New England's strategy seemed to be to secure a draw on board 1 and take advantage of their rating edges on boards 2 and 3, while hoping for lightning from their talented board 4 Carissa Yip, fresh off her record-breaking victory over New England board 1 GM Alexander Ivanov.
Ivanov played the Exchange Variation of the French (though, historically, this has not guaranteed white a draw - see Gurevich-Short) against Knights' board 1 and reigning US Champion GM Gata Kamsky (making his USCL debut) and achieved a comfortable position that petered into a draw.
NM Qibiao Wang made his debut for the Knights on board 4 against the aforementioned Yip. The game was a Be2 Dragon and Qibiao innovated on move 12 by snatching the risky-looking a7 pawn. Yip responded with the thematic exchange sacrifice 12. ..Rc3, and had she spotted
18. ..Nc6-b4, maintaining her powerful Nc3 would have had substantial chances. Instead, the retreat 18. ..Nc3-a4?! began a sequence where Qibiao seized back the initiative, trading off black's Dragon Bg7. Qibiao was able to successfully reorganize his heavy pieces and 33. Rfb3! ensured black's demise, with mate coming four moves later.
NM Gary Huang, fresh off his heart-stopping, match-saving draw against Boston's NM Ilya Krasik, had arguably the toughest pairing of the match on board 3: black against New England's FM Steven Winer, who I was lucky to draw against last season. Gary missed a great chance to stabilize the position with
18. ..Nd6-b5, forcing Winer to demonstrate how to make progress. Instead after 18. ..Nd6-c4 19. Ra1 Bc5 20. bc Na5 21. Nd2 Nc4 22. Nc4 dc 23. Bf5 Nf5 24. Qc4, white had all the trumps, with a dominating dark-squared bishop and mobile central majority. Gary's exchange sacrifice was not enough and Winer smoothly brought home the point.
I made my 2014 debut on Board 2 in an intriguing matchup against noted theoretician and author IM David Vigorito. We both spent a lot of time in the opening*, which resulted in a fairly comfortable late middlegame for white, given the pawn structure and bishop pair. The b2-b4 break pried open black's queenside and after carefully preventing any black counterplay associated with the pin on the Bf1, I took advantage of Vigorito's last bid with h6-h5 and g7-g5-g4 by picking up both minor pieces with Qb4-e7-h4. Vigorito resigned giving us the match.
Our finals rematch against the Miami Sharks is on Wednesday.
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* I would like to congratulate Arun Sharma, whose insightful answer "17" won the ICC spectator prediction contest question "On what move will Matt Herman have less than 5 minutes?"' --ES