Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011 Board Three All Stars

For the criteria that was used to determine these All Stars refer to the first post on the subject.


1st Team: IM Jay Bonin (PHI)

The choice of who the three All Stars should be for Board Three was fairly clear, but their order was anything but. All three had great seasons, and were not too different statistically. Each had some stats slightly favoring them and some slightly in their competitors' favor making the decision anything but clear.

In the end, as close as it was in our minds, the nod was given to Bonin due to a combination of having played the most games and his general importance to his team (playing all but one match). Two of his best wins were a nice endgame win with Black against NM Martirosov, a game which received some GOTW attention, and another good endgame effort against FM Pressman.

Having played in the League every year since it's inception, this was Bonin's clearly best season performance, as he and NM Fisher manning the bottom two boards were clearly the difference which lead Philadelphia to their best regular season record by far in their history. Although the season ended in disappointment with his first loss coming at the worst of times in a tough Quarterfinals loss for his team, with him and Fisher likely to again be a part of the 2012 effort, the future still looks bright for the Inventors.

Record: 7.0 / 10 (70%)

Performance Rating: 2555


As mentioned above, this was another decision that was very close as WGM Abrahamyan could well have been on the first team due to her superior performance rating (a not surprising stat due to having played on Board One twice).

As close a decision as the order for the Board Three All Stars was, in the end someone had to be given the nod for the top team, and it ended up being Bonin for the reasons noted above.

Whatever her position on the All Star Team, it was unquestionably another super strong season by WGM Abrahamyan with several great games, including a GOTW effort against FM Rodriguez as well as a big upset with Black against IM Molner.

While an unfortunate last part of the season with two playoff loses ended up edging Abrahamyan out of a certain spot on the First All Star Team, there can be no debate of how important her great regular season effort was to the Vibe team - likely the key ingredient to the Los Angeles team's huge improvement from 2010 which vaulted them up in 2011 to clear second place in the West. With her likely to return in 2012, she may prove to be a valuable weapon to the Vibe for many years to come.

Record: 6.0 / 9 (67%)

Performance Rating: 2594


As noted, this was another close call with Young having similar stats to both Bonin and Abrahamyan. But in the end, with him having played the fewest games and having had the big advantage of having White in six of his seven games, he seemed the most appropriate choice for the third team.

Again, whatever his placement turned out to be, he turned in yet another huge season, his second time as an All Star, and just as for Philadelphia, having two huge weapons in himself and NM Schmakel on the bottom boards were a big reason why Chicago stormed out to such a huge record. His strong season included a win against another All Star contender NM Defibaugh and a tricky endgame squeeze against FM Adamson.

Unfortunately, just as for the other two stars on this board, his season ended in a disappointing loss. But he too has every reason to be proud of his effort this year. With a two time All Star available to Chicago along with having multiple other very strong assets in their midst, the Blaze team is likely to be a strong force in the upcoming seasons.

Record: 5.0 / 7 (71%)

Performance Rating: 2539


Other Candidates:

The strongest candidate who didn't end up quite making it was FM Jorge Pelaez (MIA) (4.0 / 5, 2567 Performance). He had a super strong season as well, including a huge upset, along with a very nice win percentage. However, he did not quite measure up to the three players above in our eyes due to not having played nearly as many games and also having two of his wins occur on Board Four. Two other strong contenders were FM Farai Mandizha (MAN) (5.0 / 8, 2462 Performance) who won a big game against the top Board Three All Star in the Quarterfinals and NM Jared Defibaugh (BAL) (4.5 / 7, 2468 Performance) both of whose losses occurred against other All Stars. Each had a very good season but not quite on par with the above players.


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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Board Four All Stars

Greg and I have again determined this year's All Star Teams for all four boards. Based upon general feedback we reverted back to there being three teams for each board (rather than four like last year) with the minimum requirement to be eligible for the team still being four games for the whole season.

The bonus awarded to each All Star Team Member is $300 for each member of the first team the second team $200, and third team $100.

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: NM William Fisher (PHI)

This was certainly one decision which didn't require much thought as Fisher put together an absolutely incredible season. His 9.5/10 record speaks for itself, but added to the fact that the vast majority of his victories were obtained in very convincing fashion, what he did in 2011 could well add up to the most impressive single season ever by a player in the USCL. Two of his most impressive wins were a nice effort with Black against another strong performer from 2011, NM Defibaugh, and a game which received some GOTW attention, a win against NM Gershenov.

In all, it was a very memorable first season for Fisher, being the main reason why Philadelphia vaulted from a solid, yet unspectacular team into one of the League's clear best. It's very likely that the Inventors will want him back for 2011 given his incredible first year's performance, but now that he sports a much higher rating, he'll likely have to be moved up to third board, and it should be interesting to see if he can continue his great run there.

Record: 9.5 / 10 (95%)

Performance Rating: 2551


Another decision that didn't require much contemplation as NM Schmakel also put together a great season, with a very impressive record.

Several teams had tried before in the USCL to put together very top heavy lineups via using a very underrated fourth board. This had met with limited success in the past as the inherent weakness that this tended to create on the bottom board often proved fatal. But Schmakel ended up doing the opposite, as he turned out to be one of Chicago's strongest points, as he was the difference for the Blaze on multiple occasions in scoring the decisive victory of a match which was instrumental to Chicago achieving the best record in the USCL this year. Two of his biggest victories were a match deciding victory against NM Thompson which received second in GOTW as well as a victory with Black against FM Xiong in the Quarterfinals without which Chicago would not have moved on to the Semifinals.

Just like Fisher, it was a very memorable first season for Schmakel, and it should be interesting to see what the future holds for him. While his now much higher rating will preclude him from being a part of super stacked lineups in 2012, given how impressive he was this season, it seems more than likely that the Blaze will keep him on as a strong weapon for the bottom board once again.

Record: 5.0 / 6 (83%)

Performance Rating: 2394


This was a tougher decision as there were several players with fairly similar stats competing for the last All Star spot. In the end, the nod was given to Feng mostly because of his much lower rating in comparison to the others - something which, in addition to providing his team with more lineup flexibility, also made his performance that much more impressive. His nice season included two fair upsets, in Week 6 against NM Gershenov and in Week 7 with Black against Ruan.

While Feng had a very impressive first season for someone who sported such a low league rating, unfortunately his team overall had a rather disappointing season - something which a squad with as much talent and drive as the Seattle team has will no doubt be looking to rectify next season. But with Feng still at a prime rating to be a very useful weapon on fourth board, that's certainly one place the Sluggers know they have good prospects in for 2012 and possibly years beyond.

Record: 3.5 / 5 (70%)

Performance Rating: 2389


Other Candidates:

As mentioned there were other players in strong contention to also possibly receive the spot on the third team. The three main other candidates were NM Gopal Menon (CHC) (3.0 / 4, 2409 Performance), NM Alex Fikiet (NE) (3.0 / 4, 2389 Performance), and NM Konstantin Kavutskiy (LA) (4.5 / 7, 2318 Performance). Each overall, statistically, was fairly similar to Feng in our eyes, the former two having a very similar record and performance rating, and the latter also having a similar record and having played more games than any of the others. In the end, as mentioned, the nod was given to Feng over each of them due to his much lower league rating as he weighed in at U2000, with the others counting for much higher ratings. This was, nevertheless, a fairly close decision, and likely any of the three players who ended up barely missing out likely would have taken the spot with an additional half point.


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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Championship Game of the Week

This year Game of the Week will be decided upon by IM Greg Shahade and NM Arun Sharma together. 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).


*Due to the lower number of games played in the Championship, only the prizes for the first place game will be given out.

1st Place: GM Mesgen Amanov (CHC) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 0-1

GM Kacheishvili played the somewhat unnatural looking 35... Na4, eventually squeezing out a nice win in a famous ending.

Another strong performance by Kacheishvili. All season he has been winning nice games via slowly and methodically outplaying his opponent, and this game, in the most important of USCL settings, was a good example. He just seemed to get a nice edge in the middlegame which he eventually converted to a powerful passed Pawn in the endgame which he converted cleanly. Considering the quality and that this was the decisive game - the runaway winner to us!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Semifinals Game of the Week

This year Game of the Week will be decided upon by IM Greg Shahade and NM Arun Sharma together. 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).


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

1st Place: IM Zhanibek Amanov (LA) vs GM Josh Friedel (CHC) 0-1

GM Friedel finished the game with the nice tactical shot 32... Rd2!, winning decisive material.

Very nice effort by Friedel, just playing a very smooth game throughout and then ending with an excellent tactical flurry - a sequence which could not have been easy to see with both players' clocks ticking down. Given the nice play by the victor and the attractiveness of the finishing blow, this seemed like an easy choice for this week's award.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

IM Marc Esserman unconditionally retires, again

Greetings once again USCL fans,

As many of you witnessed live last Wednesday, the Boston Blitz's championship hopes suddenly slipped away in a fashion worthy of some great tragic play. What started out as a rout for the Blitz became a disaster. For the victorious New York Knights and their fans, the dramatic turnaround ushered in feelings of euphoria. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'s filled the screen, and we could hear the shouts of joy in the Big Apple all the way from New England. For the sore "drawers," (I mean losers), it was all heartbreak, despair, and an unavoidable feeling of sporting injustice with the win oh so tantalizingly close. Surely, even the most hardcore haters of Boston shed a tear that night for their fallen enemy.

But before we relive the action and bathe in the spectrum of human emotion, I would like to pay tribute to a few fallen warriors in other parts of the country who walked away winners even though their teams ultimately fell short of the goal. To the rising Dallas Destiny star IM Conrad Holt, for his unbelievable score of 9 from 10 against FMs, IMs, and GMs. To Philadelphia's sensational talent William Fisher, for an amazing 9.5 from 10 on Board Four, shattering all USCL winning percentage records. This performance only adds to his other feat -- raising his rating from a class B player to near Senior Master in under two years! And, of course, to my teammate and manager, Jorge "the Bull" Sammour, for his second +2830 performance in five seasons. If it were not for Jorge, we would not have even made the playoffs, and the fans would have been deprived of the spectacle that was Boston vs. New York 2011 Quarterfinals. And now, since history is written by the losers, without further ado, here, we, go.

SM Matt Herman (2426) vs NM Vadim Martirosov (2329) [B30] 11/9/2011

Boston's rock, NM Vadim Martirosov, had conducted a fine game up to this point, methodically outplaying New York's hyper-aggressive SM Matt Herman. With Boston already up 2-0, and in need of only a draw to secure a semi-final birth, the match was as good as over. In fact, an overjoyed Boston teammate had already sent team management a congratulatory text message while watching at home. So, when a mate in three appeared on the board, no one doubted that New York's season would be over in three moves.

43... Rh3+! 44. gxh3 Be1+ 45. Kg5 Qg6#

Vadim almost grabbed the Rook, ready to drop the hammer on h3 and seal New York's fate, but then, out of the corner of his eye, or in the figment of his imagination, he envisioned that after 45... Qf6, Herman's King escapes his stalking Queen via g4. In time pressure, he therefore quickly discarded Rh3+!. The rest is too painful to dissect in detail, so I will briefly summarize. Vadim, with the pressure cooker tightening, missed a few more wins, then, tragically, sacrificed his Rook on the wrong square and resigned soon after. At this point, you just knew that New York would secure the draw. The roaring internet crowd, who moments ago were calling for Herman's head, now rose up against Vadim and viciously began rooting for the underdog. Even if Krasik objectively had a theoretical draw on Board 4 to save the team win, no force could prevent the mob's lusting for a dramatic, come from behind New York draw. And, like any good bread and circus, they gorged upon the league's greatest "villain". For those readers who feel I am simply trying to inject more excitement into a mere chess match, I promise you, I am not exaggerating. The battle truly waged this fierce, between both Boston vs. New York, and Boston/New York vs. the Crowd.

Let us take pause then, catch our breaths, and look at some calmer, less intense Quarterfinal league action from years past.


GM Julio Becerra (2615) vs GM Hikaru Nakamura (2759) [B29] 11/11/2009

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6!?

3. e5 Nd5 4. Nc3 e6 5. Nxd5 exd5 6. d4 Nc6 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. Qxd5 d6

(8... Qb6! Would be more in the spirit of this enterprising gambit. The rarest of the three Black defenses which bears Nimzovitch's name remains far from clear!)

9. Bc4 Qe7?

Now Black is lost. He had no choice but to continue with the forceful 9... Be6.

10. Bg5! f6 11. O-O-O+- dxe5 12. Rhe1!

And Black resigned thus ending the "battle" between all-time league MVP Becerra and the country's biggest superstar since Fischer. This game, curiously enough, was also the shortest in league history, if of course we do not count the infamous "traffic-gate" affair from last year's League Championship between my friends Chase and Galofre which unfortunately ended in 0 moves due to Galofre's car trouble.

With all due respect to Super Grandmaster Nakamura, he probably wasn't giving it his 110%. After all, in the US Chess League, games are not USCF and FIDE rated -- ah yes, those precious, all important numbers that determine so much in our game, including which 1% of the country's FMs, IMs, and GMs get to occupy the exclusive US Closed Chess Championship every year. Instead, your favorite combatants are only fighting for personal and city pride. Therefore, losing in twelve moves is far more admirable than spilling one's guts in the arena for the pleasure of the raucous mob. Such was the brutal fate of my teammates, V. Martirosov and I. Krasik. But, after three days of drowning ourselves in collective sorrow, we must move on. After all, time indeed heals all wounds. Let us try and heal now, by celebrating one of the brighter spots of "Black Wednesday", although it was for naught.


IM Marc Esserman (2554) vs GM John Fedorowicz (2523) [B33] 11/09/2011

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3!? Nc6!

John immediately improves over our Week 3 encounter. He now intends to decline my Morra gambit with 3... d3, when Black has a much more flexible structure than before, having not committed to e7-e6. He could then adopt a Scheveningen, or a Dragon...

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4?!

One question mark for stupidity, and another for originality. As the informed few are well aware, I only know how to play the Morra gambit, so I boldly, or foolishly, head into unfamiliar territory. I would have gladly unleashed the unsound Morra and lost a Pawn for nothing, but John is a dogmatic decliner and does not want the free pawn, like so many of you these days. So instead, I planned to sacrifice a pawn a little later for chaotic complications, on move 18 to be exact.

4... Nf6 5. Nc3 e5!?

Some of you may want to know if this entire game was prepared/memorized beforehand, and I will gladly answer. Since Grandmaster Fedorowicz has not played the volatile Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian since 1991 in the database, I knew for sure going into the match that he would surprise me with it, and therefore focused all of my pre-game energies on this anti-positional yet dynamic defense. After 6...e5!?, Black creates gaping holes on the key d6 and d5 squares, but sends my proud Knight packing for the hills. If White wishes to keep up the initiative and secure the d5 square, he must give up the Bishop pair. This is the strategic justification behind the opening variation, a system Grandmaster Sveshnikov pushed upon the resistant chess public until they finally appreciated the creativity of his radical idea. Today, the Sveshnikov remains one of the most popular aggressive responses for Black in the Open Sicilian.

6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bg5

I am fighting for control of the d5 square, but my Knight is still badly offside.

7... a6 8. Na3 b5 9. Nd5 Be7 10. Bxf6 Bxf6

The battle lines have been drawn -- Black with his two Bishops but backward d-pawn, and White with his strong centralized Knight. In the coming moves, I will bring my sad a3 Knight to e3, where he will assist his brother on d5.

11. c3 O-O 12. Nc2 Bg5 13. a4 bxa4 14. Rxa4 a5 15. Bc4 Rb8

As all of these moves are logical, they have been played 100's of times over, 1112 in the database, to be precise. Now White has a choice. Should he permanently defend his Pawn with b3, or tie his Rook down to the defense with Ra2? Naturally b3 is the more common move, but Ra2 is a retreat of far reaching beauty.

16. Ra2 Kh8

Black aims to break with f5, so the King must sidestep the White Bishop.

17. Nce3

But if Black strikes with f5 now, then after exf5 he will have to recapture with the Bishop, and White's central Knights remain undisturbed. Thus, Fedorowicz supports the f5 break with g6 first. Kasparov did the same in 2005, in the final year of his professional career, against Anand.

17... g6 18. h4!

Ponomariov uncorked this deep sacrifice against Kramnik a month before Kasparov's game against Anand, although it had appeared far earlier than that. At a glance, the Pawn thrust looks extremely dubious, and as we move forward, it only gets more and more ridiculous!

18... Bxh4 19. g3 Bg5 20. f4!

A King's gambit inside a Sveshnikov!

20... exf4 21. gxf4

21... Bh4+ 22. Kf1 f5 23. b4!

A King's, and now an Evans Gambit, inside a Sveshnikov. At last the idea of Ra2 is revealed: starting at move 17, White spends five of the next six moves clearing the path for his Queen's Rook to the Kingside by force! The coup leads to a forced win.

23... fxe4 24. Rah2 g5

Still all "theory." Later in 2005, Kramnik grew tired of defending the Black side, and took the reins for White vs. Van Wely. After 25. b5 Ne5! Qd4 the position grew unclear, and although White won, proving an objective advantage is far from obvious. GM Fedorowicz was most definitely aware of these games.

25. Ke2!!+-

This adventurous King walk, however, refutes the entire 17... g6 main line variation of the Sveshnikov. The key to the solution, like a great chess problem, contains multiple points: a) By unpinning the King, I threaten fxg5, ripping apart Black's defenses b) The threat of b5 now takes on even greater significance, as Ne5 now simply hangs a piece c) Black has no immediate punishing counter attack against White's showboating King, as axb4 axb4 opens up the a1-h8 diagonal for White's Queen to do her mischief. gxf4 is quickly met by Rxh4, and the natural Bg4 is obviously impossible, as it hangs a piece. Fedorowicz chooses the most logical defense, guarding his vulnerable h7 pawn with Rb7 and giving the defense some air. However, the counter-intuitive Rf7 and Qf8, lining up for a defense of the Black King and an attack on the f-file, is actually Black's best try in this lost position.

25... Rb7

25... Rf7! 26. b5 Qf8!, White now must fear the f-line, as 27. fxg5?? Rf2! leads to ruin, and 27. bxc6 Rb2 is another scary sight! But now, the final point of Ke2 appears, a calm, dare I say, "positional" walk to the Queenside! 27. Kd2!

And Black's creative counter measure fails. The position now degenerates into a wild wild west shootout. Here are some bloody highlights: 27... Bd7 (27... gxf4 28. Rxh4 fxe3+ 29. Kc1 $1 Ne5 30. Nf6! (A triple barrel on h7!) Bf5 31. Qh5!! (A quadruple barrel, and the decisive Qxh7 and mate in a few cannot be stopped without catastrophic material loss.) 28. Kc2! (Stopping any Rb2 tricks once and for all, and its open season on the Black King. 28... Nd8 29. fxg5 Bxg5 30. Qd4+ Kg8 31. Rxh7!

Rxh7 32. Ne7# would have pleased the crowd.

26. b5!

Black has no choice now but to sacrifice the Knight for dubious compensation. If he retreats to a7 or b8 he gets mated brutally in multiple ways.

26... Ne5

(26... Nb8 27. Qd4+ Rg7 28. fxg5! Bxg5 29. Rxh7+ Kg8

30. Nf6# (30. Ne7#) (30. Rxg7#) (30. Qxg7#))

27. fxe5 dxe5 28. Qb1

Black still has a puncher's chance, and after Rf4!?, sacrificing another exchange for three connected passed pawns and open lines to my King, I would need extreme accuracy.

28... Qd6

(28... Rf4! 29. Nxf4 exf4 30. Qxe4!

Slicing through the jungle -- the only path to victory. 30... Re7 (30... fxe3 31. Rd1 Qf8 32. Qe5+ Rg7 33. Rf1 Qd8 and among a few wins, Qd4 is simplest, and Rf7, allowing Qd2+, is mate in 15. I leave you to work out why!) 31. Rxh4! The artistic conclusion to crown the refutation. 31... Rxe4 (31... gxh4 32. Qxf4! And I emerge from the chaos a full piece up while the attack still rages.) 32. Rxh7#)

29. Qxe4 Rbf7 30. Rxh4!

This thematic exchange sacrifice clears the path to the Black King at last, a trail White had been blazing through the h-file since the 18th move.

30... gxh4 31. Rxh4 Rg7 32. Bd3

While I thought that 25. Ke2!! was my original novelty, I received a shock when my teammate, FM Griego, informed me that 25. Ke2 had been played once in a game of 2200's and below, and in addition a few games of correspondence chess as well. I simply did not believe him and lost a few dollars on a gentleman's bet. But please, no one tell the Commissioner, as gambling is against league rules, and I do not want to face suspension. I must confess, this is a very good way to make money off me, as, like Tal said, "I smoke, I drink, I gamble, I chase women, but correspondence chess is one vice I do not have." If you would like to immerse yourself in the theoretical debate and delve into abstract questions like "what is a novelty?", I refer you to the following message board: http://www.chesspub.com/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1320893863/7


Good old Ke2, the hallmark of the romantic style! The King, oblivious to danger, plows forward into the center, taking on the entire Black army by himself. And this in a game which teaches us to castle safely to the side. Naturally, this was not my first experience with Ke2.

NM Marc Esserman vs NM Craig Stauffer [B02] 3/9/2000

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. Nc3 Nxc3 4. bxc3 g6 5. d4 Bg7 6. Bd3 c5 7. Nf3 O-O 8. h4 d6 9. h5 Bg4 10. hxg6 fxg6

Both sides have played the opening rather dubiously, and now I sank into an hour's thought. If Rxh7 Kxh7 Ng5 wins easily, but Black interposes with Bxf3, and the attack fizzles. Therefore, the solution is obvious to us ... I hope I didn't give it away!

11. Ke2!!??

Two exclams for the freshness and creativity of youth. And two question marks for the ignorance and naivety of, well, youth. Again, as in Esserman vs Fedorowicz, White clears the h-file for decisive action (Rxh7, Qh1, and Bxg6 is threatened). But of course, he forgets to castle! Is Ke2 sound? Start your engines to find out, although they might explode.}

11... d5?

Black locks the center in the very moment when he should have opened it up somehow. After all, my King is there. Of course, the looming threat of Bc4+ and some mayhem on the h-file troubled him to take such action.

12. Rxh7! Kxh7 13. Qh1+

Unnerved by the madness of Ke2, Black loses his composure and hangs a piece. However, even Kg8 could not save him.

13... Bh5

(13... Kg8 14. Bxg6 Bxf3+ 15. gxf3 Rf6, a desperado. 16. Qh7+ Kf8 17. Bh6 Rxg6 18. Qxg6 Bxh6 19. e6!

There is no escaping Ke2.)

14. Qxh5+ Kg8 15. Bxg6 Rxf3 16. Qh7+ Kf8 17. Bh6 Rf7 18. Qh8#!

Ironically, in a bizarre twist of fate, this game was analyzed in a summer 2000 Chess Life, over 11 years ago, by ... can you guess??? Those of you who guessed wrong, fess up. Those of you who guessed right, you know who you are. That's right, GM John Fedorowicz himself!


To conclude the Ke2 theme, I offer you a beautiful mate in 3 by the brilliant 19th century American problem composer Samuel Loyd. No hints!

As the year comes to a close and the drudgery of the offseason looms, I hope that the players and the Commissioner can come to a respectable agreement to avoid a future lockout. In the meantime, I will catch you up on the state of current modern chess theory before I bid farewell. Chess changes quickly these days, and we must keep up to speed.

GM Alexei Shirov (2705) vs GM Vishwanathan Anand (2811) [B12] 6/2/2011

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. g4??

Last year, I uncorked this lemon against IM Tegeshuren Enkhbat, winning with a great swindle after g4. According to IM Mark Ginsburg 4... Be4 wins for Black as White's Rook hangs. Enkhbat returned the favor with 4... Bd7??, which was also the blunder of last season, hemming in the light squared Bishop. The whole point of the Caro-Kann, after all, is to keep the light Bishop outside the Pawn chain, unlike the cramped French defense.

4... Bd7!!

But what a difference a year makes! In June 2011, Anand proved all the doubters wrong, essaying Bd7, locking his Bishop behind his Pawns, and crushing Shirov in 17 moves. Perhaps Anand knew something we didn't, after all, he is World Champion. And why on earth is Shirov playing this lemon 4. g4??}

5. c4 e6 6. Nc3

The moment of truth. Unlike Enkbhat, who went down after Ne7, Anand unleashes a furious game changing novelty.

6... c5N!!

And now Black threatens to win the Rook on h1 via Bc6, but this time from a safe distance. The tension in the center is also ready to blow in White's face. But then, after this quick defeat, I heard Shirov played 4. g4?? just this week against GM Paligras and won. Perhaps Shirov won simply because Paligras responded with Ginsburg's 4... Be4 instead of Bd7!! I just don't understand, and so we move on.


IM Marc Esserman (2450) vs GM Loek van Wely (2686) [B21] 8/4/2011

1. e4 c5 2. d4! cxd4 3. c3

After my win over Van Wely, more and more bold souls are playing the controversial Morra Gambit, which some say loses, and others, that it wins by force. Some folks even believe it draws.

3... dxc3

This move is VERY NECESSARY. Grandmaster Loek Van Wely is a man of principle, a man who never shies away from a challenge, from a duel. Thus, even though many view him as a strictly positional player, you can also argue that he is also a man from the 19th century's romantic era, and for this I have the utmost respect for him. However, when GM Alejandro Ramirez annotated this game in this month's Chess Life, he argued that "this move [dxc3] is unnecessary," that 3... Nf6! is best, and mused "why do people take on c3. It will remain a mystery to me?" Alejandro my friend, I must now poke some more fun at you in good humor while answering your question. When Lady Gaga calls your name in her famous hit single ALELLELELLEALLELELELELandrjo, she is singing to the Alejandro who takes on c3, not the Alejandro who meekly declines with Nf6. I believe this answers the question to the best of my abilities.

4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 a6 7. O-O Nge7 8. Bg5 f6 9. Be3 Ng6 10. Bb3 b5 11. Nd5!

And I went on to win the best game of my career. Unfortunately this contest occurred outside of the USCL, or else I would have had a fighting chance for game of the week, if, of course, the position was not still "theory. " Later analysis has now shown that Black can possibly equalize by force from this position in a complicated King and Pawn endgame around move 50, so I am thinking of giving up the swashbuckling gambit for less analyzed alternatives. If anyone has any ideas please let me know. Thank you all for another great season, but I'm afraid it is now time for me to announce my unconditional retirement from the US Chess League. Unconditional. I'm simply Fed up. Until next year!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Quarterfinals Game of the Week

This year Game of the Week will be decided upon by IM Greg Shahade and NM Arun Sharma together. 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).


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

GM Shulman completed his nice King walk with 52. Kd4!, and shortly afterward broke through decisively on the Kingside

A very dominating positional effort by Shulman, just achieving a nice bind with good Knight vs bad Bishop and then capitalizing on it very patiently. Topping it off by unusually using his King to ensure a blockade of the center before crashing through on the Kingside made this game a very attractive choice in our eyes. Just on the whole it was a very nice effort by him which obviously was crucial to the team effort as this was the game which secured a drawn match to send Chicago to the Semifinals.


2nd Place: IM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs GM John Fedorowicz (NY) 1-0

The somewhat strange looking, yet powerful 25. Ke2! proved to be a very effective shot as IM Esserman quickly scored a brutal win in this tricky line.

While a good portion of this game is theory, and the result wound up being for naught for the team, it was still a very nice performance by Esserman, basically playing a flawless game and winning in such quick fashion against a very strong player.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Week 10 Game of the Week

This year Game of the Week will be decided upon by IM Greg Shahade and NM Arun Sharma together. 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).


1st Place: GM Yury Shulman (CHC) vs IM Mackenzie Molner (ARZ) 1-0

With 31. Qa7!, GM Shulman converted his middlegame edge into an endgame edge that he skillfully converted.

Not the usual slug-fest that we typically favor for GOTW, but just a nice, strong game by GM Shulman, establishing a small edge and just converting it smoothly, winning in clean fashion without any obvious errors by his opponent.


2nd Place: IM Robert Hungaski (NE) vs IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (BAL) 1-0

With 40. Qc5!, IM Hungaski compelled a trade of Queens, after which he made good use of Black's numerous Pawn weaknesses to score a smooth win.

Another nice grind by the victor with IM Hungaski likewise establishing a small edge and transposing it to an endgame edge which he also converted nicely, taking good advantage of Black's weak Pawns.


3rd Place: NM William Fisher (PHI) vs NM Ben Gershenov (NY) 1-0

NM Fisher struck with 23. f6!, shattering Black's Kingside Pawns which paid dividends in his endgame conversion.

Another fairly dominating win by NM Fisher, seeming to be in control the whole game. From establishing the Pawn on b6 to then shattering Black's Kingside Pawns and thereby achieving a very strong endgame which he converted in nice fashion, just a strong performance by him throughout.