Jersey in da House!: GM Joel on the Knockouts
By GM Joel Benjamin   
September 4, 2009
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GM Joel Benjamin, Photo Elizabeth Vicary 2008
Greg Shahade, a.k.a. “The commish” has spoken, and he wants more blogging.  I have to agree that the more we all write about the U.S. Chess League , now in it’s fifth season, the better it will be for all involved.  But I do find most of the blogging boring.  They all pretty much fit into two categories, one of them being the match post-mortem.  This category subdivides into the “we were robbed” blog after a tough loss, and the “we rule” after a win.  I’m happy to say that I could write the latter after the New Jersey Knockouts triumphant opening win over our neighbors to the East, the New York Knights.  I’m sure you all would like to see a surgical dissection of all four games, which I may yet do for this match, if not for some future matches.  I haven’t had time to look into the games too much though (and I’m playing this weekend), so suffice it to say, we won a close match that could have gone either way.  Still, our 2 ½ -1 ½ win was well-deserved. 

Victor Shen and Dean Ippolito played very well to defeat Matthew Herman and Pascal Charbonneau respectively. 





Dean’s finish with two knights versus a pawn was not too difficult, but aesthetic and instructive nonetheless. 

Arthur Shen fought valiantly against the much higher-rated Yaacov Norowitz.



Meanwhile I have the feeling I missed some good winning chances somewhere against Georgi Kacheishvili (not in the endgame) before it petered out into a draw.



I could crow a lot more, maybe throw in a few nanny nanny pooh-poohs, because one of their esteemed members had the temerity to publicly predict a Knights victory before the match. The pre-match prediction, of course, is the category the other 50% of the blogs fall into.   I can’t be too critical of Evan Rosenberg, because he did refer to me as a “gentleman of the highest order,” which is a complement of the highest order.  Evan’s assessments were unusually measured for USCL blogs, though his reference to the board four game being “something of a joke” was unfortunate.  I’m sure he meant no offense (besides just writing “no offense”) to the rapidly improving young Arthur.  His point was, it is a bit of a joke for a player as strong (and is not a child) as Norowitz to be on board four, and in this point we are in total agreement.

It’s not a stretch to predict a win on a board with such a big rating advantage, but 3-1 overall?  Well, you go out on a limb, sometimes a branch breaks.

Most readers know I’m a huge sports fan, so I often look to the sports world for guidance.  In what other team sport do players announce to the world before a match, how they are going to win, and by how much?  Isn’t that locker room bulletin board fodder that you are not supposed to provide?  I thought you’re just supposed to say something like, “So-and-so is a good team, and we know we have to play our best to stay with them.  But we’ve been training really hard, and I think the boys will play well tonight.”

I know we have a good team, but I also know that the other teams are good, too.  So I’m not going to talk smack about the strength of players on other teams.  But when I look at the constitution of our team, compared with the others, I do have to engage in a little gentle ribbing.

Remember the old USATE team, “75% pure Shahade?” [That was back before Jennifer and Greg quit playing to take over the chess world]  Well, the Knockouts are 100% pure New Jersey (and sometimes 50% Shen as well).

Every one of our players lives in New Jersey, and our roster has not changed much over our three years in existence.  We still have the same nucleus (Benjamin, Ippolito, Molner, and Shen).  We added Gulko, but he’s lived in Jersey a lot longer than my four years.  We nurture our young talent; this year we’ve added Arthur Shen and Anna Matlin to the mix.  I’ve resisted the temptation to poach my friends Michael Rohde and John “HOF GMJohnny” Fedorowicz from the City, even though they are both former New Jersey juniors (though it’s admittedly hard to get Fed out to our games without a car).

Okay, let’s look at the New York Knights. 
NYC is loaded with powerhouses, yet these guys cannot achieve any kind of continuity.  They’ve changed their board one four times in four years.  First it was Stripunsky, then Nakamura, then Shabalov, and now Kacheishvili.  The first three names now play for Queens, Seattle, and…Tennessee! When you think about Shaba and his down-home Southern drawl, Tennessee is clearly the natural fit for him.

And the new board four the Knights are all excited about?  Doesn’t Norowitz live in New Jersey?

Then there’s the third team from the metropolitan area, the “Queens” Pioneers.   I used to quip that they took their name because most of the tem members had never been to Queens before.  In their first season, they had players from Manhattan, Westchester, and …Tennessee!  Now they don’t even play in Queens—they play in Manhattan!

Alex Stripunsky (a gentleman of the highest order, by the way), is the Pioneers’ top gun for the third year.  But he doesn’t live in Queens…he lives in New Jersey!

On Tuesday we take on our next nearest neighbor after the New York teams, the Philadelphia Inventors.  Philly is excited about their new star, Alex Lenderman, who if I’m not mistaken, is a nice boy from Brooklyn.  And the rest of the team?  Not to belabor the point, but a bunch of them live in…you guessed it…Jersey!  

For U.S. Chess League updates, schedule and more, check the official homepage, and follow the live action on the Internet Chess Club. GM Joel Benjamin is also CLO's advice columnist - check out the Back to School Ask GM Joel promotion.