New Jersey Knockout logo(left) and Queens Pioneers (right)
by Jennifer Shahade
The U.S. Chess League selected two new, star-studded teams to join the 2007 schedule: The Queens Pioneers and the New Jersey Knockouts. The league was founded in 2005 by Greg Shahade as an eight-team league,and in 2006 two teams were also added (The Tennessee Tempo and the Seattle Sluggers).
The Queens Pioneers from New York will be led by GM Alexander Stripunsky and Ildar Ibragimov. This team will be strengthened by both youth and spirit. The squad includes promising juniors NM James Critelli,the #2 ranked 16-year-old in the nation, Parker Zhao, the #2 ranked 12-year old in the nation and 2006 U.S. Junior runner-up Jake Kleiman. This summer, several Pioneers' members will travel to Europe together for norm opportunities and experience against foreign GMs. Come fall, the Pioneers will surely be a very tight team. They are set to play at the Polgar Chess Club in Rego Park, Queens.
Another Northeast powerhouse, The New Jersey Knockouts will join the league. The Knockouts will be led by Chess Life Online columnist GM Joel Benjaminand managed by Michael Khordakovsky of the Kasparov Chess Foundation. Joel is excited to play for the Knockouts even though he was born and raised in New York: "I'd like to try to help stimulate pride and excitement in my adopted state of New Jersey " Joel also enjoys team play, a rare opportunity in America: "From the Olympiad to the U.S. Amateur Team East, I've always enjoyed playing on teams," Joel says, "The competition will be serious but fun, the best kind of chess in my book."
Game of the Year
The U.S. Chess League Game of the Year competition culminated this week in a surprising finish. Judges Arun Sharma, Alex Shabalov+Elizabeth Vicary (team), Dennis Monokroussos, and Greg Shahade awarded top honors to a wild dragon game, "A borscht of tactics", according to Vicary and Shabalov. The players were Pascal Charbonneau of the New York Knights and Pavel Blehm of the Blatimore Kingfishers.
The shocker was that the game was a draw, usually a strike against chances for brilliancy prizes! League comissioner Greg Shahade reflects: "I am quite surprised that it ended up winning first place, but it was the only game that was ranked in the top three by all four judges, so it was clearly deserving. It just goes to show you that the draw isn't a problem, but instead a lifeless and dull draw is what really harms the game."
Charbonneau, who won the game of the year competition last year as well, says : "Never two without three." Chess fans can anxiously await for many brilliant attempts by Pascal next year!
The runner-up was Miami Shark Julio Becerra's pretty and clean win against Pavel Blehm: