Friday, August 27, 2010

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 $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 Yury Shulman (STL) vs GM Melikset Khachiyan (LA) 1-0

GM Shulman broke down GM Khachiyan's defenses with 24. Rc5! With the looseness of d7 preventing the capture of the Rook, Khachiyan was compelled to leave the defense of c7 after which Shulman crashed through, winning material in short order.

Jim Dean (1st place, 5 points): Simply an excellently played game by White in a week filled with quality wins from the Black side. It's interesting to note that after 23. Rc5, Black had a fourteen to two minute time edge, but apparently Shulman had it all figured out by then.

Greg Shahade (2nd place, 4 points): It was a very close decision for me whether to rank this game or Rosen vs Guo in first place. I eventually chose the Board Four battle, simply because I'm always a bit more impressed when a much lower rated player plays such an interesting game, but they are both more than deserving winners. My favorite moment of this game was the very calm 21. b4, planning the exchange sacrifice 24. Rc5. An impressive debut against a strong opponent by GM Yury Shulman.

Jeff Ashton (2nd place, 4 points): I was very close to picking this as #1 then I copped out (see below). Shulman sacrificed material for long-term initiative and played precisely. Nice combination at the end. Shulman never stops impressing me with his strong, consistent play.

Michael Aigner (3rd place, 3 points): My top three games finished tightly bunched together, making for a difficult job in choosing my ranking order. I enjoyed watching Shulman sacrifice his d-pawn for initiative, then dare his opponent to take a second pawn or an Exchange. Whether or not Black had improvements, the position was not at all easy to play. Black ran out of useful moves too soon, although the loosening f5 push probably hastened the end. This was a great game to teach an advanced student about maintaining using initiative to exploit weaknesses created after a Pawn sacrifice.

Arun Sharma (4th place, 2 points): Very nice game by Shulman, simply maintaining his initiative well, never allowing Khachiyan any real counterplay and eventually finishing the game with a nice deflection via a psuedo-exchange sac. I definitely could have ranked this game higher as the other judges did, just there were many good candidates this week - several games I would have been happy to have as my top pick. Even if I didn't rank this one quite as highly as the others, I don't think there's any question that it's a worthy winner.

Total Score of Shulman vs Khachiyan: 18 points


2nd Place: NM Eric Rosen (CHC) vs Alex Guo (SEA) 0-1

Guo found a crushing blow with 35... Bxh3!!, finishing an already creative game in impressive tactical style.

Greg Shahade (1st place, 5 points): What an amazing game! Guo was possessed by Petrosian in the early stage of the game with his unorthodox rook sacrifice 19... Rd5. While the objective merits of this move are unclear, it was certainly a daring practical decision that paid off big time. Guo's final blow of sacrificing on h3 was very pleasing to the spectators, and if this had been the first Board Four game to win Game of the Week, it would have been a well deserved winner. A Wildcard for Game of the Year for this wouldn't be the most shocking decision either, although based on the high level of play in Week 1, I suspect there will be fierce competition for the seven wildcard spots in this year's GOTY competition.

Arun Sharma (2nd place, 4 points): I must admit, even though this game finished a close second in my personal rankings, that I was really rooting for it to win. Given we haven't had a Board Four game win GOTW since Season 2 (in 2006!), I think that's long overdue for that to happen. Add to that the impressiveness of this game from the creativity of the exchange sac to the very nice tactic which finished the game, it's very hard to think of a Board Four game in recent history which would have been more deserving of that honor than this one. Even though it didn't quite manage to make it to the very top, I too am curious if it might make the cutoff into the Game of the Year Contest and how well it will fare there should it do so.

Jim Dean (4th place, 2 points): I'm glad to see this game get some recognition as Guo played very creatively from the onset. The Ra5-d5 maneuver, good or not, was eye-catching and set the tone for a fun game. It seemed that Rosen tried hard to play for a win with the g3 break, but the flood gates came open and Guo finished in style.

Jeff Ashton (NR, 0 points): First impression: Both players (especially Black) played terribly and then someone just got lucky in time pressure.

That first impression was made after looking at the game for just a few minutes. I admit that my first impression was wrong.

I did, being the responsible judge that I am, look at the game in more detail (immediately after, not after the GOTW results were published as some of you cynics might suspect). I spent a great deal of my time looking at this game for my own personal amusement.

The game became much more interesting as I reexamined it a few times. Black's moves that I thought were terrible, soon went to playable, then interesting, and now I think that Black has a much deeper understanding of chess than I initially suspected. If I looked at the game a few more times, who knows what levels of admiration I will have for Black's play.

Also I must point out that White's play seemed to be very solid. My first impression was that White played much better than Black, and the only good thing that Black did was find a few tricks. But again, I was wrong.

Black's creative/unusual maneuvers and understanding of material imbalance makes this game GOTW worthy.

"But Jeff, you are not allowed to say nice things about a game and then not rank it. How do you respond?"

I'm going to have to play the "any other week I would have voted for it" card. There were many good games this week. Everyone wanted to win GOTW it seems.

It was hard enough picking my top three, let alone sorting through the high quality games fighting for the fourth and fifth spot.

In a few weeks from now when the Week 1 euphoria diminishes, a game like this might claim it's territory with me better.

This game definitely is very instructive and will make you a better chess player (and person) after you understand it. It reminds me a lot of Petrosian's games where he sacrifices the exchange for defensive purposes (see the chapter in My Great Predecessors, Kasparov).

Michael Aigner (NR, 0 points): This game wasn't that big of a surprise to me, as it finished tied for sixth place on my new and improved spreadsheet. I was happy to see my fellow judges reward a nice effort on Board Four.

Total Score of Rosen vs Guo: 11 points


3rd Place: GM Boris Gulko (NJ) vs FM Tom Bartell (PHI) 0-1

FM Bartell continued his strong play with 23... Qb2! forcing a win of a Pawn which he cleanly converted.

Jeff Ashton (1st place, 5 points): I am honestly kind of bothered by the fact that this game almost missed the top three list. I know that a lower ranking is logical based on the number of quality games so this is not a criticism of other judges. I just suspect and hate the fact that many of the things that make this game interesting and special might have been ignored by strong chess players. It reminds me of why it's hard to make chess more popular.

I know some might think of this as an unsophisticated top choice and would have been annoyed if it won first place. Let me just present my lowbrow list of things that make this game GOTW-worthy.

(1) Bartell (not so famous) beats Gulko (very famous).
(2) Black wins
(3) Bartell is a kid (okay, late twenties now). Truthfully, I don't really care about the age factor. I usually like it when the kid loses to the veteran.
(4) This is a major upset rating-wise
(5) This was breaking USCL news (check out the blogs). It's almost newspaper worthy (might have been in some local newspapers).
(6) Gulko dominated the USCL last season, thus it's hard to use the "he's out of form" argument.
(7) Even though Bartell is a very strong player, and I could be wrong, but I basically remember Bartell as the guy who always gets beat up by higher rated players (in USCL at least).
(8) Bartell got beaten pretty badly last season by Gulko. Rematch victories are always exciting!
(9) This was basically Rocky 2.

Again, my list might make half of the readers cringe. But there is another very important thing to consider:

The game is very well played! Even if it was played by two USCF 900 rated players (no offense to my three-digit friends), it would stand out as a top quality game. I'm just throwing this out there, but the the fact that the game has somewhat of an interesting story-line might have hurt it's chances of reaching any type of fame (confusing paradox, I know).

Bartell made it look easy to win with the Black pieces, and it takes a lot of work to figure out what White did that made it look so easy for Black. The game is very instructive.

Gulko never stopped being tricky, and Bartell had to play precisely throughout the game to diminish Gulko's persistently annoying counterplay. Usually I'd expect the less experienced player to get in time pressure, make some mistakes, and then have to settle for a draw (I would just blunder my Queen most likely). Here Bartell never stopped playing well.

Michael Aigner (1st place, 5 points): Bartell's remarkable upset of Gulko was my top pick for Game of the Week. The intangibles (e.g. Gulko's undefeated league record) had a big role in my decision, as did the fact that the much lower rated player won quite convincingly as Black. However, the game itself was worthy of praise, with neither side making significant mistakes. The key moment may have occurred as early as move twelve, when White could have prevented Ba6 with Qe2. By the time the Black Knight hopped from a6 to b5, White was relegated to defending an inferior endgame. Bonus points to Bartell for keeping a cool head when the Grandmaster tried the desperate f2-f4-f5 attack.

Another reason that I picked this game ahead of Lenderman vs Christiansen and Shulman vs Khachiyan was because I thought Gulko put up a little stronger resistance, even if it proved futile at the end.

Jim Dean (NR, 0 points): This was a well played game by Bartell, and certainly defeating Gulko with Black is worthy of praise. However, I can't say that I found this game particularly exciting and ranked several games ahead of it. One worth noting in my view was the match-clinching win that also involved a tense time scramble, Mikhailuk vs Gurevich.

Greg Shahade (NR, 0 points): While I agree with other judges that beating an 8-0 league player who also happened to be a former Russian Champion, with the Black pieces, is something that should normally garner a high ranking, I felt that the game was a bit too easy for Black, and lacked any real fireworks. Let's put it this way, if this board was played on Board Three between two 2300 players, I strongly suspect it would get zero votes. The names and strength of the players should certainly be taken into account, but it just wasn't enough for me here. Congratulations to Tom Bartell on a fantastic game though!

Arun Sharma (NR, 0 points): While this game was a surprising upset and a very well played game by Bartell, it just didn't do it for me in the other qualities that I look for in GOTW. Like Greg, I agree that if this were a game between two unknowns that it likely wouldn't have been given a second look by most. While I too don't mind taking the name recognition/upset factor into account, in a week with so many other good games, I personally could not justify ranking this one.

Total Score of Gulko vs Bartell: 10 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

7 points (Jim 4, Greg 2, Arun 1):
FM Slava Mikhailuk vs GM Dmitry Gurevich (CHC) 0-1

5 points (Arun 5):
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0

4 points (Michael 4):
GM Alex Lenderman (NY) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1-0

4 points (Jim 3, Greg 1):
NM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) vs IM Daniel Rensch (ARZ) 0-1

4 points (Arun 3, Michael 1):
FM Ron Simpson (CAR) vs IM Eli Vovsha (MAN) 0-1

3 points (Jeff 3):
IM Bryan Smith (PHI) vs GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) 0-1

3 points (Greg 3):
IM Salvijus Bercys (DAL) vs FM Daniel Naroditsky (SF) 0-1

2 points (Michael 2):
SM Denys Shmelov (BOS) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) 0-1

2 points (Jeff 2):
FM Alec Getz (NY) vs NM Vadim Martirosov (BOS) 1-0

1 point (Jim 1):
WGM Sabina Foisor (BAL) vs IM David Vigorito (NE) 0-1

1 point (Jeff 1):
IM Florin Felecan (CHC) vs FM Michael Lee (SEA) 1-0

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Game of the Week Procedures for 2010

With the season about to begin, I just wanted to let everyone know how Game of the Week would work this year. For the most part the procedures will be identical to last year.

Our judging panel will remain the same, namely:

IM Greg Shahade
FM Jim Dean
NM Michael Aigner
NM Jeff Ashton
NM Arun Sharma

The only real change will be in the prizes which for the regular season will be:

1st: $200
2nd: $75
3rd: $50

For the first place game, $150 will go to the winner of the game and $50 to the loser (each getting $100 if it is a draw). For second and third, the prize goes entirely to the winner, being split equally if it's a draw.

The system for picking the winning games will be the same - each judge will independently rank their Top Five games, with their top pick getting five points, second four points, and so on with the games then being ranked by highest totals.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blog Post of the Week Prize Announced

In 2010 the USCL will have a new weekly blogging prize that will be given to the best one or two (at the judges' discretion) blog post(s) of that week. Every week a different company will offer a prize of some sort, and league officials (or some trusted person designated by the League) will decide who to award the prize(s) to.

The prize for Week 1 will be from the USCF in the form of memberships and/or gift certificates - the exact prize will be announced shortly. The monetary value of each week's prize(s) will be in the $100 - $200 range.

The articles will be judged on their:

1. Chess Content
2. Originality
3. Humor
4. Entertainment Value
5. Multimedia (photos and/or video content may help, but interviews of any kind, video or not, are also eligible).

These prizes are reserved for bloggers on the internet, so for example an article written in the New York Times would not be able to win. But any blogger, whether they play in the League or not, is eligible to win these prizes. The only real requirement is that whenever you write such a blog, you must inform the Commissioner via email of it, as if not informed, your blog will likely not even be considered come decision time.

The time frame for each week's prize is: Any article written from Saturday 11:59PM EST on a given week to Saturday 11:59PM EST of the following week will be eligible for the weekly prize. The blog subject must be relevant either to the League as a whole or to the week in question (i.e. if it's the Week 3 prize, the article cannot be a match recap of Week 2). When there is more time in a particular week for whatever reason, this time frame may be extended (for example, any article written starting today will be eligible for the Week 1 prize).

We hope that this new feature, which should bring more recognition to some of the outstanding bloggers that the League has had, will inspire the USCL blogosphere to produce more great material than ever before this season!