Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 Board One All Stars

We have once again determined this year's All Star Teams for all four boards. With the greater number of teams in the League this season, the teams have been expanded to each having four members rather than the usual three. Also, with the slightly larger roster sizes, which naturally reduced the number of games the average player played, the minimum requirement to be eligible for the Team was lowered from five games to four. As usual Greg and myself made our selections independently, compared our selections, and then conferred to determine the final choices.

There is a bonus awarded to each All Star Team Member with those on the first team receiving $300, those on the second team receiving $200, those on the third team getting $100, and those on the fourth team $50.

The criteria used to determine these All Stars are a combination (in no particular order) of the below factors (recall also that these decisions do include Playoff Performances unlike the League MVP Award).

1. Win Percentage
2. Total Number of Games (with a four game minimum to be eligible)
3. Performance Rating
4. Rating; if a player is lower rated and does well, this leaves extra rating points for the team to use on the other boards and could be very important to a team's success.
5. Clutch Factor: Did this player come through in crucial situations?
6. Replaceable Factor; do we think that the player's team would have greatly suffered if that player wasn't on the team?
7. Did the candidate take a draw for the team when they were likely to win? Did they lose a game they could have easily drawn because the team situation dictated it?
8. Head to Head results versus other candidates
9. Total Number of Blacks
10. Luck factor; did you win because you generally played well or because your opponent made some colossal blunders/oversights?


1st Team:
GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL)

Of all the decisions about who should be on and what the order should be for the Board One All Star Team, this was really the only position for which there was really no debate. GM Erenburg
easily took the top spot, with a fantastic winning percentage and performance rating, with only GM Nakamura being in the same range. But with Erenburg being incredibly active, playing nine games, including a playoff win over another strong All Star contender, GM Christiansen, he seemed easily the best choice for the first team.

His strong season included several great wins, with two second place finishers in the GOTW contest, in Week 2
and Week 7, both against 2009 All Star GM Stripunsky as well as a final week win against another near All Star, GM Benjamin, which assured the Kingfishers of reaching the Playoffs, especially considering the latter two victories occurred with Black.

Baltimore, after three seasons of missing the postseason, have really rejuvenated their franchise with two consecutive Quarterfinal appearances, and there can be no doubt that Erenburg's incredible contribution at the top has been a huge part of it. While the inaugural champions have not managed to take the second title they aim for, with him leading them, the time when that happens could well be closer than many might expect.

Record: 7.0 / 9 (77%)

Performance Rating: 2824


2nd Team:
GM Julio Becerra (MIA)

For the first time in six seasons, the
League MVP did not end up also becoming a First Team All Star. But GM Erenburg having run a close second to GM Becerra in that race, with Erenburg's superior postseason performance, this switch was really not surprising. In fact, the very tough choice was whether Becerra should be on the second or third team as GM Nakamura clearly surpassed him in both winning percentage and performance rating. It basically came down to weighing those factors versus how active each player was. No one could dispute the importance Becerra had, playing in every match this season for Miami. It was a fairly close decision, but in the end we felt that having played so many games, having many important wins, and also having taken a draw in a winning position in Week 10 to secure the match and a postseason birth for his team, that those positives slightly outweighed the statistical difference and so awarded the second place spot to Becerra. Like a ton of All Star decisions this season, this was very close and would have likely been switched with a small difference anywhere.

In all, it was another extremely memorable season for Becerra, even if the last match of the year might have ended on a sour note in several ways. But he has demonstrated time and time again his incredible resilience both in his personal results and in leading his team back from a tough 0 - 3 start. His great season included being the first player in many, many attempts to defeat
GM Lenderman as well as a very crucial win against GM Gurevich in the second to last week of the regular season when Miami was teetering on the brink of postseason elimination.

While, as noted, the last match of the season ended up leaving his team in the close but not quite category once again, Becerra's incredible League performance, now being a six (!) time All Star including along with three MVP awards, without question makes him the most noted player in USCL History. Having lead his team to three Championship Matches, it seems to be only a matter of time before one such showing ends with the right result for Miami.

Record: 8.5 / 13 (65%)

Performance Rating: 2705


3rd Team:
GM Hikaru Nakamura (STL)

As mentioned, it was a very close choice between whether GM Nakamura would finish here or in the above spot. Though the tough decision wound up putting him here, he had another incredible season, finishing with roughly an eighty percent record for the second straight season, the sort of consistency which is extremely rare in the USCL. There is also little question of how vital he was in keeping St. Louis in the thick of the playoff race until the very end, with the team scoring an impressive 4.5 / 6 with him in the lineup and a disappointing 0.5 / 4 without him. His strong season included several match critical victories like in Week 3 with Black
against GM Ramirez and in Week 8 against GM Friedel.

Although the season ended up having a disappointing result for his team, there is no question they have the tools to put together a Championship run. Fans have to be hoping that Nakamura will end up returning next season after all to lead St. Louis once again. With a season's experience under the team's belts and with them likely to once more bring forth a lineup that will strike fear in the hearts of all their opponents, the Arch Bishops will very likely be a team to watch out for in 2011.

Record: 5.0 / 6 (83%)

Performance Rating: 2832


4th Team:
GM Varuzhan Akobian (SEA)

This was a very close decision between GM Akobian and IM Shankland - just like the choice between the second and third team, it came down to measuring two players, one of whom was statistically superior versus one who was more active and played in more critical games than the other. Just like the previous decision, this was a very tough call to make and would have gone the other way with the slightest change. But in the end, we decided to grant the spot to Akobian as he faced very tough opposition in his smaller number of games including the League MVP, GM Becerra, and the second highest rated player in the league, GM Shulman. Taking into account that he defeated both (a dominating win
against Becerra in Week 3 and a very critical win against Shulman in Week 10 to send Seattle to the playoffs), and the general high level of his play (as evidenced by four of his six games finishing in the Top Three of the GOTW Contest), he ended up narrowly taking the final All Star spot.

The loss of GM Nakamura from the Seattle team after 2010 was doubtlessly a big blow to the Sluggers' chances, but Akobian proved to be a very critical addition as after starting the season slowly, his arrival seemed to right the ship, and several critical wins by him were crucial to Seattle snatching the final playoff spot in the extremely competitive Western Division. Should he return next year, Seattle is likely to be a very dangerous team again.

Record: 4.5 / 6 (75%)

Performance Rating: 2761


Other Candidates:

As noted above, the closest person to also making the team was
IM Sam Shankland (NE) (5.0 / 8, 2711 Performance), especially with his much lower rating in comparison to those he was competing with for these spots. Although unfortunately this close decision wound up going against him, there can be no doubt how instrumental he was to New England's Championship run, helping them become the fifth team in six years without a GM to take the title while demonstrating his personal excellence in becoming one of only two people to have won two Championships on two different teams. This season, after a rough start, he rebounded extremely well, scoring five from his last six, including two huge playoff wins against two of the most successful players in League History, GM Lenderman and GM Becerra.

Two other players who also had very strong seasons but not quite strong enough to grant them serious All Star consideration in comparison to those above were
GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) (6.0 / 10, 2659 Performance) and GM Joel Benjamin (NJ) (5.0 / 8, 2676 Performance). Both were very active and faced some very tough opposition yet still managed quite strong scores, but as mentioned their resumes were not quite good enough to give either of them the nod over the five players listed above.


Stay tuned as in the next few days we will be announcing the All Stars for the other three Boards!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Championship 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 Sam Shankland (NE) vs GM Julio Becerra (MIA) 1-0

IM Shankland played the strong 16. d5! forcing a favorable endgame which he eventually converted, a huge key to New England's Championship victory.

Jeff Ashton (1st place: 1 point): A very tough game. It seems that White carried a small advantage from the opening until the endgame. The opposite colored Bishop ending was instructive. Sam Shankland's games don't excite me to be honest, but I know they are played with a high level of skill very few can truly appreciate. He just consistently figures out ways to win. In my opinion he is "Player of the Year" and one of the most underrated (under-appreciated is a better word as I have no idea what his Elo Ratings are) players in US Chess.

On another note, I am so disappointed to see a forfeit in this match. I don't know what happened, but this is such an anti-climatic way to end a season.

Jim Dean (1st place: 1 point): Honestly, I really liked both games on the top two boards so it was a difficult decision despite having few games to choose from. In the end, I felt this game was more complete, and I really enjoyed Shankland's persistence and technique in the opposite colored Bishop endgame.

Arun Sharma (1st place: 1 point): Like the other judges, I also had difficulty deciding between this game and the Hungaski game as both seemed quite salient but in different ways. Shankland's game contained a very instructive ending while Hungaski's included a very rich tactical sequence. I honestly am not sure which was the correct pick, but I went with this game since the endgame was so interesting - the sort that one would really have to analyze deeply for a long time at many junctures to really understand fully. Naturally this likely means there were mistakes made along the way, but considering the overall situation, it seemed that both players conducted it quite well.

Greg Shahade (NR: 0 points): It was very close for me between this game and Hungaski's, and I think both are very deserving. A very interesting and rich Bishops of opposite color endgame occurred here, and while Black can probably draw with best play near the end, it's very hard to play all the best moves while defending. It was a good effort not just by Shankland, who showed great practical skill in this game, but also Becerra who had a tough job in defending a difficult position but got very, very close to securing the draw.

Total Score of Shankland vs Becerra: 3 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

1 point (Greg 1):
FM Marcel Martinez (MIA) vs IM Robert Hungaski (NE) 0-1

Saturday, November 13, 2010

IM Marc Esserman Guest Annotates Again

Greetings once again,

As we have come up empty handed yet again and stare into the off season abyss, it is high time for some careful, calm, cathartic reflection on what might have been. Without wasting any time, let us first jump to the action in the Quarterfinals, when the outcome could have been even worse!

IM Marc Esserman (2492) vs IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (2425) [B12] 11/1/2010

1. e4

Normally I would opt for the quiet systems involving 1. g3, b3, or Nf3, but it's the Playoffs, and I needed to surprise my opponent with an unusually active move.

1... c6 2. d4 d5

My few games in the database featuring this rare position in my practice saw 3. Nc3 or the exchange Caro Kann, so I continued with the shock and awe strategy.

3. e5 Bf5 4. g4??

I cannot honestly explain what led me to make this lemon. In my defense, having just returned from a bullet match in New York that morning, I was impatient and hazy. Secondly, I thought it was a French Defense, and wanted to push the Bishop back inside the Pawn chain like I have been taught. But only upon making this rash, permanently weakening advance, did I see the immediate flaw.

4... Bd7??

[4... Be4!] Of course Black should play 4... Be4!! (-4.667 repeating according to Deep Rybka 4), winning the Rook, after which I am crushed, and the team's Championship hopes in peril. Yes, I can make a game of it after 5. f4!? Bh1 6. f5 with a clear advantage in space in exchange for the Rook, but Black should be able to hold objectively. Only later that night during a solitary moment with my computer did I realize that 4. Nc3!! first stops 4... Be4!!, and then I can play 5. g4!, when Black must abandon the opening.

5. c4?!

But Caissa smiled down upon the Boston Blitz, and IM Enkhbat overlooked the free Rook. Yet I continued to move in a daze, forgetting to develop and making it five for five Pawn moves in the opening.

5... e6!?

Enkhbat returns the favor, with another Pawn move! Not a bad plan per se, but it allows me to transpose into the side lines of the advanced French. Later I learned that Senior Master Yaacov Norowitz claimed that he has won many games in this position, and he prefers it to grabbing the free Rook on h1 after 4... Be4!!, but I am sure that this was a fake Yaacov Norowitz spouting these lies. The real Yaacov would have grabbed the Rook on h1, from my experiences battling him.

6. Nc3

At last, I am beginning to recover from the trauma of 4. g4?? and develop my first piece.

6... Ne7

And Enkhbat follows my lead.

7. Nf3

Enkhbat is beginning to feel somewhat cramped, and at this point may have realized that he should have grabbed the Rook on h1.

7... Ng6?!

Desiring to complete development by the logical means of Be7, however I have finally settled down and am ready for the dry maneuvering phase.

8. h4!+-

8... Be7

[8...h7-h5] preventing h5 meets a quicker end. 9. gxh5 Rxh5 10. Ng5 Rxh4 11. Rxh4 Nxh4 12. Qh5 Ng6 13. Nxf7 Kxf7 14. Bd3+- in true Catalan style.

9. h5!

[9. g5±] would allow Bb4 or Bf8 where the Knight is better located on e7.

9... Nf8??

After this extremely passive move, which startled the spectators, Black concedes defeat in the opening struggle. Enkhbat did not wish to continue with the logical Nh4, his original intention, for mysterious reasons.

[9... Nh4] and the strategical gaps in 4. g4?? have been highlighted. 10. Nxh4 (10. Rxh4!? but wait, why can't White simply sacrifice his Rook on h1! After all, he hung it on the fourth move after g4 anyway, why not donate it under much more favorable circumstances! 10... Bxh4 11. g5 h6 12. Nxh4 hxg5 13. Ng2± with a large advantage, or 13. Qd1–g4! ending all resistance after 13... gxh4 14. Qxg7 Rf8 (14... Rxh5 15. Be2 Rf5 16. Bh6+-) 15. Bg5 Qa5 (15... f6 16.exf6 Rf7 17. Qg8+ Rf8 18. f7#) 16. Qf6) 10... Bxh4]

10. g5

So I guess the Knight had to go back to f8 after all, and g5 now prevents it from hopping to h7 via Pawn to h6. But it is true, that if he had grabbed the Rook on h1, he would have been better off.

10... Na6 11. c5

After finally developing pieces on moves six and seven, I got lazy and made more Pawn moves. That's nine out of eleven pawn moves in fact. Shameful.

11... Nc7 12. Be3

Don't worry, more Pawn moves are coming soon.

12... b6 13. b4 bxc5 14. bxc5

11/14 "shots from the field", I mean Pawn moves.

14... Rb8 15. Rc1

Preventing Nb5, as 15... Nb5 16. Nxb5 cxb5 17. c6 Bc8 18. c7+- Qd7 19. cxb8=N

15... Rb2 16. Bd3 Qb8 17. Nd2

A flexible move, with ideas of Nb3 or Ke2 and Rb1 for starters, but its drawback is the weakening of the e5 pawn ...

17... f5??

The computer screams in horror! What a gross oversight which just hands away the point! Perhaps better would have been [17... Kd8!? with the idea of Ne8; 17... Qa8!? with a rerouting of the troops along thin supply lines, for example Rb8, Bc8 and Bd8; 17... Rg8!?; 17... Bc8 18. Qa4 Bd7 19. Qd1 Bc8 where White would have to decide between pressing on in hopes of an advantage or taking the draw and getting fined for a premature end to the hostilities.]

18. gxf6!

White obviously gives up his space advantage, since he gets a Rook in compensation! Ironically, White wins the h8 Rook, whereas his h1 counterpart could have been grabbed as early as move five after 4... Be4!!

18... gxf6 19. Qg4! Kf7 20. Rg1 Ne8

Black has done all he could to prevent the Rook's capture, but his position now collapses due to an obvious shot, because after all we IMs miss obvious shots on a regular basis.

21. Bxh7!

Threatening the robotic 22. Qg8 Rxg8 23. Bxg8#

21... Bd8

Black flees, but White insists on giving the Queen for the fans.

22. Bg8+

But Enkhbat resigned before allowing 22... Ke7 23. Qg7+ Nxg7 24. Rxg7+ Ke8 25. Bf7+ Ke7 26. Bg6#

Yet 23. Qg7+?? would be a lemon, as 23. exf6+ mates one move faster.

Before moving to our fateful drawn loss in the Semifinals, I would first like to analyze another related opening debacle of mine.

IM Marc Esserman (2391) vs IM Mark Ginsburg (2380) [B07] 2009

1. e4 d6!!

Two exclamations, one for creativity, the other for objectivity. IM Ginsburg realizes that his highly promoted refutation of the Smith-Morra Gambit, ( and, is flawed, and decides not to lose in twenty moves, instead playing things safely.

2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 c6 4. f4 b5 5. e5 b4!

Forcing matters. The resulting play leads to a position where Black sacrifices a Pawn for dynamic play.

6. exf6 bxc3 7. fxg7 Bxg7

[7... cxb2 8. gxf8=R ++--]

8. bxc3÷ Nd7 9. Bd3 Qa5 10. Bd2

In exchange for his Pawn minus, Black has excellent compensation, far more than any line in the Morra Gambit, which has been refuted.

10... Nb6 11.Nf3 Be6 12. 0–0 Nc4 13. Re1 Nxd2 14. Qxd2 Rb8!?

Black seizes the open b-file, but obtains slightly less activity on this line than in our first game discussed.

15. f5!+-

With the decisive threat of Qg5

15... Bxf5 16. Qg5 Kf8 17. Bxf5 e6 18. Qf4

Hanging the Bishop but winning the Rook.

18... Ke7 19. Bxe6 fxe6 20. Ng5


Next, we observe another g4 gaff, where I do not heed the lessons from the Enkhbat disaster.

IM Marc Esserman (2345) vs GM Alex Shabalov (2578) [A50] 2009

As Shabalov, a four time U.S Champion whose hyper-aggressive winning style made him one of my chess idols for years, had refuted the Morra Gambit in our previous encounter and therefore 1. e4 entirely, I had to switch to something far more tame
-- however, Ron Simpson and the Cobras later improved on this refutation, refuting the gambit even more in the 2008 Semifinals --

1. d4!

Maintaining the material equality for now.

1... Nf6 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3!?

In an attempt to avoid my opponent's deep knowledge of the super-sharp Botvinnik and Moscow systems, the quiet Meran appears.

5... Nd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. g4??

Without the experience of my game with Enkhbat under my belt, I understandably had no idea that this lemon pitches a piece. I simply felt the need to get my illustrious opponent immediately off the trodden path, and felt this was far and away my best chance to do so.

7... h6?!

Strangely, like Enkhbat, Shabalov does not grab the material. Winning would have been [7... Nxg4! 8. Rg1 Nh6! 9.Bd2 1–0 in Kuljasevic-Sammour-Hasbun USCL 2008 Championship, or (9. Rxg7™ Qf6 10. Rxh7 Rxh7 11. Qxh7 Nf8 0–1 in Rohonyan-Galofre USCL 2010, or Vigorito-Avalos 2009).]

8. h3

Making up for lost time.

8... b5?!

Shabalov returns the favor, unleashing a reversed Morra Gambit, with raging pressure on the c-file

9. cxb5 c5!

10. Bg2 Bb7 11. O-O

Castling into the storm...

11... Rc8 12. dxc5 Nxc5 13. Nd4

White is a Pawn up, but with his backward Queenside development and weakened Kingside, Black's compensation is painfully clear.

13... Bb8 14. Rd1 Qd6!

Another forcing, hyperactive move! At this point, after being under considerable pressure for the last eight moves with the White pieces, I began to suspect something suspicious in the air. While my eyes were fixated on my lonely King, I noticed in the corner of my eye that my opponent was clutching his inner left cochlea -- he seemed to be listening to someone, and not thinking!

15. Bd2

I cautiously proceeded.

15... O-O 16. Be1 Rfd8

Although the device was invisible to the untrained eye, I assure you, dear reader, that it was not a figment of my imagination. From here on out, I became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, as I stared ahead at beautifully coordinated rooks, Bishops, Knights and Queen all pointed at my marooned king, that I was not only facing Shabalov, but the mermaid know as Deep Rybka 3 herself!

17. Rac1

And I wouldn't have minded had he just told me so first, because Rybka has fatal flaws, but in this sea of chaos she swims freely.

17... e5??

At the most critical of critical moments (6:46 PM EST), the sky opened from above. Hail pelted the convention center, thunder crackled, and lightning lit. All electrical transmission ceased, and my opponent uncorked the 26th best move according to Rybka. The elements had saved me, for now.

18. Nf5±

White has a large advantage, but the mermaid is a slippery fish.

18... Qe6 19. Ne2 e4 20. Ned4 Qe5 21. f4 exf3 22. Nxf3 Qe8 23. Bb4 Na6 24. Bc3

White weathers the storm, but the second wave begins afresh as the thunderstorm and hail dissipates. All of Black's remaining moves match Deep Rybka 3, except for move thirty, which is the second best move according to the oracle enchantress.

24... d4 25. N3xd4 Nb4 26. Qe2 Bxg2 27. Qxg2 Nxa2 28. Nc6!

As Nimzovitch preaches, when in doubt, humanize!

28... Nxc1 29. Rxc1 Nd5 30. Bd4!

Nimzovitch approves.

30... g6 31. Nxh6+ Kh7 32. Qf2 f6 33. g5 Be5 34. Bxe5 fxe5 35. Nf7 Nf4!

The last splash. White must keep his head above water.

36. Qh4+ Kg7 37. Nfxd8 Ne2+ 38. Kf2 Nxc1 39. Qh6+ Kg8

40. Ne7+! Qxe7 41. Qxg6+

Black played flawlessly after the 18th move, but after the thunderstorm, his position was awash. Following the game I wanted to analyze with my famous opponent to discuss the ideas of the battle, and determine if my paranoia was real, or in fact, just paranoia, but he was gone. 1–0

At last, we move to the epic encounter, the Semifinal "Death Match", "Rumble in Somerville", pick a name. I had the unpleasant task of being in a must win situation from move one, facing off against many time Boylston Club champion Chris Chase, a long time senior master and crafty veteran.

IM Marc Esserman (2492) vs FM Christopher Chase (2382) 11/10/2010

1. e4 g6

Chris is an independent thinker and doesn't care what others think about his systems. Here again he plays his Modern Defense, through thick and thin.

2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c6!?

A surprise, which I surprisingly, expected. Chris normally steers the Modern towards other channels but c6 occasionally appears in his practice. Another member of the team predicted that Chase would play this exact system against a technical player such as myself, and he/she shall remain nameless, unless he/she wishes to come forward.

4. Nf3 d5 5. Bd3!?

The conventional path is 5. h3, preventing 5... Bg4 but containing other drawbacks. It was my goal to create original problems immediately.

5... Bg4 6. O-O!?

White sacrifices the pawn for cloudy compensation.

6... Nf6

The less principled move, but certainly playable, as Chase clearly proves this game. [6... Bxd4!?]

I will leave it up to the readers to determine what, if any compensation White has in this mayhem. Chris did not want to find out!

7. e5 Nd7 8. Bg5!

Preventing Black from stabilizing his position with the standard e6.

8... O-O

[8... Qb6!? 9. Na4 Qb4 10. c3 Bxf3 11. cxb4 Bxd1 12. Rxd1±]

9. h3

Only now is White ready to play h3

9... Bxf3 10. Qxf3

Chris now has difficulty completing his development and must make a concession.

10... Na6 11. Bxa6 bxa6

12. Qd3 f6 13. exf6 exf6 14. Bf4 Qb6 15. a4 f5 16. Rfd1

And I retained a slight advantage and went onto win in a losing team effort. The rest of the game is rather slow and technical, so I am not qualified to speak on these matters. 1–0

-Friday 11:30 PM, Harvard Square
"Wait, what's this? Did I get that right? You're telling me I didn't win Game of the Week for the long dry technical ground and pound endgame against Chase?"
"Yea man, just go to check it out."

Well judges, I must say I am shocked and appalled! Caissa is offended, yet again. I therefore have decided, through great pain and soul searching, to announce my unconditional retirement from the US Chess League!

Best of luck to our cross-town rivals the New England Nor’easters and my hometown Miami Sharks in the Championship. Until next year!

Friday, November 12, 2010

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 $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: Nicholas Rosenthal (MIA) vs NM Nick Thompson (ARZ) 1-0

Having been building up a strong attack for many moves, Rosenthal essentially ended the game with 24. Qd1!, after which the vulnerability of the h5 weakness left Black defenseless against the mating attack.

Arun Sharma (1st place: 2 points): This encounter obviously caught my eye, being such a decisive early victory - the game that really set the tone for the match and paved the way for Miami to advance despite facing draw odds. Add to that that White found some nice tactics at the end and that this was a fair upset rating wise, and I was compelled to make this my top choice for the week even though Black really should have put up much sterner resistance.

Greg Shahade (2nd place: 1 point): While I preferred the other Board Four game, this was still my second place for the week and a nice attacking effort by Rosenthal, who has been on fire since starting his USCL career quite poorly. Fortunately for the Sharks, his wins have come at the most important times, and he is one of the key reasons they are now in the Championship Match. As he is such a young player, he will probably be a key fixture for the Miami Sharks not just this season but in years to come.

Jeff Ashton (2nd place, 1 point): This reminds me of some other King's Indian Attack games I've seen, and sure a computer might be able to defend better, but it was still an enjoyable game to watch.

Michael Aigner (2nd place: 1 point): For much of the season, the most exciting and creative games were played on the top two boards. Starting with Week 10, apparently the pressure mounted and every GM and IM seems to be imitating Vladimir Kramnik. Maybe the quality of play is higher, but I miss the entertainment.

The lower rated players, however, have continued to fight, even if their games are imperfect. I considered both Board Four games this week, but Nicholas Rosenthal's upset of Nick Thompson was more entertaining. The 2... e6 closed Sicilian resulted in a French-like pawn structure but with motifs typical of the Ruy Lopez (Nb1-d2-f1-h2-g4-h6).

The resulting Kingside play was pretty, even if my pet fish recommends a few improvements for both sides after Black's inaccuracy 22... Qc7 (better was f7-f6 with counterplay). The final blow was the subtle 24. Qd1, preparing to invade on h5 three moves later. By 26. Ng5, the proverbial fat lady was singing on South Beach. Bonus points for the elegant checkmate after 29. Rxf5 and 30. Bg7!

I picked this game in second place because of the inaccuracies by both players. I don't expect Experts to see everything, but there were too many mistakes. Nonetheless, kudos to teenager Rosenthal (2027) for three big wins in a row starting in Week 10, facing two 2300s and one 2200 (Yian Liou, Gauri Shankar, and Nick Thompson).

Instead, my top choice for the semifinal Game of the Week was Hungaski's imperfect victory over Sammour-Hasbun. Yes, Black missed a clear win by changing move order with 23... Rxa1 24. Rxa1 cxb2 and now 25. Rb1 Bxb5+ 26. Kf3 Bc6 (preparing f7-f5); or 25. Rb1 Bxb5+ 26. Kd2 Rd8+ 27. Kc3 Bd3 (promoting the Pawn); or 25. Rg1 Bxb5 26. Kd2 Rd8+ 27. Kc3 Bd3.

I chose this game for the sheer determination shown by White to fight on in the drawn endgame when the team needed the full point. The checkmate after 48... fxe4 especially caught my eye because I have lost enough blitz games (and two slow games) in exactly the same way. If Hungaski had not found this swindle, then Boston would be playing in their third league Championship Match.

Jim Dean (NR: 0 points): Congratulations to Rosenthal as he has proven that he is not a "weak link" on the Miami squad despite often being largely out rated by his opponents. I picked a couple games in front of this one mainly because I thought Black made things a bit too easy and missed opportunities to put up resistance. Still, it set the table for Miami to advance and put Barcenilla and Adamson under loads of pressure to win their games so I can see why this game earned top honors this week.

Total Score of Rosenthal vs Thompson: 5 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Greg 2, Jim 2):
NM Alex Cherniack (NE) vs Grant Xu (BOS) 1-0

3 point (Jeff 2, Jim 1):
IM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs FM Christopher Chase (NE) 1-0

2 points (Michael 2):
IM Robert Hungaski (NE) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 1-0

1 point (Arun 1):
GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) vs IM Sam Shankland (NE) 1-0

Friday, November 5, 2010

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 $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.


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

1st Place: NM Ilya Krasik (BOS) vs NM Adithya Balasubramanian (BAL) 1-0

NM Krasik played the very unusual looking piece sacrifice 14. Bf2, but eventually regained the sacrificed material and ground his opponent down in an ending, securing Boston a trip to the Semifinals.

Michael Aigner (1st place: 3 points): I am sure that I am violating some league rule with this pick, but I truly enjoyed the game. The game was a close match to Rybka 4, showing that it was played at a much higher level than the typical Board Four game. For one week, the bottom boards proved far more exciting than the top boards.

White sacrificed a piece around move seventeen, hoping to trap the Black King in the center with 18. Rd1, 19. Bxc5+, 20. Rhe1+ and 21. Rd4 (threatening Re5+ and Rg5+ if the Knight on c5 moves). The Black King did survive, but White picked up a pair of pawns, giving him three connected passers on the Queenside. White's pawns proved to be just too fast. Well done!

Greg Shahade (1st place: 3 points): Krasik's best game of the year and to me a clear winner of GOTW. The opening, while it was prepared, was theoretically very important, and the crowd was really excited about the game. Sure Black's 25... Bd5 was a big mistake, but it was still the most rich and interesting game of the week and also took place on Board Four, making it the first time a Board Four game has won GOTW since we have introduced the multiple judge format.

Jim Dean (2nd place, 2 points): This game had an interesting opening variation, which Krasik seemed to handle well. 40. Bd6 and 41. Ba3 may have induced a quicker resignation, but the way White played it never put the win in jeopardy in any case. Overall, it seemed like a well played game and a deserving winner when there were fewer games to choose from this week.

Jeff Ashton (NR: 0 points): Interesting game. White found a lot of great moves.

Arun Sharma (NR: 0 points): The opening stage of this game, preparation or not, was obviously very interesting so I strongly considered voting for this game, especially since White seemed to play the ending well. But what really soured me was that Black's play in the ending, particularly 25... Bd5 which didn't really make sense along with the fact that Black somehow never managed to take on h2 to at least attempt to make the ending competitive.

Tiebreaker Judge, GM Vinay Bhat: I was asked to decide between Krasik's win and Cozianu's win, and since I'm supposed to make a decision, I'll go with Krasik's game. I can't say I thought either game was particularly good for Game of the Week, but beggars can't be choosers I suppose.

Cozianu's win was a nice result, but to me, the game was dull for a long, long time. Both sides shuffled their pieces around forever, and then Barcenilla lost the thread. After that, he was just much worse (if not lost). He pretty much pulled a mini-McShane in winning this game. The small redeeming factor was that the King and Pawn endgame featured a simple, but nice, motif to break through.

Krasik's win featured some very nice opening/endgame play to start things off, but then Krasik had to go and say it was all preparation. However, it was all Erenburg's preparation! With Erenburg manning Board One for the opposing team, this takes on a nice ironic tone. Krasik also did have to think along the way, and given a myriad of options to go wrong, he consistently found the correct path. Not even Anand could manage the same in Game One against Topalov this year. Black's endgame play was definitely poor, but when your opponent puts some pressure on you, that's a more normal result than when you just push the pieces around and hope your opponent falls asleep.

Total Score of Krasik vs Balasubramanian: 8 points


2nd Place: FM Costin Cozianu (SEA) vs IM Rogelio Barcenilla (ARZ) 1-0

FM Cozianu played the likely long before well calculated, 76. g6!, managing to win the seemingly looking drawn ending.

Jim Dean (1st place: 3 points): There were really not any games that blew me away this week, but I did like how Cozianu made slight improvements to his position before finally converting into a winning King and Pawn ending. It made for an instructive example of how valuable an outside passer can be.

Jeff Ashton (1st place, 3 points): Tough game, but instructive.

Arun Sharma (2nd place, 2 points): Not the most exciting of games, but nice build up and eventual finish by Cozianu. The liquidating sequence, beginning with 66. Qf8+!, which lead to the winning King and Pawn ending was nice, especially since it's not immediately clear that that ending is winning so to have calculated it that far in advance, with both players low on the clock, seemed quite impressive.

Greg Shahade (NR, 0 points): This was my fourth place game. Cozianu played well, but it was certainly not the most exciting game ever, and even though Cozianu won his team still lost (while Krasik winning was potentially the difference between Boston reaching the Semifinals or being eliminated). Just like in major sports, if you have a great NBA Championship Final for example, but your team loses the series, you aren't going to be winning the NBA Championship MVP award. We just had so many dramatic and exciting games this week, it felt strange to give votes to a game, that compared to the other games I gave votes to, got very few kibitzes or relative interest from fans while it was in progress, yet the other games inspired the fans enormously. To me, that should be an important factor in GOTW. A memorable game should generally be the winner.

Michael Aigner (NR, 0 points): This was actually the top pick for Week 11 based on my fancy spreadsheet. However, we're in the playoffs now, and I simply could not justify rewarding a player on a team that was eliminated. Instead, my second pick went to another Board Four game: Michael Wang vs Nick Thompson 0-1.

Total Score of Cozianu vs Barcenilla: 8 points


Other Considered Games (judges' scores in parenthesis)

4 points (Jeff 2, Jim 1, Arun 1):
GM Sergey Erenburg (BAL) vs GM Larry Christiansen (BOS) 1-0

3 points (Arun 3):
IM Sam Shankland (NE) vs GM Alex Lenderman (NY) 1-0

3 points (Greg 2, Michael 1):
GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Dmitry Gurevich (CHC) 1/2-1/2

2 points (Michael 2):
Michael Wang (SEA) vs NM Nick Thompson (ARZ) 0-1

1 point (Greg 1):
FM Robby Adamson (ARZ) vs FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) 1/2-1/2

1 point (Jeff 1):
IM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) 1-0