Friday, October 30, 2009

Week 9 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 Michael Aigner currently being on vacation, for this week and the next we will have only four judges.

1st Place: IM John Bartholomew (DAL) vs IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) 0-1

IM Van de Mortel played the interesting novelty 17... Rc5!? and eventually utilized it to good effect, gaining great pressure brought about by this sac which IM Bartholomew was unable to withstand.

Jeff Ashton: Another exciting Dragon (the other one that comes to mind is Bryan Smith's win a few weeks ago). Jan really heated up in his last few games. Bonus points for "GOTWing" last week's GOTW winner. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I felt that this was the most interesting game this week. While 17... Rc5 might not be great for Black, it's certainly very interesting and posed White some peculiar problems. I suspect it was the kind of move where White just sat there thinking "This can't be good, I must be crushing him", but it was never quite as easy as he wanted it to be. And after trying to figure out how to crack this strange exchange up position, things slowly started drifting away, and Black developed a dangerous counterattack. What can I say, I just liked this game.

Note that according to Jan's analysis, I supposedly analyzed this opening with him about ten years ago! I've never played this line myself so it probably had to do with preparing him for one of his opponents. In any case I cannot remember it, and while watching the game one of the kibitzers was strongly in favor of Rc5, and I remember thinking he had lost some marbles, but then a few minutes later it was played on the board! (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: It seems like we've had several interesting Dragon games in the League this season, and this one was played well on both sides. Unfortunately for White, it felt a lot easier to play Black's position during the critical stages of the game. Mating with a Bishop and Knight was a nice final touch. Congrats to Jan on another top GOTW finish. (3rd place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: Although I didn't rank this game, I wasn't surprised to see it get ranked by the others as it definitely was one of the more interesting games played this week, though I'm still surprised it wound up winning. While Van de Mortel's novelty 17... Rc5 was very interesting, I had a hard time being able to ascribe it as a strong novelty as despite the result of the game, it seemed that Bartholomew was doing very well for the majority of the game.

However, Black did play quite well, putting White under tremendous pressure which he understandably was not able to endure, especially when getting in time trouble. But despite that, the combination of the novelty seeming somewhat dubious along with White self destructing a bit more than I feel the games which finish high in this contest ought to generally allow, I ended up not ranking this game.

But whatever way I happened to judge this game, congratulations to Van de Mortel on his second consecutive very strong GOTW finish and for his third victory in a row. Even if it's too late for his team this season, it's nice to see him get some recognition for his fine play. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Bartholomew vs Van de Mortel: 13 points


2nd Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 1-0

GM Perelshteyn struck with 34. Ne6! Rf6 35. Bh5, putting FM Lopez in a virtual zugzwang, compelling him to bite the bullet and snatch the d5 Pawn, after which White nicely infiltrated with his Rook and soon finished the game with a strong attack, mating with a paucity of material.

Jim Dean: I felt Perelshteyn played extremely well in this game and really never let Lopez have any fun throughout. Lopez has shown in previous USCL matches that he can handle the Black side of the King's Indian Defense quite well, but could not have been happy with his position virtually at any point in this game. Cute minor piece mate to finish it off. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: This, along with the Bhat game, I felt were definitely the two highest quality games played this week which is why I chose to rank them in the top two spots. In both I felt that the winner played very well, winning in very clean fashion, without any huge errors from their opponent.

What impressed me most about this game was the nice endgame technique. Perelshteyn really made it look so easy, winning in such short order when it seemed likely that it would be a very long grind in order to reach victory. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: An example of why the King's Indian Defense is the hardest opening to play in chess. Black's game seemed difficult, and White sat comfortably throughout. Nice precise play by Perelshteyn. Perelshteyn is definitely one of my favorites this season, and I'm glad that his games are getting recognition. (3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: This game seemed a bit too easy to me, and also when Lopez simply hangs mate in two at the end, it was hard for me to get too excited. Admittedly, Black is already lost there, but this is just not the type of game I'm generally ranking highly in GOTW. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Perelshteyn vs Lopez: 12 points


3rd Place: FM Todd Andrews (TEN) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 0-1

GM Bhat broke through with 40... e3!, utilizing his pressure on the g-file to deadly effect and ending the game in short order.

Arun Sharma: As mentioned above, this was one of those games which, in addition to being well played by the victor, had them winning without any obvious errors by the opponent. I know I often rank these types of games a bit higher than the other judges who mostly tend to prefer games with a bit more flash, even if they come with some fair errors. As such, it wasn't a big shock that I appreciated this and the Perelshteyn game a bit more than the other judges on the whole.

Like the Perelshteyn game, I was impressed by how easy Bhat made this game look, drumming up his strong attack with seeming ease and then conducting it very efficiently, never allowing any real counterplay and again managing to do this without any obvious errors by Andrews.

Personally, I felt the two most interesting games this week were the Charbonneau game and the Herman game (in that order). The Charbonneau game contained a ton of creative play and interesting moments, and but for a few very critical errors late, I definitely would have ranked it higher (likely first). In the Herman game, Black seemed to play very well, building up his attack well and then conducting it precisely, but like the Van de Mortel game (which I did not rank), I felt the losing side self destructed a bit too much to rank the game above the high quality efforts of Bhat and Perelshteyn. (1st place: 5 points)

Jeff Ashton: These "slow build-up" attacks are fun to watch. I really like the way Black handled the opening and middle game and then transitioned into a Kingside attack.
(2nd place: 4 points)

Jim Dean: Bhat played a really nice game here and was constantly improving his position and making progress on both sides of the board. My biggest knock against this game was that I didn't understand White's plan at any point during it, and I'm not sure if White ever really managed to make even a single threat. Todd is an excellent player and a former teammate of mine, but this just wasn't a good game on his end. (NR: 0 points)

Greg Shahade: Yet another game that didn't inspire me. Bhat played well of course, but sometimes a game simply doesn't grab my attention, and this was one of those games. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Andrews vs Bhat: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

7 points (Greg 3, Jim 2, Arun 2):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) 1-0

6 points (Arun 3, Greg 2, Jeff 1):
WGM Sabina Foisor (BAL) vs NM Matt Herman (NY) 0-1

4 points (Jim 4):
FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs SM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0

4 points (Greg 4):
GM Patrick Wolff (SF) vs IM Ron Burnett (TEN) 1-0

2 points (Jeff 2):
IM Levon Altounian (ARZ) vs FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) 1-0

1 point (Jim 1):
FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs IM Yury Lapshun (QNS) 1-0

1 point (Greg 1):
David Justice (TEN) vs NM Yian Liou (SF) 1-0

1 point (Arun 1):
GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) vs GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) 1/2-1/2

Friday, October 23, 2009

Week 8 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: IM John Bartholomew (DAL) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0

IM Bartholomew played the strong 30. d5!, after which the variety of potential threats against e6 (d5 x e6, e5-e6, and N to f4-e6) compelled GM Becerra to sac the exchange. Even so, White still managed to invade on f7 soon after to compel resignation.

Arun Sharma: Very strong, creative game by Bartholomew. What I liked most about this game was how Bartholomew just relentlessly applied pressure, refusing to quit on his attack, even though at a few points it definitely seemed like his Kingside attack would amount to nothing, and that he would wind up getting steamrolled on the Queenside or in the center. But again, Bartholomew kept putting Becerra to tough decisions, and not surprisingly he could not meet all of them adequately, and White eventually broke through. Ok, sure if Black had defended perfectly, he would have probably defused the attack, but obviously it's ridiculous to expect anyone to play perfectly, and White's strong, daring play, especially 30. d5!, was a big reason as to why. (1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: In this week's top game, White demonstrates what it takes to beat a strong GM: center control, open lines, weaknesses to attack, strong desire to play aggressively, and some luck. While watching the game, I truly got the impression that White simply wanted to win really badly. He kept probing the holes on the Kingside until Black cracked on move twenty nine.

To be fair, Black could have defended better. Both Rybka and Fritz 12 give a decisive advantage to Black with Queenside pawn play, e.g. b7-b5 or a7-a5 on move twenty seven. White also missed a spectacular mate in five on move thirty five that would have put an exclamation mark on this game. These criticisms led me to select this game as second instead of first. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: A nice game by Bartholomew against the two time MVP. It would have been nicer if Bartholomew had played 35. Rxg6+ instead of 35. R2f2, leading to a much more beautiful and quicker win (although the line he chose is totally winning also). There also seemed to be some real theoretical relevance to this game as I've never before seen the line that Becerra chose, although it has been played by Morozevich recently. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: Nice game. Black defended relatively well, and Bartholomew maintained pressure. (3rd place: 3 points)

Jim Dean: I guess I probably underestimated this game as White did play creatively for a nice win against a very strong player. I thought Black was doing fine for quite a while during the game, but it is definitely challenging for Black to find a constructive plan throughout. Congratulations to Bartholomew for winning during a week of many well played games. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Bartholomew vs Becerra: 16 points


2nd Place: GM Boris Gulko (NJ) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 1-0

GM Gulko played the strong 31. Rxe7! following it up with 32. Ne5!, after which the dual threats against c6 and g6 compelled GM Perelshteyn to return the exchange at the cost of a pawn, and White converted without much difficulty.

Jeff Ashton: Gulko is showing his positional versatility this season. 31. Rxe7 was clever. It is such a strange move and very easy to overlook or underestimate. It is hard to find obvious fault in Perelshteyn's play. (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: This game was my favorite of the week, as I thought Gulko played another gem here. I enjoyed his handling of the entire middlegame, and the temporary exchange sacrifice on e7 seemed like a nice practical decision. Perelshteyn couldn't keep everything together in the transition to the endgame, and Gulko converted without allowing any tricks. (1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: GM Gulko improved his record to 4-0 this season and 7-0 lifetime in the USCL by defeating a third straight GM opponent! There was never much doubt in this one. Black was slightly worse from the opening and, with maybe the exception of move thirty two, never had a chance to get back into the game. Despite such a glowing review, I ranked this game only fourth because the win was less spectacular than games against Zaikov (Week 3) and Charbonneau (Week 4).

Amazingly, after eight weeks of reading my commentaries, it appears that my fellow judges developed a good taste for positional grinds! I like! (Ironically, after weeks of promoting positional masterpieces, I ranked this game below a violent knockout by Seattle teenager Howard Chen against John Bick). (4th place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: An impressive display by Gulko although I didn't rank it as highly due to the lack of flashy tactics and violent Kingside attacks that usually get me going. However, I couldn't overlook Gulko's impressive technique from beginning to end, with special attention paid to the temporary exchange sacrifice, 31. Rxe7. (4th place: 2 points)

Arun Sharma: Another very strong performance by Gulko, winning in his usual League fashion, mercilessly grinding his opponent down from a small opening edge without ever really allowing any counterplay. The exchange sac was also a nice touch, definitely not something that seems immediately clear to be good for White, but unsurprisingly Gulko demonstrated why it was so strong, converting in short order. I definitely could have ranked this game higher as the other judges did, just the games I did rank higher I personally found to be a bit more exciting generally, containing more interesting moments than I felt this one did. (5th place: 1 point)

Total Score of Gulko vs Perelshteyn: 15 points


3rd Place: FM Victor Shen (NJ) vs IM Marc Esserman (BOS) 1-0

FM Shen struck with the nice tactic 19. Bxh6!, where the potential of 20. Qc1+ compelled IM Esserman to play 19... Bxe1 instead of Kxh6, and after some liquidation, White strongly took advantage of the dual edges of Black's weakened King and undeveloped Queenside.

Michael Aigner: This impressive attacking game was my top choice for Week Eight. Moves such as the well-timed 15. d4, 19. Bxh6, 23. Qe5, 25. d6, 30. g4, and 38. Nf6 left zero doubt who was the better player this week. The game felt smooth and convincing, despite facing a newly minted and successful IM. I plan to incorporate this game in my future classes on how to conduct an attack as White against 1. e4 e5. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I was really pulling for this game. It was a long fight in which White showed constant energy and put endless pressure on his strong opponent while facing stiff resistance throughout. It was an especially impressive display from someone rated just barely above 2300 and perhaps was one of the most complete USCL games in history by someone of Shen's rating level.
(1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Very strong game by Shen all around. It seemed that he developed a nice edge in the opening, then played a strong tactical sequence to gain a large advantage when Esserman tried to mix it up, and finally finished up the game quite efficiently, not allowing any real counterplay after tying down his opponent. A nice upset also considering that it didn't seem like Black made any obvious mistakes, making White's victory that much more impressive. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: Pretty nice, I guess. I considered ranking it, and it most likely makes my top ten list. After Esserman made some tactical errors, Shen was alert tactically. Other than that, I will probably forget this game's existence within a few hours of hitting the 'send' button ... now. (NR: 0 points)

Jim Dean: I was surprised this game made the Top Three. Shen did play well, but I felt Black picked a very dubious plan early on starting with 13... Kh7, and after Shen appropriately opened up the center Black was left to scrape and claw to try to and keep things somewhat interesting. A nice performance by Shen, but there were a handful of games this week that I felt were stronger candidates. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Shen vs Esserman: 14 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

8 points (Jeff 4, Jim 4):
IM Ron Burnett (TEN) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) 0-1

6 points (Michael 3, Jim 3):
NM Howard Chen (SEA) vs FM John Bick (TEN) 1-0

3 points (Arun 3):
IM Richard Costigan (PHI) vs FM Ralph Zimmer (BAL) 0-1

3 points (Greg 3):
IM Dionisio Aldama (ARZ) vs IM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0

3 points (Arun 2, Greg 1):
IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0

3 points (Jim 2, Michael 1):
IM Lev Milman (QNS) vs IM John Donaldson (SF) 0-1

2 points (Jeff 2):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

1 point (Jeff 1):
GM Vinay Bhat (SF) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 0-1

1 point (Jim 1):
FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs IM Irina Krush (NY) 1-0

Friday, October 16, 2009

Week 7 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: IM Daniel Fernandez (DAL) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 0-1

FM Zaikov essentially finished off the wild game with 28... Bf3!, after which the mating threat beginning with Rb8+ allowed him to easily liquidate into a winning ending.

Jim Dean: It is nice to see Zaikov on the winning side of a GOTW winner as he has played the victim in some highly ranked games lately. This was a wild one that followed Kohlweyer vs Tomczak 1987 for twenty two moves ... though I'd be a bit surprised if these two were familiar with that game. It turns out that taking on c3 is probably incorrect after 22... Nc3, and Zaikov pounces nicely with some accurate play. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Very entertaining game as these Nd5 sacrifices in Najdorf positions always create interesting play. As always, I'm certainly not qualified to determine how sound any of this really was, but as he's seemed to become accustomed to doing, with only a slight material edge, Zaikov very coolly defended a very tough looking position and then pounced with a nice counterattack when the time was right. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: A fun game by both sides. Honestly I wasn't familiar with the theory, I just liked the energy displayed by both players, and Black's defensive efforts, which showed that passive defense isn't always best when up material as he viciously counterattacked the White King instead. (1st place: 5 points)

Jeff Ashton: Daniel Fernandez has a style that is perfect for winning GOTW, unfortunately it didn't end so well for him.

Both players should be commended. Daniel for his risky and exciting efforts, and Zaikov for his precise defense. Although the winner and loser don't share GOTW prize money, I think Zaikov should buy Daniel a steak dinner. (NR: 0 points)

Michael Aigner: The game followed mainstream Najdorf theory for fifteen moves and followed Alekseev vs Najer 2004 to move eighteen. The novelty 18... Kc8 was approved by computer engines, and five moves later, White blundered away the entire game with 23. bxc3, albeit in a very sharp position. Finally, Black simply had an extra piece in the endgame after the flashy (but unnecessary) tactic 28... Bf3.

Between moves fifteen and twenty three, White sacrificed two pieces. After that, Black made three critical moves: walking away with Kc8, giving back material on h8, and finally sacrificing the Knight on c3. Very nicely done! Still, none of these moves are terribly shocking; sacrifices, especially on c3, are a trademark for this opening.

I admit that I underestimated this game a little and would have ranked it as high as third or fourth if I had another chance. However, compared to a truly competitive Najdorf game like Herman vs Naroditsky, this week seemed way too one-sided. There's just no way that a game like Fernandez vs Zaikov should take top honors when two judges didn't even vote for Herman in Week 5! (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Fernandez vs Zaikov: 15 points


2nd Place: IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) vs GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) 1-0

Following an exchange sac, IM Van de Mortel continued strongly with 23. Bxe5!, after which the numerous threats against the Black King were too much for Black to handle, allowing White to enter an ending up a whopping three pawns.

Jim Dean: While this was probably not a performance Ehlvest was proud of, I think a win versus such a strong player in an opening that he authored a book on deserves a lot of credit. White gets a fantastic opening position before Black goes a bit nutty with 19... Bh3, but even without this mistake Black could not have been pleased with his position. White used a lot more clock time and was careful not to allow too much counterplay, helping to secure a victory for the Blaze. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: Like Jim, I feel a win against a major authority on this opening deserves some great credit, even if it was not Ehlvest's best day. I feel it's too easy in these kinds of games to claim that the winner did nothing special, that the result was more due to the loser self destructing. While of course that is true in any decisive game to some extent, in this case, against an authority on this opening who had not lost in fifteen USCL games prior and also had a more than two hundred point rating advantage in this game, I don't feel viewing the game in that way is giving the winner his due credit. Those latter factors, along with the flashiness of the game, forced me to give it a high ranking.
(2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: I liked this game very much. Van de Mortel is such a strong player and a class act. He had a bumpy start this season so it was a pleasure to see this nice win. Ehlvest is one of my favorite US players that happens to be playing well lately so it was sad for me to see him on the losing end though. Ehlvest made mistakes in a tough position, but I look forward to watching him come back strong for the rest of the USCL. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: I gave this game three points mainly due to the fact that it was a huge upset that swung the match to Chicago because in all honesty White won this game very easily with not much resistance from his higher rated and previously undefeated opponent. Congratulations to Van de Mortel on being able to do something (beat Ehlvest in the USCL) that no one was able to do in Ehlvest's first fifteen games in the league and also for playing such a fine attacking game. (3rd place: 3 points)

Michael Aigner: As a longtime Leningrad Dutch player, watching this deeply saddened me. White earned a tie for Game of the Week because Black self-destructed! I always found 11... g5 to be suspicious, yet still people seem to play it. But jean puhleeze, what in Caissa's name was 19... Bh3??? Black simply hangs the c6 pawn, plus e7 to boot! Of course, the fact that Black spent all of seven minutes (plus the thirty second increment) for the first nineteen moves (and thirteen minutes for the entire game) troubles me as well.

I will give White credit for playing smoothly and efficiently. However, he can't take credit for much more, as the plan of 12. e4, 18. Bb1 and 19. f4 is hardly anything new. Depending on your philosophy, I can see this game earning some fourth or fifth place votes for GOTW, but no way should it be tied for first! (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Van de Mortel vs Ehlvest: 15 points


3rd Place: GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 0-1

In a game that had mostly been dictated by Pawn tensions, IM Smith made a strong addition to them with 19... e5!, after which the threats on the long diagonal forced White to liquidate the exchange.

Jeff Ashton: Finally Bryan Smith gets some recognition. He is one of the biggest "sleepers" in US chess. For those who don't know that expression, it basically means he doesn't get the respect and recognition that he deserves from the public.

He is a strong player and he contributes much to the chess community. I have officially joined the Bryan Smith fan club.

And finally, I would like to apologize for unintentionally jinxing Kacheishvili with my "always wins with White" comment last week. (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: In my experience, playing against an opening system like the one White employs here is rarely tons of fun, but Smith was able to create an enjoyable position for himself here. Black appears to get the upper hand around move sixteen, and never really lets up. After winning the exchange, Smith cruises in a fairly easy endgame. (3rd place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: Another game where, like Van de Mortel, the upset factor really stood out and caused this game to be something special in my mind. While again some might be tempted to attribute this result to GM Kacheishvili having an off day, IM Smith really deserves credit for mixing it up well with such a strong player with the Black pieces, really going for the jugular right out of the opening with both 15... b4! and 19... e5! (4th place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: A very nice game from Smith as Kacheishvili is very hard to defeat, especially with the Black pieces. I ranked this behind the Van de Mortel game only because that one was a bit more flashy, but it's hard to ignore anyone who pulls off such an upset with Black against such a solid player. (4th place: 2 points)

Michael Aigner: Thank you to Mr. Smith for demonstrating proper technique to embarrass these bizarre looking openings. In a week with so many games decided on blunders, I was glad to see one sensible game! While I can't imagine it was that hard to play, it was nonetheless a nice win against a GM with the Black pieces. (4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Kacheishvili vs Smith: 14 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

12 points (Michael 5, Greg 4, Arun 3):
IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs FM John Bick (TEN) 1-0

6 points (Michael 4, Jim 1, Arun 1):
IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 1-0

5 points (Michael 3, Jeff 2):
GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0

4 points (Jeff 3, Michael 1):
GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) 0-1

3 points (Jim 2, Greg 1):
Miguel Recio (MIA) vs NM Joshua Sinanan (SEA) 0-1

1 point (Jeff 1):
GM Alex Shabalov (TEN) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week 6 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 Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 1-0

GM Ramirez played the deflecting 35. f5!!, after which the swift h-pawn in tandem with the threat of Bd4 and b3 winning the Black Knight were enough to bring home the full point.

Michael Aigner: Surprise! A sweet quiet game becomes the run-away winner of Game of the Week. No doubt a big part of the decision was the crushing endgame tactic 35. f5, making way for the h-pawn to run down the board. Bonus points for the key role of this game in Arizona's victory and for taking down one of this season's top performers.

I must, however, complain about the lack of good games this week. Many games were marred by blunders and missed opportunities. Others were too one-sided where the loser self-destructed more than the winner playing a nice combination. On my spreadsheet, this week was the lowest score for my top game over all six weeks! (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Before I comment on this game, I want to make a few comments about my judging this week. In past weeks I have tried to choose games that I felt were played well and exciting. This week there were a lot of well played games, but many of them had no flash or excitement that drew me to them. I also notice that in past weeks judges have been mercilessly criticized for their selections. So this week, due to my lack of overall inspiration by many of the games, I decided to use a different judging criteria than I usually did.

Instead of picking all of the best games, I picked two games that I felt stood out, and then the other three games were simply the games that I felt were the most exciting and interesting to the fans. My point is that this is a subjective contest in which there are no set rules or guidelines to determine what a "Game of the Week" is. It's simply the combined opinion of five people as to what games they enjoyed the most. I am well aware that the games I ranked from third to fifth place contained numerous errors from both players, but they were also extremely exciting for the fans.

Anyway, Alejandro's game got the nod this week almost solely due to the final endgame combination with 35. f5!. It also didn't hurt that he dealt Joel Benjamin his first loss of the season and helped the Knockouts to lose their undefeated record.
(1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: Ramirez puts on a really nice performance here and shows impressive technique. White plays very logically throughout and gets to exploit a superior Bishop versus a Knight before finding a clever way to create an outside passer to seal the deal. White managed to put this win together despite no major blunders from Black, and such a victory over such a strong opponent makes this a very deserving Game of the Week. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: This, in my view, was not a super inspiring week for Game of the Week so I'm not surprised that other than on this game, our opinions differed so much (however, as I've commented below, I still really do not agree with the games that wound up getting second and third being that high, even if this was a below average week).

However, I'm quite glad that this game at least managed to win as I feel it was definitely one of the few very good games played this week. It clearly was a fairly high quality game (something that really seemed to be lacking this week), and the endgame play by Ramirez, starting with 34. Rxg6, undoubtedly seeing at the time the long term winning idea of marching the h-pawn along with the threat to win the Black Knight with Bd4 and b3, was very impressive. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: I liked this game quite a bit, but at first I was surprised to see it get first place. I considered ranking it higher, but I eventually decided that very few fans might be able to appreciate this game, and some other games were just more "fun" for everyone, including myself. It pains me to say this, but for the first time in USCL history I might have made a mistake. If I were to vote again I would probably rank it third place instead of fourth! I apologize for making my first and last ever judgment error.

This game is educational and entertaining (maybe) for players of all levels (those who have an attention span greater than a fly). I kind of wonder if other people gave it "cool points" because it involves such a young GM grinding down an older more experienced GM in a Queen-less game. Some might say "Oh it looks like the tables have turned!" If Benjamin had White and Ramirez had Black, would it have dominated in GOTW? Benjamin has consistently been grinding down players in technical positions in USCL so it's a bit ironic to see him lose to young Ramirez this way (and also to be on the losing end of GOTW). Although Benjamin rejected my compliments for his strong play last week, I still think he is one of this season's MVPs, and his play is inspiring. It's a shame to see his first GOTW appearance on the losing end as I thought he would have placed several times in the past.

Overall, Ramirez played very nicely in a game where Benjamin showed strong resistance. USCL has helped me gain great respect for both Ramirez's and Benjamin's positional and endgame skills. (4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Ramirez vs Benjamin: 20 points


2nd Place: SM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 1-0

SM Esserman finished off the game with the aesthetically pleasing interference tactic, 20. Be6+!!

Jeff Ashton: One hundred years from now I won't be surprised if these games are listed as "Esserman-NN", and people will debate whether or not these games were played in competition or simply home analysis. In Mega Database 3009, Esserman's games will be listed among other great games such as Zaremba-NN from earlier this season.

Are Esserman's games scripted? Is there some elaborate conspiracy designed for him and Boston to win GOTW every week? Am I saying this to encourage Boston fans to leave interesting comments when in fact I am 100% kidding? Honestly, Esserman is just very good, and now we know that it is not just a short term fluke.

As of October 2009 I have officially joined the Esserman bandwagon. His aggressive play with consistent results is a joy to watch. I, like Michael, experience some deja vu when I see his games, but I can't hold it against him. Esserman is still playing aggressive, high risk, attacking chess, and his wins are very convincing.

If Esserman keeps this up, he will soon be giving blindfold simuls and playing without his Queen's Rook. (2nd place: 4 points)

Michael Aigner: Marc Esserman was at it again, knocking out the ever dangerous Zaikov. I ranked this game third behind wins by Ramirez and Bick because of how unsoundly the opponent played. At least Esserman had to work a bit for the win this week though, finishing off with the crushing yet non-obvious interference sacrifice 20. Be6+!
(3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: Obviously not the greatest game ever, but it certainly excited the fans. Zaikov's opening was terrible, and I think that Esserman did a relatively poor job of cleaning up from there. Also Zaikov blundered one move before the end of the game, when 19... Bd6 would have been quite playable. I only ranked this game because of it's excitement factor and my lack of inspiration from the other games. (5th place: 1 point)

Jim Dean: This game was a tough one to rank for me. I was loving the game, right up until the big blunder at the end. I thought both sides had played well and certainly in an exciting fashion before the fatal mistake. I wish 19... Bd6 had been played, where it appears the result is still very much in the air. (5th place: 1 point)

Arun Sharma: I didn't rank this game, and frankly I was very surprised to see it make the Top Three. The game did contain a lot of interesting moments and tactical ideas, especially the one which forced instant resignation so I do understand why the other judges found it attractive. But when the losing side mixes up the opening (or something of that general nature) and as a result winds up in a dead lost position on move six, I'm sorry, but I just cannot rank a game like that.

However, some credit is definitely due to White for mostly playing the attack well and to Black for tenaciously defending such a hopeless looking position after a disastrous opening, but again mainly for the reason mentioned above and the fact that White nearly managed to let him escape before Black lost the game instantly with 19... Bg7?? (after 19... Bd6, White still seems to have a very long road to victory), I could not justify ranking this game. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Esserman vs Zaikov: 9 points


3rd Place: GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) vs GM Leonid Kritz (BAL) 1-0

GM Kacheishivli played the clever 24. Ra1!, tactically justifying his snatching of a Pawn three moves earlier, which soon liquidated him into a solid Exchange up position that he had no trouble converting.

Jeff Ashton: Has anyone else noticed that in his whole career, Kacheishvili has never lost or drawn a game with the White pieces? Maybe I'm wrong, but it kind of seems that way. We rarely get to see such a one-sided Hedgehog among such strong players, but then again, who had White in this game? (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: This was another game that reminded me to pass when I get the opportunity to face a GM as Black in a Maroczy Bind structure. The main knock against it I felt, was that it almost looked too easy. It seems to me like White has a much easier position to play as they enter the middlegame, and Kacheishvili plays one good move after another to prove it. (4th place: 2 points)

Michael Aigner: I have to say that Kacheishvili gets an A+ for homework! For the second week in a row, he makes an opponent crumble with a sharp line (not technically a novelty, but off the beaten track). It did seem a bit too easy this week, compared to the extended combination (three sacrifices) against Friedel last week. That's why I didn't rank this game, although perhaps it still deserved honorable mention. (NR: 0 points)

Greg Shahade: This one I didn't rank for two main reasons:

(a) It was way too easy for White, and there were no really difficult moves to find.
(b) Kritz basically blitzed the whole game, giving the impression that he wasn't taking it seriously.

Not sure what else to say.
(NR: 0 points)

Arun Sharma: This was another game that I didn't really agree with being in the Top Three, but I suppose it really comes down to what context you put it in. On the plus side, the victor played very well, coming up with a nice tactical sequence which won him the game instantly.

On the other hand, this certainly was not a very hard game for the winner, using only about twenty minutes total for the entire game. But the main thing that soured me on it was that that Black basically blitzed out the first fifteen or so moves (spending only about five minutes total on them) and seemed to be in a really bad looking position already at that point. Then, instead of trying to defend like he probably should have (who knows, maybe it was too late even for that by then), he then blitzed out into a tactical sequence, which as shown above, ended up being essentially instantly winning for White.

On the whole it's psychologically very difficult to consider a game which lasted less than an hour (especially on Board One) to be a reasonable candidate for GOTW, unless it was a ridiculous brilliancy by the winner (and while the winner played well, I don't think it rose to the level of that). But again, the winner did play very well so I can't rightly dispute this game being here too much. (NR: 0 points)

(NOTE: We again had to bring in a tiebreaker judge because this game and Mitkov vs Lenderman were tied on points and on all tiebreakers for third place. Thanks this time to FM Jake Kleiman for assisting us in this regard)

Tiebreaker Judge, FM Jake Kleiman: The Mitkov vs Lenderman game was very exciting, but Lenderman's position is so suspect. I am certain Mitkov missed many opportunities which is understandable due to his time pressure. However, the Kacheishvili vs Kritz game showed very nice domination by Kacheishvili where Black's counter chances were always one step too slow.

Total Score of Kacheishvili vs Kritz: 7 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

7 points (Jim 5, Greg 2):
GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) vs IM Alex Lenderman (PHI) 0-1

5 points (Arun 5):
GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 1-0

5 points (Greg 4, Arun 1):
GM Patrick Wolff (SF) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0

5 points (Jim 3, Arun 2):
IM Lev Milman (QNS) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 0-1

4 points (Michael 4):
FM John Bick (TEN) vs FM Keaton Kiewra (DAL) 1-0

4 points (Greg 3, Michael 1):
IM Salvijus Bercys (DAL) vs GM Alex Shabalov (TEN) 1-0

3 points (Jeff 3):
IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 0-1

3 points (Arun 3):
NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) vs NM Udayan Bapat (CAR) 1-0

2 points (Michael 2):
FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs GM Jesse Kraai (SF) 1-0

1 point (Jeff 1):
NM Matt Herman (NY) vs FM Shinsaku Uesugi (BAL) 0-1

Friday, October 9, 2009

2009 Midseason All Stars

Now that we are at about the midpoint of the season, it's once again time to name who I would put on the three All Star Teams as of now so everyone has a good idea as to who has jumped out to an early lead in qualifying for the official All Star Teams that will be announced at season's end. I will be using the same sort of criteria that has been applied for the last couple of seasons (see this post from last year for an example). Note of course that the five game minimum needed by season's end will not apply here as I will not be enforcing any minimum number of games at this stage.

So without further ado, here is what we have.

Board One:

1st Team: GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA)

A fairly easy decision as being perfect on the top board, even though not quite having as many games as some others, is always a rare feat. Add to that, how tight each match for Seattle has been in each of his victories, two of which have ended up in the Sluggers' favor (by scores of 3-1 and 2.5 - 1.5), and the other being a tie, it's quite clear how clutch Nakamura has been for them so far. Having helped Seattle storm out to an impressive 5.0 - 1.0 record which has them currently tied for the League lead and being the current
MVP Leader, he was an easy choice for the First Team.

Record: 3.0 / 3 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2983

2nd Team: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS)

Another fairly easy decision, as Perelshteyn shares the distinction of being perfect on the top boards with several games under his belt and like Nakamura has also been very important in helping his team jump out to a 5.0 - 1.0 record, also tied for the current League lead.

Such perfection at the highest level would typically be worthy of the First Team, but given both of the players have managed to accomplish that, I felt at this point the higher honor had to go to Nakamura, with him having the much higher performance rating along with the fact that two of Perelshteyn's wins occurred in matches which wound up being total blowouts (score-wise) in Boston's favor.

However, likely there are many more games in both players' futures this season, and it will be interesting to see if one or both players can continue their great starts later on, especially when the plot thickens in the postseason.

Record: 3.0 / 3 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2866

3rd Team: GM Joel Benjamin (NJ)

Unlike the top two spots, who should have been on the third team at this stage was a much tougher decision as there were several players with very similar records to Benjamin (listed in the "Other Candidates") who could have been argued to here instead. I felt that Benjamin deserved the nod at this point for the combination of two reasons: he has played every match thus far and all of his games have been very critical to his team, with four of five New Jersey victories being by the narrowest margin. Add to that the fact that his team does also have the League leading 5.0 - 1.0 record, I elected him to take this spot.

With the Knockouts' being virtually assured of the postseason at this point, it will be very interesting to see if their leader's current good form can be a springboard to ensuring that the troubles they've endured in the later half of the year in their first two seasons do not occur again, to ensure them of both good playoff positioning and then a successful postseason run.

Record: 4.0 / 6 (67%)

Performance Rating: 2703

Other Candidates: As mentioned, there are several other strong players who were close to being on the third team themselves. Perennial Top All Star GM Julio Becerra (MIA) (4.0 / 6, 2702 Performance), has virtually identical stats to Benjamin and has also played in every match and therefore would probably have been given the third spot with the slightest change for the better in almost any stat, but as mentioned I felt Benjamin should get that spot at this stage due to his results on the whole being a bit more integral to his team's success (and of course his team having a bit more success in general with their superior record). Another very strong contender at this point is GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) (3.0 / 4, 2798 Performance). I also nearly gave him the spot over both Benjamin and Becerra with his far superior Performance Rating, but decided, especially at this stage of the season, that with such superb showings by all three of them, it should be valued higher when such stronger performances come in a large number of games (something I do not think is quite the case when dealing with the entire season). Nevertheless, I'm glad this is one of those decisions that really does not count for anything at this point as I know how much trouble I'd have making it at the end of the season when it really matters. But whether endowed with that spot at this point or not, it's very clear how important Ramirez has been to the Arizona team, with them sporting a 3.0 - 1.0 record when he plays and a 0.0 - 2.0 record without him. The other very strong contender is GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) (3.5 / 5, 2716 Performance), also boasting similar stats to the other three, who for the same reasons mentioned would have been a very worthy addition to the third team also, even though at this point I'd have to consider him slightly below the others as his strong performance has not brought around overall team success like the rest, with Tennessee only managing a 1.0 - 4.0 record during his strong run.

Board Two:

1st Team: IM Alex Lenderman (PHI)

Another fairly easy pick, with Lenderman having picked up right where he left off from his MVP performance last season, scoring win after win for his team and easily being the best Board Two performer to date along with being in the thick of the MVP race again.

Unfortunately for him, his great success has not been accompanied by the great team success that came with it last year, and his team has a long road ahead of itself to make the postseason. But if he can continue to perform at the rate that he has, I definitely can see them making a very good run at doing just that.

Record: 3.5 / 4 (88%)

Performance Rating: 2778

2nd Team: GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL)

A Board One Second Team All Star last season, the sight of Erenburg on Board Two has to be a scary thing for any team to see, and it's lived up to its potential so far, with him scoring two big wins for Baltimore there and has been a big part of their already far eclipsing the dismal record brought about by last season's struggles.

While by season's end, it seems rather certain that should Erenburg be All Star eligible, it will be on the top board, given his team's need to generally use an alternate to put him on second board. But even so, it goes without saying that wherever he might be eligible, he's someone to watch out for, and as long that's the case, with the rest of the Baltimore team contributing to his effort much more than last year, the same can definitely be said for the Kingfishers.

Record: 2.5 / 3 (83%)

Performance Rating: 2781

3rd Team: GM Boris Gulko (NJ)

Gulko finds himself in a similar spot as last season, scoring perfectly, though not in an excess of games. Unfortunately, as well as he played last year, his low number of games (three), kept him from receiving All Star consideration then, and one can only guess at this point if that might be the case again this season. Given how well he's done though, it's a certainty that Knockout fans are fervently hoping that at the very least the five game minimum will be met this season, and with the Knockouts almost certain to be in the postseason this year, they obviously will have more time to ensure that that happens.

Record: 2.0 / 2 (100%)

Performance Rating: 2874

Other Candidates: Board Two at this point definitely is the board with the least number of clear candidates as at this point as other than the three mentioned above, no players eligible for this board have scored at least +2. Not to say that there aren't some potential candidates, as
FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) (2.5 / 4, 2626 Performance), IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) (2.5 / 4, 2618 Performance), FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) (2.0 / 3, 2650 Performance), IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) (2.0 / 3, 2610 Performance), and IM Blas Lugo (MIA) (2.0 / 3, 2577 Performance) have all had some critical games for their team. Especially with Erenburg unlikely to be eligible on this board by season's end, really any of them with a great push in the second half of the season has a very real chance of making it onto one of the All Star Teams when it really counts.

Board Three:

1st Team: FM John Bick (TEN)

This was really the easiest decision of them all as Bick, due mostly to Tennessee's monster double GM lineup is by far the lowest rated of the Board Three regulars, and when you combine that with the fact that he has the best record amongst the Board Three's (albeit with a couple of games played on Board Four), it makes for a rather trivial decision.

Although I'm sure it's very disappointing that his team has only managed a 2.0 - 4.0 record despite the very strong play by both him and Ehlvest, as they have suffered some very tight and close defeats, they are still very much in real contention to make it to the postseason, and his continuing to perform so magnificently will definitely be a key ingredient in making that happen.

Record: 4.5 / 5 (90%)

Performance Rating: 2600

2nd Team: IM Angelo Young (CHC)

A near All Star last season, Young also has picked right off where he left last season, now being undefeated in ten league games. Combine that with being out-rated in the majority of these games and having one his victories this season being a more than two hundred point upset against one of the best league performers in history, IM Sam Shankland, only makes this statistic more impressive.

But unfortunately, just as for the other two Board Three All Stars, the team has not managed to keep reasonable pace with their star, with the Blaze currently languishing at the bottom of the West. However, being in that spot now is a very different thing from being there at the end of the regular season, and the Blaze are still very well within striking distance of changing that. They can only hope to turn that around in their other spots while Young continues to be one of the League's biggest surprises which together can add up to a big turn around.

Record: 3.5 / 4 (88%)

Performance Rating: 2715

3rd Team: FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS)

With similar stats to IM Young, it was a close decision of which to give the higher spot, but eventually I felt that it should go to Young with his lower league rating and higher Performance Rating, even though Zaremba has played more games.

Zaremba has been a huge spark for the Pioneers, having won a couple of very crucial games for them, but unfortunately his victories have mostly turned potentially losing matches into drawn ones rather than into winning ones which has prevented his team from taking as much advantage of his great run that I'm sure they would have liked. But just as is true for his fellow Board Three All Stars, his team is still well within striking distance of making the playoffs and continued production from their All Star will definitely be integral to trying to make such a turn around happen.

Record: 4.0 / 5 (80%)

Performance Rating: 2617

Other Candidates: The main other candidate at this point should be no surprise, being last year's second team All Star on this board,
SM Marc Esserman (BOS)
(3.5 / 5, 2528 Performance), another player who managed to pick up where he left off last season, having another very strong season. It's also extremely clear how important he has been to his team, his league rating being around one hundred points lower than his current rating. Add to that the fact that his team's only loss occurred the one week that he did not play, another statistic which speaks for itself, he seems very poised to make help Boston to make another Championship run.

Board Four:

1st Team: NM Yaacov Norowitz (NY)

I'm sure it's not a huge surprise to anyone to see Norowitz in this spot, as the Knights opted for a strategy of heavily stacking their Board Four (rating-wise) when using him. While everyone has their own opinion on whether stacking any particular board is wise or not, it certainly cannot be argued that the spot that New York chose to do this in has more than delivered, with Norowitz having only been nicked for one draw in five games by his chief competitor for this top spot, NM Yian Liou, when he had the Black pieces, in a match that his team fairly dominated.

Although he (like almost any All Star) might be disappointed that his team's results haven't quite measured up to his own, given how much the Knights have tended to struggle early in the season for the past few years, they must be happy that due in large part to him, they do not have a huge mountain to climb in the second part of the season to even make the Playoffs. Add to that New York's tendency to catch fire in the later part of the season, if he can continue on his torrid run, the Knights are going to be a very scary team for anyone to face.

Record: 4.5 / 5 (90%)

Performance Rating: 2427

2nd Team: NM Yian Liou (SF)

As mentioned above, it was a rather tough decision as to whom between Liou and Norowitz should be on the First Team at this juncture, with Norowitz being a bit superior in the most important statistic (record), and Liou holding a small advantage in a few of the other categories, having played more games, having a slightly higher Performance Rating, and having a lower league rating. This really could have gone either way as it seemed nearly dead even on the whole, but I went with Norowitz since, as mentioned above, he did draw with Black in their head to head encounter. However, this is another decision I'm quite happy to not have to make when it really counts as it was extremely tough, and I hope they create some distance between themselves by the time this decision really counts.

At season's beginning, I and others were skeptical of the Mechanics' strategy of using the same bottom board in every single match, certainly a risky strategy as naturally any player is capable of going on a bad streak (which can generally be overcome by the team with the luxury of having multiple players available to play instead). But fortunately, San Francisco seems to have chosen well as Liou's performance has been incredible so far, and should he continue as such, their fearsome lineup of Friedel/Kraai/Shankland/Liou, which helped the Mechanics storm out to a 3.5 - 0.5 start, may well match up favorably against any other lineup in the league.

Record: 4.5 / 6 (75%)

Performance Rating: 2454

3rd Team: NM Joshua Sinanan (SEA)

At the beginning of the year, I would have guessed Seattle's success would mostly hinge upon the success of the player I envisioned them using on Board Four most of the time to facilitate the use of the double GM lineup, NM Howard Chen. But having only relied upon that lineup once, Sinanan has taken on most of the Board Four responsibilities, and he hasn't disappointed, having won his last three games, all in very close matches (two of which ended up 2.5 - 1.5 in his team's favor), obviously very key in the Sluggers' League leading 5.0 - 1.0 start.

With Sinanan and Nakamura both performing extremely well so far, and their last year's All Star, Mikhailuk, seeming to return to form after a tough inaugural game this season, it's very clear that with or without their double GM lineup, the Sluggers are a team to be reckoned with.

Record: 4.0 / 5 (80%)

Performance Rating: 2415

Other Candidates: There are two other players who definitely have been very important to their teams also and could well make showings on the All Star Teams at season's end.
Last year's third team All Star, NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) (3.0 / 4, 2452 Performance), has also scored some important wins for his team against rather tough opposition (as evidenced by his high performance rating in comparison to several of his All Star competitors). Also, David Adelberg (ARZ) (3.0 / 4, 2352 Performance), being the first Board Four in quite a long time to finish highly in the Game of the Week voting and being undefeated in four games despite being one of the lowest rated regular Board Fours in the League is another very strong candidate and like his teammate Ramirez, his importance is also very apparent from his team's 3.0 - 1.0 record with him and 0.0 - 2.0 record without him.

Good luck to everyone in the second part of the season and congratulations to everyone who's performed well enough to be on the Team so far, all of whom have played some great games to greatly entertain us spectators, and I hope the second half of the season can be even better!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Week 5 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 Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) vs GM Josh Friedel (SF) 1-0

GM Kacheishvili played the powerful 19. Rxd4! Bxd4 20. Qf5+ and quickly overwhelmed the exposed Black King to force liquidation into an easy ending.

Michael Aigner: I tried hard to find a way to rank this game lower than first, but I simply could not. Kacheishvili essayed a brilliant piece of opening preparation in a line of the Nimzo Indian that, at least statistically, was supposed to be decent for Black. The Panda never stood a chance; he played perfectly according to Rybka and still became extinct by move thirty. The efficient exchange sacrifice 19. Rxd4 sealed Black's fate. The game stands out way above this week's competition because of

(a) Theoretical Significance
(b) Depth of the Combination (three sacrifices of a piece or exchange)
(c) Strength of the Opponent

(1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Before I get started please let me point out that I think this was a great week for the Game of the Week contest. I believe that there were at least five games that would likely have won if they were played last week, and maybe even more?

In any case I thought this was a great game by Kacheishvili. It had most of the key ingredients:

(a) Nice opening preparation
(b) Strong play by the winning side and reasonable defense by the losing side
(c) Some exciting tactics and sacrifices.

In my mind this game was a very worthy winner.

(2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: I liked this game:

(a) Interesting opening variation with theoretical significance.
(b) Exciting dynamic middlegame play and fun high risk chess for the fans to watch.
(c) Excellent endgame play by Kachieshvili. This was my favorite part of the game.

(2nd place: 4 points)

Jim Dean: This game just didn't capture my interest much despite the fact that Kacheishvili clearly played very well. Friedel played what may be a new move with 12.. Nc6 (my database is not completely up to date, so I'm not certain), and it might be quite good, but to my eyes Black's position looks really difficult to play right out of the gate. Kacheishvili makes the exposed King extremely uncomfortable with a series of accurate moves and didn't seem to have any problems with his endgame technique. (NR: 0 points)

Arun Sharma: This was a game I had a very difficult time deciding on as it kept on moving around in my rankings, at one point being at the top, another point near the middle, and in the end winding up sixth. It was a very good game by Kacheishvili with a very strong novelty (I think a novelty), 17. Qc2! Add to that how well the winner played on the whole, this was a natural choice for a top pick and would have been in most weeks.

However, there were many great games this week, and I had a really hard time deciding which good ones would not end up making the Top Five, and unfortunately this wound up being amongst those few that did not do so. The main issue I had with it was the position before 17. Qc2! is fairly well known, and while Kacheishvili found a great novelty, that in my view was really the only truly salient point of this game as 19. Rxd4 is fairly obvious and after 20. Qf5+, Black's position is close to resignable already.

Nevertheless, one cannot dispute the fact of how well the victor in this game played so I definitely cannot argue with the decision to make this this week's winner even if I personally found some other games more intriguing. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Kacheishvili vs Friedel: 13 points


2nd Place: WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL) vs David Adelberg (ARZ) 0-1

Young Adelberg pounced with the typical, but well timed, exchange sac 15... Rxc3! and followed up very strongly, overwhelming White's defenses and never allowing any counterattack.

Jim Dean: I really enjoyed this game and was impressed with young Adelberg's handling of the attack after the thematic exchange sacrifice. Black doesn't hesitate to boldly grab the initiative with 15... Rxc3 and really poured it on with constant pressure while not giving white anything in the way of counter-attacking chances. An excellent win that was much needed by his team who struggled on the middle boards. (1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: Twelve year old star David Adelberg shatters his opponent's King position with a thematic 15... Rxc3 exchange sacrifice and then follows up with crisp tactics. Moves such as 19... b4 and 20... d5 demonstrate an understanding of the essence of the Najdorf: material means little in the Hunt for the White King. The Bishop and Knight checkmate at the end put an artistic exclamation mark on an already elegant game. Bonus points for the win against a higher rated and higher titled opponent with the Black pieces. I ranked this game third behind Herman vs Naroditsky mainly because of the non-aggressive play by White leading up to the exchange sacrifice, almost daring Black to go for it. Which Adelberg did, spectacularly!
(3rd place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: Very high class play by Adelberg topped off with a cute finish. This was another game I was not sure how to rank since as other judges noted, the Rxc3 idea is not exactly a novel one. On the other hand, it seemed that Adelberg played very well throughout (something which is quite rare for Board Four games), conducting the attack very precisely and not permitting any counterplay. As such, I think this game was very deserving of the strong ranking it received. (3rd place: 3 points)

Jeff Ashton: This game was simple and thematic. The attack on the Queenside and ideas such as Rxc3 have been seen countless times. Nonetheless, I can't let that take away from such a beautiful game with an immaculate finish. When I watch Sportscenter on ESPN, I am usually impressed by similar slam dunks even if I've "seen the idea" before. I can appreciate this game even though I've seen the idea so many times. Great play by Adelberg. (5th place: 1 point)

Greg Shahade: Maybe I was a bit harsh on this game, considering that it was played on Board Four. The thing is that I used to play this opening, and I won many games like this in blitz and action chess all of the time. Nothing that David did was something I haven't seen many times before as when they let you take on c3 like that, often it results in a relatively easy victory. Again, I try to give extra consideration to Board Four, because it's obviously tougher to play like a 2700 GM when your rating is 2200, but I just got the feeling that it was too easy for David, and honestly I'm happy I didn't rank it because I feel strongly that this game should not have won first place (and it would have if I had simply given it fourth place!). (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Zorigt vs Adelberg: 12 points


3rd Place: NM Matt Herman (NY) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 1-0

Herman played the somewhat atypical 19. Bd5, daring Black to accept a d5 sac of a Bishop rather than the more usual Knight. Naroditsky declined but was still unable to stop White's vicious attack when it inevitably came anyway.

Greg Shahade: A lot of comments have been made about how Jeff Ashton, or other judges, may be "whacko" judges. At this point I have no option but to agree! First of all in a game this complex I find it absurd to rely so heavily on Fritz/Rybka analysis. The time control is 75+30, do we really expect players to find perfect moves in such an insanely sharp position?

Secondly, I'm not sure if it was a deep bit of preparation from Herman or just over the board inspiration, but he played so many sharp attacking moves, and the game was so energetic and exciting, that as I saw the GOTW results coming in I was deeply disappointed in my fellow judges (Until Aigner sent his in last, and it was granted a reprieve and a tie for third place. Fortunately the very strong IM Cyrus Lakdawala gave it the nod for third place!). Don't be surprised to see this game chosen as one of my Wildcard picks, as I think it will likely crack the Top Ten if given the chance, even without the huge name recognition of the players involved.

I noticed there were many awesome games this week while watching, and when I sat down to look at them I honestly had no clue which ones I would rank highly, but after just one look at the energy of this game I couldn't imagine how any other game could surpass it.
(1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: This game was by far the most spectacular of the week. However, my initial impression was that the players traded mistakes somewhere around move nineteen or twenty. After time to reflect, with help from Rybka and friends, I found out that White had way more attacking resources than I expected. Veritable insanity! While it wouldn't surprise me if Black holds the fort somehow, we cannot expect a perfect defense in a practical game played between two human beings at a modestly fast time control. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: This was a very tricky game to rank, a game I'm really not surprised that there were very different opinions on. I personally tend to fall somewhere in the middle in terms of where this game should be (as you can see by my ranking!). I understand why Greg and Michael ranked it so highly as it was definitely the most creative and probably most interesting game of the week. I also understand why Jeff and Jim did not rank it given that there obviously were numerous errors.

Honestly, my first instinct when I looked at candidates this week was to rank this game first or second, but I agree with Greg that there were many good games this week, and I just happened to like the games I picked higher a bit better than this one. I did not use a computer to analyze this as others might have so I didn't really have a sense of how "sound" the ideas were, but again I tend to still appreciate those who play such creative ideas even if they are refutable with perfect play as obviously no one plays perfectly in the league (or anywhere!).

I was fairly surprised the game I ranked first got no other votes as it was a very clean and well played game by the victor where the losing side did not really make any big errors, but again there were a bunch of good games this week, and it doesn't shock me that there were varying opinions. (4th place: 2 points)

Jeff Ashton: Seeing this game is a real treat - if you look at it in Chessbase while holding down the "right arrow" key and not letting go until the end.

With some closer examination, it appears that White is rewarded for making poor decisions.

Maybe the sacrifice was fun for others to watch. Not me. I don't care for this game at all. I wish I could delete it from my memory. It would be more appropriate to fine Herman $50 than to award him this amount.

The sacrificial play should have lead to an easy win for Black, not White winning a GOTW prize.

I have a routine of first looking over the games without computer assistance. My first reaction was that White's sacrifices cannot be 100% sound, but it could lead to interesting complications in a fast time control. Also, there is a chance that the sacrifice is actually better than it appears. There is no way that this move can actually be as bad as it looks. When I looked at the game more closely with both Rybka 3 and Fritz 11, it seems that I was being way too nice in my initial assessment! I have never seen a GOTW contender (let alone top finisher) receive so many "red lights" from both Rybka and Fritz.

White did show creativity. I think it's ok that Herman won the game. These things happen. Heroic play should be rewarded with lucky wins. Attacking is cool. Attackers are the good guys, defenders are the bad guys, I get it. I just can't be happy with that kind of play leading to a GOTW prize and outranking much better games.

I don't have a huge problem with unsound sacrifices in general, but it seems that even after Black defends inaccurately he should still be better and winning. If a sacrifice leads to a losing position when accepted or declined, then it is just a bad sacrifice. It is a usually a waste of clock time to even analyze such an idea.

I do understand that there have been many less sound sacrifices made by great players (Mikhail Tal, Emory Tate, etc.) so I will try my best to move on.

I do want to mention how some other players got robbed this week. There were two other games with interesting sacrifices (Smith vs Vovsha and Moreno Roman vs Klein) that were actually sound. Furthermore, I think Joel Benjamin should finally finish high in GOTW. Benjamin is playing incredible well every single game, but unfortunately his games have been too technical for many people to enjoy. Finally, he played a game that is simple enough for players of all levels to appreciate. I was hoping Joel Benjamin would get his due credit with a Top Three finish.

This week was one of the hardest weeks to judge. There were so many games that I had trouble placing in a first through fifth order, and this did not even strike me as a contender. After hearing the news that it won third place, I had to look at the game to see if I made some obvious mistake ... but nope!

I do not claim to have a complete understanding of this game so if anyone knows if team "Jeff-Rybka-Fritz" is overlooking something, please share it with the rest of us!

To Mr. Herman: Please don't be too offended by my rant. I am still in shock while writing this. I do think you are playing well above your rating in general (not this game), and I appreciate your contributions to chess. I am just completely outraged by my fellow judges so I apologize for taking out my anger on your sacrifices. While your fans are sending me hate mail, I will be doing the same to my fellow judges. (NR: 0 points)

Jim Dean: I strongly considered this game for my list based on the fact that it was wild and entertaining. Both players played with gusto, but such positions are very difficult to play accurately, and as such, there were quite a few evaluation swings and arguable missteps. With 26... Re6, Black seems to really put the nail in his own coffin as 27. Bd4 is a killer. Still, Black was very much in the game until then. (NR: 0 points)

(NOTE: We had to bring in a tiebreaker judge because this game and Vovsha vs Smith were tied on points and on all tiebreakers for third place. Thanks to IM Cyrus Lakdawala for graciously agreeing to assist us in this capacity)

Tiebreaker Judge, IM Cyrus Lakdawala: Both games were really nice, but I thought the Najdorf was the more creative game and would give it the prize.

Total Score of Herman vs Naroditsky: 11 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

11 points (Jeff 5, Arun 4, Jim 2):
IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) vs IM Bryan Smith (PHI) 0-1

8 points (Jim 4, Michael 2, Jeff 2):
IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (MIA) vs FM Mike Klein (CAR) 0-1

5 points (Arun 5):
IM Salvijus Bercys (DAL) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0

5 points (Greg 3, Michael 1, Jim 1):
IM Albert Kapengut (NJ) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1-0

3 points (Jeff 3):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0

3 points (Jim 3):
GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (QNS) 0-1

3 points (Greg 2, Arun 1):
FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs IM Blas Lugo (MIA) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
FM Tom Bartell (PHI) vs FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS) 0-1