Champions by a Heartbeat: Krush on the Knights
By IM Irina Krush   
December 11, 2009
A happy group of knights: IM Jay Bonin, Matt Herman, GM Pascal Charbonneau, GM Giorgi Kacheishvilli, IM Irina Krush and Yaacov Norowitz

Hello, everyone!

I think I should start with a little explanation of why, out of all the people in the world, I am writing this story, and what exactly is my relation to the New York Knights.

I’ve played for the Knights since the U.S. Chess League’s 2005 inaugural season, and for the next three years, I was a regular part of our lineup. Along the way (for the 2007 season) I picked up the additional role of Knights’ manager when my friend Jen moved to Philadelphia.

I remember that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be manager. I was happy just playing for the team, and did I really want to deal with all the logistics of managing it as well? Contacting players, making sure they show up for the games on time, checking the Internet connection from our venue? In the end, what convinced me to take the job were two particular perks that came with it: the ability to decide on our team composition and the match lineups during the season. Both these things are so vital to a team’s success, and I wanted them to remain in capable hands.

IM Irina Krush and GM Giorgi Kacheishvili
This season it so happened that my role in the team shifted considerably more from ‘player’ to ‘manager’. Even though I still played a few games, board two (my usual board) was defended primarily by Pascal. In previous years, Pascal and I hadn’t had to ‘fight’ over a board, but this year, with Giorgi a fixture on board one, it was either Pascal or I on two. I was gone for tournaments for most of the first half of the regular season, and with our team getting into the groove of Giorgi, Pascal, Matt, and Yaacov, I didn’t see the need for any experiments with the lineup as we fought to secure a playoff spot, and then battled our way through the playoffs.

So when it comes to the Knights, I am a little bit of everything: player, and manager, and most ardent supporter (along with Matt and Jay). All that adds up to a strong identification with the team…I am the Knights, and the Knights are me. :)

Here is the story of the Knights’ road to the 2009 U.S. Chess League Championship:

I like to look for narratives, and glancing at the teams still left in the game as we headed into the playoffs, I thought I had deciphered the narrative for 2009. When everything was said and done, it would be New York against San Francisco, in a rematch of our 2006 encounter, where SF carried the title away by one blitz game.

But it wasn’t to be. SF faltered in their semi final match against Miami.

So it was Miami that emerged victorious from the Western division, and I realized that another, equally compelling, narrative was set for 2009: it was to be the match of the ‘underdogs’.

Miami was our mirror image from the West. They were, like us, seeded in the lower half of the playoff brackets, meaning that they would also have to go through their division winners to claim a spot in the Finals.

To be seeded in the bottom half of the playoff bracket is truly to be facing an uphill battle. Not only are you facing teams with better records than you, making them in the eyes of many the “better” team, but you play with the knowledge that a match draw is equivalent to a loss! Thanks to the favorable conditions granted to the best regular season teams, a draw means advancement for them, and adios for you.

Under these brutal conditions, no one survives till the end on luck. There’s one quality that sustains and pushes you forward, and that’s heart.

Miami had it, and so did New York.

Later on, I’ll explain what it was that made New York’s heartbeat so strong. But for now, let’s take a look at the games!


Becerra - Kacheishvili [B12]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5

 The Advance Caro, already a bit of a surprise. Julio has been pretty consistent with 3.Nc3 here.
3...Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3
Going down the road of Erenberg-Kacheishvili, from week 9 of the season (incidentally, a pivotal match for us: by winning against Baltimore, we clinched third place in the division).
6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ne7 8.c4
Definitely a critical line. 8.Nd2 Nbc6 9.N2f3 Be4 10.0–0 Bxf3 11.Nxf3 Nf5 12.Bf4 h6 was the abovementioned game, where Black emerged from the opening without any problems.
Purely a psychological choice. Giorgi hadn't done any special preparation for this line, and decided he wasn't that interested in finding out what Becerra had prepared after the main move 8...Nb-c6. Of course he was aware that 8...dxc4 wasn't Black's best, but he figured that since Julio didn't have a lot of experience with this line, it was quite likely he wouldn't find the refutation.
Hoping to take the game back into 8...Nb-c6 waters. 9.Na3!, aiming to recapture the c4 pawn with the knight, is the "refutation": 9...Bd3 10.0–0 Nbc6 11.Nxc4 Bxc4 12.Bxc4 a6 13.f4 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 Qxd4 15.Bxd4 White just has a nice edge in this endgame.
9...Qd7! 10.Nb5 Nd5 11.N1c3 Bb4!?
Giorgi was spending tons of time in this phase of the game, and although objectively he is doing just fine, there are big decisions to make on every move, and a lot of calculation involved. 11...Nc6!? was one move that Giorgi considered. 12.Bxc4 (12.0–0–0 Nxc3 13.bxc3 (13.Rxd7 !?? 13...Nxa4 14.Rhd1 Bd3! 15.Rxb7 Na5) 13...Bd3! the key; Black closes the d-file to traffic. ) 12...Nxe3 13.fxe3 Bc5 14.Rd1 Qe7 15.Nd6+ Kf8! Giorgi missed this move in his calculations. (15...Bxd6 16.exd6 Giorgi thought this looked better for White.) 16.0–0 and it's very unclear....this is just an example of the kind of variations Black needed to calculate and evaluate in this game. You are five moves into your line (which had many branches along the way) and you still have no idea what's going on! ; the immediate 11...Nxe3 is a worse version of 11...Nc6 12.fxe3 Nc6 13.e4! not allowing the ...Bd3 resource 13...Bg6 14.Rd1 Qc8 15.Qxc4 a6 16.Nd6+ Bxd6 17.exd6 and this wasn't appealing to Giorgi.
12.0–0–0 Bxc3 13.Nd6+ Kf8 14.Qxc4


 Another huge decision. White threatens to regain their piece with Nxf5.
Of course, eliminating this pawn and the outpost for the Nd6 is positionally tempting. [14...b5!? a strike with the pawn was a worthy alternative with the following line: 15.Qb3 forced 15...Nxe3 16.fxe3 Bxe5 17.Nxf5 Qc7+ 18.Kb1 exf5 19.Rc1 Nc6 20.Bf3 White gains back their piece, but Black is slightly better. 20...g6; the simple 14...Bg6 leaves White with an advantage after 15.bxc3; 14...Nxe3!? 15.fxe3 Bxe5 16.Nxf5 Qc7 17.Qxc7 Bxc7 18.Bf3! the key move which allows White to equalize. 18...a6 (18...Nc6 19.Rd7 Be5 20.Nd4) 19.Nd6 Bxd6 20.Rxd6 Ke7 21.Rb6= Giorgi calculated this line, and the amazing thing is, he turned it down because he thought Black should have more than equality! While the rest of us thought he was teetering on the edge of the precipice...well, we shall see who was right!]
15.Nxf5 Na6
The logical follow up, opening the way for the rook to come to c8 and controlling the c5 square. As I was watching, my feeling, based on intuition and a little bit of calculation, was that Black was holding the balance. By the way, here Julio had a long think, and I realized he had an alternative to what I thought was the "only" move, 16.Kb1. 16.Kb1 was indeed possible, and leads to a different type of game.
Once again, decision time for Black!
Giorgi calculated: 16...Nxc5 17.Qxc5+ Kg8 (17...Ke8?? 18.Bb5 wins the queen) 18.Rxd5 gaining access to the e7 square, along with the possibility for a bunch of discovered checks 18...exd5 19.Ne7+ Kf8
So here White has at least a draw, but does he have more? 20.Ng6+ Kg8 21.Nxe5 (21.Bg4!?? is a beautiful winning attempt,

....but Black has a beautiful defense! 21...Bd6! (21...Qxg4 22.Qf8+ Rxf8 23.Ne7#)

Smothered mate, a theme that would come up later that (k)night!) 21...Qe6 Normally the two pieces would be strong here, especially as the Rh8 is nowhere close to being developed. But Black has concrete threats of ...Rc8, plus play on the c-file. Giorgi evaluated this position as =, but rejected it because he didn't want to enter a line where White has at least a forced draw, and can possibly play for more. 22.Qd4 (22.Qe3 Re8 23.Bb5 d4!) 22...f6

Another big decision...
17...Nxc5!? 18.Qxc5 Rc8 19.Qa3!? (19.Qxa7 f6) 19...exf5 20.Rhe1 with initiative.

The point of White's previous moves. The queen leaves the c-file and attacks the Be5. And we have another super critical position.
Giorgi felt like all along, he had played logically and should be a little better, but in order to prove that evaluation he'd have to find 18...Bxb2!! 19.Nd6+ Kf8!! hard to step into discovered check, isn't it? 20.Nxc8+ Nxc5 21.Qc4 Qxc8 22.Kxb2 f6!

and Black consolidates with ...Kf7, ...b6, etc. With two pawns for the exchange, and White's weakened king, Giorgi evaluates this position as easier for Black to play.; 18...f6 19.Ba3 and now you've got to sidestep the mines.. 19...Kf7 20.Nh6+!+-

20...gxh6 21.Bh5+ Kg8 22.Qg4+ Qg7 23.Qxe6+; 18...Nxc5!? 19.Qxe5 f6 20.Qd6 (20.Qg3 exf5) 20...exf5 21.Qxd5 Qxd5 22.Rxd5 looks about equal, though Giorgi thought that in the B vs. N, Black could stand a little worse.
19.Qxe5 f6 20.Qd4
With the big threat of Bxa6 and Qxc5.

Giorgi gave high marks to the bishop's maneuver to b3.
21...Nac7 22.Ne3 Kf7 23.Bb3 Rd8 24.Qh4 Kg8 25.Rhe1 Ra6 26.f4! 

Both players were really low on time by this point. Black has an extra pawn, and seems to have survived the worst of White's opening initiative, but here Julio comes with a second wave. I felt like Black must have some way to deal with f4-f5 here, but wasn't all that comfortable with all White's pieces pointed at d5 as they threaten to undermine the main defender of that square..
Rybka suggests the cold blooded and at the same time "natural" 26...Rd6 but after 27.f5 exf5 I have to say....the unflappable computer might be okay with defending this, but during the game, and even now, just looking at this position, I am afraid for Black! What a nasty pin.(27...Nxe3!? 28.Rxd6 Qxd6 29.Rxe3 Qd2 30.Qe4)
27.g4 Kg7?
Now is actually a more fortuitous moment for Black to play 27...Rd6! (we will see that the inclusion of g4/g6 favors Black as it gives them extra possibilities on the fourth rank) 28.f5 Nxe3 29.Rxd6 Qxd6 30.Rxe3 Qf4!

It's not surprising that White is doing well here. The concluding moves are marred by some time trouble mistakes, but the game finds its way to the logical conclusion..
28...Qf7 29.g5 fxg5 30.Qxg5

30.Qd4+! Qf6 31.Qxf6+ Kxf6 32.fxe6 Rxe6 33.Rf1+ Kg7 34.Nxd5 Nxd5 35.Rxd5 wins a piece for White.
30...Re8 would have put up more resistance.
31.Nxd5! Nxd5 32.fxe6 Qf6 33.Rxd5 Rxd5 34.Qxf6+ Kxf6 35.Bxd5 Rxd5 36.e7 and the pawn queens.
31...Qe7?? 32.Nf5+
A very uncompromising fight. White played a tad speculatively, but very energetically, continually forcing Black to make difficult decisions. For a long time, Giorgi was up to the task, and rejected several "ways out" in search of the maximally best continuation for Black. Ultimately, that was his downfall in this game. He just didn't leave himself enough time to keep solving the problems. Today I learned that this game did not win Game of the Week! The judges voted 3-2 in favor of the other Becerra-Kacheishvili encounter... what can I say? I understand both sides. I definitely expected this game to win, because after all, a blitz game is a blitz game! 1–0

Here was our board two matchup:


Charbonneau - Lugo [C45]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Be3 Bb6 6.Nf5 Bxe3 7.Nxe3 d6 8.Nc3 Nge7 9.g3 0–0 10.Bg2 f5 11.0–0 Kh8 12.exf5 Nxf5 13.Ncd5 Nxe3 14.Nxe3 Be6 15.f4


It looks like it might be pretty equal (i.e., the position is simplified, Black has no weaknesses, and no bad pieces) but White actually has a nagging edge thanks to a space advantage on the kingside and superior minor pieces. While the Be6 and Nc6 are not "bad", they are certainly worse than their counterparts. Let's see how Pascal builds up his advantage.
15...Qd7 16.Qh5 a6 17.Rae1 g6 18.Qd1 Rae8 19.c3 Qf7 20.b3 Qg7 21.Qd2 Re7 22.h3 Rfe8 23.g4 Bf7 24.g5!


I really liked this move, after which it became clear that White is much better. Somehow, when White was expanding on the kingside during the last few moves, I was thinking about him continuing with his "extra" pawn, the f-pawn. But that had the downside of weakening White on the dark squares, and in particular, giving up the e5 square. What is so nice about the move g5 is that it's actually directed at Black's knight! The knight will never be able to come to e5.
24.f5 Qh6
24...Be6 25.Kh2 Kg8 26.Ng4!? Bxg4 27.hxg4 Rxe1 28.Rxe1 Rxe1 29.Qxe1


More pieces have been traded, but White has improved his structure (the h3 pawn has migrated to g4). The common wisdom is that Q+N compares a little favorably to Q+B, but that is not the case here. Black has a space problem and safety issues with the king. But his position is still completely defensible, and in this part of the game Pascal squanders his advantage and even puts himself in danger!
29...Qd7 30.Kg3
30.Bxc6 bxc6 31.Kg3
30...Nd8 31.Bd5+?!

a not very useful check.
31...Kf8 32.Qe3 c6 33.Bf3 Ne6 34.f5!?


This looks plausible...
34...gxf5 35.gxf5 Ng7 36.Qf4 Qxf5

36...Nxf5+ of course loses the knight 37.Kg4
37.Qxd6+ Kf7 38.Qf4


The position Pascal was aiming for. It looks like queens are going to be traded, and White will have the upper hand in the B vs. N endgame (the h7 pawn is a target, White's king will be more active, and Black has to worry about their queenside).
A stunning move, which completely changes the evaluation of the position. Because Black is able to activate their king, now it's White who has to worry about equality.
39.Be4 the seeming refutation of ...Kg6 runs into 39...Nh5+!
40.Kf3 Nxf4 41.Bxf5+ Kxf5 and Black wins.
39...Kxf5 40.Kh4
40.Bg4+? Kxg5 41.Bc8 Nf5+ and Black gets to the b7 pawn in time. 42.Kf3 Nd6
40...Kf4 41.Bg4


A somewhat precarious situation for White. Black's king is so much more active than his counterpart.
As Matt points out on our blog, 
41...Nf5+ was possible here for Black. I have to say, it's a very difficult decision for a human to take, especially with little time for calculation, because the king and pawn endgame doesn't look like it should be so bad for White. It looks like it might even be bad for Black! 42.Bxf5 Kxf5 43.Kh5 b5 44.Kh6 Kf4 45.Kxh7 Kxg5 46.Kg7


Apparently, a position of this type is winning for Black. He gets to White's pawns faster.
42.Bc8 b6 43.Bd7 c5 44.a3 Kf3
Again, Black could have made a winning bid with 44...Nf5+
45.Bc6+ Ke3 46.Kg4 Kd3 47.Bd5 Kxc3 48.a4!


White lost a pawn, but his king has been let out of its little prison, and the bishop is effectively multitasking (defending the queenside pawns, constricting Black's knight, and always keeping the h7 pawn in eye's view.) It started to look like White could play for a win here, but Blas holds it together nicely.
48...Kb4 49.Bf7 b5! 50.axb5 Kxb5 51.Kf4 a4!?

We were looking at 51...Kb4!? 52.Ke5 c4 53.bxc4 (53.Bxc4 a4 54.bxa4 Kxc4 55.Kf6 Nh5+ 56.Kf7=) 53...Kc5


54.Bg8 a4 55.Bxh7 a3 56.Bb1 Kxc4= this is another way the game could have ended.
52.bxa4+ Kxa4 53.Ke5 Kb4 54.Bg8 c4 55.Bxh7 c3 56.Bd3 Kb3 57.g6

57...c2 58.Bxc2+ Kxc2 ½–½


Moreno - Herman [D43]

Matt's game worried me a little in the opening/early middlegame stage.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.g3 Nd7 8.Bg2 dxc4 9.0–0 e5 10.d5 Nb6 11.Ne4 Qe7 12.dxc6 bxc6 13.Qc2 Qc7 14.Ned2 


Matt played this very quickly, and I was like "Really, Matt? You don't mind 15.Nxe5?" Cause of course, 14...Be6 is not just a move that defends the c4 pawn. It is actually the beginning of a forced sequence that ends in White having R+2 pawns vs. 2 bishops, with Black still not being completely coordinated. It's probably not what I would have went for, but I managed to convince myself that Black was alright in the resulting position. 14...Bd6 was the kind of move I was drawn to, developing a piece, getting ready to castle, and eliminating all the tactics on the e5/c6 squares. At the price of a pawn, of course. 15.Nxc4 Nxc4 16.Qxc4 Be6 17.Qa4 0–0
We have a weakness on c6, but I just believed that Black must be fine here, with the two bishops in an open position. Even if we lost the c6 pawn, it wouldn't be the end of the world, but Black is not obliged to lose it.
15.Nxe5 Qxe5 16.Bxc6+


A moment of choice for Black. Should he go 16...Ke7 or 16...Bd7? I thought both were fine, but preferred Matt's choice in the game.
16...Bd7 17.Bxa8 Nxa8 18.Nxc4 Qe6


The critical position. How should we evaluate it? If Black can develop and castle, they will be alright, despite not having that many pawns to play with. The key actually is to understand that Black can't part with the bishop pair. He can trade N for N, or leave the knights on the board, but if he loses one of his bishops, he will probably lose the game. He just won't have enough activity to compensate for White's pawns.

19.Rfd1! Be7 20.Qd3! preventing Black from castling, but also helping the knight get to d6. Black will either have to give up his dark squared bishop (very sad) or lose the right to castle, in which case his pieces remain terribly uncoordinated. What can I say? I'm not surprised that White has this strong sequence here, and that's why I was so afraid on move 14. 20...Bc6 21.Nd6+!
Now Black is fine. 
20.Nxb6 axb6 21.Qc3 Be7! 22.Rfd1

The pawn is immune: 22.Qxg7 Bf6 traps the queen.
22...0–0 23.Rac1


Both sides have "completed their development", but this has been much more useful for Black!
23...Rc8 24.Qd3 Bc6 25.b3 Bc5 26.e3


A dream for Black. At this point, I saw 26...Qg4 with the idea of ...Qf3, and White has no defense. For some reason, Matt did not jump on this opportunity.
26...Re8 27.Qc4 Qh3

27...Qf5 to f3 is still very strong...
28.Qf1 Qg4 29.h3 Qf3 30.Kh2 Re6 31.Rc4 Bd6 32.Rcd4 Bc7 33.R4d2 Rxe3 34.Rd8+ Kh7 35.Qg1 Bxd8 36.fxe3 Qe2+


Matt's winning technique was not perfect, but it was sufficient. Somehow, his gamble on move 14 paid off, as after his opponent's one mistake, Black had a very good game. This win was huge for us, as it was our only win in the regular games, and it balanced out Giorgi's loss to Julio. 0–1


Norowitz - Rodriguez [E61]

I told Yaacov before the match that his opponent was a very active player, always striving for complications and dynamic piece play. So Eric's aggressive pawn moves in this game (almost impossible to predict) probably did not come as such a big surprise.
1.d4 Nf6 2.e3 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Be2 0–0 5.0–0 d6 6.b3 c5 7.Bb2 b6 8.c4 Bb7 9.Nc3 e6 10.Qc2 Na6 11.Rad1 Qe7 12.Qb1 Rfd8 13.Qa1 Rac8 14.dxc5 Nxc5 15.Nd4 a6 16.h3 h6 17.Rfe1 Ne8 18.Rd2 f5 19.Bf3 e5 20.Bxb7 Qxb7 21.Nc2 b5 22.cxb5 axb5 23.Nb4 Rd7 24.Red1


I was satisfied with the outcome of the opening stage. White doesn't have that much (yes, they have a nice square on d5 and the weak d6 pawn to play against, but they are also playing down a pawn in the center) but I felt that this position was more up Yaacov's alley than Eric's. Black should sit and wait patiently for White to demonstrate something, but that's not the style of the young player from Miami...
There we go, the pseudo activity.
25.Ncd5 h5 26.f3 Rf7 27.Rf1 f4 28.Qd1 Qa7 29.Kh1 Bh6 30.Rc2 Ng7 31.e4 Nge6 32.Nd3 Rcf8 33.Nxc5 Nxc5 34.Qe2 Rb8 35.b4 Ne6 36.Rfc1 Qb7 37.Rc6


A beautiful position for White: control of the c-file, an outpost on d5 (with the knights no longer doubling each other), myriad threats to Black's pawns. I expected the game to be over shortly.
37...Bf8 38.a3?
38.Bxe5 is simply crushing. White snatches a pawn and finally utilizes that bishop.
38...Qd7 39.Rb6 Rxb6 40.Nxb6 Qd8 41.Nd5 g4


Just a few moves have passed since White's winning position, but how things have changed! The bishop on b2 remains dead (its only useful service to the White position is controlling the d4 square); no material has been won, there are no gains to be had from control of the c-file or the knight on d5. Meanwhile, Black has begun a dangerous attack on the part of the board where White is weakest. Yes, I was very worried here...
42.fxg4 Qh4 43.gxh5 Rg7?

43...f3 looked scary to me.
44.Rf1! Ng5 45.Nxf4 exf4 46.Bxg7 Bxg7


White is doing well again. Giorgi pointed out that after the queen trade 47.Qg4 Qxg4 48.hxg4 White still has good chances to win the game.
47.Qxb5? f3


Black's activity is enough that White can do no better than a perpetual here.
48.Qe8+ Kh7 49.Qg6+ Kh8 50.Qe8+ Kh7
This game was somehow reminiscent of Yaacov's game against Ilya Krasik from the quarterfinal match against Boston. In both games, Yaacov had a big advantage, screwed it up, but held like it was no problem. I'm sure it helped that Yaacov's opponents were always in time trouble by the time they got their better positions! By the way, a great thing about Yaacov is that he's so calm during the game. His face gives away nothing. Without looking at his position, I couldn't know whether he was winning or defending against a vicious attack. He gave me the feeling that somehow, somehow, he'd keep things under control, and that freed up my mental energy for the other games.  ½–½

So our tense match, which at various points could have gone one way or the other, resulted in a 2-2 tie, meaning that we were headed for a blitz tiebreaker. There were seven tiebreak games in total, of which I’m going to present the final three.

In the first game, Yaacov and Eric produced a very exciting, crowd-pleasing battle marked by a speculative (and completely unforced) exchange sacrifice on Yaacov’s part. Yaacov came out on top, and the Knights were off to a good start.


Which abruptly ended, when we ran into Miami’s board three, Alejandro Moreno Roman. Some of you may remember Moreno from his appearance in the game Moreno-Herman above, but the man that sat down to play the blitz didn’t look anything like that patzer! :)  Our guys didn’t show their best, but still, Moreno was playing good chess, and he eliminated three Knights (Yaacov, Matt, and Pascal). Pascal later half-joked," Who could have guessed that Moreno would play better with five minutes on his clock than with ninety?” Here's the best of his three wins, where he vindicated his match loss to Herman in the exact same line.


Just one player stood between Miami and the Championship, and before you see his effort, let me make a short introduction.

Georgi.jpgIt was Giorgi’s first season playing in the U.S. Chess League. He had a bit of a hard time adjusting to online play at first; it seemed like he couldn’t figure out how to type in for most of the season, and a lot of our conversations would start with “Who are we playing? What color? What’s our standing? Who’s in first place?” etc. He also managed to mouse slip in his game against Stripunsky (he still drew), but reigning in unassailable first place as funniest Giorgi story is the following: Giorgi once sat in front of his screen for fifteen minutes, waiting for “White” to move, when in fact he was White!

But as the season went on, I learned something about Giorgi. He cared about the team. He prepared for his games, searching for new ideas late into the night. He always stayed until the end of our matches, despite having an hour plus trek home to Brooklyn at midnight.

And all of these qualities magnified as we headed into the playoffs. Giorgi wouldn’t just ask about who he was playing; he’d ask about Matt, and Yaacov, and Pascal. He’d look up their opponents, offer his observations to me, and give advice when needed. Nor was he above doing concrete analysis for the other players.

It’s easy to find a player. It’s harder to find a leader. And Giorgi was, in every sense of the word, the leader of our team (as a first board should be!).

So it was very fitting that in the end, he saved us. He told me that, when he saw how despairing Jay looked after we were one game away from defeat, he said to himself “Not for me. For them.” He was our last hope. And he didn’t let us down.
Moreno - Kacheishvili [B27]

1.e4 c5!

Thankfully, Giorgi also has the Sicilian in his repertoire. This wasn't the moment to rely on the Caro-Kann.
I told Giorgi before he started that Moreno plays Bb5+ against 2...d6. 
2...g6! 3.d4 Bg7 4.dxc5 Qa5+ 5.c3 Qxc5 6.Na3 d6 7.Nb5 a6 8.Be3 Qc6


Early on, we've reached a critical moment in the game.
Now Black will be fine. According to Giorgi, White's playing an Open Sicilian with a pawn on c3, so that can't be good for him! I was concerned about 9.Na7!? but Giorgi evaluated the position after 9...Qc7 (9...Rxa7 10.Bxa7 I was looking at "trapping" the bishop with 10...b6 but oops, there is a place for him to go! 11.Bxb8) 10.Nxc8 Qxc8 as fine for Black, and explained that in this line Black plays Bc8-g4 to trade off his light squared bishop anyway. Black's knights will come to f6 and c6, and then Black will execute the Nf6-d7 maneuver. Okay, good to know.
9...Qd7 10.Na3 Qc7 11.Nc4 Nd7 12.a4 b6 13.Be2

I was more worried about 13.a5!? but Black can get into a typical Sicilian position by taking the pawn. 13...bxa5 (13...b5 14.Nb6! was the point, i.e.: 14...Nxb6 15.axb6 Qb7 16.f3 with Nb3-a5 coming.) 14.Nxa5 Ngf6 15.f3 0–0
13...Bb7 14.f3 Ngf6 15.0–0 0–0 16.Qd2 e5!


Black seizes the initiative.
17.Nc2 d5 18.exd5 Nxd5 19.Bh6??

A natural move, but it loses a piece by force. Nonetheless, after 19.Bf2 Nf4, Black still has an advantage.
Executed quickly, Giorgi had an idea in mind...
20.Qxh6 Nf4!


There is no way to save both the Be2 and the Nc4. There really shouldn't be anything interesting after Black wins a piece, but something comes up..
21.N2e3 Nxe2+ 22.Kh1 Nc5 23.Nf5 f6 24.Nxb6 Rad8 25.b4 Nd3 26.Nh4 Qxb6 27.Nxg6


White has been grasping for any semblance of play in the last few moves, but Black should now firmly put him out of his misery. I thought that that was Giorgi's plan when he took on b6 on the previous move and internally cheered. But now, as he started thinking, I got the very unwelcome feeling that Giorgi was blacking out on the smothered mate idea...
27...Qg1+ 28.Rxg1 Nf2#



Same mate is available as before, but again Giorgi has other plans.
28...Nf2+ 29.Rxf2 Qxf2 30.h3 Ng3+ 31.Kh2 Rd2 32.Rg1 Ne2 33.Rb1 Bxf3

33...Qg3+ 34.Kh1 Rfd7
34.Nxf3 Qg3+ 35.Kh1 Nf4 36.Rg1 Rxg2
34...Qg3+ 35.Kh1 Qxh3#


Not as pretty as it could have been, but still enough to get rid of that huge thorn in New York's side!
[35...Bxg2+ 36.Nxg2 Qxh3#]

Giorgi criticized his finish, saying that this would have been more aesthetic. 0–1


Kacheishvili - Lugo [A21]
Sidestepping Lugo's Botvinnik.
1...e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Nd5 Ba5!? 4.b4 c6 5.bxa5 cxd5 6.cxd5 Nf6


It's still early in the game, but already we have a very unusual position. Giorgi had no more than a passing familiarity with it, and I'd never seen it before. 
Preparing to defend the d5 pawn with a common tactical trick.
7...d6 8.e4
Now that the a4-e8 diagonal has been opened, the pawn is immune because of Qa4+.
8...Qxa5 9.f3! Na6
Giorgi called this a "decisive" mistake. Black should have castled instead.


The star move of the game; anywhere the queen goes will be worse than where she is.
10...Qb6 11.Rb1; 10...Qa3 11.Qb3 Qxb3 12.axb3 Nc5 13.b4±
 Now it becomes clear why Bc3 was so important. Black is forced to recapture with the pawn, and after White pushes d2-d4, they will essentially have an extra pawn in the center. The bishops of opposite color make Black's defensive task very difficult.
11...bxa6 12.Ne2 0–0 13.0–0 Nd7 14.d4 a5 15.dxe5 dxe5
15...Nxe5 doesn't change the evaluation. White can play on the a1–h8 diagonal, win the a5 pawn, etc.
16.Qd2 Ba6 17.Bxa5


A winning position for White.
17...Qh4 18.Rfc1 f5 19.Ng3 fxe4 20.Nxe4 Nf6 21.d6 Bb7 22.d7 Nxe4 23.fxe4 Bxe4 24.Re1 Bc6 25.Rad1 Bxd7 26.Qxd7 Qf2+ 27.Kh1 Qxa2 28.Rxe5 Rf7



I was happy about this decision.
29...Qxd5 30.Rexd5 Raf8 31.Kg1 h6 32.Bb4 Rb8 33.Rd8+ Rxd8 34.Rxd8+ Kh7 35.Bc5 Rc7 36.Be3 Re7 37.Kf2 Rf7+ 38.Ke2 Rb7 39.Ra8 Rb2+ 40.Kf3 Rb5 41.Rxa7 Rf5+ 42.Ke4 Rf6 43.Bd4 Rg6 44.g3 h5 45.Kf5 Rg4



A "grandmasterly" simplification.
46...Rxg7 47.Bxg7 h4 48.Be5 hxg3 49.hxg3 1–0


Becerra - Kacheishvili [B63]

1.e4 c5!

Once again, straying from the Caro Kann, Giorgi's faithful servant all season.
2.Nf3 d6!?
This time, it'll be a Classical Sicilian rather than an Accelerated Dragon.
3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 Be7 8.0–0–0 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 0–0 10.f3 a6 11.h4 b5 12.g4 Qa5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Ne2 e5 15.Qd2 Be6 16.Nc1



A little finesse from Giorgi's arsenal. The f-rook is usually the one to go to d8 in this position.
17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.g5 Be7 19.Bh3
 Both players had played very quickly up to this point, but now Giorgi starts using some time.
 The queen gets out of the way of the a-pawn (we'll see the usefulness in that later).
20.h5 d5
21.Bxe6 fxe6 Variations like this are the point behind 16...Ra-d8. It's clear that Black's rook is very effective on the f-file.
21...dxe4 22.fxe4
White has a dangerous looking attack on the kingside, Julio was still playing instantly, and Giorgi had slowed down. But Giorgi handles the next phase in the game brilliantly.
22...Rd4!? 23.Qg2



The product of a one minute think (an eternity in blitz) but really an exceptional move. (It was also possible on the previous move, btw). Black avoids the trade of light squared bishops, thus leaving himself with more dynamic possibilities. It turns out that White's bishop is shooting into thin air.
On 24.Nxe5 there is 24...Bxa2+ 25.Kxa2 Qa5+ 26.Kb1 Qxe5 and Black is better.
Giorgi came up with this move after thirty seconds. The bishop does a great job of protecting the kingside. I finally began to feel that Black was not in danger. [24...fxg6? 25.hxg6 Qxg6 once the queens are traded, the e5 pawn will fall. 26.Qxg6 hxg6 27.Nxe5]
25.Bf5 a5
I was considering 25...b3!? 26.axb3 Bxd3 27.cxd3 Qxb3 which also looked reasonable for Black, but Giorgi's move is more ambitious.
26.gxf7+ Bxf7
White's attack isn't going anywhere, while Black is ready to start rolling on the queenside.
27.Nf2 Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 Rd8!
A good move positionally, and psychologically. White should probably trade rooks, but that means accepting a grim defense in the endgame. But avoiding the trade allowed Black to launch a more intense attack on White's king. I took a look at 28...Bxh5 and calculated the following line 29.Rh1 Bg6 30.Bxg6 hxg6 31.Qxg6?? Qxf2–+ but of course White can play something that doesn't give a piece, such as 31.Nd3.
29.Nd3 a4 30.Qe2 b3


It is funny that earlier in the game, White's pawn came to g6. Now it's Black's turn! (But where's White's dark squared bishop?)
31.Nc1 bxa2+ 32.Ka1
32.Nxa2 Rb8–+
I was looking at 32...a3 33.b3 Rxd1 34.Qxd1 Bxh5 which is also good for Black, but not as good as in the game.
33.Nd3 looks more solid, but Black can still break down White's defense with something like ...Qc7 followed by ...a3 (...Qc7 to be able to utilize the c3 square).
33...axb3 34.cxb3 Bg5!

The bishop enters the attack.
35.Qb2 Be3 36.Ne2 Bxb3
36...Qxb3 was also completely winning.
37.Rd3 Bc4


As we can see, Black's queenside attack has been pretty effective.
38.Qxb6 Bxb6
I preferred 38...Rxb6 threatening mate in one.


Can you spot the mate in two? Don't feel too bad if you can't, we might still invite you to join the team next year- provided you have Giorgi's level of strategical mastery!
39...Bd4+ 40.Nxd4 Rb1#
40.Rxa2 Bxa2 41.Kxa2


Here we go, it's like dropping a fish back into water. Giorgi is swimmingly good at these technical positions.
41...Rb6 42.Nc1 Bc3 43.Nd3 g6 44.hxg6 hxg6 45.Bg4 Kg7 46.Nc5 Kh6 47.Ne6 Rb2+ 48.Ka3 Rg2 49.Bd1 g5 50.Kb3 Ba1 51.Kc4 g4 52.Nd8 Kg6 53.Nb7 g3 54.Kd3 Rb2

I was really impressed not just that Giorgi won three must-win games in a row (two of them with Black), but the way in which he won them. Throughout these games, you could always detect a strategical vision, and that is really unusual for blitz. 0–1

Thanks to Miami for being such great competitors. I think everyone could see and appreciate what they brought to all their playoff matches this season, and while the Knights may have won the title, I think Miami has a lot to be proud of.

Of course, one player doesn’t make a team. As Matt said, “I felt that all of our players cared.”Everyone put their heart into it, and contributed a key win in the playoffs (Pascal over GM Eugene Perelshteyn with the Black pieces to send us past Boston; Yaacov over Sean Finn to win us the match against New Jersey; Matt, with Black, taking down IM Alejandro Moreno Roman in the final.)

The high level of commitment of our team was a little surprising given that two of our players, Matt and Pascal, both have fulltime jobs in finance, and played each of their matches after a workday that began at 7 AM. To come to a game, on insufficient sleep and after a ten-hour workday, and still to give your best for the next four hours, week after week…well, I don’t have words for that. I don’t know how they do it.
Matt Herman and Pascal Charbonneau

So yes, we had Giorgi’s leadership, we had team chemistry…but there’s one more secret…and that is how hard we worked.

I’ll share with you one story that I think perfectly illustrates why the Knights are the 2009 USCL Champions.

The match with the formidable Eastern division winners, New Jersey. Benjamin-Kacheishvili, Charbonneau-Ippolito, Molner-Herman, Norowitz-Finn. Now, there were two obvious things about this match. One, we had a big advantage on board 4. Two, we had a big disadvantage on board 3.

Let’s zoom in on Molner-Herman. Mackenzie Molner is twenty-one years old, with a current rating of 2430 USCF. He’s a 1.e4 player, and happens to be very dangerous on the White side of the Sicilian, which is the only opening that Matt employs. Matt, by the way, is rated 2310 at the moment. So we’re giving up 120 points, and we have the Black pieces against a guy that’s markedly better with White!

Now, here is a very sensible evaluation given by a player on New Jersey’s team prior to the match: “You have the advantage on four, we have the advantage on three, those boards will balance each other out, and the match will be decided on the top two boards.”

Very sensible. If that had been our match strategy, I wouldn’t have written a blog post that night. :)

Our match strategy never involved giving up a board. Our match strategy was to recognize where our weakness lay, and do the utmost possible to repair it.

There was no choice. We had to hold board three. Giorgi’s orders.

Matt and Mackenzie had already faced off earlier this season, with the same colors. It was a 6.Bg5 Najdorf, which Mackenzie won.

We were likely to see the 6.Bg5 Najdorf again. Being White’s big hit against the Najdorf these days, it’s not exactly an easy line to deal with. So the task was…have something against the 6.Bg5 Najdorf.

Matt had already spent dozens of hours searching for a suitable line, but a few days before the match, he was still unhappy with what he had and so his preparation was completely up in the air. I remembered the 7…Nc6 line, which, while not exactly rare, is certainly rarer than Black’s other options there. It also had the plus side of being rather “forced”, meaning that Molner, if he chose to go for the principled lines, would be walking a narrow path where undoubtedly Matt had better preparation. If worst came to worst, and Molner knew everything (we judged that to be nearly impossible), Matt would be a little worse, but in the high likelihood that Molner would deviate from the best course somewhere, Black would even have chances to seize the initiative.

And that’s exactly what happened. Molner went the principled route, seemed to have only a passing knowledge of it, consumed lots of time, chose the wrong path, and wound up handing the initiative to Black. Although Matt spoiled his promising position, by that point Molner had no time to take advantage of it. The game was a draw.

New Jersey didn’t lose that match on board 4 (which is where they actually lost). They lost it on board 3.

Now, you may ask, what could New Jersey have done differently? What was their mistake? It’s not so obvious.

New Jersey was missing one vital piece of information: they didn’t know our mind set (but there were clues they could have picked up on). If they thought that we were only going to make an “average” effort on board three, that we were going to be “averagely” prepared, then Molner’s decision to go with 6.Bg5 would be correct, in my opinion. Molner would get the attacking positions he’s looking for.

But we didn’t make an average effort. Matt and I spent so much time on 7…Nc6 that by the time the match came around, Matt knew it like the back of his hand. Molner was basically walking into a minefield.


If I were in charge of New Jersey’s match strategy, I wouldn’t have let Molner enter a line where the price of being “out prepared” is so high. Sure, 6.Bg5 is a great system, and Molner has used it to good effect; he clearly knows a lot in it, but as we saw, not everything. And you can’t play 6.Bg5 in that match situation without knowing everything, because one thing that you should know is that we will be prepared…

He could have learned some other line in the Najdorf, or some kind of anti-Sicilian, and had the element of surprise on his side. Would it have given New Jersey the result they needed? I don’t know, but that would’ve been the right match strategy. As it was, Molner’s team paid the price for his principles.

Matt Herman, Pascal Charbonneau, Yaacov Norowitz and Jay Bonin

I’m a huge fan of the U.S. Chess League, and not just because I love chess, enjoy the camaraderie of a team, or the thrill of competition. The U.S. Chess League is what it is to me because for every week that it runs, it asks me: Are you up to the challenge? How hard are you willing to work to make sure that when the very thin line is drawn between winning and losing, you are standing on the right side? Who are you going to be this week?

Sometimes, you can decline those questions. It’s probably impossible to live life always trying to answer them in a maximal way. But I appreciate having them there, waiting for me, waiting for my response.

I’d venture to say that this philosophy captures the essence of the Knights as a team. We are not a maximalist team. We are a maximalist team when it counts.
Knights Matt Herman, Evan Rosenberg, Justin Sarkar, Pascal Charbonneau, Jay Bonin and friend of the Knights, writer Paul Hoffman

I’d like to thank everyone who supported our team, and there were many: Jay Bonin, the most devoted New York Knight, who unfailingly sent us messages and emails of encouragement throughout the season; Justin Sarkar, who showed up at all of our matches, and brought us nuts and other snacks; John Fedorowicz, who stopped by the club before our final match to wish us luck; Alex Lenderman, who came to root for us during the final match; John Fernandez, for being our lucky charm; Adrian and his mom Beth, who came to many of our matches; Frank Brady and all the staff at the Marshall Chess Club, for hosting us and publicizing our matches on their club calendar. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!
Ardent Knights' supporters who stayed till the 1:30 AM finish of the match.

I’d like to thank Greg Shahade for envisioning the wonderful idea of the U.S. Chess League and making it a reality. Thanks to for sponsoring the League, and to ICC for giving us a platform to play on.

Last but not least, I want to thank the “rock” of our team, the person who takes care of it all during my frequent absences, and has come through for my beloved Knights so many times…Pascal.

See you guys next year!

This weekend and next, IM Irina Krush will be back at the Knights' site of triumph,  playing at the Marshall Chess Club Championships.