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Jen on U.S. Chess League Game of the Year Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
January 3, 2009
DSC_7758.jpgHappy New Year to all! I'm reminded at the start of January that there are two types of people:
1.    Those who like ranking things
2.    Those who think that ranking things takes "soul" away from things, or that "you can't really compare" lemons and limes.

Can you figure out which type I am?

As best of CLO judges are hunkering down with hundreds of pages of reading, and magazines are dominated by the year's highlights, the U.S. Chess League Game of the Year is underway. One game is counted down each day, with $1150 in prize money. Because I played two USCL games this year for the Philadelphia Inventors, I couldn't be an judge this year, but I still ranked the 20 games.

When I was an official judge, I really took my time, splitting the games up into two groups and then re-checking my rankings again and again to make sure I still agreed with them. With all the real money at stake, it seemed only fair to be as precise as I could be. This time, I took much less time, basing my opinions on initial impressions and pleasure from playing through the games. I also sometimes accounted for amazing moves, complexity and match drama.

You can play through all 20 in this article, download the pgn on USCL and follow the daily countdown on www.uschessleague.com (at the time of this article, 20-17 have been announced) where the official judges, GM Jan Gustaffson, IM Ben Finegold, FM Ron Young, FM Daniel Ludwig, FM Ingvar Johannesson offer comments to each of their rankings.  I also invite you formulate your own top 20. It's a fun exercise that will surely help your chess more than clicking through the games. On the other hand, it is not as arduous as guessing every move of a game, which is fantastic but very time-consuming training.

I consider brilliancy prizes the inverse of "Sofia rules", a reward for playing fighting chess rather than a punishment for not doing so. I'm a big fan and look forward to the final countdown. In some good New Year's news for the USCL, the league sponsor pokerstars, has increased their sponsorship for the fourth straight year.

Jen's Top 20

20. Milman-Shabalov

Since there were two new USCL teams in 2008 (Chicago Blaze and Arizona Scorpions) and an extra match each week to increase the pool of games, it was tough to pick out the "bottom" of the top games. I ranked this game 20th because besides the upset result and the pretty mate at the end, I didn't find it super-exciting.   

19. Kudrin-Christiansen

Featured some cool exchanges and tactical accuracies.  Otherwise, it seems  a normal, well played game by two GMs, which is why I ranked it here.

18. Lenderman-Zaikov

Lenderman had three games entered into the contest. I like them all, but this one seemed the most routine to me. The win Lendermann annotated for CLO, a English win with Black over IM Ginsburg, was not one of the nomineees. I probably would have ranked it ahead of two of Lenderman's White wins, partly due to personal experience-  I've tried playing that e5 c5 d6 structure and have always had difficulties with it.
17. Charbonneau-Kudrin

I thought the end was pretty, but otherwise the game didn't excite  me too much. Also, now that I'm not an official judge whose opinions affect the payouts, I'm allowed to be bitter that Philly lost that match :)

I was impressed that Lopez won with so few hurdles against GM Serper, but there was no particular move that stood out for me- I'm not sure this would count against Lopez for all judges, but I'm always attracted to a takehome position.

I like the way Ehlvest infiltrated Black's position with Qd7 and Nh4, while allowing no counterplay for Black. 

14. Kuljasevic-Becerra

A nice squeeze and 27.Rxc4 is a pretty and unusual capture.

13. Schneider-Perelshteyn

Perelshteyn wrote the book on the Accelerated Dragon-literally, yet Schnieder made beating it look easy. 

12. Zaikov-Sammour

An exciting draw which featured many surprising moves and a pretty finishing save, 31.Bc4!


I  like the way "Kul-J" distracts Black's queen to the queenside, and then goes back to the kingside at which point Black can no longer defend.

10. Wolff-Zivanic

An exciting draw in which Black found some surpising ideas like 17...Qb6 to hold the tactical balance.

I like how Ehlvest shows us in this game that we should sometimes break the rules of pawn structure. How many players would have played Be3, and been so psyched to accept the weak e3 pawn? It worked out as Ehlvest planned because he got a strong iniatitive with the exchange sacrifice Rxf6. Black's energetic response and flashy moves like 25...Nf4 and 27...Bf5 made this an exciting and well-played game.


The tactics which began after 19.Bxd6 showed strong calculation skills by Lenderman, and evaluation skills, as the rook+pawn for two pieces combination proved particularly strong in this line. 


In this exciting kinghunt game, Bhat played bravely in all stages of the game.

6.Sammour Hasbun- Shabalov

A brave showing from the first week of play; Sammour-Hasbun set the tone for the season. These semi-Slav positions are really hard to grasp if like me, you don't play them, but I was impressed by Sammour-Hasbun's calm handling of Black's position, especially against such a renowned attacking player.


It looks really terrible for Black after 14.Nxf7 but Tate orchestrated a nice comeback, forcing Lenderman to  come up with a lot of strong and patient moves to "win the game again" with 33.Bxa6.


A well played attacking game featuring the aesthetic 22. Rd3!


This game combined strong attacking play with understanding. I loved the way Sammour set-up 31.Nxe6! Even the final move, the creeping 40.Qd5, leaves a strong impression.

2. Christiansen-Zivanic

A very exciting game when the Boston Blitz needed the win most. The violent 15.Bxb5+ pairs with the lethal quiet move 16.Rf3. This is definitely a game to show students to inspire them that all those positions they look at in tactics book can actually occur in real games....five times in a row! 

1. Benjamin-Erenburg

A creative defensive effort. This game showed the flip side of the attack, which is less celebrated. Erenburg was not afraid to bring his king out into the open, and he used his king position throughout the middlegame. I like the precision of moves such as 25....Qa5 and 27...Rc8. Erenburg also showed patience and technique in the final stage of the game.

Look out for the start of the CLO article of the year countdown early this coming week.