The New Jersey Knockouts beat the Chicago Blaze 2.5-1.5 last night in US Chess League action to advance to 5-0 at the season's halfway mark. If they win next week against the Arizona Scorpions, New Jersey will be the first team to achieve a 6-0 record and should guarantee a playoff berth.
It was a much more evenly contested match than fans expected from the records of the two teams. Every board featured a theoretical duel and most of the games were decided by mistakes in the opening stages. If Chicago had managed a win on Board Two, the match could have been a draw. I have annotated the games below and you can download the PGN file.
One opening duel took place on Board One, where GM Joel Benjamin and IM Jan van de Mortel followed known theory through move 16, when van de Mortel blundered, perhaps because he forgot an important nuance of the game that they had been following (as I suggest in my notes). After his opponent's blunder, Benjamin had an easy win, which he conducted perfectly to the finish.
The most tense and interesting game of the night was certainly that of IM Angelo Young vs. SM Mackenzie Molner (2446) on Board Two, which featured a complex line of the Colle System that resembles a French Defense. White definitely had interesting attacking chances, as some previous games have shown, but Molner broke through first on the queenside to gain a winning advantage. However, with all of the other games decided and time pressure arriving, Molner took the opportunity to force a draw by repetition to seal the win for his team.
The theoretical duel between IM Albert Kapengut and IM Mehmed Pasalic on Board Three followed a White win by Alexander Ivanov from 2002 through move 23, and the result was the same. Though the majority of this game was theory, it was well conducted throughout by Kapengut, who finished it off in style by offering Black the choice between surrendering a Rook for a passed pawn or succumbing to mate. I expect it to be considered for Game of the Week, though it will probably lose points on "originality."
The most deadly mistake in the opening occurred in the match-up of junior champions on Board Four, where Chicago's NM Eric Rosen sprang a little-known opening trap against NM Andrew Ng in a line of the Closed Sicilian discussed by Gawain Jones in Starting Out: Sicilian Grand Prix Attack. By move nine, Ng was in some trouble, and by move eleven he was probably lost, though he battled on past move 30 when the match seemed well enough decided in New Jersey's favor.