Quarterfinals: Youth is Served
A fairly tense and well-played match with sparkling ideas on all four boards. Needing to overcome draw odds, the Knights repeated the lineup that had drawn Philadelphia 2-2 in week 10. The Manhattan Applesauce, who dominated the USCL in the second half of the regular season, going 5-0 and nearly undefeated in game points, were missing the even hotter GM Zviad Izoria, who finished #2 behind FM Jeffery Xiong in the MVP race. They brought back GM Robert Hungaski to face GM Tamaz Gelashvili on board 1. The remaining trio from Manhattan's remarkable streak was intact, with IM Farai Mandizha on board 2 against GM Irina Krush, FM Rico Salimbagat on board 3 against IM Akshat Chandra and NM Ryan Goldenberg (whose only blemishes on the 8-1-1 record that earned him 3rd place in the MVP race came against NY) against NM Nico Checa, who had nearly beaten Goldenberg and was the sole bright spot during Manhattan's 3.5-0.5 drubbing of the Knights in week 8.
The Knights took the white pieces on boards 1 and 3 as "compensation" for Manhattan's draw odds.
Lucky And Good
The game that set the tone for the match was played on board 3, where IM Akshat Chandra was both lucky and good. He out-calculated Salimbagat in a beautiful sequence.
Here, Chandra played 13. b4! but seemed to be visibly upset some time after making this move. It's possible he had missed one or both of black's tactical ideas. Fortunately for the Knights, white's position was safe and the concept sound.
The first potential tactic is 13. ..Bf2!? 14. Qf2 (14. Kf2 Qb6! and white is remarkably OK after 15. Kg3 Qb5 16. Bf6 gf 17. Qf6 Ng6) 14. ..Ne4 15. Qe3 Ng5 16. Qg5 Qb6 17. Kh2 Qb5 18. Qe7! and white remains a piece ahead.
The second was seen on the board and may be one of the nicest and lengthiest combinations in USCL history.
13. ..Bb6 14. Nd2 Rad8?! setting up the next move, but black was forced to play 14. ..Ne7 and accept an inferior endgame after 15. Bf6 Qf6 16. Qf6 gf. Of course the evaluation of this move and the next would only be known a dozen moves later 15. Bc4 Rd2 it is too late to turn back 16. Be6 Rf2 17. Qf2 Bf2 18. Kf2 Ne4 19. Kg2 Ng5 20. Bb3! This is the point. Despite re-establishing material equality and having the move, black cannot stop from simply invading on the d-file. But can't black just consolidate with his R and K and eventually eject the white R from d7?
20. ..Rc8 21. Rd7 Kf8 22. Rad1 Ke8 23. Ba4 Nc6 24. b5! Without this idea, white would have to find 24. R7d5 fg 25. Rb5! Rb8 26. Rb7. An aesthetic shame the text is not the only win.
24. ..Na5 25. b6 c6 26. Rd8!
The b-pawn will make a new queen!
All Rook Endings Are Drawn
This win, established early in the match, meant that the Knights had "draw odds" on boards 1, 2 and 4. Board 1 took an immediate turn into an endgame and both teams likely counted on it being drawn. This result eventually stood up, after Tamaz skillfully defended an inferior rook and pawn endgame.
Tamaz could have forced an immediate draw with 32. Rb2 Rb2 33. Rd7 Ke8 34. Bc6! with perpetual coming on the 7th and 8th ranks, but spied an even more attractive alternative.
32. Rd7 Kf8 33. R1d6
Tamaz has numerous threats on black's K and if 33. ..Ne4 34. Ke4, the white K must be prevented from running e4-e5-f6. After 34. ..Re2 35. Kd4 Rd2 the endgame could have immediately flattened out with 36. Kc4 Rb4 37. Kc3 Rd6 38. Rd6 Rf4 39. Re6 or we might have seen a remarkable battle between white's king and black's rook.
Tamaz had 36. Ke5!? Rd6 37. Rd6 Rc8 38. Kf6 c3 39. Rd1 c2 40. Rc1 Rc4 41. Kg6 h4 42. h3 Kg8 43. a4 Kf8 44. Kh7 and it should be drawn with best play, but both sides must be vigilant.
Hungaski had other plans, however, and played 33. ..Rf2! Fortunately, after 34. Kf2 Ne4 35. Ke3 Nd6 36. Rd6 Rc8 37. Kd2, white's active rook and black's numerous pawn weaknesses were enough for Tamaz to hold the draw.
Blood from a Stone
With board 4 looking dangerous for Goldenberg, IM Farai Mandizha had to create winning chances out of thin air on board 2 against GM Irina Krush.
Mandizha noticed the awkward placement of black's K on h6 and went for 32. Re2! Re2 33. Kf3 Rc2 34. Be4! (defending d3 and eyeing h7 through g6) Rd2 35. Ke3 Rb2 36. h4
White is simply threatening Ke3-f3/g3-g4-g5/Rf7xh7 mate! In time trouble, Irina tried to restrict white's pawns with 36. ..Rh2, but could have played the impossibly calm 36. ..Ba4! and white would have to bail out with 37. Ra7 Bd1 and his activity is good for no more than a draw. If he attempted to go for mate, the tables would turn after 37. g4 Bd1 38. g5 Kh5 39. Rh7 Kg4 and it is white's king that gets mated on e3.
After 37. Ra7 c4 38. d4 Be8 39. d5 c3 40. Rc7 Ba4 41. Rc3 g5
Mandizha went for the spectacular 42. Rc6 (42. Rc4 was much cleaner) and won after 42. ..Kg7 43. hg b5 44. Rc7 as white's pawns and black's unsafe king are too much.
Irina had a chance for a study-like draw by "falling" into white's idea. 42. ..Bc6!! 43. dcIt seems that white's Ke3 and Be4 block all paths for black's Rh2 to prevent the c-pawn from queening.
43. ..Ra2! 44. c7 Ra3! and black has a positional draw.
Black will give horizontal checks on the a-file. If white's K tries to run to the c-file, black will go Ra5 and after c8Q Rc5 Qc5 bc, the white bishop is the wrong color for the rook pawn and black draws. If white tries to run his K up the board with 45. Kd4 Ra4 46. Kd5 (with idea 46. ..Ra5 47. Kd6 Rc5 48. Bc6!), this interferes with the Be4's control of a8 and black can again reach a drawn wrong-color bishop endgame. Finally, if white runs away to the kingside and loses touch with the c-file on any rank but the second, black will get his rook behind the pawn.
The aforementioned NM Ryan Goldenberg was considered a big favorite, given his rating advantage, the white pieces and strong form heading into the match. He got a good opening position in the French against FM Aravind Kumar in week 2 (despite a late blunder that cost him the game and an undefeated season), but decided to deviate by not pushing his pawn to e5.
Given the equal nature of boards 1 and 2, Goldenberg likely needed to win and played the crazy 25. f5!? banking on black's R remaining offside and his knights being unable to reach the action. A more stable approach would have been 25. Bg3 with the idea Be2-f3.
The game continued 25. ..Bf5 26. gf Rh4 27. Bg4
At first glance, black should have an overwhelming advantage. White's king is exposed, none of his pieces are active and black has nice outposts planned for his knights on f6/e4/g5/f4. Unfortunately, the Nc6 is at least 3 tempi away from the action (and that's if it can get c6-e7-c8-d6 in!), the Nf8 will find it hard to reach f6 given white's threats against the Rh4 and black's Re8 is going to be effectively exchanged for white's passive R on b1.
27. ..Re1!? (27. ..Re4!?) 28. Re1 Qd6 29. Qf2 Qf6 30. Qf4 g6!!? A ridiculous move. 31. Qh6 Qd6 32. Re2 Qg3 33. Rg2 Qc3 The once dormant Nc6 has new life!
34. fg? 34. Qf4! was a must. After 34. ..Qd4 35. Qd4 Nd4 36. c3 Nd7! 37. cd gh 38. Bf3 Kf8 39. Bd5 Rd4 the game begins anew. 34. ..Qa1?! Looks correct, drawing out the white King, but 34. ..Qd4! 35. Kh1 Ng6! was just winning 35. Kf2 Qd4 36. Kg3 Ng6! 37. Qg5 Qc3 38. Bf3? 38. Kf2! was highly unclear; if 38. Nf3 Nce5! wins 38. ..Qe1 39. Rf2 Rh2 Black is winning but white has one more resource
40. Bg2! Rh5!? The endgame after 40. ..Qe5! 41. Qe5 Rg2 42. Rg2 Nge5 43. Kf4 Kh7 is winning. The text was an interesting practical choice that retains a significant advantage.
41. Qh5 Qe3 42. Qf3? 42. Rf3! Qc1 and black is still going to win 42. ..Qg5?! 42. ..Qe5! 43. Kh3 Qh8!! will mate on h4 43. Kh2 Nce5 44. Qd5? White is still losing, but 44. Qg3 offered more resistance 44. ..Ng4 45. Kg1 Qc1 46. Bf1 Nf2 47. Kf2 Qc2 48. Kg3 Qc3 49. Kg4 Qc1! the fork on e5 holds the c4 pawn and the rest is a mop-up 50. Qf5 c3 51. Bc4 Qg1 52. Kh3 Qh1 53. Kg3 Qh4 54. Kf3 Qc4 55. Qc2 Qf4 56. Ke2 Qh2 57. Kd3 Qc2 58. Kc2 f5 59. Kc3 f4 0-1
Goldenberg's resignation put us in the semi-finals against New England!
Special thanks to our sponsors ChessNYC and the Marshall Chess Club for hosting us (going on nine years!).