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Jennifer's US Chess League Game of the Year Countdown Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
January 18, 2010
Jennifer Shahade, Photo Suzy Gorman
Hi everyone! Best of CLO 2009 will begin to roll out tomorrow, so it's fitting that today, I publish my picks for the top ten games of the US Chess League. Obviously Greg and I both got the "ranking" gene! Games 11-20 were already announced (scroll down to read more about these games), and the USCL website will soon count down the top ten. This year's super star judge line up includes GMs Robert Hess, Greg Kaidanov, Alex Yermolinsky, WFM Tatev Abrahamyan and FM Ron Young. There is over $1000 in prize money, including $500 for the #1 Game of the Year. Read complete contest details here.
This was a very difficult task and I don't envy the judges. When I first looked over the games, I did so with the names hidden from view, without accessing the theory of the positions and without an engine running. I remembered many of them from the season, but there were a few in which I couldn't recall who the players were. As fair as that sounds, I had to change some of my initial findings when reviewing the theory of the various games. A sacrifice or surprising move that's theory is totally different than a sacrifice that a player comes up with on his  or her own. Please note that I'm talking about theoretical sacrifices, not prepared novelties, which shouldn't necessarily cause a deduction in score. For instance, in 2007, Marcel Martinez of the Miami Sharks prepared a great theoretical novelty, 22.Bh6! that ended up as the #3 in the GOTY contest.

Several Game of the Week rounds have been hotly contested, and all would-be judges should be prepared to be raked over the coals. Luckily, my unofficial CLO rankings are unlikely to cause any smoke. For the official rankings, check uschessleague.com daily- Game #10 will be announced on Tuesday, 1/19/2010.

With no further ado, check out my rankings and feel free to predict for yourself. What's your #1 game?

10. Ippolito Charbonneau

An instructive marathon effort by Dean Ippolito, who beats a higher rated player and along the way shows off a bit of two knights vs. pawn theory. Two Knights vs. a lone King is a dead draw, but many Two Knights vs. a Pawn endgames are winning, due to the unavailability of stalemate.

9. Ramirez- Benjamin

Another nice and steady win, where Ramirez finds a pretty endgame finish, beginning with the move, 35.f5!

 8. Fernandez- Zaikov

A game that shows how much fun Black can have in defending in the Sicilian. Black was totally winning by the time of 28...Bf3, but it was still very pretty. 

 7. Kachieshvili- Christiansen

A well played game, although Georgi could have played Rxg6 to more devastating effect on move 47. After 48.Rxg6 (if 48...fxg6 49.Ra7+ followed by Qh8#) Qc2+ 49.Kxg3 Rg8 50.f5, Christiansen could have suddenly bounced back with 50...Rbd8! 

6. Esserman Simpson

A brutal attacking game: Esserman never allowed Simpson a chance to regroup. 

5. Herman- Naroditsky

A very energetic battles with many typical Sicilian tactics for both White and Black.

This type of game sometimes has a disadvantage in Best Games contests. It was so wild and the computer can help us find many tactical errors. But I don't  think it's fair to judge Best Game Contests based on computer analysis, since it's  unrealistic to be able to see as much as they do during a game.  Organizers could give out prizes for accuracy, but I don't think that would be as fun as the ambiguity and challenge of defining "best."

4. Charbonneau- Ippolito

This was a key semifinals match. Charbonneau's sack was incredibly creative. Many thought Ippolito would fall to the pressure of Pascal's well-coordinated pieces, but he managed to avoid major mistakes and scored a draw. 

3. Kachieshvili-Friedel

I liked this game because it exhibited excellent opening preparation, accurate middlegame calculations and nice technique. A good one to show students to remind them to castle!

 2. Bartholomew-Van De Mortel

I have a weakness for Dragon games! I really liked this game because often when Black get an unopposed Dragon bishop, it's because White royally messed up. But this case was to the contrary, White was doing really well, but it proved much harder than you'd think to find an easy win. Van de Mortel really had to balance defense and attack in proving any compensation. Also I liked the psychological aspects of the game-17...Rc5 must have come as a major shock.
1.  Bartholomew- Becerra

This was one of the games I didn't look at too closely during the regular season, so when I played throughout in chessbase table mode, I assumed White was the higher rated player. I was surprised when I realized that was not the case. Bartholomew played a very controlled game, maximizing his forces with moves like h4 and d5. This game brings back painful memories of suffering on the black side of the Grunfeld. 

Look for the top ten countdown on the US Chess League website.
Also check out games 11-20 and read the judges explanations for their rankings:

11th Place (52 Points): GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Josh Friedel (SF) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

12th Place (48 Points): GM Boris Gulko (NJ) vs FM Oleg Zaikov (CAR) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

13th Place (45 Points): GM Julio Becerra (MIA) vs GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (NY) 0-1 Article Elimination Article

14th Place (43 Points): GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) vs GM Alejandro Ramirez (ARZ) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

15th Place (39 Points): FM Victor Shen (NJ) vs IM Marc Esserman (BOS) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

16th Place (36 Points): IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) vs GM Jaan Ehlvest (TEN) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

17th Place (35 Points): GM Gregory Serper (SEA) vs IM Jan van de Mortel (CHC) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

18th Place (35 Points): FM Andrei Zaremba (QNS) vs SM Marc Esserman (BOS) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

19th Place (30 Points): SM Marc Esserman (BOS) vs FM Tom Bartell (PHI) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

20th Place (24 Points): GM Josh Friedel (SF) vs IM Marko Zivanic (DAL) 1-0 Article Elimination Article

Find out more about the league on the official website and also read GM Andy Soltis's latest column, which features  tactics from the USCL.