USCL Week 1 recap


Hello world! Greg has asked that each team write a blog entry weekly, so in the interest of satisfying Greg here it is. Have you ever seen Greg dissatisfied? Well, of course not, otherwise you certainly wouldn't be alive reading this.

Since this is the first post, maybe a brief introduction is in order. The NJ Knockouts are one of the 16 teams playing in the US Chess League, which pits cities against in other over 10 weeks of regular season match play and 3 additional playoff weeks to determine an ultimate champion. New this year is the 4-team division format, placing the NJ Knockouts in the Atlantic division with the New York Knights, the Manhattan Applesauce, and the Philidelphia Inventors. 

We play at the locations of the International Chess Academy, splitting time between the Fair Lawn location on Wednesday nights and the Teaneck location on Tuesday nights. All games are played online, on's server, and a TV show accompanies the games. 

Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, last night we opened up our season against the NY Knights. New York is a powerhouse team, having qualified for the playoffs in every single one of the league's eight seasons, boasting 2 championships to their name. On the other hand, NJ has made the playoffs just once (losing to New York!) during its 6 seasons. An ominous statistic! More pleasantly, NJ leads the series record against NY 6.5-4.5. 

This week saw both teams putting together strong lineups, both with an average rating over 2400:

New Jersey New York
GM Joel Benjamin (2640) GM Pascal Charbonneau (2552)
GM Boris Gulko (2591) IM Irina Krush (2531)
NM Alexander Katz (2362) NM Alexander King (2297)
Haik der Manuelian (2032) NM Nicolas Checa (2267)

The match concluded in an exciting 2-2 draw. The games, in order of finishing, are below (with some light notes that are fully mine and may be completely incorrect):

Last year, when I played for NY, NM Alexander King (playing for Manhattan), eliminated us in the quarterfinals by defeating me. This rematch occurs under strange circumstances, both of us having switched teams and boards.
Most teams elect to have at least one young underrated player on their team to fill board 4 during some weeks, allowing for higher rated players to occupy the top boards. Haik der Manuelian is one of the players filling this niche for NJ. Here he is ground down in a very instructive game by the extremely impressive Nicolas Checa who is just 12 years old (!)
This left the match in the hands of GM Joel Benjamin, playing White against a familiar foe: GM Pascal Charbonneau. Fortunately for us, GM Benjamin delivered in a big way, slowly building up his position and finally launching a decisive attack, collecting the full point and saving the match.

In the other division match, Manhattan took down Philidelphia in a 3-1 win, behind wins on boards 1 and 4 by GM Zviad Izoria and NM Ryan Goldenberg. Week 2 will see more divisional action, with Philidelphia playing against New Jersey and New York playing against Manhattan. In other league news, Connecticut began with an incredible start, defeating a strong Baltimore squad by the very rare score of 4-0. 

Some puzzles from around the league (without solutions - comments with correct solutions get brownie points and possibly a mention in the next article!), and a question for the fans (comments=good!): 

Teams have tried for a variety of strategies with their lineups. Since the main caveat is that the average rating of the players must be under 2400, some teams have elected for a balanced approach with players over 2300 playing on board 4, and others have tried what is now known as the "GGGg" lineup (after a USATE team consisting of 3 GMs and a 100-rated player). If you were managing a team, would you put together 4 players all rated 2400, 3 2700s and a 1500, or anything in between?
To close this post, we extend great thanks to our sponsors Pokerstars and And please don't forget to vote in the GOTW poll which will partially decide the winner of the exciting Game of the Week contest (NJ has 2/3 of the nominations!). 
-Alexander Katz