Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blitz take care of business

With a very strong line-up in comparison to many of their competitors, the US Chess League's Boston Blitz could go very far this season if they just win the matches they are supposed to win. That's exactly what happened last night in Week 2 action against a Philadelphia Masterminds team they out-rated by an average of 120 points per board.

The Masterminds never roll over in the face of strong competition and this match was no exception. Nevertheless, while some Boston fans may have had flashbacks to last season when Philadelphia jumped out to an early 1.5-0.5 lead, in retrospect, the Blitz were never in serious danger. It just took some time for Boston's top two boards to grind down their lower rated opponents (both ultimately in rook and pawn endings) and secure a 2.5-1.5 victory.

The scoring began on Board 3 with a relatively quick draw between FM Shahade and FM Kelleher. Early on the game transposed into a fairly innocuous line of the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5 Nf6) -- White temporarily wins a doubled isolated queen pawn and hopes to build up some initiative while Black gathers up the extra material. 8.Bxa6 was a new, though not particularly promising, move in this rather rare line. Four previous encounters had continued 8.Bc4 Rc8. After the exchange of Queens on move 11, Black had a lead in development and some initiative though White retained the extra pawn. Kelleher's combination which netted him the pawn resulted in a series of exchanges which left the players in an ending with few prospects for either side.

On Board 4, NM Krasik was looking to avenge his loss to NM Wilson in Week 2 of the 2005 season. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The combatants left theory in the Old Benoni behind by move 6. White proceeded to build up what appeared to be a promising attacking position while Black developed defensively. Krasik then sought to break open the position by sacrificing his e-pawn with 16.e5 and following up with the thrust 17.f5 [This maneuver reminded me of a similar idea Ilya played as Black last season against Dallas' Suarez (12...e4 13.fxe4 f4)]. Wilson was ready for it and after 17...Nf6, 18.Qxe5 allowed Black to uncover his fianchettoed bishop with great effect. Through several creative moves, Krasik managed to limit the initial material damage to one pawn, but by then his exposed King was no match for Wilson's active Queen and Knight. Krasik fought on valiantly for quite awhile with only a minute or two left on his clock, but this time no swindle was to be found.

One kibitzer on the ICC noted that Wilson did not move his Bishop on c8 until the 42nd move of the game. Perhaps he has experience on the Black side of the French Defense?!

The news was better for the Blitz on the top boards. On Board 2, FM Winer faced FM Roger's King's Indian. Steven secured the two bishops (16.Nxc8) and an extra pawn (20.Qxf5) without allowing Black any real counterplay. He then proceeded to trade off pieces into a won ending. After that it was, as they say, just a matter of technique -- nothing flashy, just a solid workman-like effort to secure a win for Boston.

Over on Board 1, IM Foygel did what he does almost every week at the local clubs -- grind down a lower rated opponent and score a full point. It was certainly nice to see the "old" Igor after the difficulties he had last week.

As Black, Foygel essayed the Pirc Defense against IM Costigan and to this patzer's eye not much happened over the first nineteen moves. The position reached a critical point with Igor's 20...c5 and after Richard's 22.e5 a series of exchanges left Black up a pawn and in control of the open e-file. Foygel used the open file to good effect with 25...Re2 and after White parried the threat to his f-pawn with 26.Qf4, Foygel proceeded to destroy his opponent's pawn structure through a couple of exchanges. Still up a pawn, the resulting ending was clearly winning for Black. While it had no impact on the outcome, I did like Costigan's 39.Re3 to remove the dangerous passed a-pawn. Unfortunately for him, it just traded one lost rook and pawn ending for another.

With the win, the Blitz are off to a 2-0 start this season, tied for first in the Eastern Division with the 2005 Champion Baltimore Kingfishers. Up next for Boston is a Monday night match with their division rivals from New York -- another Christiansen-Charbonneau clash, perhaps?

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