USCL Week 3 recap

Sep 17, 2014, 9:38 AM |

It wasn't pretty, but we managed to notch up our first win of the season last Wednesday. Our victims were the Atlanta Kings, who put up an incredible fight despite being apparently outmatched on paper. The win puts NJ in 4th place in the Eastern division, just a half-point out of playoff position. 

Because of the new playoff qualification rules this year, the week took on a secondary meaning as the divisions eyed the coveted extra playoff spot. The first week of interdivisional play did little to separate the divisions however, as the division scores are separated by just half-point each. Specifically, the Western division took the early (small) lead with 3.5/6, closely followed by the Eastern at 3.0/6 and Southern at 2.5/6. 

The first game of the night to finish was the contest between IM Alexander Katz and NM Richard Francisco. On paper this was by far the most even matchup of the night, with the ratings very closely matched. Though White started off cautiously, the pressure quickly built up on Black to the point of indefensibility. However, in time pressure the win became less and less clear, until suddenly Francisco even had an opportunity to win the game! Understandably he overlooked that continuation in favor of a simple perpetual, thus escaping with an important half point.

Despite this disaster, the match appeared to still be well within our grasp. Klein had an excellent position on the bottom board, while the top one was drifting towards equality. More importantly, GM Benjamin had successfully navigated the (considerable) complications and was wrapping up a won game. Despite his opponent's resourcefulness throughout the game, NJ finally brought home the full point that would prove to be the decider in the match. 

Though he was clearly outmatched on paper, "National Expert" Klein refused to roll over and came out swinging. After achieving a close to equal position from the opening, Black demonstrated a better understanding of the middlegame position and slowly improved his position. The pressure on White's queenside steadily increased while White's kingside play never really got going, and a few inaccuracies by White left Black squarely in the driver's seat. However, White managed to complicate the position enough that Black hastily scrambled to force a draw in the ensuing queen endgame. One final blunder gave White a golden opportunity to equalize the match, but it was missed in mutual time pressure and the point was split. 

This meant that GM Alex Stripunsky just needed to draw his significantly lower rated opponent. Though IM Perdomo proved resourceful and at some points it appeared like White may be a little bit of trouble, once again the GM managed to get the best of the complications. However, Black defended accurately, and was even on the offensive towards the end of the game. Despite Black's best efforts, White held the draw without any trouble and brought home the match for NJ.

And with that, the Knockouts finally got back on track, bringing home the first full point of the season. Our next match will be against the New England Nor'easters, starting in just 6 hours or so at 7 PM (Eastern) tonight (Wednesday 9/17)! With every other week being interdivisional play, the divisional matches take on even more importance as teams have to root for their divisional rivals during those odd numbered weeks. Until next time!

-Alexander Katz