Friday, September 25, 2009

Week 4 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: SM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs FM Tom Bartell (PHI) 1-0

SM Esserman finished the game with the nice 26. Qxf8+!, forcing a win of decisive material.

Jim Dean: Loved this game. I really like the fact that Esserman shamelessly plays the Smith-Morra Gambit vs 2400+ competition. I think it takes even more guts to do so in team play when your teammates are depending on you. From move seventeen until the finish at move twenty seven White applies constant pressure and finishes in real style. I love that even the "g" pawn participates greatly in potential mating nets at the end if Black doesn't toss his Rook away and go into the lost ending. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: This was one of the most unusual weeks for GOTW. There were a ton of very interesting games, but in basically all of them both sides committed a big blunder late which severely marred the game's overall appeal, and whether to rank such games higher than some fairly boring but clean games was as usual a tough and very subjective decision. As you can see based on my second and third place picks, I went with the former.

That being said, I think this game was definitely the best choice for the top game as it was fairly flashy and had one very important attribute that the other very interesting games did not: the victor played very well throughout. Yes Black should have put up more resistance, but White played basically perfectly (ok, other than playing the Smith-Morra!) and ended the game with a cute finish. (1st place: 5 points)

Jeff Ashton: My first pick for the week because:

(a) Simple and sweet
(b) Precise tactical play
(c) Much better than the Week 1 game (ouch)
(d) Daring opening
(e) Fun to watch and re-watch

An easy first place winner in my opinion. I recommend Esserman for corporate sponsorship. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Honestly I felt that Marc's Week 2 game was much better than this one, and that the entire slate of games this week was marred by unfortunate inaccuracies near the end, making it difficult for me to pick them as Game of the Week Winner. I think that in Weeks 2 + 3 this game may not have finished in the top three. I know that the fans can get angry when I am relatively unimpressed by an entire week's worth of games, and I actually voice my opinion, but this week just didn't do it for me ... sorry!

In any case this game was played well by White, 17. Nxe5 wasn't so obvious, but in all honesty after that move the game played itself. It's just that I really didn't want to see any of the other games that were littered with gigantic inaccuracies at the end of the game, make in the Game of the Year Contest so I'd rather have a pretty simple one sided crush make it. (1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: Psst, secret advice to Hikaru Nakamura: If you want to win Game of the Week, make sure to play 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5. Of course, your opponent will have pre-moved 2... Nc6 by now. Now play the slick 3. Bc4. Surely Black continues to develop normally with 3... Nf6 and... BINGO! You've won GOTW! (It doesn't matter that Black is an idiot).

There is no question that Esserman is a great player and a worthy attacker. This week, he gave a worthy demonstration of the Nxe5 tactic in the Smith-Morra Gambit. Thanks to Professor Esserman, we all see (once again) why the Black Queen should quickly move off the d-file when attacked by the White Rook.

In fact, neither I nor my silicon companion can find fault with any of White's moves. The game was short, sweet, and decisive. By that measure, Esserman deserved to win GOTW as would the Scholar's Mate example that I suggested (in jest) to Nakamura above. However, there have been so many variants of Nxe5 in history, even a few in my own blitz games (with me as Black). If you play the Smith-Morra Gambit often, you are conditioned to look for Nxe5. But your opponent isn't supposed to make it this easy!

Therefore, I must emphatically disagree with the other four judges. This game was nice; it was my sixth pick and actually tied for fourth with Kelleher and Molner on my rankings. Still, in my very humble opinion, a miniature that demonstrates such little risk or creativity and merely applies a single theme found in books does not deserve GOTW in the face of more complex and creative games like those of Sammour-Hasbun and Gulko. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Esserman vs Bartell: 20 points


2nd Place: GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Boris Gulko (NJ) 0-1

GM Gulko played the strong 45... Ra8!, drumming up a surprise mating attack against the White King despite the small amount of material on the board.

Jim Dean: This was a fun game containing many positions that I found difficult to evaluate. I thought Gulko came up with a very interesting piece configuration on the Kingside in the first twenty moves and later on White's Knights were giving me a headache. Unfortunately for White, it appears that 55. Nd5! is a cute drawing continuation. It is easy to miss such moves in the heat of the game, however, especially if you get infatuated with a move like 55. Nf5, when the Knight still can't be taken. Overall, a somewhat messy game that an engine will probably play much better than a human, but I thought both players played well under the circumstances. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: As I alluded to above, I was really unsure how to rank this game due to the double error of Black allowing 55. Nd5! and then White not taking advantage of it.

But aside from that, this game was obviously very interesting, many interesting tactics from both sides and was certainly very dramatic given the match situation. Add to that the nice mating attack that Gulko came up with in what seemed destined to be a dry ending compelled me to rank this game highly despite the earlier fact.
(2nd place: 4 points)

Michael Aigner: Can we give Gulko his second Game of the Week in a row? The endgame combination starting on move forty five with Ra8, Rf8, Be4, Nh3 and Rf1 was as spectacular as any other this week. Moreover, the pattern was unusual, demonstrating the creativity (or calculation skill) of the veteran GM. Bonus points to Gulko for winning with Black and for carrying his team in the decisive game of a 2.5 - 1.5 match victory. I ranked this game second only because Gulko allowed the swindle 55. Nd5, which (fortunately for him) was overlooked in White's time pressure. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: Although this game might be remembered more for the endgame (brilliantly played of course), I was attracted to the middlegame. Gulko showed great positional understanding and adaptability in an atypical Kan set-up. Bonus points should be awarded for the fianchettoed Knight. This might be one of the richest middlegames played this season. (4th place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: I just can't rank a game highly when one side blunders a forced draw right at the end of the game, and the other side misses it. Sure they were in time trouble, but I don't think it's that difficult to see for players of this caliber. I couldn't imagine this game being in the Game of the Year contest with such a relatively obvious double blunder at the very end. It's certainly excusable to miss such a thing, but I just can't give it a high ranking in this case. I almost ranked it around fourth place but just couldn't do it for the above stated reasons. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Charbonneau vs Gulko: 14 points


3rd Place: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) 1-0

SM Sammour-Hasbun played the clever 27. a4!, gaining two connected passers in the process which he used to good effect.

Michael Aigner: This was my top game for Week 4. Why is it that nobody seems to like endgames? Fans prefer flashy tactics resulting in gruesome miniatures. Is a twenty five move checkmate really more worthy than a twenty plus move strategical plan in a Rook endgame?

I give credit to Sammour-Hasbun not for being spectacular nor for outplaying his opponent in every phase of the game. Black seemed fine before he sacrificed the d-pawn, but the long term weakness on d5 and the potential of a bad Bishop versus Knight endgame seemed worrisome.

The key position was on move twenty seven. White can win a piece with 27. d6 Re2 28. Nd3 Rxg2 29. d7 Rxh2 30. Ne5 h5 31. d8=Q+ Bxd8 32. Rxd8+ Kh7 33. Kc1 f6 34. Nc6 a6, but Black's three connected passers suddenly are quite fast and scary. Sammour-Hasbun calmly found the right plan. Moves like 27. a4, 29. c5 and 37. Nc3 are as beautiful to me as Knight sacrifices in the Sicilian.

I confess, I am a whacko judge! Too bad there are six more weeks left. ;-) (1st place: 5 points)

Jeff Ashton: This game was very entertaining. Sammour-Hasbun was aggressive early on and showed precise tactical play. His endgame technique in time pressure was the icing on the cake. Nicely done! When Sammour-Hasbun is playing this well, the rest of the league should watch out. Congratulations to Boston for coming out strong this week. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jim Dean: A really clean performace by Sammour-Hasbun as he had little trouble dealing with Kudrin's 18... d5 break. It seems as if White calculated a bit further after the d5 sequence and later evaluated correctly that his connected passed pawns would be too strong if Kudrin captured with 27... bxa4. That said, White was probably doing well no matter how Black responded to 27. a4. Jorge made it look pretty easy after that and cruised to victory. (4th place: 2 points)

Arun Sharma: I could have ranked this game higher as White played very well and solidly throughout, something that could definitely not be said about a couple of the games I ranked higher. But as mentioned, I found the games in question simply too interesting and dramatic not to rank them above this game, even if they weren't quite as clean.

However, I think this game was certainly a reasonable choice for third place since as noted, White played very well in all phases, responding to the 18... d5 break calmly, liquidating with a nice tactic to the Pawn up ending, and then conducting the ending very well, making it look very easy. It's also somewhat surprising, that the winner of such a game would be Sammour-Hasbun, someone who always seems to go for imbalances and outplays people with amazing tactics, yet this game seemed like exactly the opposite kind of victory, just slowly grinding down the opponent. (5th place: 1 point)

Greg Shahade: I don't know, somehow this game just didn't do it for me, what can I say! Jorge played well, but it just didn't touch me at all. Forgive me for being such a downer this week! (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Sammour-Hasbun vs Kudrin: 12 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

9 points (Jim 3, Arun 3, Michael 3):
GM Jesse Kraai (SF) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0

4 points (Greg 4):
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) 1/2-1/2

3 points (Jeff 3):
FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) vs IM Daniel Ludwig (DAL) 1-0

3 points (Greg 3):
NM Yian Liou (SF) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1-0

3 points (Greg 2, Michael 1):
SM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) vs NM Matt Herman (NY) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2):
IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs SM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1/2-1/2

2 points (Michael 2):
Jeff Kelleher (QNS) vs NM Craig Jones (CAR) 1-0

2 points (Jim 1, Jeff 1):
NM Leo Martinez (ARZ) vs FM Shinsaku Uesugi (BAL) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 0-1


Anonymous said...

No offense to Esserman, but this is payback for not winning the previous week. This game was hardly deserving of GOTW when there were some other cool games. Quite clearly, the judges felt guilty for not voting for Essermans game last week.

And maybe its not a bad thing, but the next thing that will happen is whoever the MVP leader is - in a few weeks they will be selected for GOTW so it matches MVP rankings. This game will not count very highly at the end, because its so one-sided. Count it.

harvardmitshmuck said...

The above poster has suggested a corruption plot so weak in its convincingness and coherence that it boggles the mind. The scores are independent assessments of judges that hold unapologetically to their own quirky, often misguided, styles.

The skill I feel lacks painfully at times is the inability of the judges to put themselves in the shoes (untied, in Esserman's case) of the players -- to live in the competitive moment and see what was accomplished by an unaided human. To see Fritz 17, considering 100,000,000 positions, point out that ...Nb8 is a blunder-in-hindsight (a positional concession of high order, if I may say so myself, in APPRECIATIVE hindsight), or to say Nxe5 was obvious, negates what we all know about chess (do we?) -- the rat's nest of variations that don't end up occurring, the inducements of small errors that build up and break suddenly into a crusher, the attacking ideas that are maddeningly hard to defend against because they involve sacrifices in positions 4 moves away that must be visualized exactly -- all under time pressure and in front of a live audience.

The judge of quiet games, which we shall not name here, will find plenty of satisfaction should one of Esserman's opponents survive the middlegame.

emstrem said...

I have to agree with Michael Aigner in that I liked the Sammour-Hasbun vs Kudrin game the best. The way that Sammour-Hasbun pushed his c & d pawns down the board was great, because you could see what was in store for Kudrin.

That being said, I cannot fault the judges for picking the games in the order in which they did (or how they do). I try to watch the games live when I can, & just appreciate the time that they take to judge them for us. For that I would like to say Thank You.