Friday, September 24, 2010

Week 5 Game of the Week

This year we have five judges for Game of the Week, each ranking their top five games. The games are then given from one to five points, based on these rankings, and whichever game receives the most total points wins the award. First place each week will receive a $200 bonus prize ($150 going to the winner of the game, $50 to the loser), second place $75, and third place $50 (both second and third going entirely to the winner). 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: FM Charles Galofre (MIA) vs FM Marcel Milat (SEA) 1-0

How often does one see a game between two such strong players where White has walked his King to c3 by move eleven? Not the most usual of sights, but FM Galofre managed to get the better of the wild game, saving a drawn match for the Sharks.

Arun Sharma (1st place, 5 points): Ok, this game obviously might not have been completely sound, but in terms of excitement/craziness, I can't really recall a USCL game that matched this one in those regards. Given that, even though both sides likely missed some chances to improve, I felt I had to rank this game first. It was actually a very tough choice though as to whether to rank this or the Gurevich game first - a decision which really comes down to what you choose to value most in these games. Whether I made the correct decision or not, I'm quite glad that this and that game managed to take the top two spots as I really felt there were definitely the two most deserving ones of the week.

Greg Shahade (2nd place, 4 points): I think if this game wasn't decided by a relatively huge blunder by Black near the end of the game, it would have won this week's contest unanimously and would have had decent Game of the Year prospects also. It's almost impossible to play a more exciting game than this one, and while the moves weren't always the objective best moves, the fans certainly appreciate such a brand of chess as you could tell by the excited commentary on ICC. Quotes such as "this is the craziest game I've ever seen" and "this game is automatic GOTW" could be heard.

Jeff Ashton (2nd place, 4 points): Very interesting game. I don't consistently vote these "romantic" games so high, but it seemed easier to rank this above the rest. This game definitely stands out from the rest. I know that Black had other alternatives (and maybe was winning with better defensive choices), but I still had to rank this game highly. Also, I apologize in advance to any who tell me how this game followed ______ vs ______ for ______ number of moves. Clearly I knew that, but I was just testing your ability to do a database search.

Michael Aigner (2nd place, 4 points): This Four Knights opening turned into the most exciting game of the season to date, with naked bootlegs by Kings, wacko tactics and clear winning chances for both sides. The game also reminded me of the famous Steinitz quote: "A win by an unsound combination, however showy, fills me with artistic horror."

With this thought, I instead ranked first an impressive positional win by talented junior FM Michael Lee against GM Gonzalez.

Jim Dean (NR, 0 points): There were a couple of reasons I didn't vote for this game. Despite the wild look of the game, they followed the course of two other games quite deeply: Polovodin-Katalymov, 1980 1/2-1/2, and Stewart-Tabatt 2002, 0-1. The move 18. Ke2, as played by Stewart and now Galofre, is as far as I can tell innacurate, though perhaps a better attempt to play for a win as 18. Ke4 seems to lead to a perpetual. With 21... Qf6, Black blundered heinously in a difficult, but objectively favorable (if not winning) position. After 21... Qf6 the position became an easy win for White and with eighteen of the critical twenty one moves lacking originality, and a large blunder deciding the game, I decided to leave this game out of my top five. Fortunately, for all those who disagree, this game didn't need my vote to win!

Total Score of Galofre vs Milat: 17 points


2nd Place: GM Dmitry Gurevich (CHC) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0

GM Gurevich finished off a smooth effort with 36. Rxh7+! forcing mate and helping the Blaze put an end to the Scorpions undefeated season.

Greg Shahade (1st place, 5 points): A deserving almost winner of Game of the Week. It was a sharp game between two strong players that had the fans on the edge on their seats. According to some annotations on the Internet, Black had some chances to improve, but in a practical situation White posed some very difficult problems. Gurevich has been a huge boon for the Chicago Blaze as their stellar record shows.

Jim Dean (1st place, 5 points): I liked the play of both players for quite some time in this game, but unfortunately for Black, 30... c5 was a misstep and Gurevich pounced on the opportunity with some nice play. With this exciting and important win, knocking off the undefeated Scorpions, I felt it was worthy of winning GOTW.

Arun Sharma (2nd place, 4 points): Great game by Gurevich, playing very fearlessly in the middlegame, allowing Barcenilla to capture his g2 Pawn with check. From that to the clever simplification 33. Nxf4! and the finishing shot 26. Rxh7+!, it was simply a really impressive game by him to help the Blaze get off to their best start in history. As noted above, I certainly would have had no problem with this game winning due to its relative cleanliness and high entertainment value, but I feel the Galofre game was a worthy winner also. Just as many things go in this contest, it really is a matter of personal perspective.

Jeff Ashton (4th place, 2 points): There recently were some one-sided games in the KID, and in this game Black played pretty well and had chances in the middlegame. I guess I have a tendency to rank KID games highly.

Michael Aigner (NR, 0 points): This win by Gurevich against one of America's strongest IMs proved central to Chicago's upset of Arizona. White's King's Indian play was standard, and if Black had tried the logical 30... Qf7 intending to triple with Qg6, he would also have been fine. Instead Black hung a pawn and the game with c7-c5, allowing en passant. The flashy mate at the end was not enough to give this game any votes.

Total Score of Gurevich vs Barcenilla: 16 points


3rd Place: GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) vs IM Mackenzie Molner (NJ) 1-0

GM Perelshteyn found the strong idea 16. c4! dxc4 17. Na3, securing him a huge edge which he shortly converted into a material advantage to help Boston win a very tight match.

Jeff Ashton (1st place, 5 points): Interesting opening! It's very nice to see Perelshteyn play positions he understands so well, often very unique positions. I know Perelshteyn has a great find-ways for moving his Queen sideways in the KID against Finachetto setups. I had no idea he likes the idea to the point where he will play it with White.

Jim Dean (2nd place, 4 points): Another nice grind by Perelshteyn, who I thought played both patiently and accurately for much of the game. Without doing anything ridiculous, Black made a couple of "loose" moves on the Queenside, and White obtained an advantage he was able to nurse the entire game. I didn't envy the task of defending Black's position, but to Molner's credit he really made Perelshteyn work for it.

Arun Sharma (5th place, 1 point): I really was unsure how to assess this game overall. Part of me wanted to rank it higher since it seemed like Perelshteyn played quite well, finding some strong ideas and winning a game which ended up being the decider in a very close match between the top two teams in the East last year. On the other hand, this wasn't exactly the most exciting of games, and it also seemed like Black's play that allowed White to obtain his big edge was a bit overly cooperative (the 12... b5 and 13... Rab8 idea in particular). But whether this game belonged in the top three or not, it is nice to occasionally see a smooth positional game get its due compared to the usual tactical slug-fests that we generally see here.

Greg Shahade (5th place, 1 point): A nice solid game from Perelshteyn that won Boston the match, however it was far from the most action packed game in USCL history.

Michael Aigner (NR, 0 points): I probably should have ranked this game third or fourth because I enjoy seeing clean positional wins like this one. White obtained a powerful pair of Bishops on move twelve and used them to weaken Black's Queenside. On the other hand, I originally thought it all looked a bit too easy. We must not take anything away from the difficulty of properly applying "Grandmaster technique" as Perelshteyn did.

Total Score of Perelshteyn vs Molner: 11 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

9 points (Arun 3, Greg 3, Jim 3):
NM Carlito Agner (CAR) vs FM Andrei Zaremba (MAN) 0-1

5 points (Michael 5):
FM Michael Lee (SEA) vs GM Renier Gonzalez (MIA) 1-0

5 points (Jeff 3, Jim 2):
IM Dmitry Schneider (MAN) vs FM Ron Simpson (CAR) 0-1

4 points (Greg 2, Michael 2):
FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) vs FM Michael Casella (LA) 1-0

3 points (Michael 3):
WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (DAL) vs NM Jim Voelker (STL) 1-0

2 points (Arun 2):
IM Julio Sadorra (DAL) vs IM Michael Brooks (STL) 1-0

1 points (Jeff 1):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Larry Kaufman (BAL) 1-0

1 points (Jim 1):
IM Angelo Young (CHC) vs IM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) 0-1

1 points (Michael 1):
IM Dionisio Aldama (ARZ) vs IM Florin Felecan (CHC) 1/2-1/2

Friday, September 17, 2010

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 $200 bonus prize ($150 going to the winner of the game, $50 to the loser), second place $75, and third place $50 (both second and third going entirely to the winner). 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 GM Varuzhan Akobian (SEA) 1-0

GM Friedel played the well calculated 50. Rh3!, preventing Black from queening due to the pair of passed pawns, allowing White to liquidate the wild game into a winning endgame.

Greg Shahade (1st place, 5 points): Well my first place ranking was useless, as this game would have won anyway. Honestly this week there were tons of exciting games, and I found it very difficult to choose. I felt that Monday's games were not so inspiring, but on Wednesday there were about six or seven that were good candidates. I ended up choosing this one because of the following reasons:

1. The strength of the players
2. It was a long hard fight in which the spectators weren't always sure what was going to happen.
3. The result of the match hinged on this game
4. There were some nice tricks (allowing Black to Queen at the end by playing Qxd3 followed by Rh3)

Arun Sharma (1st place, 5 points): Very interesting and entertaining game. A long maneuvering phase which turned into a tactical phase once the position opened up and then effectively ended when, with both players in severe time pressure, Friedel found a final tactic to simplify into a won ending which he converted with excellent technique. Likely both sides had some improvements in the middlegame, but on the whole the game seemed to be of quite high quality, especially taking into account the clock situation. Add to that the drama of it, with the match outcome hanging in the balance late with all three results seeming possible, this game seemed like a very worthy winner.

Jeff Ashton (3rd place, 3 points): Ok, nice game, and both sides showed inspiring play. The game is very interesting. Tough game. Ok, I'm honestly writing a lot of filler for this game, and again perhaps a simple "both sides played hard" would be better than what I have to say. Overall I feel that it might be a criminal offense not to rank this in my top three. But to be honest, I'll probably forget about this game within a few hours. I just can't really find a game I thought was more third place worthy, although I considered Brooks vs Rodriguez.

Michael Aigner (3rd place, 3 points): I should start off by commenting on how difficult this week proved to be. My spreadsheet ended up with TEN (!) games that scored equal or better than my first place game last week. Yes, Week 4 saw lots of exciting chess, and the League should be proud of that! On the other hand, I struggled with putting together the rankings of my top five games.

This board one game was fun to watch, and there's no doubt how critical the result was to San Francisco's victory. Bonus points to Friedel for his novel opening concept to ignore the advancing Black's a-pawn. As a result, White dominated the Kingside, an advantage that eventually won the game.

I thought Black solved his problems by evacuating his King to b8 and then controlling the f5 square. Yet when the Kingside opened up, it was White's monarch in some trouble. I know I would have lacked the intestinal fortitude to open the f-file and entire Kingside with 41. Nxf7.

I need deeper analysis to confirm whether White's play was sound. Primarily for this reason, I ranked the game third and not higher.

Jim Dean (4th place, 2 points): This was a nice, hard fought game by both sides. It didn't appeal to me as much as a few of the other games this week, but I have nothing negative to say about it, and feel it is GOTW worthy. I have to say I am surprised to see that Hungaski vs Shmelov didn't get much love from my fellow judges. I felt it was a really well played game by Hungaski, even if some might say it lacked excitement.

Total Score of Friedel vs Akobian: 18 points


2nd Place: FM Ron Simpson (CAR) vs GM Boris Gulko (NJ) 1-0

FM Simpson finished off a strong effort with 34. Qg5!, tactically forcing the win of Black's Queen, ending his tough league streak by knocking off one of the most successful players in league history.

Greg Shahade (2nd place, 4 points): With so many games being close in value this week, I ended up just going with this one because Simpson completely outplayed Gulko for most of the game. Admittedly Gulko made a huge mistake by playing 32... exf5, and something like Re8 would have led to a double-edged game. I did think the result of this game hinged on some very sudden tactics that weren't especially difficult to see. However the fact that Carolina drew the match because of this win, and because it was an upset of a few hundred points, led me to rank it second.

Jeff Ashton (2nd place, 4 points): See my notes for Gulko vs Bartell if you want to read my thoughts about underdogs beating the great ones, but yes, I might rank upsets highly, but at least I'm consistent!

Like other upsets that I rank highly (Gulko vs Bartell) the winning side played well, and the game was interesting.

When I first saw this game, I figured there was a good chance I would rank it from third to fifth place. But then I realized that maybe subconsciously I didn't want to offend the chess purists for ranking an upset so high more than once, against the same player, in such a short time frame. I looked at the game a few times to make sure I'm not making any horrible mistake for voting it so highly, since obviously I don't want the "who cares if it's an upset" people to lose too much sleep, and I realized that White's play was overall pretty accurate. Perhaps Gulko could have defended better, but nonetheless, it gets a high vote from me.

And a few other points to quickly mention:

1. There is a larger rating difference (although the winning side had White, not Black).
2. How often does a player 2200-2300 win against a 2600 player playing the Kan? I'm pretty sure that this is the first time in history that it has happened. I'm exaggerating so don't break your mouse while rushing to open Mega Database, it probably has happened once or twice before.

Jim Dean (2nd place, 4 points): It is difficult to not give a lot of credit to a win where an FM smashes a GM in a nice attack. It's true that Gulko made a pretty large blunder near the end, but White was doing well anyway, and Simpson clearly played lots of good moves throughout.

Arun Sharma (NR, 0 points): Just like Jeff Ashton, whether you agree with me or not in my choice to not rank this game, I definitely have shown that I'm consistent as this is the third big upset this season (the first two being Gulko vs Bartell and Shulman vs Felecan) where I gave the game in question a much lower ranking than the general consensus. As I've said before, I do agree that the intrigue factor (for instance a big upset) should be a consideration in GOTW rankings, but in my opinion, a minor one at most. Of course that's my personal viewpoint, and I think it's obvious that several of the other judges don't quite agree with me; I just really feel that the actual game itself should be by far the most important factor. This game in particular, Simpson played well, but Black really self-destructed late with two consecutive blunders (as Michael points out), and the ending combination was really not anything surprising or spectacular. In a week with so many other interesting games, I simply feel there were other games which were objectively quite a bit better choices and was not prepared to put this game higher than them due to the upset factor.

Michael Aigner (NR, 0 points): Simpson took down one of the USCL's top performers in a shocking upset. While I did consider this game, I chose not to rank it in my top five because Black collapsed from a playable position with a pair of back-to-back blunders 32... exf5? and 33... h5?? Black essentially dropped his Queen to an elementary two-mover! White's winning combination of 34. Qg5 (tempo), 35. Qxh5+ (tempo), and 36. Nh6+ (discovered check winning the queen) was not worthy of second place in GOTW.

I believe my fellow judges once again placed more value on "shock and awe" by rewarding a major upset and a short yet decisive tactic. Frankly, there were *plenty* of other games to choose from this week that didn't end in hari-kari.

Total Score of Simpson vs Gulko: 12 points


3rd Place: GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs IM Sam Shankland (NE) 1-0

GM Christiansen finished off his well played endgame with 29. Ra1! at which point the mating threat in tandem with the devastating pin on the seventh rank compelled immediate resignation.

Jeff Ashton (1st place, 5 points): It is entertaining to see aggressive, attacking games played by strong players that end in such few moves... what else can I say. Maybe enjoying "miniatures" is a guilty pleasure for many, but it is great GOTW material nonetheless.

Regarding Kiewra vs Adamson:

Mainly because I'm a UTD Alumnus, it brings me some dissatisfaction to write this, but I must. And after reading what Bryan Smith said last season, I now feel that people should be less critical of chess players, especially when the player is not being paid great money to compete. With that being said as a GOTW judge, I just can't let some things go by without sharing my opinion.

Black's play:

I doubt Robby Adamson has faced this opening too many times, but he handled it well. Black seemed to be better for most of the game. If I ever find myself preparing for this a3-d4-c3 opening, I will think of this game.

White's play:

I just really hate it when players play the way White did in a team event. Sure, maybe White's opening doesn't lose by force, but you risk looking like a huge schmuck in front of your teammates and fans when you are worse most of the game, and equal at best, after playing such an opening.

Who cares how you look? Well, it's a team event, so you have to factor in some "non-chess" things like team morale. I'm sure the Dallas players weren't thinking: "All right, we're looking great on Board Three since Robby foolishly played the Sicilian and walked into Keaton's a3-d4-c3 prep, so we can relax a little. Loving our chances here, Playoffs here we come!"

Having some experience in team play, I know I would be irritated looking to my left or right and seeing my teammate play this type of opening with the White pieces against such a strong opponent (unless the teammate is Nakamura).

Such play might increase your chances of losing the match prematurely. What if your choice of opening causes your teammates to be forfeited? If they verbally (or physically) assault you during a game for playing a move that makes them angry, some TDs might feel compelled to forfeit the players for interference or discussion of the game in progress, etc. You might think that this is unlikely. But the assault (most likely verbal), is highly probable. A strict TD can easily forfeit your whole team! Best case scenario is your team gets a severe warning, and it is likely your team gets a bad reputation!

But okay, I can't just criticize without looking at some positives.

This rarely played opening choice is perfect for special situations. It's a great "I'm playing on the last board in the World Open in the last round instead of withdrawing, fighting not to be last place" type of opening. I can imagine the player thinking: "If I win this game, I get to share some laughs with my buddies while we share some mozzarella sticks at TGI Fridays. Even if it's a bad game, some of the high rated players might stop and look at the cool opening on their way to the bathroom."

But enough of the ranting. Keaton Kiewra is a very gifted player and a highly intelligent person, and I'm sure that he was aware that his choice is risky. I am more upset about the general idea of playing this way in team events, and I have nothing personally against the players who choose to do this (I had similar comments about David Pruess losing a very interesting/dangerous game last season using a rare gambit, and I admire David Pruess as well).

I know that hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy for me to sit on the sideline and criticize after the players lose and then say nothing when they win (nothing comes to mind off hand). I just feel that it's a poor choice that is too often repeated in team chess, often frequented by inconsistent players.

Certain players (like Nakamura) can get away with playing unorthodox openings, because they will probably win, and at least their move won't destroy team morale (or risk team forfeit). But most players should just play sound openings, or only play "dangerous" openings when they actually pose danger to the opponent, thus increasing the team's chance of having short-term and long-term success.

I really don't think this game will place in the top five, but somewhere inside of me (buried very deep, since I didn't vote for the game), I want this game to win first place to ensure that my opinion can be shared and discussed by fans of team chess.

Jim Dean (3rd place, 3 points): This is the type of game I often think of when GM Christiansen comes to mind. He manages to find creative and powerful moves regularly when on the attack and sometimes makes it look easy.

Greg Shahade (4th place, 2 points): A nice smooth game by Christiansen. He sacked a Pawn in the opening but almost immediately got convincing compensation. Shankland was forced to go into a very unpleasant endgame, which Christiansen won with relative ease. Maybe Shankland could have defended better but defending such a position is no picnic.

Michael Aigner (5th place, 1 point): I don't know if these guys were playing chess or bughouse, but it doesn't really matter. LarryC is a heckuva fighter, and he never quits coming after you. There's a lesson to be learned here. 'nuff said.

My top two picks for Week 4 were a technical win by Renier Gonzalez against Ben Finegold (watch out for 21. Rd1), and Matikozyan's defensive gem versus Felecan (Black wins on the f-file after 29... f5). Unfortunately, my fellow judges got distracted by the large selection of other exciting games this week.

Arun Sharma (NR, 0 points): I did consider ranking this game since it seemed like Christiansen played very well, especially in the endgame, winning in such a seemingly effortless fashion. However, there were also a few things about the game which troubled me. The opening part seemed somewhat shaky as I have a hard time believing 11. Ng5 is objectively good even though it really set some tough challenges for Black. The strategy certainly paid off as Shankland erred soon with 12... Nxd4? (Black appears to be better after 12... Bc5) allowing White to effortlessly liquidate into a fantastic endgame. Again Christiansen played very well in that stage of the game, very clean technique without ever allowing any counterplay, but I also felt that Black should have put up sterner resistance there even though I agree it's very difficult to have to defend such a depressing position.

Total Score of Christiansen vs Shankland: 11 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

9 points (Arun 4, Michael 4, Jeff 1):
IM Florin Felecan (CHC) vs IM Andranik Matikozyan (LA) 0-1

8 points (Jim 5, Arun 3):
IM Robert Hungaski (NE) vs SM Denys Shmelov (BOS) 1-0

6 points (Michael 5, Arun 1):
GM Renier Gonzalez (MIA) vs GM Ben Finegold (STL) 1-0

5 points (Greg 3, Michael 2):
WFM Tatev Abrahamyan (LA) vs IM Angelo Young (CHC) 1-0

3 points (Arun 2, Jim 1):
GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs IM Dmitry Schneider (MAN) 1-0

2 points (Jeff 2):
IM Michael Brooks (STL) vs NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) 1-0

1 points (Greg 1):
GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

Friday, September 10, 2010

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 $200 bonus prize ($150 going to the winner of the game, $50 to the loser), second place $75, and third place $50 (both second and third going entirely to the winner). Our five judges are: IM Greg Shahade, FM Jim Dean, NM Michael Aigner, NM Jeff Ashton, and NM Arun Sharma. Click here for more details.


1st Place: IM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) vs WFM Tatev Abrahamyan (LA) 1-0

Faced with the prospect of his opponent having two Queens on the board, IM Rensch calmly ignored the queening threat with 29. Nxh7! and ended up scoring an exciting tactical victory.

Arun Sharma (1st place, 5 points): I honestly don't know how sound the tactics in this game were, but there is no question of how interesting the ideas involved were - it's certainly not every day that you let your opponent make a second Queen so early in the game! And regardless of whether all the ideas were completely sound, at the very least one has to always appreciate the bravery to play in such a style, especially in a team event. Add to that that it obviously was, at the very least, quite difficult for Black to refute White's plan, and this game became the clear winner to me this week.

Jeff Ashton (1st place, 5 points): White's plan of attack followed by exciting and precise combinations made this an easy winner.

Jim Dean (2nd place, 4 points): IM Rensch is off to a great start this season as this is his second victory of the season that I would consider GOTW worthy. You don't often see a pawn promotion get more or less ignored in the middlegame, but Rensch was able to do so while launching a brutal Kingside assault. Congrats to Daniel and the Scorpions on another impressive win.

Michael Aigner (2nd place, 4 points): IM Rensch executes the standard Kingside attack in the 7. Qg4 O-O variation of the Winawer. At first glance, Black's control of the f-file is enough to equalize, but White manages to open a second file for attack. The key sequence begins with two tempi (24. Ng5 and 26. g4), giving White enough time to swing the Queen's Rook to the h-file. Amazingly, not even a promoted Queen can save Black! The error on move thirty two hastens Black's demise, but the Scorpion already could smell his prey.

I voted this game as second mostly because of imprecise play by both sides. Black looked solid with 23... g6, forcing the Queen to g4 and eliminating Ng5 as a threat. The computer gleefully points out a cold-blooded win for White after 33. Qh6 planning to win the Rook with Bf6 or save the Knight on f8 with Nxg6. Yes, I hold high standards.

Greg Shahade (2nd place, 4 points): A great game by Danny, anytime you allow your opponent to Queen in the middlegame and can't be bothered to even capture it right away, you are in good shape for GOTW!

Total Score of Rensch vs Abrahamyan: 22 points


2nd Place: IM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs IM Eli Vovsha (MAN) 1-0

IM Esserman effectively culminated a brief Sicilian slaughter with the strong 14. Nb6! With the discovery threat making the Knight taboo, IM Vovsha was compelled to sacrifice the exchange which Esserman cleanly converted.

Jim Dean (1st place, 5 points): This was my favorite game of the week as I felt Esserman played very creatively starting with 12. Be3, which is a novelty as far as I can tell. White applied pressure throughout and didn't give Black any real chances to get back in the game once things started going downhill.

Michael Aigner (1st place, 5 points): This week was somewhat more difficult than the first two because of the lack of competitive attacking games by elite players. The first rule of Game of the Week applies specifically to such cases: When in doubt, look at IM Esserman's game. Few players (if any!) in league history have won and lost more GOTW.

In a Scheveningen Sicilian, Esserman first sacrificed his e-pawn on move twelve and then ditched a Knight two moves later. Of course, taking the piece is hazardous to the health of the Black King: 14... Qxb6? 15. Nxe6 Nc5 16. Nxg7+ Kd8 17. Bxf7 intending 18. Ne6+. By move twenty, White had better pieces and was an Exchange up. That didn't stop the alert tactician Esserman from finding one more trick: 29. Rxg7.

Arun Sharma (2nd place, 4 points): While a bit short and brutal, one has to always be impressed when someone so handily defeats such a solid player in a fashion where it's not immediately clear where the opponent went wrong. Even though it seems that White is already winning after the 14. Nb6! shot, Black did probably put up about the best defense he could at that stage, but White's precise technique didn't allow him to escape.

Jeff Ashton (2nd place, 4 points): Esserman consistently wins these tactical games with precise play. Being consistently precise in these "loose" games is an amazing feat.

Greg Shahade (NR, 0 points): I didn't rank this game because after Vovsha took on e4, White's moves were quite obvious. White was basically completely winning three moves later so I just didn't see any reason to give this game a ranking. It's not as if White made some amazing unbelievable sacrifices either, it was extremely standard Sicilian play.

Total Score of Esserman vs Vovsha: 18 points


3rd Place: GM Varuzhan Akobian (SEA) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0

GM Akobian played the nice maneuver 18. Nd2!, eventually swapping the Knight for Black's light squared Bishop after which he effectively utilized the two Bishops and his Pawn majority to score a nice victory.

Michael Aigner (3rd place, 3 points): While looking at this game, I am struck by how dominant GM Akobian's position is post Queen trade. Black never really had a chance - a shocking statement considering GM Becerra's history in the League! First, White completely shut down Black's Queenside with 15. b4 and 16. Ra3, provoking the impatient 16... e5. The second phase of White's plan involved relocating his King's Knight. By the time 20. Nd6 came down, the game was all but over. Considering the dominant White pawn structure (b4-c5-d6), even the opposite colored Bishops could not save the Miami All-Star. Definitely a great debut for GM Akobian in the Pacific Northwest!

Greg Shahade (3rd place, 3 points): Great game by Akobian but similar to Erenburg's game last week - it was almost too clean. Nothing for the fans to get excited about, just a cold blooded slow and methodical grind. However, I still gave it third place as to beat the all time most winning USCL player in such fashion is deserving of high praise.

Arun Sharma (4th place, 2 points): This game might not have had the amazing tactical shots most commonly look for in GOTW candidates, just was a very clean and dominating game by GM Akobian. While historically I tend to appreciate these kinds of games more than most of the other judges, I'm glad there seemed to be general approval for this game, and it's obviously impressive to defeat such a strong player with such seeming ease.

Jeff Ashton (4th place, 2 points): Akobian nicely converted his advantage once the Queens were traded.

Jim Dean (NR, 0 points): This game was among the seven games I strongly considered for the top five spots this week. Ultimately, I felt that while Akobian played very well, the game lacked the fireworks that some of the other games provided this week. Still, it was clearly an excellent USCL debut for GM Akobian.

Total Score of Akobian vs Becerra: 10 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

9 points (Greg 5, Jim 2, Michael 2):
IM Sam Shankland (NE) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 0-1

9 points (Arun 3, Jeff 3, Jim 3):
GM Dmitry Gurevich (CHC) vs IM Dmitry Zilberstein (SF) 1-0

2 points (Greg 2):
FM Joel Banawa (LA) vs IM Dionisio Aldama (ARZ) 1/2-1/2

2 points (Arun 1, Jeff 1):
GM Yury Shulman (STL) vs NM Tyler Hughes (DAL) 1-0

2 points (Jim 1, Greg 1):
GM Larry Kaufman (BAL) vs IM Jonathan Schroer (CAR) 1-0

1 point (Michael 1):
FM Andy Lee (SF) vs FM Gauri Shankar (CHC) 1/2-1/2

Friday, September 3, 2010

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 $200 bonus prize ($150 going to the winner of the game, $50 to the loser), second place $75, and third place $50 (both second and third going entirely to the winner). 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.


*For this week we will have only four judges.

1st Place: GM Yury Shulman (STL) vs IM Florin Felecan (CHC) 0-1

Up two pawns, IM Felecan coolly defused any further counterplay from GM Shulman with the nice exchange sacrifice, 26... Rxc7!, and went on to score one of the biggest upsets in USCL history.

Greg Shahade (1st place, 5 points): Hey when you're a 2400 rated IM, and you beat Shulman with the Black pieces in a must win game for your team, who am I to try take to away your Game of the Week Award?

Jim Dean (1st place, 5 points): This felt like a fairly easy decision. Felecan beats Shulman with Black in a KID, and it's not the first time! Shulman vs Felecan at the Chicago Open in 2009 started the same way, but this time Felecan varied with 7... exd4, rather than 7... h6. It seemed like Felecan was well prepared as he accumulated a large time advantage and played sharply throughout. A very nice win to save the match for the Blaze!

Jeff Ashton (1st place, 5 points): I found it very difficult this week to find a clear GOTW winner. There were a few games that I initially thought I would rank higher, and they ended up not making my top five list.

I don’t really like my first pick that much more than my sixth pick, but I'm still satisfied with my decisions. This was an interesting and surprising game to say the least. I was sure that White would figure out some way to win with his initiative but Felecan defended well. I usually assume that whenever Yury Shulman plays aggressively as White he'll either win convincingly or just figure out some way to win.

Arun Sharma (5th place, 1 point): I'm not at all surprised that, given what a shocking result this was in both the individual game and team outcome, that the other judges all ranked it higher than me though I'm somewhat surprised they unanimously voted it first. I thought Felecan played very sharply and correctly for the majority of the middlegame, but other parts of the game seemed a bit shaky to me. Near the end, it seemed that a few inaccuracies gave Shulman very good drawing chances (for instance with 44. Qc3 instead of 44. Rb2 where it seems difficult for Black to make progress). Add to that, the ending, with 49. Ra3? losing immediately when White can still definitely force Black to work for it, all made it hard for me to feel that this game warranted a top ranking despite all the positives.

But even if, like last week, I didn't personally rank the top game quite as highly as the other judges, I believe once again that the actual winner is a very worthy choice, and congrats to Felecan and the Chicago team for their excellent start to the season!

Total Score of Shulman vs Felecan: 16 points


2nd Place: GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) vs GM Alex Stripunsky (MAN) 1-0

Up a pawn, but potentially facing some dangerous Kingside counterplay with f4 and Ng5 looming, GM Erenburg found the unusual looking, but very strong, defensive move 30. Ba7! and went on to cleanly convert his advantage.

Arun Sharma (1st place, 5 points): Like the first place game, I wasn't especially surprised to see my ranking for this not quite mesh with the other judges (though in the opposite way as the other one!). I know this game didn't have the fireworks that many look for in GOTW candidates, but it was a very clean and well played game by Erenburg - no real mistakes and winning with seeming ease without obvious errors by his opponent. Add to that, the preciseness of some very non-obvious moves by him (for instance the 30. Ba7! move shown above), and I decided to make this my top pick.

Greg Shahade (4th place, 2 points): A very smooth game by Erenburg. In terms of class and quality it could get higher than the fourth place ranking that I gave it, but it lacked the fireworks and drama required for me to give it more points.

Jim Dean (4th place, 2 points): A really well played game by Erenburg, who showed patience in breaking into Stripunsky's defense. I especially liked 41. h4!, and the quick finish that followed. This idea to give up the dark squared bishop on c3, followed by ...f6 has been played by Stripunsky (and others) before such as the game Shabalov vs Stripunsky, Philadelphia Open 2010, where the game was drawn. I suspect Erenburg may have prepared for this as his ensuing
play was strong.

Jeff Ashton (NR, 0 points): Very interesting game. Whenever White wins after Black plays an early Bg7xc3 it just seems like justice has been served. When I first saw the game I thought I would rank it highly for GOTW but I ended up preferring other games. Again, I can’t really say I love my first pick MUCH more than my sixth pick.

Total Score of Erenburg vs Stripunsky: 9 points


3rd Place: FM Victor Shen (NJ) vs FM Alec Getz (NY) 1-0

With both players under a minute, FM Shen broke through with 38. Rxc5! and eventually utilized his connected passed pawns to decisive effect, giving New Jersey a close but very exciting win over New York.

Arun Sharma (2nd place, 4 points): In terms of drama, this game certainly took the cake with the team match being tied for the last large chunk of moves with both players playing on the increment. That, along with the relative messiness of the position, with all three results seeming possible until the very end, made this game a natural choice for a top pick. While obviously the end part of the game had some errors, considering the circumstances both players played quite well and with there being many interesting tactics both on the board and in possible variations (in particular, White having the opportunity to allow Black to have two Queens on the board with 45. b7!), I nearly made this my top pick. Even though I eventually opted for the Erenburg game, since it seemed the winner of that game really made no mistakes, I'm glad this one still managed to make it onto the medal platform.

Greg Shahade (3rd place, 3 points): The balance of the New Jersey vs New York match hung on this game, and there ensued a long time scramble with a lot of funny variations and traps. Probably this game doesn't deserve such a high ranking on pure merit alone, but when you added in the drama factor and the fact that the last twenty five or so moves were played on the thirty second increment, a top three finish seems justified to me.

Jim Dean (5th place, 1 point): This was one of the more exciting games of the week, and I think Shen handled the position well for much of the game. White's Queenside expansion eventually paid off, though Black didn't go quietly and made a nice fight of it. Congratulations to Victor as he continues to build on his excellent World Open performance!

Jeff Ashton (5th place, 1 point): Good game. White's active play on the Queenside was a joy to watch. Perhaps there were a few inaccuracies in complex positions, but still a nice game to say the least.

Final note: I thought there were a lot of high quality games played this week. Usually when it's hard to make GOTW picks it's because the games are just dull (relatively speaking). This week that was not the case. It seems that pretty much every single decisive game was well played or at least very instructive. One game that stood out to me was Vigorito’s win. I thought it would either get a very high or very low ranking. Although technically maybe Vigorito might not have deserved as much credit as I gave him, and perhaps he was objectively speaking worse for too much of the game. Nonetheless, I thought the game was very mysterious and one to be looked at more closely.

Total Score of Shen vs Getz: 9 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

7 points (Greg 4, Arun 3):
GM Boris Gulko (NJ) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 1-0

5 points (Jim 3, Arun 2):
IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Eugene Perelshteyn (BOS) 0-1

4 points (Jim 4):
GM Dmitry Gurevich (CHC) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (STL) 0-1

4 points (Jeff 4):
IM David Vigorito (NE) vs FM Ron Simpson (CAR) 1-0

3 points (Jeff 3):
NM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy (NY) vs FM Arthur Shen (NJ) 1-0

3 points (Jeff 2, Greg 1):
SM Denys Shmelov (BOS) vs FM Tom Bartell (PHI) 0-1