Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wildcard Game #6

Wildcard #6: GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) 1-0

As noted, the five GOTW judges independently ranked the five games mentioned yesterday, and the top two finishers were to be the final two Wildcards. Receiving two first place votes and three third places votes, Ehlvest vs Ramirez ended up being the top pick from these five and becoming the next Wildcard.

So what will the final Wildcard be? Keep tuned in as in the next day or two that will be revealed along with the entire vote by the judges on these five games and then the GOTY Contest will start only a few days later!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wildcard Games #6 and #7 Prelude

For picking the last two Wildcard games this year, the GOTW Judges each picked one more potential choice (in the reverse order of the way the first five Wildcard picks were made), and those choices were:

Arun Sharma: GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) 1-0

Greg Shahade: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 1-0

Jim Dean: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Josh Friedel (SF) 1-0

Jeff Ashton: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 1-0

Michael Aigner: WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL) vs David Adelberg (ARZ) 0-1

and then each judge independently ranked these five games from first to fifth, and using the same scoring system as used for GOTW, the two games with the highest totals became the final two GOTY Wildcards.

So which two games did the judges end up voting for to be in the GOTY contest for from these? Well what the actual voting was will be announced in the next few days so check back here then! In the meantime, be sure to vote in the poll to the right to guess which game you think is most likely to have gotten in.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wildcard Game #5

Wildcard #5: SM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs FM Ron Simpson (CAR) 1-0

Arun Sharma: Like the previous Wildcard pick, Herman vs Naroditsky, this was definitely a game that caused a good deal of controversy during the GOTW discussion. While I don't really know if a consensus was ever really agreed upon on as to what place this game really should have gotten that week, one thing that no one really seemed to be debating was how well White played in this very interesting game. That being the case, this seemed like a very good Wildcard choice.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wildcard Game #4

Wildcard #4: NM Matt Herman (NY) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 1-0

Greg Shahade: A great game and while I had no real problem with it not winning Game of the Week (because I also thought very highly of the Kacheishvili vs Friedel game), some of the comments and scores it received really surprised me. This was a fantastic attacking game by Herman, who really threw all caution to the wind while going after Naroditsky's King. Many say that Black had many ways to defend this attack, but even if this was somehow true, it's extremely hard to face such pressure in a 75+30 time control.

I think this game should have a good chance at success in the Game of the Year contest, but it's possible that the lesser prestige of the players involved may hurt it a bit in the eyes of the judges. We will see!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wildcard Game #3

Wildcard #3: IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) vs GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) 1-0

Jim Dean: This game narrowly missed out on being GOTW, losing only by tiebreaker to a very entertaining Open Sicilian. That, combined with being a game where a very strong GM was beaten in an opening system he has written a book about, led me to picking this fine victory as my Wildcard choice.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wildcard Game #2

Wildcard #2: FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS) vs SM Marc Esserman (BOS) 1-0

Jeff Ashton: As some have noticed, I enjoy games that are relatively simple, positionally imbalanced, with straight forward plans executed with near perfection. If the losing side helped the winner by making a poor decision or two, I won't let it hurt my opinion of the game too much.

I believe that these games are enjoyable and educational for players of all levels and the best way for most players to play their USCL games. The more "creative" games that I didn't rank as highly had some interesting artistic elements, but I preferred the more simple and "logical" games. Zaremba's win against Esserman is a good example of the type of game that I liked to vote for.

I do believe that creative, "brilliant", attacking play is good for chess (and I voted for some games that showed such characteristics), however it is rarely the most practical way to play fast time controlled team tournament games. I truly sensed that some players were trying to force their games to be exciting or interesting, most likely motivated by GOTW accolades and stardom. Other times players might have forced complications because their team needed to throw a "Hail Mary" due to the fact that a decisive victory would be the only way for the team to win, and this is commendable.

But again, this is not designed to be commentary on how one should play their USCL game (although some team managers and players might want to think about this). I am commenting on why I voted the way I did the majority of the time.

In Zaremba vs Esserman we see White execute a simple attack on Black's King. White played many precise moves and when the game required a tactical finish, Zaremba delivered.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wildcard Game #1

Wildcard #1: FM Victor Shen (NJ) vs IM Marc Esserman (BOS) 1-0

Michael Aigner: I nominated my top choice from Week Eight as a Wildcard for Game of the Year. This impressive attacking game featured well-timed moves 15. d4, 19. Bxh6, 23. Qe5, 25. d6, 30. g4, and 38. Nf6, leaving zero doubt who was the better player this week. The game felt smooth and convincing, despite facing a newly minted and successful IM.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Game of the Year Full Details

Now that the individual awards have all been announced, the main thing left for the 2009 Season is the Game of the Year Contest which will begin in early January. Before that though, we will be announcing the seven "Wildcard" games that will be joining the thirteen Games of the Week in the contest, and that announcement will begin in the next day or two. Prior to that though, these are the full details of the contest:

The prizes will be the same as last year, with the top five getting the following prizes:

1st: $500
2nd: $300
3rd: $200
4th: $100
5th: $50

The judging panel though will be very, very different as just like last year only one judge will be a veteran from the previous year's panel. We will again have five judges though and they are:

GM Robert Hess
GM Gregory Kaidanov
GM Alex Yermolinsky
WFM Tatev Abrahamyan
FM Ron Young

And so those are the official details of the contest. Once more, be sure to keep an eye out on the USCL site for the announcement of the seven Wildcard games which will begin tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player

As usual each of these awards includes a $100 bonus to the winner.


Rookie of the Year:

SM Yaacov Norowitz (NY)

Although Norowitz was tightly edged out for top Board Four Honors, there was no rookie who could match him, and he easily took down this award. As mentioned there, his eleven game undefeated season with so many important wins for the team was obviously very crux to New York's Championship run and made him very deserving of this award. Just as for his predecessors for this award (SM Sammour-Hasbun and GM Lenderman), it should be very interesting to see if Norowitz can continue on this ridiculous pace next season, especially since, with his current rating, he's unlikely to be able to play Board Four in 2010.

Although no rookie could really match Norowitz's great season, there were nevertheless several other rookies who did have great performances which might, under other circumstances, have been worthy for this award. The most notable was
NM Yian Liou (SF) who scored plus three despite having one of the lowest league ratings, but just as for Board Four All Star Honors, Norowitz's resume was simply a bit better. As also noted in the Board Four article, NM David Adelberg (ARZ) was another very impressive rookie who scored plus two despite also having one of the lowest league ratings, but as noted there, his stats were not quite as good as Norowitz or Liou.


Most Improved Player: Note that for this season and future seasons, unlike earlier years, this award will take into account all of a player's previous USCL results when determining the winner, though the main emphasis will be on the player's previous season.

IM Bryan Smith (PHI)

Although Smith wound up missing out on All Star honors by the narrowest of margins, there was no one who could match him for this award, and he easily was the winner. Coming into the season with a 32% score and a 2338 Performance Rating in previous years, he really completely turned things around in 2009, scoring 64% percent with a 2616 Performance Rating. This powerful season included two very strong wins with Black against
IM Eli Vovsha and near All Star GM Giorgi Kacheishvili, both of which finished highly in the Game of the Week voting. While Philadelphia as a team had a disappointing year, if Smith can perform like this again next year, with him and Lenderman leading the Inventors, 2010 might be an entirely different season for them.

As mentioned, no player really was especially close to overtaking Smith for this award though there were some players who had notable improvements. For one,
IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (MIA) who came into the season with a 29% score and a 2206 Performance Rating which he drastically improved to a 50% score with a 2337 Performance Rating, winning two very important playoff games for the Sharks along with three tiebreaker games in the Championship. Statistically, his improvement was not nearly as high as Smith's though which was why Smith was the clear choice for the award, even though Moreno Roman's wins were generally more important. However, with a victory in the Championship, he might have still managed to overtake him for the prize. A few other players who did much better than previous years were IM Blas Lugo (MIA), FM John Bick (TEN), and NM Joshua Sinanan (SEA), all of whom had plus scores while being below 50% in their previous USCL play, in particular doing much better than their most recent season. However, despite their good seasons, none of them really improved nearly as drastically as Smith, making the choice for this award quite easy.


So with that, the individual player awards are complete! Congrats to everyone, and once again be sure to key an eye on the USCL site to keep tabs on the Game of the Year Contest which will be starting soon!

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Board Four All Stars

If you are wondering what criteria was used to determine these All Stars, please refer to the first post on the subject.


1st Team:
NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA)

Unlike for the other three boards, the choice for the top All Star on this board was essentially as close as it could be rather than extremely clear as Rodriguez and Norowitz ran neck to neck for this award for much of the season. Having virtually the same record, virtually the same league rating, and both having won several very critical games for their team, it obviously was a very close decision. Statistically this seemed to favor Rodriguez, his performance rating being almost fifty points higher along with having drawn in their head to head game with Black in the Championship. However, the fact that Norowitz defeated him in the Blitz Tiebreaker was a tough thing to properly weigh against the previous fact. In the end, we just did not feel a single blitz game should outweigh the much higher performance rating, and Rodriguez took the top spot. Naturally though it was extremely close and would have gone the other way with a half point difference anywhere.

In all, it was another great season for Rodriguez, definitely being amongst the best performers in the League in his three seasons. While most tend to attribute Miami's success to their five time All Star, GM Becerra, if any factor could be pointed to in explaining Miami's recent success, having made it to the Semifinals in 2007 and 2008 and the Championship in 2009, Rodriguez would definitely have to be considered a foremost reason as to why. His strong 2009 season included a big win on Board Three against
FM Keaton Kiewra and a very important win over fellow All Star NM Yian Liou in the Semifinals, with his only loss in twelve games coming at the hands of the formidable top Board Three All Star, IM Angelo Young.

While he, like All Star teammate GM Becerra, has to be disappointed that his team fell short of the ultimate goal by the smallest of margins, having him and Becerra on the team has unequivocally made the Sharks one of the most successful teams in the League in the past few years, and it seems to just be a matter of time until that success brings about a League Championship for Miami.

Record: 8.5 / 12 (71%)

Performance Rating: 2406


2nd Team:
SM Yaacov Norowitz (NY)

As mentioned, it was a very close decision as to whether Rodriguez or Norowitz should receive the top spot on this board, and unfortunately for Norowitz this tough choice wound up going against him.

Despite that decision going against him, no one can dispute how important Norowitz was towards New York becoming League Champions, going undefeated in eleven games while having some very important results, managing to hold off the dangerous 2008 All Star,
NM Ilya Krasik, with Black in the Quarterfinals while being the only member of his team to win, against Sean Finn, in a very tough Semifinals match. New York, while always being a strong team which has made the Playoffs every year, had not managed to make it over the final hurdles to win the Championship, and if one was to ask who helped bring them over those obstacles this year, it would be tough to not claim that Norowitz was the main key.

Having been supremely helpful to New York's first Championship, it's probable that Norowitz will be back to help them try to pull off a repeat in 2010. But now that he sports a much higher rating than this season, the Knights will likely have to find a somewhat different use for him then.

Record: 8.0 / 11 (73%)

Performance Rating: 2358


3rd Team:
NM Yian Liou (SF)

Liou was another player who ran neck to neck with Rodriguez and Norowitz for much of the season to try to achieve top All Star Honors on Board Four. Though the other two ended up pulling away from him in the latest part of the season, he still easily managed to make onto the third team. Having the lowest league rating amongst the Board Four regulars yet still scoring plus three in a large number of games is an obvious indication of how vital he was to his team's success. His great season included wins over
IM Mehmed Pasalic and against 2008 top All Star, WFM Bayaraa Zorigt.

While the last match of the season ended in a disappointing result for himself and his team, being in the position of essentially being the Mechanics' only possible Board Four, a very heavy burden, yet performing so strongly despite this incredible pressure is a clear indication as to why he is such a worthy All Star. Like his fellow Board Four All Stars, it seems very likely his team will definitely want him back for the 2010 season, but just as for the others, now having a much higher rating, he will likely have to play a slightly different role in the Mechanics' next season.

Record: 6.5 / 10 (65%)

Performance Rating: 2360


Other Candidates: Board Four had several other very solid candidates who had good seasons but did not quite make it. Both
NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) (4.0 / 6, 2409 Performance) and NM Joshua Sinanan (5.0 / 8, 2249 Performance) were potential choices who both scored plus two, Krasik having a terrific performance rating, and Sinanan having lost a game that he likely would have drawn if not for the team situation. Both would have made fine choices for the third team, but Liou simply seemed to be a better candidate, having played more games and having a much lower league rating than both. Another solid plus two performance was turned in by another player who also had a very low league rating, NM David Adelberg (ARZ) (4.0 / 6, 2303 Performance), but just like the others, his resume wasn't quite as good as Liou's.


And so those are the All Star Teams! To recap, they are (using August 2009 USCF Ratings):

First Team:

1. GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) (2759)
2. GM Boris Gulko (NJ) (2609)
3. IM Angelo Young (CHC) (2325)
4. NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) (2290)

Average Rating: 2496

Second Team:

1. GM Julio Becerra (MIA) (2615)
2. IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) (2535)
3. FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS) (2398)
4. SM Yaacov Norowitz (NY) (2354)

Average Rating: 2476

Third Team:

1. GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) (2628)
2. GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) (2565)
3. IM Marc Esserman (BOS) (2461)
4. NM Yian Liou (SF) (2149)

Average Rating: 2451

Thanks and congratulations as always to everyone who made the All Star Team, as their great games and performances were really key to making the 2009 USCL Season so exciting for everyone involved. We will also be announcing the Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player Awards shortly.

The main other attraction left is the Game of the Year Contest which will work in very similar fashion to last season. Again the contest will have twenty games: the thirteen Games of the Week along with seven Wildcards (which the GOTW Judges have already picked) and will begin in early January. The seven "Wildcard Games" which will also be a part of the contest will start to be announced within the next few days so be sure to key tabs on the USCL site so you know which other games have a chance at being the 2009 USCL Game of the Year and taking the $500 prize that goes with it. The judging panel for this year will also be quite different than last year so keep an eye out for that as well!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 Board Three All Stars

If you are wondering what criteria was used to determine these All Stars, please refer to the first post on the subject.


1st Team:
IM Angelo Young (CHC)

Just as for the top two boards, the choice for the first team here was a no-brainer as no one on this board really even came close to matching Young's incredible season. Despite having what is only about an average rating amongst Board Three players, Young surrendered only one draw in six games, including playing one time on each of Board One and Two. This fantastic season included two big upsets, the first against one of the most successful players in League History
IM Sam Shankland and another on Board One despite starting with a big time penalty against GM Rogelio Barcenilla. The only slight blemish on his great year was that he did have the advantage of having White in all of his games which could have counted against him had any player come close to matching him statistically. But since this was not the case, he was the only reasonable choice for the first team.

While his two great seasons have not managed to achieve what I'm sure is the real goal: a Playoff birth for the Blaze, if he can continue to perform at such a ridiculous pace, it's inevitable for a team with so many other strong players like Chicago to not achieve a Postseason birth soon.

Record: 5.5 / 6 (92%)

Performance Rating: 2751


2nd Team:
FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS)

Another easy decision as after IM Young, Zaremba easily had the best stats amongst the Board Three regulars having scored plus three and being quite an active player. His strong season included a powerful win which finished highly in Game of the Week against two time All Star
IM Marc Esserman and a nice tactical win with Black against 2008 All Star FM Tom Bartell.

hile he, like fellow All Star teammate, GM Stripunsky, has to be somewhat disappointed that his strong season did not result in the overall team success that he had to have been hoping for, with the two of them hopefully being a part of the Queens team for years to come, the strong punch they carry can obviously create a lineup which can beat any team and should help the Pioneers return to the Postseason very soon.

Record: 5.0 / 7 (71%)

Performance Rating: 2533


3rd Team:
IM Marc Esserman (BOS)

This was a somewhat closer decision as FM John Bick was also strongly considered for this spot, having a virtually identical record to Esserman. It essentially came down to weighing Esserman's much superior performance rating (more than a hundred points higher) against Bick's much lower league rating (almost a hundred points lower). In the end, while one can obviously not understate the importance of Bick's lower league rating, which was very key to Tennessee being able to use their double GM lineup at all times, we simply did not feel that that fact should outweigh Esserman's clearly superior opposition (as evidenced by his better performance rating) as Bick played several times on Board Four.

In all it was another very strong season from the now two time All Star Esserman, continuing on his great run from last year while playing many great games in the process, a Game of the Week winning game against 2008 All Star,
FM Tom Bartell along with two other high finishing GOTW performances against near 2008 All Star, FM Ron Simpson, and against near 2009 All Star, FM Oleg Zaikov

There is really no question of how vital Esserman has been to the Blitz's success over the last two seasons, in 2008 serving them on Boards Three and Four and this year on Boards Two and Three. Now that his rating has risen even further, along with him getting his IM title, it should be interesting to see exactly what role he will play next season in trying to help Boston finally achieve their first Championship in 2010.

Record: 4.5 / 7 (64%)

Performance Rating: 2493


Other Candidates: As mentioned, the person who was closest but not quite in regards to the Board Three All Stars was
FM John Bick (5.0 / 8, 2386 Performance) who had a great early season, winning game after game which was very important to Tennessee's early success. Though he, like the team, faltered a bit later on in the season, with such a solid underrated Board Three player on the squad, the Tempo definitely have one good tool available to them to help turn around their performance in 2010. Two other players who very well could have been All Star contenders had they played enough games to be eligible were
FM Victor Shen (NJ) (3.0 / 3, 2741 Performance) and NM Vadim Martirosov (BOS) (3.0 / 4, 2418 Performance), both of whom had some very big wins without which their teams would not have done nearly as well.


Stay tuned as in the next few days we will be announcing the All Stars for Board Four!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2009 Board Two All Stars

If you are wondering what criteria was used to determine these All Stars, please refer to the first post on the subject.


1st Team:
GM Boris Gulko (NJ)

This was a no-brainer as Gulko swept through all five of his games, still without a single blemish on his USCL record. His fantastic season included a Game of the Week win against
FM Oleg Zaikov along with two other high finishing GOTW wins against two fellow GMs, both of whom also were strong All Star Contenders, GM Pascal Charbonneau and GM Eugene Perelshteyn.

While Knockouts fans were likely disappointed that due to other players' availability, they were not treated to being able to see GM Gulko in the Postseason for the first time, there really is no question of how vital he really was in helping New Jersey win the Eastern Division while having the best record in the League this year. If he can continue on this torrid pace, along with several of his teammates who also had All Star caliber performances doing the same, look for New Jersey to be competing for the Eastern Division Title again next year.

Record: 5.0 / 5 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2878


2nd Team:
IM Dean Ippolito (NJ)

It might seem odd for the top two All Stars on this board to be from the same team, but they did seem like the two best candidates. However, unlike for the first team, the choice for the second team was much closer as both GM Pascal Charbonneau and IM Bryan Smith had excellent seasons also and reasonable arguments could certainly be made for either of them to have gotten this spot instead. A few factors which wound up swinging it Ippolito's way: for one his large ratio of having the Black pieces (five Blacks versus two Whites), his defeating Charbonneau in their head to head match 1.5 - 0.5, and the fact that he played more critical games than Smith, drawing two games in the Postseason with Black. Like many decisions though this was fairly close and a slight difference anywhere might have altered the choice.

Having turned in another very solid season, Ippolito clearly has demonstrated what a reliable force in the League he really is, especially with several very strong games this season, including two Game of the Week performances, both against Charbonneau in
Week 1 and the Semifinals. Having him and top All Star GM Gulko holding down the fort on Board Two, there's no doubt that every team will have to be wary next year when taking on the Knockouts on Board Two.

Record: 4.5 / 7 (64%)

Performance Rating: 2638


3rd Team:
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY)

As noted above, this wound up being a close decision between Charbonneau and Smith. Smith had the slightly better performance rating and win percentage, but Charbonneau was more active and played many critical games (three playoff games!), and we felt that to be a more notable difference than Smith's slightly better stats. Also, the importance of Charbonneau's Playoff performances was evident, defeating
GM Eugene Perelshteyn with the Black pieces in the Quarterfinals when New York was facing Draw Odds and turning in a Game of the Week winning performance against All Star IM Dean Ippolito in the Semifinals. That, along with the fact that all of Charbonneau's losses came in very down to the wire games against two All Stars (Gulko and Ippolito) and one near All Star (Erenburg), he seemed to be the better choice for the spot. As always this was a close decision and could easily have gone the other way.

Being easily one of the most active players in League History along with the first person to win two Championships on two different teams, GM Charbonneau has easily established himself as one of the most consistent and strongest players in the League. If New York's new weapon, GM Kacheishvili, and he return to the lead the Knights in 2010, look for New York to make a strong run at winning back to back Championships.

Record: 6.0 / 10 (60%)

Performance Rating: 2600


Other Candidates: As noted, the closest person to also making the Board Two team was
IM Bryan Smith (4.5 / 7, 2616 Performance) who really had a terrific season after a few seasons of struggling in the League and was the main force in keeping the Inventors in Playoff contention while their leader, GM Lenderman, was away. In that very regard,
GM Alex Lenderman (PHI) (3.5 / 4, 2778 Performance) would have been very likely to make the All Star Team for the second consecutive year had he played enough games to be eligible. Two others who also did not quite make it but still had quite strong seasons were IM Blas Lugo (MIA) (4.5 / 8, 2529 Performance) and FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) (5.5 / 10, 2510 Performance), both of whom scored plus one despite being outrated in nearly all of their games, each enroute to performing more than one hundred points above their rating.


Stay tuned as in the next few days we will be announcing the All Stars for the other two Boards!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 Board One All Stars

Once again Greg and I have determined who qualified for this year's All Star Teams, with there again being three All Star Team Members for each Board. As usual we made our selections independently, compared our selections, and then conferred to determine the final choices.

There is a bonus awarded to each All Star Team Member with those on the first team receiving $300, those on the second team receiving $200, and those on the third team getting $100. The criteria we used to determine the teams was virtually the same as the last few years (recall also that these decisions do include Playoff Performances unlike the League MVP Award).

1. Win Percentage
2. Total Number of Games (with a five game minimum to be eligible)
3. Performance Rating
4. Rating; if a player is lower rated and does well, this leaves extra rating points for the team to use on the other boards and could be very important to a team's success.
5. Clutch Factor: Did this player come through in crucial situations?
6. Replacability Factor; do we think that the player's team would have greatly suffered if that player wasn't on the team?
7. Did the candidate take a draw for the team when they were likely to win? Did they lose a game they could have easily drawn because the team situation dictated it?
8. Head to Head results versus other candidates
9. Total Number of Blacks
10. Luck factor; did you win because you generally played well or because your opponent made some colossal blunders/oversights?


1st Team:
GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA)

A fairly easy decision as GM Nakamura tore through player after player during the regular season enroute to winning the
League MVP Award, and even with his tough Playoff loss, no competitor could really come especially close to matching him statistically in win percentage and performance rating.

Nakamura's fantastic regular season was obviously a huge key to Seattle's strong run in winning the regular season division title with a fantastic 7.5 - 2.5 record, including having two big wins in very tight matches versus two of his closest All Star Competitors, against
GM Giorgi Kacheishvili and GM Julio Becerra.

While his final match ended in disappointment for him and his team, there can obviously be no debate to how crucial he was to his team's overall success, and if he can return in 2010 on the same tear that he displayed during this year's regular season, Seattle has every reason to be optimistic about a second consecutive division title.

Record: 5.5 / 7 (79%)

Performance Rating: 2794


2nd Team:
GM Julio Becerra (MIA)

For the first time since the League's inception in 2005, it seemed fairly certain at the end of the regular season that GM Becerra would not make the All Star Team (the first time in five seasons!). However, his superb Postseason performance assured him of a spot after all, scoring two big wins (
Quarterfinals and Championship) along with a draw in a completely winning position in the Semfinals taken merely to clinch a match victory for his team. Given that he effectively scored plus three (counting the Semifinal draw as a win), had his great performance at the most important part of the season, and played far more games than nearly all of his closest competitors, he seemed by far the most logical choice for the second team and perhaps would have even been promoted to the first team had he managed to prevail in the final tiebreaker game in the Championship.

While the Sharks fell short of their ultimate goal by the narrowest of margins this year, having a leader who has been an All Star in five consecutive seasons has to be of great comfort to their fans, and as long as Becerra continues to lead the Sharks, it seems very likely that a Championship will come to Miami in the near future.

Record: 7.0 / 12 (58%)

Performance Rating: 2671


3rd Team:
GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS)

This was a very tough spot to determine with there being several candidates all of whom would have been very reasonable picks for this position. In the end, we wound up giving it to GM Stripunsky, despite the fact that he didn't play as many games as his competitors. This was somewhat due to his superior win percentage and performance rating, but mostly since his only loss came from a mouseslip in a position he was nearly certain to win (though to be fair his only draw likely would have been a loss if not for a similar mouseslip by his opponent). Despite that mishap he was still a bit stronger statistically than most of his closest competitors and like GM Becerra, we effectively considered him to have scored plus three, and thereby slightly edged out several other players for making the third team. Also impressive was that all three of his victories occurred with the Black pieces, all versus strong GMs including against
GM Vinay Bhat and GM Joel Benjamin.

While the Queens team as a whole had a disappointing season, having such a solid performer on the top board should definitely give them reason to be optimistic about what later seasons might bring for them. With him leading them, if the breaks which went against them this year can turn around in the future, the Pioneers should easily become a Playoff team once again.

Record: 3.5 / 5 (70%)

Performance Rating: 2775


Other Candidates: Board One easily had the highest number of people who finished in the close but not quite category in regards to the All Star Team, with any of the below people likely to have made at least the third team by scoring a half point more.

Probably the closest person to making it as is was
GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (6.5 / 12, 2667 Performance). Somewhat surprising in one sense since he actually scored only plus one and generally people are only considered for the All Star Team if they score at least plus two. However, as noted above, since he drew a game he likely would have won (against GM Stripunsky) due to a mouseslip, played many more games than the majority of his competitors, and of course pulled off an incredibly heroic performance in the Blitz Tiebreaker of the Championship Match, he nearly managed to make it anyway. This was a very close decision, one which certainly could have gone either way but weighing all of the factors, in the end GM Stripunsky slightly edged him out. Another player very close to making it was GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) (6.5 / 11, 2651 Performance), who also scored plus two and like GM Kacheishvili was also very active. However, due to his Quarterfinal win against GM Erenburg coming largely since his opponent had to go all out for the win in a position which was almost certain to be a draw and the fact that GM Stripunsky beat him head to head with Black, he also was slightly edged out for the award. Three other solid candidates (all with the same record!) were GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) (4.5 / 7, 2741 Performance), GM Gregory Serper (SEA) (4.5 / 7, 2621 Performance), and GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) (4.5 / 7, 2622 Performance), especially the former two with GM Ramirez's superlative performance rating and the fact that GM Serper's Quarterfinal loss probably would have been a draw had he not needed to try a risky idea to win for his team. Another potential candidate was GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) (4.0 / 7, 2594 Performance) since, as mentioned, his Quarterfinal loss likely would have been a draw if not for the team situation, especially with that being his only loss of the season, despite facing some very tough competition.


Stay tuned as in the next few days we will be announcing the All Stars for the other three Boards!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Championship Game of the Week

This year we have five judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $150 bonus prize, second place $75, and third place $50. Our five judges are: IM Greg Shahade, FM Jim Dean, NM Michael Aigner, NM Jeff Ashton, and NM Arun Sharma. Click here for more details.


1st Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 0-1

After appearing earlier like GM Becerra's Kingside attack might decide matters, GM Kacheishvili launched a decisive counterattack here with 30... b3!, which wound up winning him the game and in the process the USCL Championship for the New York Knights.

Michael Aigner: The match came down to the top board in the blitz tiebreak. Becerra had won the slow game about two hours earlier, but was somewhat fortunate to put his team ahead 1 - 0. It was fitting that these two fighters met again at the end, winner takes all. The New Yorker definitely felt he had something to prove!

In the blitz game, Kacheishvili calmly defended with Black on the Kingside in a Sicilian Rauzer. His two Bishops on f6 and f7 were well suited to defend and counterattack. White had nothing, and after 30... b3, the fat lady began warming up with her sweet tunes. Perhaps the only mistake all game was when Kacheishvili missed mate in two on move thirty nine. Apparently even strong GMs occasionally get distracted. (No offense intended to any fat ladies or guys who may have watched in New York). (1st place: 1 point)

Jim Dean: I thought this was an excellent game to finish off a great match between New York and Miami. Becerra was playing very quickly and confidently in the opening, and I initially thought it was very fortunate for Miami to have gotten White in this game. However, White's Kingside play seemed to die out while Black's play on the Queenside had more bite. Kacheishvili deserves a lot of credit for winning three consecutive games and bringing home the Championship for his team, despite his loss in the regulation match. Congratulations to all of the New York Knights! (1st place: 1 point)

Arun Sharma: I honestly was not very certain about which game to pick this week, and I really did not expect that I would ever wind up picking a game from the blitz tiebreaker to be GOTW, no matter how many times the Championship ended up being decided in that fashion!

But be that as it may, I did feel this was overall the best available choice. Obviously it was a blitz game and wasn't perfect but for a blitz game it seemed like a very high quality encounter, and other than the missed mate in two, if I had seen it without knowing the context I probably would not have guessed that it was a blitz game.

Add that to the fact that this game was certainly in many senses the most important game of the season, I felt it should get the nod for GOTW.

Like two of the other judges, I also strongly considered the regulation game between these players for the award as it unquestionably was a very interesting game, but I felt it contained a few too many mistakes for a slow game to get the prize. Naturally mistakes were not surprising considering how tough a position it was to play along with the amount of time the players had left near the end of it, but due to that and the fact that the blitz game was the match decider, I thought overall that the latter was the better choice. (1st place: 1 point)

Greg Shahade: Gotta be honest, but I completely disagree with this choice as Game of the Week. The game from the regulation match was one of the most exciting games of the season while this was a blitz game. I admit that Kacheishvili played well, but the regulation game was nonstop excitement and action from beginning to end, and I think would have a legitimate chance to do very well in the Game of the Year Contest, despite the final time trouble induced blunders. I'm not sure if I've ever disagreed more with a Game of the Week winner than this one even though it decided the Championship. I really thought, based on the comments during the game from the spectators and the commentators, that it would be an obvious five to zero victory for the Becerra vs Kacheishvili game from the regulation match. I also thought during the game, depending on how it ended up (which wasn't a perfect ending obviously), that it'd be a strong contender for Game of the Year, and then it ends up losing out in Game of the Week to a blitz game! (NR: 0 points)

Jeff Ashton: Should I say something like: "Kacheishvili's ability to instantly play correct opening moves then handle the middlegame with great precision and natural understanding and finally seal the deal with close to flawless endgame technique ... this game was nothing short of extraordinary!" Something like that sounds pretty good until you hear that I'm talking about a blitz game!

It would take one amazing blitz game compared to some pathetic slow games for me to agree with this week's GOTW choice. Sure, it was a good blitz game and exciting to watch due to what was on the line, but I'm sure I can log onto ICC right now and find a game of similar entertainment value.

Imagine if someone told you: "The best game at last year's World Open was played at 2:00 am in the skittles room. I know it was a blitz game ... you just had to be there to understand. It was really intense, trust me." You would probably end up slowly walking away from that person.

There might be a little recency bias going on if you would like to argue that the importance of the game was a factor in it winning GOTW. If Becerra didn't win his "real" game against Kacheishvili, there wouldn't have even been this exciting playoff. The "first is the worst, second is the best arguments" shouldn't really hold up.

I liked the "real" game played between Becerra and Kacheishvili a lot even without comparing it to a blitz game. It wasn't as good as some other GOTW winners but still a very good game worthy of GOTW votes.

I'm not taking anything away from Kacheishvili's speed chess skills, and I know it might have been one of the most important blitz games he's played in his career, but this game should not be lumped in the same category as other GOTW winners.

Also, it's a bit weird because I am basically arguing that Kacheishvili's blitz game against Becerra stole the GOTW victory from his opponent (if I were in Becerra's shoes I would be nauseous).

Finally, I have to say that Kacheishvili is possibly my favorite player for this season but for games much more memorable than this one. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Becerra vs Kacheishvili: 3 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

2 points (Greg 1, Jeff 1):
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 1-0

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game of the Year Wildcards

So with only the Championship Match left to be played in this USCL season, it's once again also time to look forward towards the Game of the Year (GOTY) contest for this year. For the most part, we plan to run this contest in the same basic fashion as last year, the contest running about the same amount of overall time (one month) and once again with twenty games in contention: the thirteen Game of the Weeks (which can be seen here) along with seven Wildcard games, which will be picked by the GOTW Judges right after the season ends.

We have considered making a slight increase in the number of judges we have for this season's contest though (please vote in the poll at the right so we know how you feel), and aside from knowing your views on that, we'd naturally also like your input on which games you think should be the Wildcards! So please let us know your view on what you think the proper number of judges is and what games definitely deserve to be in the GOTY contest which did not already win GOTW.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Semifinals Game of the Week

This year we have five judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $150 bonus prize, second place $75, and third place $50. Our five judges are: IM Greg Shahade, FM Jim Dean, NM Michael Aigner, NM Jeff Ashton, and NM Arun Sharma. Click here for more details.


1st Place: GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) 1/2-1/2

In an already wild position, GM Charbonneau threw the spectators for another loop with a very interesting Queen sacrifice, 13. Nxd4!?, creating a severely unbalanced position which eventually, after many more interesting moments, ended in a draw.

Michael Aigner: The Semifinal round saw two thrilling matches, both won by the lower seeded team against draw odds. Unfortunately, there was no obvious Game of the Week, certainly no aesthetic win by sacrificial attack. Pruess and Charbonneau both tried to play entertaining chess, yet neither was able to win. In fact, I believe the two most exciting games both ended in draws (Boards One and Two of New Jersey vs New York).

I selected the wild, yet imperfect, draw between Charbonneau and Ippolito for the Semifinals' Game of the Week. Black stirred the pot in the Four Knight's with 4... Nd4, 7... d5, and the Knight sacrifice 10... Nxe4. Not to be outdone, White raised the stakes with a Queen sacrifice on move thirteen! When the dust settled, White had a pair of Bishops and two Pawns against a Black Queen. White liquidated into an endgame of Rook and Bishop against Queen which he held without adventure. This was a great back-and-forth battle that allowed both combatants to show off their chess skill.

I thought for a long time about how to rank the draw between Benjamin and Kacheishvili and the miniature by Moreno Roman. It came down to the shocking result of the latter's King's Gambit game, with White completely busted after move twelve. Black simply offered up a piece to develop quickly and castle, then found the efficient move order 10... Bxf3, 11... Re8+, and the quiet move 12... Qh5. Bravo to Moreno Roman for being prepared to do battle in such an aggressive opening. Unfortunately, White's lack of resistance (9. Qe1 instead of 9. cxb7+) contrasts starkly to the battle between Charbonneau and Ippolito.

I considered the Benjamin vs Kacheishvili game as well, but to me it lacked a signature move such as Charbonneau's Queen sacrifice. Either player may have earned GOTW by finding a single tactic: 30. Be6 for White and 55... R6c5+ for Black. Finally, Bhat scored a nice win against Lugo, but I could not justify recognizing a player on the losing side in the playoffs. (1st place: 2 points)

Jim Dean: Although this game ended in a draw, it seemed like it was definitely the most interesting game played this week. The opening variation was entertaining, both players played well, and the material imbalance made the game difficult to evaluate at times. Congrats to both players. (1st place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: Definitely the most interesting game of the week, with a shocking queen sacrifice by Charbonneau. Incredible that both times that these two players faced off, the game ended up winning Game of the Week! (1st place: 2 points)

Jeff Ashton: It is hard for me to select a draw as GOTW. This was by far the most interesting and hard fought game. I did not expect this game to end up in a draw.

On Pruess losing in three moves:

It is inexcusable for Pruess to lose a game like this. In a team tournament, in the Semifinals, with the White pieces, against a lower rated player, seeing the final position is just nauseating.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but if I were on the team I'd be irritated by my teammate's play while watching it, outraged if he loses, and if he wins I'd tell Pruess "Whew! Don't scare us again like that again!"

And yes, I know that White got a better position that was marred by his own error, but I still don't really like what Pruess did. It's not practical.

I feel bad for Pruess since he's one of the nicest junior players I grew up with and I like to see the beloved San Francisco team win games.

I know Pruess occasionally likes have "fun" with his openings (I remember sitting next to him and seeing him play the Latvian Gambit), but I think he should save it for the World Open or perhaps take up bungee jumping. (1st place: 2 points)

Arun Sharma: This to me was definitely the most interesting game played this week, with some very daring and creative play by both sides in the opening. I considered ranking this first like the other judges, but as often is the case, this creativity also came with some errors (Black playing 14... Bg4 instead of 14... Bxc2!, and White choosing 28. Bf4 instead of 28. Rd8+!). In the end, it was a close decision, but I chose the Moreno Roman game as first simply because even though it was much shorter than I like my choices to generally be, it still managed to be a very interesting game - after every move there was a myriad of possible variations, and it also seemed like the victor really didn't make any mistakes, accurately punishing his opponent's errors. (2nd place: 1 point)

Total Score of Charbonneau vs Ippolito: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Arun 2, Michael 1, Jim 1, Greg 1):
IM David Pruess (SF) vs IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (MIA) 0-1

1 point (Jeff 1):
IM Blas Lugo (MIA) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 0-1

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quarterfinals Game of the Week

This year we have five judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $150 bonus prize, second place $75, and third place $50. Our five judges are: IM Greg Shahade, FM Jim Dean, NM Michael Aigner, NM Jeff Ashton, and NM Arun Sharma. Click here for more details.


*Due to the lower number of games played, in the Quarterfinals only the first and second place prizes mentioned above will be given out, and in the Semifinals and Championship only the first place prize will be.

1st Place: GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1-0

GM Kacheishvili had played a very strong game, yet GM Christiansen had done a remarkable job in creating counter chances, but wound up missing his only real chance to save the game with 50... Rbd8!!

Michael Aigner: Heading into the playoffs, the intensity of each game increases. A single poor move on one board can change the course of all four games in the match. To some extent, I feel this stifled the creativity of the players in the Quarterfinal round; few games rose to the level of previous weeks.

One player, however, tried his best to be brilliant, even if a bit too aggressive. New York's top board GM Kacheishvili faced the legendary Bostonian ace GM Christiansen in by far the tightest match of the week. For the first forty moves, Kacheishvili maneuvered his Rooks and Bishop pair to steadily increase his opening advantage, but alas, time pressure changed the course of the game. Bonus points to Kacheishvili for trying to play sharp and exciting chess with few minutes on the clock, even if his bold Rook sacrifice 48. Rxg6 failed to the stunning 50... Rbd8!. It wasn't perfect, but the tight match made it all the more thrilling.

I ranked this game slightly ahead of Perelshteyn vs Charbonneau (Board Two in the same match) only because it was the sharper middlegame. Frankly, it might have been proper to split the top honors between teammates Kacheishvili and Charbonneau, but the Commissioner won't let me. I also seriously considered Benjamin vs Erenburg, but Benjamin clearly took his foot off the gas pedal after an exciting opening for team-based strategic reasons.

Finally, I need to add a few words about the Becerra vs Nakamura non-contest, which I ranked third. No doubt this was the most shocking twelve move game in League History! However, as a fan of both players, I must express my disappointment that we were not treated to a more worthy battle. It is obvious that Nakamura simply did not come mentally ready to play a game. And while Becerra pushed wood, any young student of Morphy could have found his moves.

Throughout the season, I have consistently refused to rank highly a game where the loser self-destructed (unforced errors) more than the winner playing creatively. I ranked the game as third mostly because of the lack of other exciting games played at a reasonably high level. (1st place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: The game wasn't perfect as some mistakes were made in time trouble (with White missing 47. Rxg6! mainly,) but it seemed like it was by far the most exciting game of the round, and was relatively well played on top of this. (1st place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: I admit the dual mistakes late (White missing 47. Rxg6+!! and Black missing 50... Rbd8!!) did give me pause as to whether this game should be ranked first. But on the whole, I felt this game was still definitely the best of the week. Both sides played quite well in totality; Kacheishvili slowly but surely building on a small edge with one strong move after another, and Christiansen fighting back tenaciously in the only real opportunity he was given. Considering the extreme time pressure also and the rather difficult nature of the position, it would have been fairly unrealistic to not expect a couple of strong moves to be overlooked and given how many strong moves were still found, I had to rank this game first. (1st place: 3 points)

Jim Dean: This was a pretty exciting game that I gave consideration to, though it seemed less accurate than some of Kacheishvili's other USCL gems. What a find 50... Rbd8 would have been, which appears to force a draw in a wild position. (NR: 0 points)

Jeff Ashton: This is the first game that I saw this week. I assumed that I would probably end up ranking it first. After thinking about it, I'm surprised that it ended up getting bumped down to fourth. I think Kacheishvili played very well (like he usually does when he has White,) and LarryC put up some good resistance but eventually cracked. Nice game. Also this was an important game; maybe I will regret not voting it higher later? (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Kacheishvili vs Christiansen: 9 points


2nd Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1

GM Charbonneau played the very strange looking, but powerful 35... Rf8!, nicely utilizing the pin on the White Rook to force the game into a winning ending.

Jim Dean: I enjoyed this game a lot as Charbonneau really made nice use of his Queenside Pawn mass. Cutting off the King at the last minute so that the "wrong" colored Bishop doesn't matter was a nice finish to an impressive win with the Black pieces. (1st place: 3 points)

Michael Aigner: In typical USCL fashion, the action went back and forth, with Black finally picking up the point. Charbonneau won the opening battle and later converted an elegant endgame of Bishop against Pawns, but in between Perelshteyn had his chances after the seizing the initiative with a temporary sacrifice 18. Nxf7. The highlight was watching Charbonneau calmly pick off the White pawns with his Bishop in the endgame. Most significantly, all of this happened in the context of a super tight match that came down to this board and the top board. (2nd place: 2 points)

Jeff Ashton: Black had many ways to defend although White maintained pressure for a large part of the game. Charbonneau showed great defensive skills in a critical game. It seems like Perelshteyn took risks which we didn't see in his other USCL wins. (2nd place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: I ranked this game in third but barely. Charbonneau played quite a good game, but his technique at the end was actually quite poor. Black could have won very easily by not rushing tp Queen the b-pawn and instead keeping it on b3 and playing 39... Bf7 and Kg7 first, leaving White totally helpless and avoiding the final rhity or so moves of the game in which it seemed as if White at least had some chance to draw. Despite that the first forty or so moves were very interesting by both sides, and so I have no real qualms with this finishing in second place. (3rd place: 1 point)

Arun Sharma: I did consider this game as it certainly was one of the more interesting ones of the week along with being the ultimate difference maker in the match result. However, quality wise it just didn't seem to quite have it to me as it seemed that White got in some trouble in the opening for no real reason, and that Black nearly managed to let White escape much later into a drawn ending (39... b2? where instead, 39... Bf7! 40. Bf5 Kg7!, and Black wins immediately).

However, there is no question that White played some strong ideas like 18. Nxf7! after what seemed to be a dubious opening, and that Black played the later part of the middlegame very well, especially the way he used the pin in tandem with the powerful b-pawn to achieve the victory so I definitely can understand why the other judges found this game appealing.

Personally I found the Benjamin vs Erenburg and Adamson vs Naroditsky games a bit more appealing than this one. The Naroditsky game might not have been particularly exciting but seemed very well played by the victor. The Benjamin game, I have a feeling the other judges were rather turned off by the way the game ended, with Black ending up taking a suicidal King march. But looking at that game from the beginning to the point where Black declined the perpetual in the ending, it seemed like a really great game to me, very interesting and creative play from both sides with no seeming huge errors, honestly exactly what I look for in GOTW. The fact that Black had to decline the perpetual solely because he HAD to try to win for the team at that point and then wound up losing because of it, should not, imo, detract too much from that game's overall appeal which is why I ranked it second. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Perelshteyn vs Charbonneau: 8 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Jeff 3, Michael 1):
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) 1-0

4 points (Greg 2, Arun 1, Jim 1):
FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 0-1

3 points (Arun 2, Jeff 1):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 1-0

2 points (Jim 2):
WIM Tsagaan Batsettseg (BAL) vs Sean Finn (NJ) 0-1