Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game of the Year Wildcards

So with only the Championship Match left to be played in this USCL season, it's once again also time to look forward towards the Game of the Year (GOTY) contest for this year. For the most part, we plan to run this contest in the same basic fashion as last year, the contest running about the same amount of overall time (one month) and once again with twenty games in contention: the thirteen Game of the Weeks (which can be seen here) along with seven Wildcard games, which will be picked by the GOTW Judges right after the season ends.

We have considered making a slight increase in the number of judges we have for this season's contest though (please vote in the poll at the right so we know how you feel), and aside from knowing your views on that, we'd naturally also like your input on which games you think should be the Wildcards! So please let us know your view on what you think the proper number of judges is and what games definitely deserve to be in the GOTY contest which did not already win GOTW.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Semifinals 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 Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Dean Ippolito (NJ) 1/2-1/2

In an already wild position, GM Charbonneau threw the spectators for another loop with a very interesting Queen sacrifice, 13. Nxd4!?, creating a severely unbalanced position which eventually, after many more interesting moments, ended in a draw.

Michael Aigner: The Semifinal round saw two thrilling matches, both won by the lower seeded team against draw odds. Unfortunately, there was no obvious Game of the Week, certainly no aesthetic win by sacrificial attack. Pruess and Charbonneau both tried to play entertaining chess, yet neither was able to win. In fact, I believe the two most exciting games both ended in draws (Boards One and Two of New Jersey vs New York).

I selected the wild, yet imperfect, draw between Charbonneau and Ippolito for the Semifinals' Game of the Week. Black stirred the pot in the Four Knight's with 4... Nd4, 7... d5, and the Knight sacrifice 10... Nxe4. Not to be outdone, White raised the stakes with a Queen sacrifice on move thirteen! When the dust settled, White had a pair of Bishops and two Pawns against a Black Queen. White liquidated into an endgame of Rook and Bishop against Queen which he held without adventure. This was a great back-and-forth battle that allowed both combatants to show off their chess skill.

I thought for a long time about how to rank the draw between Benjamin and Kacheishvili and the miniature by Moreno Roman. It came down to the shocking result of the latter's King's Gambit game, with White completely busted after move twelve. Black simply offered up a piece to develop quickly and castle, then found the efficient move order 10... Bxf3, 11... Re8+, and the quiet move 12... Qh5. Bravo to Moreno Roman for being prepared to do battle in such an aggressive opening. Unfortunately, White's lack of resistance (9. Qe1 instead of 9. cxb7+) contrasts starkly to the battle between Charbonneau and Ippolito.

I considered the Benjamin vs Kacheishvili game as well, but to me it lacked a signature move such as Charbonneau's Queen sacrifice. Either player may have earned GOTW by finding a single tactic: 30. Be6 for White and 55... R6c5+ for Black. Finally, Bhat scored a nice win against Lugo, but I could not justify recognizing a player on the losing side in the playoffs. (1st place: 2 points)

Jim Dean: Although this game ended in a draw, it seemed like it was definitely the most interesting game played this week. The opening variation was entertaining, both players played well, and the material imbalance made the game difficult to evaluate at times. Congrats to both players. (1st place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: Definitely the most interesting game of the week, with a shocking queen sacrifice by Charbonneau. Incredible that both times that these two players faced off, the game ended up winning Game of the Week! (1st place: 2 points)

Jeff Ashton: It is hard for me to select a draw as GOTW. This was by far the most interesting and hard fought game. I did not expect this game to end up in a draw.

On Pruess losing in three moves:

It is inexcusable for Pruess to lose a game like this. In a team tournament, in the Semifinals, with the White pieces, against a lower rated player, seeing the final position is just nauseating.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but if I were on the team I'd be irritated by my teammate's play while watching it, outraged if he loses, and if he wins I'd tell Pruess "Whew! Don't scare us again like that again!"

And yes, I know that White got a better position that was marred by his own error, but I still don't really like what Pruess did. It's not practical.

I feel bad for Pruess since he's one of the nicest junior players I grew up with and I like to see the beloved San Francisco team win games.

I know Pruess occasionally likes have "fun" with his openings (I remember sitting next to him and seeing him play the Latvian Gambit), but I think he should save it for the World Open or perhaps take up bungee jumping. (1st place: 2 points)

Arun Sharma: This to me was definitely the most interesting game played this week, with some very daring and creative play by both sides in the opening. I considered ranking this first like the other judges, but as often is the case, this creativity also came with some errors (Black playing 14... Bg4 instead of 14... Bxc2!, and White choosing 28. Bf4 instead of 28. Rd8+!). In the end, it was a close decision, but I chose the Moreno Roman game as first simply because even though it was much shorter than I like my choices to generally be, it still managed to be a very interesting game - after every move there was a myriad of possible variations, and it also seemed like the victor really didn't make any mistakes, accurately punishing his opponent's errors. (2nd place: 1 point)

Total Score of Charbonneau vs Ippolito: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

5 points (Arun 2, Michael 1, Jim 1, Greg 1):
IM David Pruess (SF) vs IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (MIA) 0-1

1 point (Jeff 1):
IM Blas Lugo (MIA) vs GM Vinay Bhat (SF) 0-1

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quarterfinals 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 the lower number of games played, in the Quarterfinals only the first and second place prizes mentioned above will be given out, and in the Semifinals and Championship only the first place prize will be.

1st Place: GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1-0

GM Kacheishvili had played a very strong game, yet GM Christiansen had done a remarkable job in creating counter chances, but wound up missing his only real chance to save the game with 50... Rbd8!!

Michael Aigner: Heading into the playoffs, the intensity of each game increases. A single poor move on one board can change the course of all four games in the match. To some extent, I feel this stifled the creativity of the players in the Quarterfinal round; few games rose to the level of previous weeks.

One player, however, tried his best to be brilliant, even if a bit too aggressive. New York's top board GM Kacheishvili faced the legendary Bostonian ace GM Christiansen in by far the tightest match of the week. For the first forty moves, Kacheishvili maneuvered his Rooks and Bishop pair to steadily increase his opening advantage, but alas, time pressure changed the course of the game. Bonus points to Kacheishvili for trying to play sharp and exciting chess with few minutes on the clock, even if his bold Rook sacrifice 48. Rxg6 failed to the stunning 50... Rbd8!. It wasn't perfect, but the tight match made it all the more thrilling.

I ranked this game slightly ahead of Perelshteyn vs Charbonneau (Board Two in the same match) only because it was the sharper middlegame. Frankly, it might have been proper to split the top honors between teammates Kacheishvili and Charbonneau, but the Commissioner won't let me. I also seriously considered Benjamin vs Erenburg, but Benjamin clearly took his foot off the gas pedal after an exciting opening for team-based strategic reasons.

Finally, I need to add a few words about the Becerra vs Nakamura non-contest, which I ranked third. No doubt this was the most shocking twelve move game in League History! However, as a fan of both players, I must express my disappointment that we were not treated to a more worthy battle. It is obvious that Nakamura simply did not come mentally ready to play a game. And while Becerra pushed wood, any young student of Morphy could have found his moves.

Throughout the season, I have consistently refused to rank highly a game where the loser self-destructed (unforced errors) more than the winner playing creatively. I ranked the game as third mostly because of the lack of other exciting games played at a reasonably high level. (1st place: 3 points)

Greg Shahade: The game wasn't perfect as some mistakes were made in time trouble (with White missing 47. Rxg6! mainly,) but it seemed like it was by far the most exciting game of the round, and was relatively well played on top of this. (1st place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: I admit the dual mistakes late (White missing 47. Rxg6+!! and Black missing 50... Rbd8!!) did give me pause as to whether this game should be ranked first. But on the whole, I felt this game was still definitely the best of the week. Both sides played quite well in totality; Kacheishvili slowly but surely building on a small edge with one strong move after another, and Christiansen fighting back tenaciously in the only real opportunity he was given. Considering the extreme time pressure also and the rather difficult nature of the position, it would have been fairly unrealistic to not expect a couple of strong moves to be overlooked and given how many strong moves were still found, I had to rank this game first. (1st place: 3 points)

Jim Dean: This was a pretty exciting game that I gave consideration to, though it seemed less accurate than some of Kacheishvili's other USCL gems. What a find 50... Rbd8 would have been, which appears to force a draw in a wild position. (NR: 0 points)

Jeff Ashton: This is the first game that I saw this week. I assumed that I would probably end up ranking it first. After thinking about it, I'm surprised that it ended up getting bumped down to fourth. I think Kacheishvili played very well (like he usually does when he has White,) and LarryC put up some good resistance but eventually cracked. Nice game. Also this was an important game; maybe I will regret not voting it higher later? (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Kacheishvili vs Christiansen: 9 points


2nd Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1

GM Charbonneau played the very strange looking, but powerful 35... Rf8!, nicely utilizing the pin on the White Rook to force the game into a winning ending.

Jim Dean: I enjoyed this game a lot as Charbonneau really made nice use of his Queenside Pawn mass. Cutting off the King at the last minute so that the "wrong" colored Bishop doesn't matter was a nice finish to an impressive win with the Black pieces. (1st place: 3 points)

Michael Aigner: In typical USCL fashion, the action went back and forth, with Black finally picking up the point. Charbonneau won the opening battle and later converted an elegant endgame of Bishop against Pawns, but in between Perelshteyn had his chances after the seizing the initiative with a temporary sacrifice 18. Nxf7. The highlight was watching Charbonneau calmly pick off the White pawns with his Bishop in the endgame. Most significantly, all of this happened in the context of a super tight match that came down to this board and the top board. (2nd place: 2 points)

Jeff Ashton: Black had many ways to defend although White maintained pressure for a large part of the game. Charbonneau showed great defensive skills in a critical game. It seems like Perelshteyn took risks which we didn't see in his other USCL wins. (2nd place: 2 points)

Greg Shahade: I ranked this game in third but barely. Charbonneau played quite a good game, but his technique at the end was actually quite poor. Black could have won very easily by not rushing tp Queen the b-pawn and instead keeping it on b3 and playing 39... Bf7 and Kg7 first, leaving White totally helpless and avoiding the final rhity or so moves of the game in which it seemed as if White at least had some chance to draw. Despite that the first forty or so moves were very interesting by both sides, and so I have no real qualms with this finishing in second place. (3rd place: 1 point)

Arun Sharma: I did consider this game as it certainly was one of the more interesting ones of the week along with being the ultimate difference maker in the match result. However, quality wise it just didn't seem to quite have it to me as it seemed that White got in some trouble in the opening for no real reason, and that Black nearly managed to let White escape much later into a drawn ending (39... b2? where instead, 39... Bf7! 40. Bf5 Kg7!, and Black wins immediately).

However, there is no question that White played some strong ideas like 18. Nxf7! after what seemed to be a dubious opening, and that Black played the later part of the middlegame very well, especially the way he used the pin in tandem with the powerful b-pawn to achieve the victory so I definitely can understand why the other judges found this game appealing.

Personally I found the Benjamin vs Erenburg and Adamson vs Naroditsky games a bit more appealing than this one. The Naroditsky game might not have been particularly exciting but seemed very well played by the victor. The Benjamin game, I have a feeling the other judges were rather turned off by the way the game ended, with Black ending up taking a suicidal King march. But looking at that game from the beginning to the point where Black declined the perpetual in the ending, it seemed like a really great game to me, very interesting and creative play from both sides with no seeming huge errors, honestly exactly what I look for in GOTW. The fact that Black had to decline the perpetual solely because he HAD to try to win for the team at that point and then wound up losing because of it, should not, imo, detract too much from that game's overall appeal which is why I ranked it second. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Perelshteyn vs Charbonneau: 8 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

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

4 points (Greg 2, Arun 1, Jim 1):
FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 0-1

3 points (Arun 2, Jeff 1):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) 1-0

2 points (Jim 2):
WIM Tsagaan Batsettseg (BAL) vs Sean Finn (NJ) 0-1

Friday, November 6, 2009

Week 10 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 again we will have only four judges.

1st Place: GM Gregory Serper (SEA) vs IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0

GM Serper played the clever Rook lift 26. Rb4!, and the multiple threats compelled IM Van de Mortel to significantly weaken his structure with 26... e5, after which White soon won a clear Pawn that he skillfully converted in an endgame.

Jeff Ashton: It seems like it's impossible for Serper to lose with White when he gets these set-ups. I don't really get it ... it seems like White just moves back and forth and next thing you know it he's winning. Is 15... f5 bad? By the way, does anyone else detect the pattern? Will someone beat Serper next week to win GOTW? (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: A really nice game by Serper who created pressure all over the board before finally transitioning into a winning ending. I liked the Rook swings along the fourth rank, and Serper's technique once the game simplified looked excellent. Extra credit for taking out Jan, who had the "hot hand" in the USCL recently. (1st place: 5 points)

Arun Sharma: Being one of the league's most successful players every season, it's rather amazing that it took Serper nearly four full seasons to win GOTW, but I'm glad that he finally managed to do so!

I suppose Serper's typical style of slowly outplaying his opponent and often winning in an endgame (just like this game!) isn't the most conducive style for garnering GOTW votes, but I think this game was definitely a worthy winner. As usual, Serper just played one strong move after another, never allowing any counterplay, continually forcing his opponent into making concessions, and eventually grinding his opponent down. It's always impressive to beat such a strong player in a fashion where it's not really clear where the opponent went wrong and yet still seemed to lose without much of a fight, never garnering any play of their own. (1st place: 5 points)

Greg Shahade: Amazing that this is the first time Serper wins Game of the Week, especially since I think it's far from his best league game. Serper made it look easy, and we continue the trend of the previous week's GOTW winner being the loser the following week! Seattle may want to consider resting Serper in the first round of the postseason! (4th place: 2 points)

Total Score of Serper vs Van de Mortel: 17 points


2nd Place: IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

IM Smith played the simple 38. Nh4!, leaving IM Schroer no satisfactory way to defend his g-pawn, winning White a Pawn and soon after the game.

Greg Shahade: I liked Smith's c4, creating a new weakness on c6. It felt like he displayed a great deal of patience and skill in the endgame, with lots of subtle maneuvers that eventually led to Schroer cracking. Please note that this was one of the weakest overall weeks for GOTW in my opinion. I think Bryan's earlier game against Vovsha, which I didn't even rank, was probably a better GOTW candidate than this one even though I gave it first place! Also let me state that if Irina Krush didn't blunder at the end of her loss to Shmelov, I think she would have won the prize easily. (1st place: 5 points)

Jim Dean: This game didn't look like much fun for the Black side, as White slowly improved his position once the Queens came off. Smith never allowed much counterplay, and basically just played really well the entire game. (2nd place: 4 points)

Jeff Ashton: White played nicely. The more I look at this game, I can't believe it did so well in GOTW. Pretty dry for GOTW if you ask me. But what can I say, I voted for it. Also, Bryan Smith did play incredibly well. See previous GOTW comments for my thoughts about Smith's play. (3rd place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: I admit I probably underestimated this game, and even though I didn't rank it, it seems like a definite worthy game for second place. My first impression when I looked at it was that it was headed towards a lifeless draw but that Black went astray in the endgame, and White punished him for it.

However, that likely was a bit of a superficial assessment, as Smith really did play the ending well, making very life very tough for Schroer, and I think White definitely did more to win this game than Black did to lose it - which was quite contrary to my initial impression.

As I mentioned the combination of slightly misjudging why this game had the result that it did, and it simply not seeming particularly inspiring to me when I looked at it, caused me not to rank it. But again, I do think it was quite deserving, and congrats to Smith on a very strong season.

In regards to Greg's comment about the Krush vs Shmelov game, I essentially agree that that game (and also perhaps the Zaikov vs Bartell game) would likely have won had they not each been marred by a huge blunder near the end. While the debate for how much one big blunder at the end should detract from a good game in this contest has never really been resolved, I typically am not in favor of ranking such games highly. But since I felt the collection of games this week was not especially inspiring, and both of those games were very interesting and quite well played (aside from the ending blunders!), I thought they were the best choices for those top spots. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Smith vs Schroer: 12 points


3rd Place: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 0-1

GM Kacheishvili nicely liquidated with 27... Ne3!, forcing the game into an ending at the cost of an exchange, and the multiple extra Black Pawns quickly proved to be too much there.

Jeff Ashton: I was impressed by how much play Sammour-Hasbun got for the Pawn. I assumed his initiative would have ended earlier. Kacheishvili defended well. Nice game for Black. When Kacheishvili wins, he makes it look easy. (2nd place: 4 points)

Greg Shahade: Nice defense from Kacheishvili after some interesting sacrifices from Sammour-Hasbun. The fans thought that Jorge went nuts, but he definitely did have reasonable compensation, and this game was a real tough fight from beginning to end. Jorge's time trouble really hurt him once the game reached its final stages though. (3rd place: 3 points)

Arun Sharma: Really was not sure what to think about this game. Like most of the observers, I assumed Jorge had gone badly astray in the opening rather than it being prepared by him. I certainly can't say that I felt this double Pawn sac gave White sufficient compensation, but Jorge has played many a masterpiece under this general idea, i.e. sacrificing material for long term compensation while continually putting his opponent to tough decisions so it's hard to question his decision too much.

It mostly seemed to work out the way he probably had planned, before he went a bit astray in time pressure. I thought Kacheishvili played that portion of the game very well, especially the giving up of an exchange to enter the endgame - an ending which at first glance I felt was not really clear. But the fact that he won it so quickly and with such seeming ease was a nice demonstration of how well he'd assessed the position and had played to reach it. (4th place: 2 points)

Jim Dean: I strongly considered this game but eventually decided that I liked a handful of other games better. Not surprisingly, Kaceishvili plays another good game in this one though. It seemed like White got a questionable opening position by playing 9. Bxf6 rather than 9. e5. Even so, it seemed like White had some decent compensation for a while, but just wasn't able to maintain it thanks to some nice maneuvering by Black. (NR: 0 points)

Total Score of Sammour-Hasbun vs Kacheishvili: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

8 points (Arun 4, Greg 4):
FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) vs FM Tom Bartell (PHI) 1-0

4 points (Jim 3, Arun 1):
FM Peter Bereolos (TEN) vs FM Ralph Zimmer (BAL) 0-1

3 points (Arun 3):
IM Irina Krush (NY) vs SM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 0-1

2 points (Jeff 2):
IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (MIA) vs FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) 1-0

2 points (Jim 2):
IM Daniel Ludwig (DAL) vs GM Patrick Wolff (SF) 1-0

2 point (Jeff 1, Jim 1):
John Timmel (CAR) vs NM Elvin Wilson (PHI) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
Jared Defibaugh (BAL) vs David Justice (TEN) 1/2-1/2