The high-flying New Jersey Knockouts, who were hoping to be the first team in US Chess League history to open the season with a perfect 6-0 record, had their hopes dashed last night, falling to the Arizona Scorpions 3-1. Arizona clearly out-prepared the Knockouts and got ahead on the clock on every board early in the match. The time advantage was especially helpful on the top boards, where Arizona scored their points after some critical mistakes by the usually solid GM Joel Benjamin and IM Dean Ippolito. Though the Knockouts had some chances on the lower boards, the Arizona players were able to hold and play into drawn endings. Now the Boston Blitz have a chance to tie for first in the East if they beat Carolina on Wednesday (which seems likely).
I have analyzed the games below and you can download a PGN file with my notes.
GM Alejandro Ramirez's victory over GM Benjamin on top board is sure to garner support for Game of the Week honors. It even fits many of the criteria for Game of the Week set forth by Benjamin himself in his "Midseason Report," where he suggested that "degree of difficulty" be the main judging criteria:
If the loser of the game missed some opportunities, that may make the game better, not worse. If it’s a wild, insane position where the winner takes risk, credit him, don’t penalize him. If you can’t see the mistakes without a computer, it might be unfair to expect the winner to do so as well.Benjamin certainly missed "some opportunities" for a more active defense, but he made no obvious errors, playing for a draw as Black throughout. Meanwhile, Ramirez kept up the pressure and concluded with a very attractive ending (see diagram). He deserves a lot of credit also for beating Benjamin, who had already been widely mentioned for League MVP honors.
It is harder to credit IM Regelio Barcenilla for his victory over IM Ippolito, where White seems to have simply fallen apart. Though Black got a strong initiative, I think Ippolito still had chances to save the game until he fell into a mistaken conception that he could force a draw by perpetual threat on Black's Queen. There was no draw, and Black emerged from the thicket of complications with a lethal attack that ended up making Ippolito's King take a fatal stroll across the board.
On Board Three, Mackenzie Molner had his usually very promising attacking chances. But perhaps distracted by the disasters unfolding on the higher boards, he let his initiative slip and Daniel Rensch found his way to a drawn Rook and Pawn ending.
Sean Finn, making his first USCL appearance, also had a promising start and probably missed some chances for advantage. But David Adelberg held on and steered the game toward an inevitably drawn result.
Though this was a set-back for the Knockouts, they should still be proud of their excellent start. Next up are the Baltimore Kingfishers, against whom New Jersey has an excellent record. Let's hope they bounce back from this disappointment and keep their eyes on the playoffs.