Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Game of the Year -- 5th Place

This is the sixteenth part in a series of articles which will count down to revealing what game was voted as the 2008 USCL Game of the Year. For more information on exactly how this process works and the prize information, please refer to: Game of the Year Contest.


5th Place: GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 0-1

How does one thwart a mating threat by a Queen and Bishop battery on h7? Many possible ways, but walking your King into the center with the majority of pieces still on the board probably isn't high on most people's lists. However, Erenburg showed no fear, doing just that, and via playing flawlessly, eventually made the wandering White Queen a bigger liability than his weakened King and ground his opponent down with impressive technique.

Below are the comments from the judges on why they ranked the game where they did and in parentheses is the ranking given by that judge and the number of points awarded for that ranking.

IM Ben Finegold (2nd Place, 19 points):
I watched this game live and was impressed by Erenburg's slow buildup to a winning position. White is slightly better, then, from moves twenty five to thirty gets outplayed, and Erenburg seems fine with his King walk. A gutsy performance, walking his King to the center, especially against such a strong and experienced opponent. The game was long and tedious, but, I give it extra marks for the following reasons:

(A) Usually in the USCL, the GOTW is the one where White WINS after such a Black King walk.

(B) Erenburg beat Benjamin with Black.

(C) Black had excellent technique.

(D) The game seamlessly changes phases. First White attacks, then Black equalizes, then Black wins a pawn, and then technique sets in. A long brutal battle, and a high quality game, between two strong GMs. There were no obvious errors which is very unusual for USCL games.

FM Daniel Ludwig (5th Place, 16 points):
This game was only one of two Black wins eligible for Game of the Year. What's more, this victory was against a 2600+ opponent and a three time US champion and was the only game of its kind which was eligible. Most of the games that do well in these sorts of contests have beautiful crushing attacks, and occasionally you see fine positional victories. But not this game; the name of the game here was defense, something that often gets overlooked in great players' games. In fact, I would say that the biggest progression we have seen in chess over the twentieth century is tougher defense. Now this game never got much love because it was apparently just some good endgame technique and some missed opportunities on Joel's part. However, I did analyze it pretty deeply, and it seems to me that Joel didn't really miss anything except for the prophylactic computer move 23. Bd3, preventing 23... Nc4, instead of 23. Bf4 which allowed the maneuver Nc4 – Nd6. I really did like the way that Sergey allowed White to invest so much into this attack that came to nothing. After 25. Be5, 25... Qa5! was especially nice, opening up the Bishop and producing counter threats. If White had played 26. Bxf6 then Erenburg would have responded with 26... Bxf3 27. gxf3 Qd2! protecting h6, thus keeping the Pawn and the advantage after 28... gxf6. This idea of 25... Qa5 was really, really deep. Not only was it good for the reason I just mentioned, but he had the idea of playing 27... Rc8, exchanging the pieces, and then meeting 29. Qg8 the way he did with 29... Qc3! With all this in mind, it is no wonder that Joel went for 23. Bf4, probably thinking that he was nearly winning. I also really liked how the White Queen went from being a menace to a prisoner of war in a matter of several moves. White probably could not stand seeing his strongest asset sit behind iron bars on Black's back rank, and thus decided to give up the pawn with 34. Ne5. It seems to me that people just don't appreciate how difficult it is to accurately defend a position like this with the King in the middle of the board as many would crumble in the situation Erenburg was in. A truly great game with lots of excitement, tons of chances to go wrong, yet very few mistakes in what was a long tense battle.

FM Ingvar Johannesson (6th Place, 15 points):
I am very impressed with this game by Black. He equalizes and then goes on to outplay a very strong GM in very clinical fashion with the Black pieces. A fantastic technical effort by Erenburg.

GM Jan Gustafsson (11th Place, 10 points):
Strange game. To me the early phase of the game looks like a success for Benjamin as I'm always skeptical about h6 in these IQP positions, it's just so weakening. Erenburg was forced to allow 19. Qh7 and run with his King. I can't believe White isn't better around there – both 20. Rfe1 and 20. b3 come to mind, and 24. Bd3 might also still keep an edge. The way it went Erenburg played some very precise non-obvious moves (25... Qa5! and 27... Rc8!) and took over the advantage. 34. Ne5 looks somewhat panicky, instead after 34. d5 things are probably not that bad. Erenburg finishes with good technique, but I'm a bit disappointed by the way Benjamin mishandled his nice position and miss the special achievement by the winner.

FM Ron Young (11th Place, 10 points):
It is hard for Black to win a spectacular game so let us honor Black's cool King walk, tactical alertness (e.g., the initiative seizing 27... Rc8), and solid technique. How I rank it will depend on how I rank the others, and I haven't decided about that yet. In the meantime though, let us all praise this game.

Total Score of Benjamin vs Erenburg: (5th Place, 70 Points)


Stay tuned for three more such articles as the field shrinks by one game every couple of days to see which of the following games will be the 2008 Game of the Year!

Week 5: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM David Pruess (SF) 1-0 Article

Week 8: GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 1-0 Article

Quarterfinals: IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 1-0 Article

Championship: GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs IM Marko Zivanic (DAL) 1-0 Article


5th Place (70 Points): GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 0-1 Article Elimination Article

6th Place (64 Points): GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 1/2-1/2 Article Elimination Article

7th Place (62 Points): IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) vs IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

8th Place (60 Points): GM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

9th Place (59 Points): GM Alex Shabalov (NY) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 0-1 Article Elimination Article

10th Place (54 Points): IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

11th Place (51 Points): IM Lev Milman (CAR) vs GM Alex Shabalov (NY) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

12th Place (46 Points): GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1/2-1/2 Article Elimination Article

13th Place (44 Points): IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

14th Place (42 Points): GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

15th Place (35 Points): FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

16th Place (34 Points): IM Davorin Kuljasevic (DAL) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

17th Place (32 Points): GM Patrick Wolff (SF) vs IM Marko Zivanic (DAL) 1/2-1/2 Article Elimination Article

18th Place (27 Points): IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

19th Place (22 Points): FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 1/2-1/2 Article Elimination Article

20th Place (18 Points): GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

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