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