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 Boris Gulko (NJ) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 1-0
GM Gulko played the strong exchange sacrifice 27. Rxb3!, and utilized it to great effect showcasing the power of the two Bishops.
Greg Shahade: My fellow judges probably breathed easy when seeing that Boston would have no candidates in the GOTW contest this week. I do have to say I must have scored some big points with the Boston crowd last week, picking their games in first, second, and third place! In any case, onto this game...
Gulko finally gets some credit for his impeccable USCL record. This game just struck me as being really clear and simple. Sure White was never clearly winning or anything like that, but the calm way in which Gulko kept sacrificing material was nice. Also, every time I took a look at the position I was like "Oh this should be okay for Black, I'm sure he'll figure out something", but in reality it was quite difficult to play and Gulko did a fantastic job attacking with his two Bishops in the endgame. (1st place: 5 points)
Michael Aigner: This game had something for everyone, from the opening to the endgame. At first, Gulko demonstrated his ability to grind in an English middlegame, highlighted by moves such as 20. e4 and 21. d4. When Black refused to roll over, Gulko channeled Misha with an Exchange sacrifice followed by a Queen sacrifice. I find the position on move thirty five beautiful just because White's Bishops and Pawns leave absolutely no weaknesses for Black to attack. Gulko finishes the game prosaically with 36. e5, allowing his Bishops to hunt the Black King. A well deserving GOTW winner! (1st place: 5 points)
Arun Sharma: Another very nice league effort by Gulko, moving to 4 - 0 in his career using the style that he seems to employ in the league, just getting a small advantage and then grinding his opponent down mercilessly. The thing I liked most about this game was how the position with Rook and two Bishops against Queen and Knight did not really seem at all clear to me as to who was even better, but Gulko won with such ease, using the two Bishops very effectively, overwhelming his Black's defenses without any perceptible mistakes by his opponent. (3rd place: 3 points)
Jim Dean: I'll start by saying once again I thought there were many interesting games this week. Having said that, upon further review of this game I can't say that my omission of this one is fully justified. Though it was by no means easy, I thought Gulko had the chances in this game more or less throughout, and I gave credit to some games that I found more exciting and unclear to my eyes. However, it is clear that Gulko played superbly with the material imbalance and found many accurate moves in succession. As such, his precise play makes him a deserving winner even though I appreciated some other games more. (NR: 0 points)
Jeff Ashton: I am a big fan of Gulko, but this game did not make my Top Five list.
I had a feeling that the imbalanced endgame would make this a top contender. Black enjoyed a nice position for most of the game. After Black's error 30... Rb8, the game is roughly even. After this, although the game is equal, Black has many more opportunities than White to err. This illustrates how being "objectively equal" and "having equal chances of winning" are completely different things.
Black's first critical error is 38... Kg7 and then White finally has a decisive (objectively speaking) advantage. Kg7 is an easy mistake to play as it appears to be logical though. Both players played well this game. (NR: 0 points)
Total Score of Gulko vs Zaikov: 13 points
2nd Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Josh Friedel (SF) 1-0
Despite his material deficit, GM Becerra plunged forward with 29. d4! getting his passed pawns rolling and leaving Black with a very tough defensive task which he was unable to achieve in time pressure.
Jim Dean: I found this game very interesting as Becerra didn't seem to get much from the opening despite being an accomplished Ruy Lopez player. In the early middlegame I felt I preferred Black's position, but then some beautiful Pawn play erupted in the center and on the Queenside and things became very unclear. It seemed that Friedel was handling the complications very well until he declined his opportunity to take one of the dangerous connected passed pawns with 35... Bxd7! After going astray with 35... Ba6, Becerra finished the game off in style with several accurate moves. (1st place: 5 points)
Greg Shahade: A great game that I would have been fine with finishing first place. Okay so it wasn't perfect, and so Black had some defenses but come on it's almost impossible to play so many creative sacrificial moves and have them all work out perfectly. This isn't Rybka versus Deep Blue here! As always, Becerra caused problems for his opponent, and if his opponent played perfectly he would have done well, but it's very hard to play perfectly. (2nd place: 4 points)
Arun Sharma: I was really unsure how to rank this game. Part of me thought it should be ranked lowly if at all, while another part of me thought it should be far and away the winner. The fact that White seemed to be struggling early and that Black erred in time pressure obviously did not warm me to this game.
On the other hand though, imo, this was far and away the most creative/exciting game of the week, and even though White was struggling early on, Becerra played very, very well later on, really putting Friedel to many tough decisions which unsurprisingly he was unable to meet in his time pressure.
In general although this might not be the most natural application of this (White probably didn't intend to go down that material), I tend to respect people who play perhaps somewhat unsound ideas, but really put their opponent on the hot seat forcing them into the tough decisions. In the end this game was just too interesting to not be ranked highly by me. I almost ranked it first, but I instead went with a game, Sammour-Hasbun vs Ludwig (which I'm very surprised was ranked by only one of the other four judges), which was also quite interesting (not as much so though) but was also quite clean. (2nd place: 4 points)
Michael Aigner: Julio Becerra earned second place strictly on his lofty league history or maybe due to the absence of quality games this week. I refuse to give GOTW honors to a game where the loser was doing reasonably well for most of it and should have been up an uncompensated pawn less than ten moves before the end. Becerra would not have won, nor have been a serious candidate for GOTW, if Black had simply found 35... Bxd7 36. cxd7 Ra7 leaving Black up a passed Pawn and a solid position. With the Mechanics up 3 - 0 by now and the bashful youngsters Shankland and Liou partying like chimpanzees, it is understandable that Friedel lost the thread and lost.
Frankly, I found Lee's comeback against Rensch to be more compelling than this choice and ranked it third. Unlike Miami's Board One, Lee never would have been down a clear pawn because he always had lingering pressure against the White central pawns (e.g. Bc7, Rh3 and Nb4-d5). What's more, Lee won with the Black pieces in a game that decided the match, unlike Becerra's win on the short side of a 3 - 1 blowout.
My other GOTW picks went to two attacking wins by Grandmasters against lesser masters (second Benjamin vs Schroer and fourth Ehlvest vs Felecan) and finally fifth to some impressive technique by Kritz vs Kudrin. At least these games were not marred by 'unforced errors' by the opponent, so that the loser could have won (or drawn) on the spot simply by finding a two to three move tactic at the right moment. (NR: 0 points)
Jeff Ashton: This game was very exciting to watch. It was a very complicated tactical battle with errors on both sides. This type of game is very difficult to play in a fast time control setting, so errors naturally happened.
Without taking away anything from White's creative play, Black missed a few critical defensive opportunities. (NR: 0 points)
Total Score of Becerra vs Friedel: 13 points
3rd Place: GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) 1-0
GM Charbonneau opened up the position with the quiet but strong 13. d3! and left Black in a very uncomfortable position which he could not manage to defend.
Jeff Ashton: Although they are roommates, it is nice to know that both players were out for blood. Rumor has it that before this game was played, Schneider ate one of Charbonneau's Hot Pockets without asking. BIG MISTAKE.
This game was extremely tactical and with one imprecise move any side could be on the losing end of a miniature. This type of high risk play is great for chess fans and the USCL. (1st place: 5 points)
Jim Dean: This game was was very well played from White's side and happened to feature an opening that I have a great deal of personal interest in. It turns out that 11... e4 is probably not testing enough and Charbonneau's reply (which is a novelty as far as I can tell) that threatens mate may be as good or better than either of the capturing moves. Black struggles on, but White was able to develop his pieces with ease while creating immense pressure on Black's uncastled King. The final position looks like an absolute disaster for Black, but it is easy to find yourself in such situations when you have a misstep or two with Black in such a sharp opening system. (3rd place: 3 points)
Greg Shahade: I felt there was a steep drop off between my first through third place selections (Gulko vs Zaikov, Becerra vs Friedel, and Sammour-Hasbun vs Ludwig) and this game. First off, as mentioned many times already, Black was 25 minutes late to show up. Also, it wasn't very competitive, there was basically a beginning and an end. My top three selections all had a beginning, an end, and an actual middlegame! Anyway obviously I'm not so shocked that it finished in third place, as I selected it for fourth place, because even though it was quick, there were a lot of accurate and weird moves in quick succession. I'm just trying to explain why I didn't rank it higher. (4th place: 2 points)
Arun Sharma: While this was quite an interesting game (this variation always seems to create interesting action), it seemed that Black got into time pressure very quickly (largely due to being twenty five minutes late), and likely as a result committed two big errors right out of the opening which left him lost immediately (not a surprise in such a sharp opening). On the other hand, White did play really well punishing Black's mistakes appropriately and ending the game very swiftly. For that reason, I think this game was a reasonable choice for third place, even though due to the previous factor, I could not justify ranking it. (NR: 0 points)
Michael Aigner: OK, this is completely nuts! Black arrives twenty five minutes late, then essays a sharp gambit in the Two Knights apparently without knowing the theory (fifteen minutes spent on move seven). I wish my opponents would do that more often!!! Subsequently, White won the game in short order, either because he knew his book or because he was proficient in the tactical style of play common over 100 years ago. By move eighteen, it was all over, and Rybka even saw the inevitable as soon as move fourteen. Maybe this game qualifies for "Opening Goof of the Week", but there's no way I would give it any points for GOTW. (NR: 0 points)
Total Score of Charbonneau vs Schneider: 10 points
Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)
10 points (Jeff 4, Jim 4, Michael 2): GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0
8 points (Arun 5, Greg 3): SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Daniel Ludwig (DAL) 0-1
7 points (Michael 4, Jim 2, Jeff 1): IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 0-1
3 points (Jeff 3): IM Alex Lenderman (PHI) vs GM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0
3 points (Michael 3): FM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) vs FM Michael Lee (SEA) 0-1
3 points (Arun 2, Michael 1): GM Leonid Kritz (BAL) vs GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) 1-0
2 points (Jeff 2): IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) 0-1
1 point (Arun 1): IM Jacek Stopa (DAL) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1-0
1 point (Greg 1): GM Jesse Kraai (SF) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 1-0
1 point (Jim 1): FM Peter Bereolos (TEN) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 0-1