Saturday, December 31, 2011

Game of the Year -- 18th Place

This is the third part in a series of articles which will count down to revealing what game was voted as the 2011 USCL Game of the Year. For more information on exactly how this process works and the prize information, please refer to: Game of the Year Contest


18th Place: GM Hikaru Nakamura (STL) vs GM Melikset Khachiyan (LA) 0-1

In an already wild game, rather than taking the perpetual, GM Nakamura boldly pressed forward with 35. Rg1, leading to an exciting finish in one of the biggest upsets in USCL History.

Below are the comments from the judges on why they ranked the game where they did and in parentheses is the ranking given by that judge and the number of points awarded for that ranking.

FM Ingvar Johannesson (9th Place, 12 points):
This game started as a reversed Leningrad. Having played 1. f4 myself several times I thought Khachiyan's opening play was very classical, and he had no problems in the opening and might even claim to be slightly better. It felt like Khachiyan then took over as Nakamura's position felt overextended and weak. Then Khachiyan sacked the exchange (he also did in Week 5, I have a very educated guess about who his favourite player is, starts with P and ends with etrosian!). Then I think he went a bit overboard sacking another exchange (26... Be7 followed by some normal moves, and I place this top three for sure) which probably wasn't necessary but I guess he was all-in for glory at that point. Overall a good game by Khachiyan but slips a little because of the fact that he messed up a bit, and Nakamura could have taken a perpetual but went a little crazy trying to win.

FM Victor Shen (13th Place, 8 points):
One of the biggest upsets of the season. It's not often that you see a World Top Ten player lose with White period. Of course it was an imperfect game as Nakamura optimistically spurned perpetual check but later blundered in the ensuing unbalanced endgame. Though the quality of the game may not have been as high as one might have hoped from these strong players, it was an impressive and unexpected upset nevertheless.

FM Ron Young (15th Place, 6 points):
Ah, December. Christmas carols, year-end lists, Shahade family birthdays, and deciding how much weight to assign the Nakamura factor in the GOTY voting. Black did play well, and if he was guided at all by White's well-known aversion to draws, all the more admirable. It did seem that Hikaru thought of nothing but winning, up to but not beyond the moment he realized he had to resign.

FM Alisa Melekhina (16th Place, 5 points):
Undoubtedly one of the reasons this game was chosen as a Wildcard was because of the caliber of the player on the White side of the board. However, it seems that Nakamura just didn't take this game seriously enough, to his own detriment, and underestimated the strength of his GM opponent. Known for playing the Dutch with Black, his experiment of using the same set-up for White did not succeed. After losing objectivity in his desire to win and haughtily refusing to force a draw, this game ended on a dubious note with a Pawn race favoring Khachiyan.

GM Alex Lenderman (20th Place, 1 point):
This game might very well be one where the fans were most excited about, not only about the upset factor, but also because of so many turning points!

But in fact the upset factor seems like the only intriguing factor for me in this game, nothing else. I won't go too in depth, but in simplest terms: White didn't develop his Queenside pieces until move 18 and by that time was already much worse. Then 23. Qxc5 was not very accurate, 23. Bd5+! was better first to take away 23... Kh8. (23... Kh8?? 24. Nxg6+). After 23. Bd5+ Be6 Black's Bishop is passive and then 24. Qxc5 would have left White slightly worse but managable. But for some reason White played 23... Qxc5 in a couple of seconds (thanks ICC). 25. Bd5+? was also a huge lemon, self-pinning himself and misplacing the Bishop while 25. Rxe5 pretty much forces a Queen trade. 24... Rd8 25. Ng2 g5 was probably better than 24... Re5?!, keeping more of an advantage, and Black would be in control. But 25. Bd5+? validated Black's inaccurate 24... Re5, and after 25... Kg7 Black is simply winning.

26... Be7! looked just winning also as after the only move 27. Qc4 (or 27. Qb5 a6 doesn't change much) then 27... Qb6+ 28. Kh1 Rh5! with a simple mating attack. White's King is too exposed, and Black has too many pieces attacking. The second exchange sacrifice seems too extreme, I wonder if it was a bailout to make sure to secure a draw, or if Black missed something. But Black did play that move relatively quickly in three minutes in a tough position, just like White played 25. Bd5+ in thirty seconds, also very mysterious. So the logical outcome after White's very poor opening and Black's poor execution should've been a fighting draw, and should've ended in a perpetual check.

Those factors would already be enough for me to rank this game low. Add to that that White overpressed not once, but actually twice and then did not find the drawing continuation in the endgame, 45. c5= and once again 46. c5= after spending less than a minute for each move, and that Black squandered his advantage at least a couple of times, as exciting as this game was, and as much of an upset it was, all these negative factors about it left me an easy decision to rank this game last.

Total Score of Nakamura vs Khachiyan: (18th Place, 32 Points)


Stay tuned for sixteen more such articles as the field shrinks by one game almost every day to see which of the following games will be the 2011 Game of the Year!

Week 2: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Lev Milman (MAN) 1-0 Article

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

Week 5: GM Cristian Chirila (DAL) vs GM Melikset Khachiyan (LA) 0-1 Article

Week 6: GM Julio Sadorra (DAL) vs IM Gabriel Battaglini (CAR) 1-0 Article

Week 7: WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (LA) vs FM Eric Rodriguez (MIA) 1-0 Article

Week 8: GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs FM Joaquin Banawa (STL) 1-0 Article

Week 9: GM Jesse Kraai (SF) vs GM Julio Sadorra (DAL) 1-0 Article

Week 10: GM Yury Shulman (CHC) vs IM Mackenzie Molner (ARZ) 1-0 Article

Quarterfinals: GM Yury Shulman (CHC) vs GM Cristian Chirila (DAL) 1-0 Article

Semifinals: IM Zhanibek Amanov (LA) vs GM Josh Friedel (CHC) 0-1 Article

Championship: GM Mesgen Amanov (CHC) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 0-1 Article

Wildcard #1: GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY) vs GM Varuzhan Akobian (SEA) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #2: GM Mesgen Amanov (CHC) vs IM Zhanibek Amanov (LA) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #3: IM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs GM John Fedorowicz (NY) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #5: SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) vs IM Robert Hungaski (NE) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #6: IM Zhanibek Amanov (LA) vs FM Slava Mikhailuk (SEA) 1-0 Article

Wildcard #7: GM Sam Shankland (NE) vs SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (BOS) 1-0 Article


18th Place (32 Points): GM Hikaru Nakamura (STL) vs GM Melikset Khachiyan (LA) 0-1 Article Elimination Article

19th Place (30 Points): Christopher Wu (NJ) vs NM James Black (MAN) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

20th Place (27 Points): IM Conrad Holt (DAL) vs FM Joel Banawa (LA) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

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