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