Thursday, October 15, 2009
NJKOs Beat Baltimore 3.5-.5
The New Jersey Knockouts beat the Baltimore Kingfishers last night 3.5-.5 in a match that was a lot closer than the score would indicate. Except for the bottom board, every game was quite tense and two games seemed to be decided by divine intervention (or just time pressure blunders). However, with donuts on deck the NJKO lucked out and won on Boards 2, 3 and 4. I have analyzed the games below and you can download my PGN.
GM Joel Benjamin has been a rock for New Jersey on Board One. Other than his loss last week against Ramirez (where he seemed to be holding the draw until an unfortunate blunder), he has won or drawn in every match this season. Against IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat, he certainly was at a disadvantage in a somewhat passive position, but he played a solid game to draw without many worries.
On Board Two, GM Boris Gulko's game with GM Larry Kaufman looked at first like a typical "Gulko Garrote," with constraint and slow torture. But Kaufman showed remarkable resilience and actually emerged from a difficult middlegame into a slightly advantageous endgame, at which point Gulko (who has a perfect record so far in the USCL) actually offered a draw. Since the match had already been decided, a draw seemed a foregone conclusion, but to the surprise of all spectators Kaufman refused the draw offer and proceeded to demonstrate that he indeed had a strong enough advantage that he could force the win of a pawn. However, with little time left on the clock, Kaufman soon allowed Gulko to equalize and then blundered in time pressure, missing a tactic for White that wins a Rook (see diagram above). So Gulko actually won the game, keeping his perfect record intact. Lesson? You don't decline a draw offer from Boris Gulko.
IM Albert Kapengut's game was the most difficult to call. Though it appeared that FM Shinsaku Uesugi's exchange of two pieces for a Rook gave Black the advantage, the position was far from clear. Eventually, Uesugi got two connected passed pawns on the queenside and in the final position it was really impossible to judge who was better. Most viewers assumed that Uesugi was even winning because Kapengut offered a draw despite his opponent's severe time pressure. In any event, Kapengut's draw offer was left on the table as Uesugi lost on time.
Anna Matlin's win against Jared Defibaugh on Board Four was probably the most assured and technically flawless game of the night. Playing a line of the Scotch right out of the Kasparov playbook (which is now serving Magnus Carlsen so well), Matlin eschewed snatching a dangerous gambit pawn and instead offered a queen exchange with 12.Qg5 headed for a more positional struggle. Black did fine in a previous game against that move by exchanging queens immediately, but Defibaugh hesitated (perhaps thinking he was gaining time) and suddenly was under pressure that probably required him to gambit a pawn. However, he tried to hold onto the material, and Matlin capitalized, building up a powerful position that eventually forced him to surrender a pawn anyway. She then played a superb ending to bring home the point.
With the win over Baltimore, New Jersey secures a berth in the playoffs. Next week, on Monday, October 19 at 7:00 p.m., they play their biggest match of the year against the Boston Blitz, with whom they are tied for first in the Eastern division. Let's hope they can be as lucky then as they were last night.