable if black tries other plans. After 83. Nf8??, Giorgi won a study-like ending: 83. ..f4 84. Ng6 f3 85. Nh4 f2 86. Nf3 Kc5 87. Nh2 f1Q 88. Nf1 Bf1 89. Kc2 Kc4 90. Kb1 Kb3 91. Ka2 Kc2 92. Ka2 Bc4 93. Ka1 Bg8 (zugzwang!) 94. b4 ab 0-1
The Connecticut Dreadnoughts built an impressive roster for their USCL debut (replacing our Championship opponents, the Chicago Blaze), headlined by Yale undergrad Robert Hess and significantly underrated Mikheil Kekelidze and Joshua Colas.
Nicolas Checa fought incredibly hard on board 4 before missing the strong retreating maneuver 42. Qa7 Kc8 43. Ra6-a1! and lost to Joshua Colas. Giorgi Kacheishvili and Robert Hess played a quick draw on board 1, as Hess's 7.. dc novelty killed the line. Pascal Charbonneau fell into deep time trouble trying to solve Kekelidze's Exchange Slav at the board, but eventually wrested control of the game and was pressing for the win in a rook+knight ending before a miscalculation let Kekelidze find a narrow path to a draw. Justus Williams won a crazy game against Dreadnought captain Ian Harris on board 3. After eschewing 25. Nd4! cd 26. Qd4 when only white can win, the game got messy and Harris had a significant chance on move 37.
Harris could have crashed through with 37. ..Ra8! 38. Ra1 c2 39. Rd4 cd 40. Qb3 Kh8 41. Bf4 Rg8 42. g3 h4 43. Ra2 hg 44. fg d3 45. Ra1 Nc4!! 46. Qc4 d2
47. Qb3 Qe4! 48. Bd2 Qd4.
Instead 37. ..c2? 38. Qb3! Kg7?? 39. Qa2 Qg3 allowed Justus to win with 40. Qa7 Kg8 41. Rd4! Qe5 42. Rd3 Qe1 43. Kh2 Qe5 44. Rg3 Kf8 45. Qb6 h4 46. Qh6 Kf7 47. Qg6 Kf8 48. Qg8 Ke7 49. Qg5 Kd6 50. Qe5 Re5 51. Rc3 1-0
Another week - another escape! The Dallas Destiny won two straight USCL championships in 2007 and 2008, but have not returned to the finals since. After a disappointing year in 2011, they opened a significant margin in the West during the first half. At one point, this match looked headed for a significant defeat. Isaac Barayev blundered a piece in the opening (though Travis Guenther only 'managed' to win two pawns) on board 4 and Alec Getz outplayed Alex Katz to reach what looked to be an overwhelming position on board 3. Pascal Charbonneau could not find activity against Conrad Holt on board 2 and was slowly ground down in a Kings Indian. Tamaz's position was better than it looked, but Chirila was in the driver's seat on board 1 with black. A Dallas player even kibitzed: "looks like 4-0."
Chirila overreached (he was never more than slightly better) on board 1 and gave Tamaz a technically winning R+B vs. R+N ending. Isaac kept playing good moves and Guenther finally blundered with
40. h4? (40. Nd5! Kb7 41. Ne7 g5 42. Nf5 Bh3 43. Nh6 and wins eventually).Barayev did not miss his chance and played 40. ..g5!, generating enough counterplay to draw the game.
Pascal lost on board 2 and the match still looked firmly in Dallas's control, with Getz pressing Katz (who was under 1 minute) on board 3.
Getz has a few ways to maintain his advantage, with the cleanest being 56. ..Rc8! 57. Qe2 Qe2 58. Ke2 Rc2 59. Kf3 Rc3 60. Kf2 Re3, winning the e4 pawn and the game. Getz was impetuous and played 56. .. d4-d3??, which would also win on the spot if not for Katz's reply: 57. Qf2-a7!, after which black is lucky that he is not mated or just losing after 57. ..Rf7 58. Rh7! Kh7 59. Qf7. With no win there, the players agreed to a draw and the match ended 2-2.
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