Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Game of the Year -- 9th Place

This is the twelfth 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.


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

How many players would put their King smack in the middle of the board with all the major pieces still on for a bit of extra material against a player like Shabalov? Not many probably, but Sammour-Hasbun defended the position flawlessly and went on to win.

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.

GM Jan Gustafsson (1st Place, 20 points):
My favorite! Shabalov introduces a novelty in a topical opening with 16. Qc2 instead of following in Topalov's footsteps with 16. Bg4. In my experience, being surprised by a new move in a super sharp line like this one is one of the toughest situations there are in chess. Sammour-Hasbun deserves a lot of credit for his, as far as I can see, flawless reaction and handling of the complications, which might just refute Shabalov's novelty. 16... Qxd4 is already a committal and strong decision, and 19... Nf8! seems the only way to keep an edge as the tempting 19... Kd6 only leads to equality according to my helpers. Over the next couple moves I'm also unable to find even the slightest flaw in Black's play; the cold-blooded 30... Rxa2 especially impressed me. Ok, later he might have had some options to finish the game off quicker, but a great tactician like Shabalov still never got a chance to fight back. This game has a lot going for it:

- A fashionable opening, leading to crazy positions with a strange material balance.

- A novelty by Shabalov, making the game an important contribution to the development of this line.

- Almost perfect high-quality play from the winner, rightly judging he is better after returning the Rook with 19... Nf8!

- A win with the Black pieces against a very strong opponent, adding some upset value to the game.

I'm aware this was round one, and that Shabalov always loses in round one, but that doesn't diminish the achievement of the winner and the quality of his play.

FM Ingvar Johannesson (2nd Place, 19 points):
Fascinated by this game for some reason. The material balance throughout is very weird and the relative King safety with the King on e5 in the middle of the game makes a nice aesthetic impression. Sammour-Hasbun's tactical talent simply shines through in this very inventive game, both nice defense and then a nice finish after the momentum went over to Black. I gave this second place as it is probably the most interesting game of the lot. I had places two through four pretty evenly matched, but I'll give second to Sammour-Hasbun, no matter whether he wins or loses, his games are very entertaining and interesting!

IM Ben Finegold (10th Place, 11 points):
An interesting theoretical line. Black slowly takes over the game, as White never seems to have enough compensation for his material deficit. Shabalov wins and loses a lot of games like this.

FM Ron Young (15th Place, 6 points):
Tal used to own the f7 square, and there seem to be more claimants to its inheritance than there were to Howard Hughes's fortune. We can look forward to seeing still more pretenders to the legacy crawl out from the woodwork.

FM Daniel Ludwig (18th Place, 3 points):
There seems to be something about Botvinnik's and Moscow's winning game prizes. Don't believe me? Take a look at Nunn/Emms/Burgess's mammoth book of greatest games. Of all the great games they list after 1990 or so, half of them seem to be Botvinnik's, and I disagree with this. I don't think a game should be ranked any higher simply because of the sharp looking opening theory. Already at move fifteen the crowd is probably on the edge of their seats wondering if 12. Nxf7 was come up with over the board, but this is nothing new so let's not credit the players and this game for the false excitement. The point where the game left theoretical paths was at 16. Qc2, the first move that the players actually came up with themselves, which was already a big mistake, and so hardly a good game thus far. After 16. Qc2 Sammour-Hasbun had to simply play a series of greedy captures to reach a winning position which he easily converted. So while Sammour-Hasbun played well, I felt that having to only play a few good moves, capitalizing on poor play by White, did not warrant a higher ranking.

Total Score of Shabalov vs Sammour-Hasbun: (9th Place, 59 Points)


Stay tuned for seven 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 2: GM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs IM Emory Tate (CHC) 1-0 Article

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

Week 7: IM Alex Lenderman (QNS) vs IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) 1-0 Article

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

Week 10: GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 1/2-1/2 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

Wildcard #2: GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 0-1 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


Anonymous said...


The only GM places this game first, and the FM who has made some controversial picks already (c.f. Game 19 comments, and Game 13) puts it 18th...


"Sammour-Hasbun had to simply play a series of greedy captures to reach a winning position." Simple? Against Shabalov? Are you kidding me? If it was so simple, why did black have to return the rook?

Meanwhile the other judges are using words like "flawless,"almost perfect high-quality play," and "(his) tactical talent... shines through", to describe Jorge's game.



Alex Lenderman said...

Matt, that's not nice! These judges had to work very hard and everyone has their own opinions. First of all, game 13 was not controversial. I just asked a question about a variation. I wasn't by any means challenging Daniel placing my game against Tate in 19th place. THat's totally his opinion, his flavor, and I think it's important to understand the decisions and respect them. So please don't do this b/s.

Daniel Ludwig said...

Let me preface this by saying that I wasn't trying to be biased in anyway, and I remained as objective as I could be in regards to each and every game. In all honesty, even after seeing what the GM said, I still wouldn't change a thing. I encourage you to do your own work on the game, and perhaps you will agree with me. Say what you want, but I still can't believe that the GM Gustafsson put this #1.

"- A novelty by Shabalov, making the game an important contribution to the development of this line."

This was one of the main points made by Jan about this game, and why it was as good as it was. However, take a closer look, I don't think that this was a prepared novelty, I think it was a straight up blunder. The agreed upon plan is to play 16.Bg4 then 17.Qc2. I think that Shabalov simply got confused and made a crucial mistake in an already complicated position.

So no, I'm not kidding you. While it might not have been that simple, there were actually several winning continuations. I have absolutely no regrets in ranking this where I did. I took a second look at things to make sure I wasn't missing anything at the time, and sure enough I still only see 2 big decisions in this game, 16...Qxd4 and 19...Nf8. Sammour did indeed play correctly, however, I think people are blowing this rook sacrifice out of proportion. First of all, it wasn't even a rook sacrifice, it was an exchange sac! Secondly, he was already up a piece and 2 pawns! Everyone seems to be so amazed by black's play as though it was such a complex and balanced position, but in truth white's position is much worse if not lost.

Again, two great moves are not enough to give a game a high ranking let alone first place ranking. So yes, 18th I do think is fitting. I am someone who studies lots of theory, so to me this game really isn't that impressive, while most people are probably in awe after 12.Nxf7.

I'd rather give credit to games where both sides better for longer. If you want to rename this "Move of the Year" contest, then perhaps I would rank 19...Nf8 the move of the year, however, this is GOTY, thus I will rank the games, not individual moves.

However, my oppinion is subject to change, but the only way that's going to happen is if Mr.Shabalov himself gets on here and says that 16.Qc2 wasn't just a mix-up, but rather it was a home prepared novelty.

Anonymous said...


I don't question that the judges work very hard, I never meant to imply that they didn't. I appreciate all their efforts.

The whole point is I don't understand Daniel's decisions! Granted, I'm not qualified myself to judge these games, but clearly there's a HUGE difference of opinion here among the judges themselves. I defer to the higher title.

Daniel, don't you think you should have found out if Qc2 was a prepared novelty or not before throwing this game into the dustbin of history? Once again, until I hear otherwise, I have to assume that a GM of Shabalov's strength and professionalism would NOT have made a move-order mistake and played this move intentionally. This is (or was) a very topical line and I have to believe he knew what he was doing. That makes the game even more impressive to me that Jorge refuted it over the board.

I just think Daniel made an incorrect assumption that ruined the chances of my friend's game from being duly recognized. If Shabba comes on here and says Qc2 was a careless mistake, then I'll change my opinion too. But if the opposite is true, and Daniel does change his mind, is too late for Jorge's chances in this contest.

And Alex, this isn't b/s. I have every right to question the judges reasoning. Daniel was wrong about the match situation in another Blitz game he judged and it affected his reasoning, and I think he's wrong again and it has negatively affected the same Blitz player. I'm sticking up for my team.

Sure, I get hot under the collar, but what good is a judging contest if you can't argue about the results?


Daniel Ludwig said...

First of all Matt, I was in fact not wrong about the other Boston Blitz situation. I believe in my notes on Zaikov-Sammour, I said that the game helped Boston get really close to victory. People bring up the fact that Milman was better against Perelshteyn, but I correctly predictly at the time Zaikov-Sammour ended that Perelshteyn-Milman would be a draw, and nothing other than a draw, even though Milman was slightly better. Secondly, all though Esserman was worse in the final posiition, there was a stage in the late middlegame where he was clearly better if not winning, only he threw it away a little later. I've talked to Marc about this game, and he said the same thing I just did. As for the last game, at the time these guys agreed to a draw, Krasik was past the critical situation, and Jones was self-destructing! Every pawn was moving to the 4th or 5th rank, and I knew it wouldn't be long before Krasik won.

As a Carolina fan, I was convinced at the time when Zaikov-Sammour agreed to a draw that Carolina would lose. Now you can say what you want, and how all of you disagree with me, but as far as I can tell, I was actually the ONLY one who correctly identified the situation. So say what you want, that my comments are off base, but this is simply false. Also, I don't evne understand what you are griping about on game 19, I ranked that game higher than anyonen else!

Also Matt, if you want to play around with stupid logical fallacies, that the higher title is automatically correct then when can play that game.

"Patrick Wolff said...
I am puzzled by this choice for game of the week. Shabalov obviously just forgot to play Bg4 before Qc2, and his move order blunder was easily exploited. I think Black played well to drive the point home but I don't think it is a 'game of the week.'"

This is what Wolff posted on the game of the week blog, explaining his own confusion as to how this game got gotw. I share his confusion. It's not out of disrespect for Shabalov that I say he misplayed the move order, it is out of profound respect for him that I assume he would not have prepared a bad move! I think Wolff is also a player who understands Shabalov's skill, but likewise realizes this is simply a bad move. For a GM, Shabalov also does make a surprising amounts of oversights, and combine that with the fact that it's played online, I think it is much more believable that he slipped up than he actually prepared it. But again, if Shabalov comes on here and says otherwise then I think I would move this game up to about 12th-8th. As I said though, I think there is more evidence for what I am proposing. Also, please don't let your bias and friendship for a certain player affect how you see this game. It clearly is.

Oh, and by the way, I kinda like some of this heat. I was honestly getting bored coming on the website daily and not seeing any comments besides what Alex had to say. And on that point, I now believe I was wrong and incorrectly judged the pawn sac. If I had a do-over, I think i might move the game up a few spots (I still can't get over the way tate played the opening).

Alex Lenderman said...

Well my game against Tate wasn't that great. What I find curious, Daniel is that you ranked my game against Tate 19th and Bhat's game against Tate 4th!! Night and day :) And the games are kinda similar types ( lol) :)It really doesn't matter, I just find it pretty interesting :)

Daniel Ludwig said...


If Tate had played as poorly against Bhat as he did against you, then I would have ranked the games similarly. At first glance it doesn't look like he played that well against Bhat, but it fact he did play decently. First off, his opening was not nearly as disgraceful as it was against you. The second reason is because the game was just that much more riveting to me. Neither of you moved your king to the center :). Also, I enjoyed the whole sequence after Nxd4 culminating with Rf4.

In general this whole ranking thing is a matter of taste, and this game appealed to my particular tastes better. I simply cannot stand bad openings like the one Tate played against you. Playing b6, e6, and c5, while it will never equalize, it isn't terrible.

Hope that gives you some insight into what I was considering. I did look at each game closely with an engine as well, so overall quality of play was a big issue too.

Anonymous said...

OK, I don't think my reasoning that a GM knows more about chess than an FM is a "stupid logical fallacy." I may only be a class B player, but I don't think I'm stupid. Sure, that doesn't mean they're automatically correct, but usually they are.

As to Wolff's comments, he (and you) may be right, but I'm not going to make that assumption. One GM thinks it was a mistake, one GM thinks it was a novelty, another GM actually played the move. As I said, until I hear otherwise, and because I'm not qualified to judge for myself, logic tells me it was intentional.

Anyway, I originally wanted to know your reasoning. You have been forthright in your comments, and I appreciate that. I think you're dead wrong, and so do a couple other judges, and the GOTW judges, but so be it. With such a wide disparity of opinions, someone has to be wrong. I think it's you. Yes, my opinion is biased, but I think everyone would agree that it would be a shame if you were forced to recant your opinion after the fact when it's too late and this game misses out on a higher, possibly prize winning, place in the contest.

Greg Shahade said...

I have it under good authority that Qc2 was a move-order mistake.

Anonymous said...

OK then, I stand corrected.

Sorry Daniel. You were right; I was wrong.

(18th still seems a bit harsh to me though.)


Daniel Ludwig said...

I definitely understand where you are coming from, but that was my taste. I agree with all the other judges that Sammour's play was nearly flawless. I did the same thing with Elhvest-Barcenilla as well though. I felt it was just one big mistake that completely negated what other kind of struggle was going on. Sammour is a darn good player already, and to give him a 1.3 advantage according to the computer is suicidal. So maybe I should have put it higher, but I don't think it would have made a big difference whether I put it 15th or 18th.

Rihel said...

I wonder if the judging shouldn't try to normalize the outcome a bit by tossing the highest and lowest rankings. That way if a bunch of people put high scores, and one judge puts 19th, more weight is given to the majority. Same thing if everyone is putting low scores, but one person puts a very high score. Maybe at the end of the contest, we could recalculate all the results with this method and see what, if anything, would change.

Arun Sharma said...

I think that's a pretty reasonable idea; given all three years that we've done this contest there have been games every time where the judges had very different views (none more so than this game which got a 1st and an 18th); dropping the highest and lowest could be a good solution to that.

If we did that though, I definitely believe we would need more judges to start with (say at least seven) so that a game's result is based upon a good majority of the judging panel (and more than three people). Of course, having more judges anyway is likely a reasonable idea (even if we don't go with the dropping highest and lowest plan) as it cuts down on variance, but mostly then one skewed ranking by one judge would have much less ability to alter the true overall consensus by much.