Monday, December 24, 2007
Game of the Year Predictions/Picks
Now that the process for announcing the Wildcards is over, the time to debate which game should win is upon us. Even though I’m not a judge for the Game of the Year (GOTY) Contest this season, I figured why should that deter me from making some picks/predictions about what might occur. The prominent rankings will be based on what I suspect the judges this year might happen to do (though I will also note at the end where I would have ranked each game if given the chance).
In my opinion, I feel the contest for the GOTY winner is much trickier than last season. Although I was quite off in terms of predicting what would actually win the contest last year, I was still fairly certain that there was a batch of games which would definitely wind up being the pick of the litter (and given that the top five games were the same top five games that I picked, though not in the same order, it seems I was right). This year though I’m not nearly as confident in anything of that sort as I simply don’t see any clear front runners to win the contest. But I suppose that’s what will make it the most fun for you readers huh? I don’t plan to give any deep analysis of these games while I rank them since plenty of that was done during the Game of the Week (GOTW) contest, and I’m sure the GOTY Judges will provide much more meaningful insight in that regard than I can. I will merely be focusing on a few simple reasons as to why I think certain games will wind up being about where they are.
Now of course in order to try to predict where the games will finish, the immediate question is: Which amongst the criteria quality, excitement, relevance to match, intrigue, etc. will be considered most important? While there were endless debates during the season about which of these should be considered most pertinent when ranking games for the GOTW award, the only really relevant question at this stage is: What will our judging panel consider most important? Well let's take a brief look at our judges to see what they might hold in the highest regard.
FM Robby Adamson: As the judge who was almost certainly the most prominent watcher of the USCL this season (both via the early Chess.FM coverage and later on), it seems reasonably likely that his picks will favor the excitement factor. In my view, it's much more likely for any person to favor this factor when they view the games first hand as it gives you a completely different perspective to be "in the moment".
NM Dennis Monokroussos: Almost without a doubt the most thorough of judges. Between his Chessbase Shows, his blog, and his being the only judge who analyzed all the entrants last year with a computer (to my knowledge none of the other three judges: GM Shabalov, IM Shahade, or myself used a computer for any of them), I definitely expect him to be the judge who puts the most effort into ranking the games. This might lead one to think that he will favor a game's quality factor (as computers tend to), but his last year's rankings clearly also did consider the games' other attributes. I see his picks being a fair mix of the mentioned factors.
GM Alex Shabalov: As the obvious strongest judge (and based on his last year's rankings), I definitely expect him to favor a game's sheer quality quite heavily. However, there was a nasty rumor floating around last season that most of his time in judging this contest had been spent in dreaming up nicknames for the players (click here for an example) rather than actually looking at the games! While I can't establish any veracity to that rumor, it does seem likely that his commentary this season might give us more of a clue as to whether that has any merit.
WGM Jennifer Shahade: Being the editor of Chess Life Online, Jen clearly understands the balance of posting material which is a proper mix of quality and excitement, and I would guess her rankings will follow that pattern also. As someone who either wrote or proofread an article on the USCL each week she should also be reasonably familiar with all the entrants which should definitely be in her favor. Then again, she is a relative of the Commissioner so that can't be in her favor.
FM Ron Young: The toughest judge to nail down as his only known endeavor in the league, prior to this point, is his entertaining match predictions. How will he function when he has to be serious (at least in terms of his rankings)? Your guess is as good as mine, but I have a feeling we might hear some debates about whether his or GM Shabalov's commentary is more humorous.
A few minor notes. As you might notice, there will be some Wildcard games which I will rank higher in either place than I ranked them in comparison to their GOTW counterpart in that particular week. This could be a result of coming to the belief that I made the wrong pick then or simply my feeling that the judges will happen to hold the game in question in higher regard (or perhaps a combination of the two). Also, for "number of points" in these predictions, that refers to the fact that each judge will assign a game between 1 and 20 points so that's my feeling of about how many points a game will wind up with total. Do also note that I might happen to predict a game to finish lower than another game despite listing the former's probability to finish in the Top Five, its probability to win, or its number of points as higher. This could be a result of either variance (e.g. while I might think the game in question will on average have a lower ranking, in more situations I feel it will wind up in the Top Five), or it could be me simply predicting an upset of some sort.
Ok enough rambling, onto the predictions!
20th Place: IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0. I must say that I was shocked when this game was picked as a Wildcard. Why? Well because I frankly didn’t think it deserved to be in the GOTY contest. And if it doesn’t deserve to be in the contest then why should it do well in it? Simple answer: it shouldn’t.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 100,000
Probability of Winning: 1 / 1,000,000
Number of Points: 7
19th Place: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 0-1. As I stated when this game won GOTW, I personally didn’t think it was even close to deserving it. If it didn’t deserve to win GOTW, why should it do well in GOTY? Err wait, didn’t I just ask a question like this? I suppose I did, but luckily the same answer should suffice: it shouldn’t.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 10,000
Probability of Winning: 1 / 100,000
Number of Points: 11
18th Place: FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 0-1. Despite the fact that this was an exciting game, it seems that there were probably more mistakes late in it than was initially realized. Given those mistakes were the main reason why this game was exciting doesn’t seem likely to sit well with the judges.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 1000
Probability of Winning: 1 / 10,000
Number of Points: 18
17th Place: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0. Even though this was only one of two games which was a unanimous choice for GOTW (the other being the Bhat vs. Nakamura game), I don’t see it getting a high ranking. It simply was not that exciting an affair, and even though the endgame was interesting, given that two time pressure blunders from Black were largely responsible for the result, it seems unlikely the judges will be overly impressed.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 3 / 200
Probability of Winning: 1 / 800
Number of Points: 25
16th Place: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0. This was a fairly exciting encounter, but like the Mikhailuk vs. Schroer struggle, the moves which made this game so interesting really may have been mistakes with Black seemingly missing a couple of chances to get a clear advantage. Once again, that seems unlikely to make a favorable impression on the judges.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 150
Probability of Winning: 1 / 800
Number of Points: 24
15th Place: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 1-0. This game definitely held a large amount of importance being from the Finals and like basically all of Sammour-Hasbun’s games containing some nice tactical tricks. The opening was also very interesting with the piece configuration White had so early in the game not being something that you see every day. But realistically given that it seemed that Black was better for nearly the whole game until the tactical trickery kicked in, I’m not sure the judges will be that enthused.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 75
Probability of Winning: 1 / 400
Number of Points: 33
14th Place: IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0. This was just a very solid performance from White fairly dismantling one of the strongest players in the league. Obviously a good game, but it was fairly one-sided and didn’t contain any especially flashy moves so it just doesn't seem to quite hold a candle to most of the other candidates.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 60
Probability of Winning: 1 / 250
Number of Points: 40
13th Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 1-0. This was a fairly simple yet nice encounter which was a pretty clean game from both ends and had some nice tactics by White along with a fairly interesting finish. A good game to be sure, though I’m skeptical as to whether the things which made it so were any better than many of the other candidates. That being the case, I see a medium to low ranking for this game.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 45
Probability of Winning: 1 / 200
Number of Points: 43
12th Place: IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0. I must confess that I really have no idea where the judges will rank this game, but given it seems uncertain in that regard probably a middle of the road ranking won't be especially far off.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 40
Probability of Winning: 1 / 175
Number of Points: 48
11th Place: NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0. This game should have perhaps won GOTW when it had the chance, but it seemed at the time that Black really hadn’t made much of an effort to defend basically assuring that the game was inevitably going to go to White. As it turned out though, it may well have been that Black really just didn’t have a way to defend his position making White’s sacrifices much more impressive than originally thought. Impressive yes, but Nd5 sacs aren’t exactly original in the Najdorf either so I’m not really sure how impressed the judges will be. Putting this in the dead center seems most appropriate.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 2 / 15 (13%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 90
Number of Points: 58
10th Place: IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) 1-0. A very pleasing piece sacrifice by White to force an immediate win and save the New York Knights' season. I’m sure this sac will score several points in the judges’ eyes, but at the same time Black’s somewhat overly cooperative play walking into it might cause it to lose some points too. Another medium type ranking seems the most likely place for this to wind up.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 15 (7%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 125
Number of Points: 55
9th Place: IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1-0. This was by far the trickiest game to predict as to where it would end up as I could see it getting a higher or much lower ranking depending on the way the judges look at it. It definitely wasn’t one of the more accurate games, but you don’t exactly see games where a person having a 70-1 time disadvantage and a worse position winds up winning against one of the best blitz players in the world everyday so that has to count for something. Once again, I could see this game getting a wide variety of rankings so placing it near the center of the pack seems like the only safe bet to me. However, the preliminary voting in the GOTY Poll on the USCL Site seems to suggest that many people think this game will achieve a much higher ranking than I've given it (and perhaps even win). As I said, I think this game is a bit of an anomaly in terms of the appeal it has and so won't be especially surprised by nearly any ranking it gets. Overall, I think it just has a few too many mistakes to outweigh its intrigue value and highly doubt we'll see it in the Top Three.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 3 (33%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 30
Number of Points: 69
8th Place: IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1. This game was definitely exciting and quite well played. It probably will get some high marks for Black’s near flawless play both tactically and positionally but once again the fairly one-sided nature of it due in large part to White’s seemingly passive opening might prevent it from getting too high a ranking. One thing that definitely bodes well for it though is that Greg admitted when he chose this as a Wildcard how he'd fouled up when not ranking this in the GOTW contest. Now, while the number of times Greg tends to be wrong on any given day is higher than most people can count, the number of times he's admitted it in his life probably can be counted on most people's fingers so that has to signify something.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 4 (25%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 35
Number of Points: 66
7th Place: IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 0-1. Another somewhat one-sided affair but still a great performance by Black with his thematic exchange sacrifice and very elegant finish. I’m not absolutely positive this game deserves quite so high a ranking, but as Greg pointed out in the comments for that week, Ilya Krasik happened to agree with this game winning GOTW. And if Ilya agrees with it – well you know you definitely stumbled onto something!
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 2 / 5 (40%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 20 (5%)
Number of Points: 73
6th Place: IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0. Greg has stated multiple times to me that this game has no chance to even crack the Top 10 in this contest (and thus called me some inappropriate names for picking it as my first Wildcard). While I know Greg doesn’t really get tired of being wrong (for obvious reasons), it seems likely that he doesn’t get nearly as much opportunity to stay in practice during the off-season which probably has a tendency to send him into a state of fair malaise. Hopefully when this game does wind up getting a high ranking, it will be some much needed medicine for him.
I think this game might well make it onto the medal stand, but Friedel has developed a knack for finishing on the edge in these sorts of contests (no one will forget last year after all) – an ability which is hard to shake yourself of once it develops, so why not again here?
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 4 / 9 (44%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 20 (5%)
Number of Points: 72
5th Place: GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 1-0. This game was clearly very interesting and contained some fairly flashy moves. The tricky part about where this game will wind up is how much of a detraction the judges see the somewhat sloppy opening play by White and the “walking into the firestorm” moves by Black to be. Due to those factors, I don’t see this game quite making the tip top in this contest, but given how well White played after the early stages along with the cute tactics, it still has to be pretty high.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 5 / 9 (56%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 10 (10%)
Number of Points: 77
4th Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) 0-1. I must admit I wasn’t completely enthralled by this game. However, it's very clear that a majority of the spectators and the other two GOTW judges were enthralled and if that many people were blown away by it, it seems only logical that some number of the GOTY judges will be also which can only translate to a fairly high ranking.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 1 / 2 (50%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 12 (8%)
Number of Points: 76
3rd Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1. This seems very likely to be a medal winner with it just being a well played game throughout – no huge blunders from either side along with a very fascinating ending which endlessly reverted back and forth between "certain draw" and "win for Black" when being debated online. Plus if Charbonneau has shown anything, it’s an ability to win this contest when not expected to (as he did in 2005 and 2006). While I can’t consider him the favorite to three-peat, I won’t be nearly as surprised at him winning this year as I was last year (plus since I ranked his game third place last year also, it could become something of a tradition).
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 3 / 4 (75%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 5 (20%)
Number of Points: 85
2nd Place: FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0. This was another fairly tricky game to predict with the main thing coming down to whether how much the judges will feel the fact that the most surprising moves were a result of home preparation should play into its ranking. When putting that fact aside, to me this game would unquestionably be the best, but will the judges essentially want to give $1000 to "Becerra’s files"? Part of me thinks no so I won’t give this game the top ranking here.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 4 / 5 (80%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 4 (25%)
Number of Points: 88
1st Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0. Yes a game which didn’t even win GOTW is my guess to win GOTY (which just reiterates my early point about how close the contest seems to be this season). The somewhat one-sided nature of this game might once again be a detraction (as it could be for several games), but it still was a basically flawless performance by Becerra just making one nice move after another, never letting his opponent breathe for a second and then finishing the game in flashy style. This seems as worthy a candidate to be GOTY winner as any other.
Probability of finishing in Top Five: 2 / 3 (67%)
Probability of Winning: 1 / 6 (17%)
Number of Points: 82
My Rankings (if I'd been a judge this season):
20. IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0
19. IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Lev Milman (CAR) 0-1
18. FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 0-1
17. NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs IM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0
16. IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0
15. IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0
14. SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 1-0
13. IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0
12. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 1-0
11. IM Jay Bonin (NY) vs NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) 1-0
10. IM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (NY) 1-0
9. NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs FM Marc Arnold (NY) 1-0
8. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Drasko Boskovic (DAL) 0-1
7. GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 1-0
6. IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs IM Ron Burnett (TN) 0-1
5. IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) 0-1
4. IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0
3. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 1-0
2. GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1
1. FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0
Be sure to keep tuned to the USCL website and this blog as we release the actual rankings of the games from 20th to 1st a week at a time (if for no reason other than to laugh at how bad my above predictions wound up being).