Friday, September 25, 2009

Week 4 Game of the Week

This year we have five judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $150 bonus prize, second place $75, and third place $50. Our five judges are: IM Greg Shahade, FM Jim Dean, NM Michael Aigner, NM Jeff Ashton, and NM Arun Sharma. Click here for more details.


1st Place: SM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs FM Tom Bartell (PHI) 1-0

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

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

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

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

Jeff Ashton: My first pick for the week because:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Score of Esserman vs Bartell: 20 points


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Score of Charbonneau vs Gulko: 14 points


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Score of Sammour-Hasbun vs Kudrin: 12 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Week 3 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 Boris Gulko (NJ) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 1-0

GM Gulko played the strong exchange sacrifice 27. Rxb3!, and utilized it to great effect showcasing the power of the two Bishops.

Greg Shahade: My fellow judges probably breathed easy when seeing that Boston would have no candidates in the GOTW contest this week. I do have to say I must have scored some big points with the Boston crowd last week, picking their games in first, second, and third place! In any case, onto this game...

Gulko finally gets some credit for his impeccable USCL record. This game just struck me as being really clear and simple. Sure White was never clearly winning or anything like that, but the calm way in which Gulko kept sacrificing material was nice. Also, every time I took a look at the position I was like "Oh this should be okay for Black, I'm sure he'll figure out something", but in reality it was quite difficult to play and Gulko did a fantastic job attacking with his two Bishops in the endgame.
(1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: This game had something for everyone, from the opening to the endgame. At first, Gulko demonstrated his ability to grind in an English middlegame, highlighted by moves such as 20. e4 and 21. d4. When Black refused to roll over, Gulko channeled Misha with an Exchange sacrifice followed by a Queen sacrifice. I find the position on move thirty five beautiful just because White's Bishops and Pawns leave absolutely no weaknesses for Black to attack. Gulko finishes the game prosaically with 36. e5, allowing his Bishops to hunt the Black King. A well deserving GOTW winner! (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Another very nice league effort by Gulko, moving to 4 - 0 in his career using the style that he seems to employ in the league, just getting a small advantage and then grinding his opponent down mercilessly. The thing I liked most about this game was how the position with Rook and two Bishops against Queen and Knight did not really seem at all clear to me as to who was even better, but Gulko won with such ease, using the two Bishops very effectively, overwhelming his Black's defenses without any perceptible mistakes by his opponent. (3rd place: 3 points)

Jim Dean: I'll start by saying once again I thought there were many interesting games this week. Having said that, upon further review of this game I can't say that my omission of this one is fully justified. Though it was by no means easy, I thought Gulko had the chances in this game more or less throughout, and I gave credit to some games that I found more exciting and unclear to my eyes. However, it is clear that Gulko played superbly with the material imbalance and found many accurate moves in succession. As such, his precise play makes him a deserving winner even though I appreciated some other games more. (NR: 0 points)

Jeff Ashton: I am a big fan of Gulko, but this game did not make my Top Five list.

I had a feeling that the imbalanced endgame would make this a top contender. Black enjoyed a nice position for most of the game. After Black's error 30... Rb8, the game is roughly even. After this, although the game is equal, Black has many more opportunities than White to err. This illustrates how being "objectively equal" and "having equal chances of winning" are completely different things.

Black's first critical error is 38... Kg7 and then White finally has a decisive (objectively speaking) advantage. Kg7 is an easy mistake to play as it appears to be logical though. Both players played well this game. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Gulko vs Zaikov: 13 points


2nd Place: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Josh Friedel (SF) 1-0

Despite his material deficit, GM Becerra plunged forward with 29. d4! getting his passed pawns rolling and leaving Black with a very tough defensive task which he was unable to achieve in time pressure.

Jim Dean: I found this game very interesting as Becerra didn't seem to get much from the opening despite being an accomplished Ruy Lopez player. In the early middlegame I felt I preferred Black's position, but then some beautiful Pawn play erupted in the center and on the Queenside and things became very unclear. It seemed that Friedel was handling the complications very well until he declined his opportunity to take one of the dangerous connected passed pawns with 35... Bxd7! After going astray with 35... Ba6, Becerra finished the game off in style with several accurate moves. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: A great game that I would have been fine with finishing first place. Okay so it wasn't perfect, and so Black had some defenses but come on it's almost impossible to play so many creative sacrificial moves and have them all work out perfectly. This isn't Rybka versus Deep Blue here! As always, Becerra caused problems for his opponent, and if his opponent played perfectly he would have done well, but it's very hard to play perfectly. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: I was really unsure how to rank this game. Part of me thought it should be ranked lowly if at all, while another part of me thought it should be far and away the winner. The fact that White seemed to be struggling early and that Black erred in time pressure obviously did not warm me to this game.

On the other hand though, imo, this was far and away the most creative/exciting game of the week, and even though White was struggling early on, Becerra played very, very well later on, really putting Friedel to many tough decisions which unsurprisingly he was unable to meet in his time pressure.

In general although this might not be the most natural application of this (White probably didn't intend to go down that material), I tend to respect people who play perhaps somewhat unsound ideas, but really put their opponent on the hot seat forcing them into the tough decisions. In the end this game was just too interesting to not be ranked highly by me. I almost ranked it first, but I instead went with a game, Sammour-Hasbun vs Ludwig (which I'm very surprised was ranked by only one of the other four judges), which was also quite interesting (not as much so though) but was also quite clean. (2nd place: 4 points)

Michael Aigner: Julio Becerra earned second place strictly on his lofty league history or maybe due to the absence of quality games this week. I refuse to give GOTW honors to a game where the loser was doing reasonably well for most of it and should have been up an uncompensated pawn less than ten moves before the end. Becerra would not have won, nor have been a serious candidate for GOTW, if Black had simply found 35... Bxd7 36. cxd7 Ra7 leaving Black up a passed Pawn and a solid position. With the Mechanics up 3 - 0 by now and the bashful youngsters Shankland and Liou partying like chimpanzees, it is understandable that Friedel lost the thread and lost.

Frankly, I found Lee's comeback against Rensch to be more compelling than this choice and ranked it third. Unlike Miami's Board One, Lee never would have been down a clear pawn because he always had lingering pressure against the White central pawns (e.g. Bc7, Rh3 and Nb4-d5). What's more, Lee won with the Black pieces in a game that decided the match, unlike Becerra's win on the short side of a 3 - 1 blowout.

My other GOTW picks went to two attacking wins by Grandmasters against lesser masters (second Benjamin vs Schroer and fourth Ehlvest vs Felecan) and finally fifth to some impressive technique by Kritz vs Kudrin. At least these games were not marred by 'unforced errors' by the opponent, so that the loser could have won (or drawn) on the spot simply by finding a two to three move tactic at the right moment. (NR: 0 points)

Jeff Ashton: This game was very exciting to watch. It was a very complicated tactical battle with errors on both sides. This type of game is very difficult to play in a fast time control setting, so errors naturally happened.

Without taking away anything from White's creative play, Black missed a few critical defensive opportunities. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Becerra vs Friedel: 13 points


3rd Place: GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Dmitry Schneider (QNS) 1-0

GM Charbonneau opened up the position with the quiet but strong 13. d3! and left Black in a very uncomfortable position which he could not manage to defend.

Jeff Ashton: Although they are roommates, it is nice to know that both players were out for blood. Rumor has it that before this game was played, Schneider ate one of Charbonneau's Hot Pockets without asking. BIG MISTAKE.

This game was extremely tactical and with one imprecise move any side could be on the losing end of a miniature. This type of high risk play is great for chess fans and the USCL. (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: This game was was very well played from White's side and happened to feature an opening that I have a great deal of personal interest in. It turns out that 11... e4 is probably not testing enough and Charbonneau's reply (which is a novelty as far as I can tell) that threatens mate may be as good or better than either of the capturing moves. Black struggles on, but White was able to develop his pieces with ease while creating immense pressure on Black's uncastled King. The final position looks like an absolute disaster for Black, but it is easy to find yourself in such situations when you have a misstep or two with Black in such a sharp opening system. (3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: I felt there was a steep drop off between my first through third place selections (Gulko vs Zaikov, Becerra vs Friedel, and Sammour-Hasbun vs Ludwig) and this game. First off, as mentioned many times already, Black was 25 minutes late to show up. Also, it wasn't very competitive, there was basically a beginning and an end. My top three selections all had a beginning, an end, and an actual middlegame! Anyway obviously I'm not so shocked that it finished in third place, as I selected it for fourth place, because even though it was quick, there were a lot of accurate and weird moves in quick succession. I'm just trying to explain why I didn't rank it higher. (4th place: 2 points)

Arun Sharma: While this was quite an interesting game (this variation always seems to create interesting action), it seemed that Black got into time pressure very quickly (largely due to being twenty five minutes late), and likely as a result committed two big errors right out of the opening which left him lost immediately (not a surprise in such a sharp opening). On the other hand, White did play really well punishing Black's mistakes appropriately and ending the game very swiftly. For that reason, I think this game was a reasonable choice for third place, even though due to the previous factor, I could not justify ranking it. (NR: 0 points)

Michael Aigner: OK, this is completely nuts! Black arrives twenty five minutes late, then essays a sharp gambit in the Two Knights apparently without knowing the theory (fifteen minutes spent on move seven). I wish my opponents would do that more often!!! Subsequently, White won the game in short order, either because he knew his book or because he was proficient in the tactical style of play common over 100 years ago. By move eighteen, it was all over, and Rybka even saw the inevitable as soon as move fourteen. Maybe this game qualifies for "Opening Goof of the Week", but there's no way I would give it any points for GOTW. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Charbonneau vs Schneider: 10 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

10 points (Jeff 4, Jim 4, Michael 2):
GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs FM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1-0

8 points (Arun 5, Greg 3):
SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Daniel Ludwig (DAL) 0-1

7 points (Michael 4, Jim 2, Jeff 1):
IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 0-1

3 points (Jeff 3):
IM Alex Lenderman (PHI) vs GM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0

3 points (Michael 3):
FM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) vs FM Michael Lee (SEA) 0-1

3 points (Arun 2, Michael 1):
GM Leonid Kritz (BAL) vs GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) 1-0

2 points (Jeff 2):
IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (SEA) 0-1

1 point (Arun 1):
IM Jacek Stopa (DAL) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1-0

1 point (Greg 1):
GM Jesse Kraai (SF) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 1-0

1 point (Jim 1):
FM Peter Bereolos (TEN) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 0-1

Friday, September 11, 2009

Week 2 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 Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Marko Zivanic (DAL) 1-0

GM Friedel uncorked the beautiful 18. Nd5+!!, forcing the win of Black's Queen and soon after the game.

Jeff Ashton: Although a lot of this game is theory, it is nice to see someone get crushed for making moves like h5 and Bd6 (with a Pawn on d7). This game was very exciting and simple. Black made one very bad move: 16... Bd4. After that White got to chase Black's King around and capture all of Black's pieces. (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: It almost seemed as if Friedel had prepared this entire game as he handed out a savage beating while just using a little over ten minutes off his clock. It turns out 16... Bd4 is a large blunder as Black cannot avoid the ugly sequence that follows starting with 17. Qh8+. (2nd place: 4 points)

Michael Aigner: After two weeks, Friedel's future opponents stand warned that he has a propensity to sacrifice Knights in the center! What better way to make up for last week's brain slip Nxe6 by promptly tossing away yet another equine?! The resulting game was elegant and spectacular, even if rather one sided and essentially over by move seventeen. Of course, that was not Friedel's fault. Nonetheless, I simply could not give the top ranking to a game that was almost completely previously played in Chessbase (Haker vs Budisin, Germany 1995), even if both players were supposedly unaware of it. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: Great attacking effort by Friedel, spurred by the very nice tactical sequence started with 17. Qh8+. I ranked this game highly mostly since it seemed that White basically played basically perfectly and the exquisiteness of the 18. Nd5+! tactical sequence. I am a bit surprised that it won though as Black did make a rather big mistake (in a probably already worse position) with 16... Bd4?, and for me the two games that I chose to rank higher, I felt the victor won in somewhat similar fashion, without any huge mistakes from their opponent. Nevertheless, I think this was definitely still a very worthy winner, not too dissimilar in form to Friedel's mentor, GM Christiansen's, Sicilian slaughter of Zivanic last year which won Game of the Year. (3rd place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: I have to admit I'm a bit surprised this game won, given the immense horribleness of Black's 16... Bd4. White's attack after that was actually pretty simple, and I only ranked it so high because of the sheer violence of it (the King running all over the place etc.). I felt that all of the three games I ranked above it involved much more resistance by the opponent, and while Arun compares it to Christiansen vs Zivanic from last season, I think it's much different, as once the attacking sequence begins with 17. Qh8+ and 18. Nd5+, the game is pretty much immediately over and almost anyone rated above 1600 could find the follow up after those relatively simple moves. Again, I tend to like games like this, seeing as I did rank it in fourth place, but it was just a bit too quick and one-sided even for my sometimes barbaric tastes. (4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Friedel vs Zivanic: 18 points


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

SM Esserman tore open Black's position with 13. Rxc6! Qxc6 14. Nxe5, after which the numerous threats against f7, d5, and on the e-file were too much for Black to handle.

Jim Dean: This game had a Paul Morphy-like quality to it. I thought Esserman made a somewhat odd decision with 8. Nc3, but he certainly made it look good. One impressive feature of this game was that it seemed that Simpson didn't do anything horribly wrong or illogical but still wound up with a dreadful position after a long series of accurate moves by White. The final position is very depressing for Black in that there is no answer to the coming 23. Ra1. An excellent way for Esserman to come back after a Week One disaster. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: I liked this game a lot better than the actual winner because it's not immediately clear that Black's moves were so horrible. White had to sacrifice the exchange, with the idea of then sacrificing a piece on f7, and it all leads to a pretty cute, yet long forcing variation with wins for White. I also believe that White's winning variation was much harder to see than in Friedel vs Zivanic. In the previous game you can see in like ten seconds that after 17. Nd5+ that the Black King will certainly be destroyed. In this game, it's not totally obvious that White wins instantly after 15. Nxf7, leaving himself down an entire rook. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Very impressive game by Esserman, sacrificing a Pawn for a powerful initiative right out of the opening and then utilizing it to brutal effect, essentially ending the game on move thirteen without any huge mistakes from his opponent. Simpson put up a valiant defensive effort afterward, but Esserman played the attack with great precision, allowing no opportunity for escape. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: I'm not going to make any comments about White making up for last week's embarrassing episode against Mr. Zaremba or discuss things like "redemption". But ouch, it hurts to think about that game.

I will say that White played perfectly this game. The more I think about it, it doesn't make sense that this game should be ranked lower than Friedel vs. Zivanic. Unfortunately, we don't give out ties. Maybe 18. Nd5+ is more fun to watch than 13. Rxc6 and 15. Nxf7 ideas. I do know that both games followed a similar pattern:

1. White applies pressure
2. Black defends improperly
3. White attacks perfectly to win

Let games one and two be a reminder to all scholastic players out there: Castle to avoid a hassle! (NR: 0 points)

Michael Aigner: The lack of clear candidates for the brilliancy prize left me with a logjam of four games for fourth to seventh place in my rankings. Esserman's Fried Liver Attack in an obscure open Ruy Lopez line featured a nice double sacrifice, first on c6 and then on f7. However, neither move was profound or hard to find, unless perhaps my fellow judges never studied the Fried Liver line of the Two Knights Defense. I even ranked Esserman's teammate Krasik's game slightly higher, not because Krasik's game was objectively better, but rather his counterattack from an inferior opening was far more instructive to watch and required more than just two tactics at the end to win. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Esserman vs Simpson: 14 points


3rd Place: GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) 1-0

GM Ehlvest played the quiet but strong 38. Be2+!!, trumping Black's valiant save attempt of 37... Qxc2, to which there was no defense.

Arun Sharma: I must say that I was rather surprised that this game got relatively little love from the other judges, but I'm glad that it still managed to squeak onto the medal platform as I definitely think it was deserving of that in the least. It seemed like Ehlvest played a very, very good game throughout, building up his small advantage very effectively, allowing Black no real counterplay and then finishing the game with a nice tactical sequence. (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: While I watched this game I kept thinking ... Ehlvest is really, really good. He builds a nice advantage with a Maroczy Bind structure and just keeps improving his position. He made it look easy versus a very strong player and fellow GM. (4th place: 2 points)

Jeff Ashton: It is very depressing to lose games like this. Black "had no legal moves" this game. It seems that Black didn't do anything horribly wrong. 27... Qc8 was kind of weak and 33... Bf6 could have been improved on, but it is very difficult to play Black in this game.

And let this game be a reminder to all scholastic players out there: Don't play the Black side of a Maroczy Bind formation when you are playing a strong Grandmaster, and if you do, ideas such as a5-a4 aren't as cool as they look! (4th place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: I had this game in sixth place. Probably I could have ranked it a bit higher, but I wanted to give some love to some fourth board games. Ehlvest made it look really easy, kind of just slowly strengthening his position and then going for the kill when the moment arose. I just wasn't particularly inspired by any of it. It was certainly an impressive display, but the final sequence seemed pretty obvious and the rest of the game was just a slow build up. One thing that's for sure: Ehlvest is good at chess, especially in the USCL. (NR: 0 points)

Michael Aigner: I was also somewhat surprised to see this game ranked so highly by my fellow judges. I thought Black was holding on in a slightly worse opposite color bishop middlegame when he unwisely abandoned his Kingside with 31... Qa6 and 32... Qa4. The subsequent 33. f4-f5 break is hardly a surprise, and almost immediately Black is dead lost. If anything, this game was only a demonstration of Ehlvest milking a position until his opponent cracked. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Ehlvest vs Ramirez: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

9 points (Jeff 4, Greg 3, Arun 2):
GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

6 points (Michael 5, Jeff 1):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Gregory Serper (SEA) 1-0

6 points (Greg 4, Michael 2):
NM Craig Jones (CAR) vs NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) 0-1

4 points (Jim 3, Arun 1):
FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) vs IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0

3 points (Jeff 3):
FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS) vs FM Shinsaku Uesugi (BAL) 1-0

3 points (Michael 3):
GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 0-1

1 point (Jim 1):
Rahul Swaminathan (PHI) vs Anna Matlin (NJ) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
Miguel Recio (MIA) vs Trevor Magness (CHC) 1-0

1 point (Michael 1):
IM Levon Altounian (ARZ) vs IM Ron Burnett (TEN) 1/2-1/2

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jeff Ashton explains his GOTW judging methods

I'm too indecisive, and this took too long, but I think I have a good judging system down that IS PROVEN BY SCIENCE!

Overall I was looking for two things:

(a) Makes people like chess more. i.e. entertaining attack or creative play
(b) Good quality game (not too idiotic). Basically provides a cool "luckometer" trend analysis/Rybka infinite analysis tests.

Step 1

Intuitive Rough Draft: Made a quick "feeling" order. Ranked them without too much thought. Malcolm Gladwell "Blink" style.

Step 2

Used my super scientific simulations (PROVEN BY SCIENCE) and basically paired off games against other games using Swiss System. If they were roughly equally interesting, I'd give it a draw. Note, this is how I pick where I go to vacation and stuff. Usually this ends up matching my intuitive rough draft somewhat but kind of ends up in a tie in third place usually.

Note: I do use ONE "Wild-card" trick that makes this simulation slightly more randomized. I can explain more later if necessary. This is so all the people who are trying to CRACK MY CODE (scientifically proven formula) will not be able to.

Step 3

Run them with Rybka 3 and look at the cool "luckometer" evaluation profile graphs. Pretty graphs = cool

Step 4

Go back and think about my criteria again. Was it fun? Do I like chess more? What would Joe McDumbDumb think about this game? What would Boris McGoodPlayer think?

Step 5

Usually end up going with pretty much my intuitive feeling and realizing some games that I thought were good, were actually kind of boring and lame.

Step 6

Mess with the "sort" order of the database so it matches my rankings somewhat.

Luckometer graphs for my top six games from Week 1:

Ippolito vs Charbonneau

Zaremba vs Esserman

Perelshteyn vs Vovsha

Ramirez vs Mitkov

Kudrin vs Shabalov

Becerra vs Bartholomew

Please give me your feedback on my methods!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Week 1 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 Dean Ippolito (NJ) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 1-0

With the match tied at 1.5 and having only a couple of minutes left on his clock, IM Ippolito managed to win this famous endgame and help score a big match win for his team.

Jeff Ashton: Dean Ippolito, a renowned chess trainer, asked me a few hours before this game if I could recommend any good material on checkmating with two Knights against a King and Pawn. Apparently he wanted to show some examples to his students. I told him "No, you'll just have to create your own teaching material", and it seems he took my advice literally.

Ok, I wish that story were true, but alas it is not.

This game was good. Dean does what he does best; play solidly and squeeze (sometimes bore) his opponent to death. Dean is very strong and experienced in these Fianchetto set-ups. Also, Rybka 3 (with no tablebase) has a worse understanding of this specific endgame than Dean.

Even if the game did not end with a "fun" finish it would have been a top nominee. The fact that he checkmated with only two Knights against King and Pawn (in time pressure) sealed the deal. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Nice grind by Ippolito and a fairly clean game by both sides. The middle game both sides seemed to play well with White seeming to nurse a small edge for the majority of the game which he took into the ending. The ending I really was not as sure about - it seemed like White should have been able to win more convincingly as Black had very real drawing chances for much of it, but then probably made it a bit too easy for White to convert by going into the two Knights vs Pawn ending. However, considering the low amount of time, obviously some minor mistakes had to be expected, and the finish of the endgame was obviously nice especially considering the fast pace it had to be played at. A strong win by Ippolito to help start the Knockouts off on the right foot. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jim Dean: This was a really well played game by White which featured the rare two Knights vs. Pawn ending. I really have only seen this ending show up once before in a "serious" game. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: A tough game to decide upon. It certainly wasn't the most exciting game for the first forty moves or so, with Ippolito trying to squeeze the former MVP. Also, it's quite probable that Charbonneau had better defensive chances, even at the very end (before sacking the Bishop on e5). However, this game decided the match result, Ippolito played quite well, and it's very rare that you get to see a mate with only two Knights, even if it's a relatively simple one so I think this game was a deserving winner. Ironically, I believe that the second place GOTW winner, FM Andrei Zaremba, is the only player that I personally know to have been on the wrong side of this type of endgame before (against IM Sarkar in a US Cadet Championship a long time ago). (2nd place: 4 points)

Michael Aigner: No doubt my fellow judges were impressed by the rare two Knights versus Pawn endgame, which was nicely executed. However, I ranked this third behind the more spectacular games by Shabalov and Zaremba. A solid middlegame leading to an instructive endgame would indeed be GOTW material, but it is not clear to me whether this minor piece ending was really winning. For example, 47... Nd8 leaves White's last two Pawns on the color of Black's Bishop with a Knight blockade in place (Black's King might then go to h7 and g6). (3rd place: 3 points)

Total Score of Ippolito vs Charbonneau: 20 points


2nd Place: FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS) vs SM Marc Esserman (BOS) 1-0

Having been building up a strong attack for many moves, FM Zaremba crashed through Black's position with the nice 28. Rxa7+! and soon afterward scored a nice victory.

Greg Shahade: Whenever I'm not extremely inspired by the choices for Game of the Week, I tend to by default just choose the most violent game. Zaremba played very well and had a few simple but nice tactical tricks to deal Esserman his first loss of his USCL career.
(1st place: 5 points)

Jeff Ashton: Black is a very strong player, and he got absolutely annihilated. White attacked with great precision and not a single tactic was overlooked. I personally suspect that Zaremba got lucky on some of his tactics, but if so he should never admit it (but seriously Andrei, you know you were scared when he played 33... Bf7, and you luck-boxed your way into mate in three).

The game was simple and enjoyable to watch. This game is exciting and educational to players of all levels. Black's best plan for most of the game was to wait, move his pieces back and forth and pray that White blunders. The interesting thing is that Black didn't do anything that was obviously bad. Did he really deserve such punishment? (2nd place: 4 points)

Michael Aigner: As a Dutch player myself, I can only congratulate Andrei Zaremba on successfully executing a spectacular attack. Whether home preparation or inspiration matters not; it was instructive to watch! Sadly, Black's resistance ended way too soon and by move twenty it was already over. We can only speculate what would have happened if Black had hesitated with castling and continued with 9... g5 10. O-O Ng6 11. Na4 h5. (2nd place: 4 points)

Arun Sharma: Nice, strong play from Zaremba throughout, building his attack up well, and then carrying it out with some nice tactics, in particular the game ending combination. In many cases, I might have ranked a game of this style higher than the two games I ended up ranking ahead of it, due in large part to the nice tactics (something those two games couldn't really match this one in). However, the stage at which the flashy moves occurred just seemed too easy for White, having so many ways to win as Black never seemed to develop any real counter play, and in the two games I chose to rank higher, it seemed that the winner had to work much harder for the victory. (3rd place: 3 points)

Jim Dean: This was a nice attacking game by Zaremba that had a cute finish. I didn't rank this game quite as highly as it finished because I thought it was a bit one-sided and Esserman's play in general was uncharacteristic as he generated virtually no offense. Still, no fault of Zaremba's as he played his attack very well. (4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Zaremba vs Esserman: 18 points


3rd Place: GM Sergey Kudrin (PHI) vs GM Alex Shabalov (TEN) 0-1

GM Shabalov cleverly shied away from what seemed destined to be a promotion race with 60... Rh8! and caught his opponent in a surprise mating attack.

Jim Dean: In this game I thought Shabalov made a brave opening choice as Kudrin always seems to be well prepared with his White openings, and playing the Dragon certainly doesn't avoid theoretical pathways. Shabalov played the game in a very scrappy and uncompromising way throughout and most importantly earned the crucial victory for his new team in what may have been the biggest win in Tennessee Tempo history!?!? (1st place: 5 points)

Michael Aigner: People looking for a quick knockout instead were treated to a heavyweight brawl that went the distance. After driving all the way to Tennessee and with the other boards tied 1.5 - 1.5, Shabalov wanted to get his money's worth. Both players had chances in the endgame, but Kudrin was low on time. At the end, Shabalov instructively demonstrated how connected central passers, supported by a King, are far superior to flank passers. The checkmate finale was simply the act to a wild game, which was my top choice for Game of the Week. (1st place: 5 points)

Jeff Ashton: Shabalov is simply good at finding ways to win though this was not a typical Shabalov attacking display that the world has learned to love. The audience gets to see Shabalov's defensive skills as well as his strong endgame ability.

Tennessee might be the most underrated team in the league. Also, Tennessee might be the most underrated state in the US. Sports, economy, clean air, health insurance, nice people, etc. For more information visit: (5th place: 1 point)

Arun Sharma: When I first thought about what my GOTW choices were going to be this week, this game was definitely at the top of my list given how dramatic it was, its importance to the match situation, and the nice fighting spirit showed in what I assumed would be a short draw in the endgame. However, despite those attributes, it did also seem that the endgame play was rather sloppy at several junctures (not surprising considering the extreme time pressure on both sides), and in the end, I ended up giving my highest rankings to a couple of games both of which seemed cleaner on the whole, albeit less exciting. In any case, nice win and fight by Shabalov to put Tennessee in the unfamiliar spot of having started the season off on the right foot which I'm sure they're hoping will blossom into something bigger. (5th place: 1 point)

Greg Shahade: I didn't rank this game for a few reasons. First, I thought the opening was pretty boring, and secondly I thought the endgame was relatively sloppy from both sides. I remember watching when Black played the strange 49... Bf3, allowing White to defend with 51. Ra1, and suddenly things became much tougher for Black, where instead it seemed that Black would have won pretty easily if he just played the natural 49... Rxb5. There were just too many evaluation changing mistakes for me and the bulk of the game wasn't exciting enough. The only things that it had going for it, in my view, was that it decided the match and the name recognition of the players. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Kudrin vs Shabalov: 12 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

9 points (Arun 5, Jeff 3, Michael 1):
GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs IM Eli Vovsha (QNS) 1-0

6 points (Jim 3, Greg 3):
IM Eric Tangborn (SEA) vs IM David Pruess (SF) 0-1

4 points (Jeff 2, Michael 2):
GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) vs GM Nikola Mitkov (CHC) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2):
FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (CHC) 1-0

2 points (Greg 2):
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM John Bartholomew (DAL) 1-0

1 point (Jim 1):
IM Daniel Ludwig (DAL) vs FM Bruci Lopez (MIA) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
FM Ron Simpson (CAR) vs GM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 0-1