Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NJ Knockouts vs. Queens Pioneers Redux

The New Jersey Knockouts play a return match tonight (7:00 ET on ICC) agains the Queens Pioneers, against whom they were lucky to squeeze out a draw in their first round meeting. This is going to be a very volatile and unpredictable match-up, with evenly-matched and tough, seasoned opponents on nearly every board. All results are possible, but I'll stick my neck out and make a prediction: another drawn match for the "NJ Even Stevens."

Board 1
GM Alex Stripunsky (Q - 2626) --GM Joel Benjamin (NJ - 2653)
This repeat of the match-up from Round 1, with colors reversed, will surely be a fight to the death. Stripunsky will want revenge, so Benjamin will have to watch out and hang tough. But I think Joel has his number and will gain at least the draw as Black in a very tough game.

Board 2
IM Mikhail Zlotnikov (NJ - 2387) -- IM Eli Vovsha (Q - 2501)
Zlotnikov has shown some variety in his opening repertoire of late, playing an occasional 1.Nf3 and even 1.e4 rather than his always-the-English 1.c4. Against Vovsha, I think 1.e4 is the ticket to victory, with a prepared line against Vovsha's doubtful Scandinavian. If Zlotnikov plays 1.e4, I think we win. If he plays 1.c4, I think we draw at best and possibly lose.

Board 3
FM James Critelli (Q - 2319) -- NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ - 2355)
Critelli was Board 1 on this past year's USATE winners "Beavis and Buttvinnik" (who Kenilworth played in round 5). Mackenzie Molner has been playing some very tough chess, though, including a victory over Zlotnikov at the US Open this year. This is a battle between two rising stars and could easily yield all possible results. But I'll stick my neck out and predict at least a draw for NJ.

Board 4
NM Evan Ju (NJ - 2268) -- NM Parker Zhao (Q - 2192)
Ju pressed too hard as Black against a lower-rated player in the first match-up with Queens and was lucky to pull out a draw (after losing his queen to rook and knight) by setting up a fortress. He has a great chance for redemption as white against another less experienced opponent and I don't think he'll let this one pass him by. A win is likely for NJ.

There has been great match coverage on the NJ Knockouts blog, which is worth checking out.

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