Making a list, checking it twice
After a long morning of looking at chess games and copying and pasting until my eyes glazed over, here are my picks for game of the year, with brief and hopefully not too insulting commentary. Who says you can't win blog of the year after the season's over? Wait, there isn't a blog of the year prize? What gives?
Anyway, as Tony Kornheiser would say, "That's it! That's the list!"
20. Week 7: Schroer-Kacheishvili
Voted into the contest after a majority of GOTW judges were stricken with upset-itus, this game has a lot of value when used to show kids that even GMs can fall asleep in the opening. But the system allows for do-overs, so the more deserving Stripunsky-Erenberg will get its day.
19. Quarterfinals: Krasik-Balasubramanian
In a week with a reduced number of games you expect shock-and-awe to get a little more play. The Krasik game was a nice bit of prep and technique, but at the risk of becoming an Esserman groupie it would have been more entertaining to see Esserman-Enkhbat in the GOTY competition.
18. Semifinals: Rosenthal-Thompson
An attractive attacking game with some nice ideas by white to crash through, but something about black’s porous defense makes me feel like it’s not quite on par with most of the other games in the competition.
17. Wildcard, Week 5: Gurevich-Barcenilla
This is the sort of thing that King’s Indian players everywhere have nightmares about. Not only does white overrun the queenside, but he eventually even pulls together a mating attack. The tactics were pretty if not too surprising, but black’s position will not attract many supporters in the future.
16. Week 5: Galofre-Milat
This game makes me think of what the NFL would look like if they didn’t have offensive linemen. It would be entertainingly violent, but the quarterbacks would make a lot of mistakes, as black did in this one. Good enough to win for the week, but the GOTY contest isn’t so forgiving.
15. Week 1: Shulman-Khachiyan
A nice clean win with a typical storyline: white gets initiative, white keeps initiative, black saves king at the cost of too much material and resigns. But they don’t give the Oscar to movies that come out in February.
14. Week 6: Christiansen-Kraai
I don’t really understand the appeal of this game. Castling on opposite sides is right in Larry C’s wheelhouse. And black’s queenside play was almost nonexistent. A couple quick blows and it was over. But if I rank it 19th the judges will pick it to win the whole thing, so I’m hedging my bets.
13. Wildcard, Week 8: Kacheishvili-Shankland
A lot of people thought this should be game of the week, and indeed, it’s sort of magical to win in such fashion with black out of an opening that has been so heavily analyzed. And Shankland played quite well. But on some level, it feels like white got punished for playing too hard for a win when there was none to be found.
12. Week 10: Sammour-Hasbun—Kacheishvili
White wriggles into black’s position and black, overextended, capitulates after a short struggle. The coolness factor comes from the fact that this all came out of an exchange Slav, but I think that the wildcard selection from this week will do better. A lot better.
11. Week 9: Akobian-Friedel
A nice game, if mainly for the way the e4 shot tore apart black’s position so effectively. Strangely enough, there were three games from this week that made it into the GOTY contest, and everything that made the other two too scary to pick for GOTW will make them all too appealing for GOTY.
10. Wildcard, Week 9: Sammour-Hasbun—Kaplan
I remember glancing at this game and thinking that black had just won with Bxg3. Then Sammour-Hasbun rolled off a bunch of tactics and the black position just collapsed. As Tal said, you can only take the sacrificed pieces one at a time.
9. Week 3: Rensch-Abrahamyan
This game reminds me of many battles from my youth with my old sparring partner David Pruess. I’d play the Winawer, he’d sac the queenside, and then suddenly his pieces would all be better and I’d get mated in some sick way. As did Abrahamyan. Some things never change.
8. Week 2: Shulman-Felecan
Certainly the deserving winner of the “Upset of the Year” award. Or “Clutch Performance to Salvage a Draw for the Team” award. But “Game of the Year?” Probably not, although it was a nice effort from Felecan.
7. Finals: Shankland-Becerra
I’m glad I got my licks in against Shanky when he was a grade-school lad rated 1600. This game is elegant, smooth, and against the league’s most successful player in the most important match of the year. It’s not GOTY, but the context pushes it up a couple of spots in the rankings.
6. Wildcard, Week 7: Stripunsky-Erenberg
It’s clear that the judges initially rejected this game because of the strangeness of the opening. It’s not like they blundered any pieces, but the opening looks like it came from the top board of a B section rather than the USCL. However, Erenberg more than showed off his GM credentials with some nice tactics and technique.
5. Wildcard, Week 1: Rosen-Guo
The best game on board four, bar none. I admit to having some bias towards the French Defense, but it’s hard to argue with the facts: nice exchange sac, tough middlegame struggle, and a nice long combination at the end to win the queen.
4. Week 8: Schroer-Christiansen
A tough one to rank. Imagine that you’re back in 1998, watching “The Matrix” for the first time, totally blown away by one of the action sequences and then “My Dinner with Andre” is spliced in for the final three hours. Do you give the movie a good review? And how many times during the film do you have to go to the bathroom?
3. Wildcard, Week 10: Akobian-Shulman
This game reminded me of Shulman’s win from week one, but I like this one better. White just hammers and hammers at black’s position and eventually breaks through with a new queen. There’s something about the power of an attack down the center that isn’t aiming just for the king that is very aesthetically pleasing.
2. Wildcard, Week 9: Hungaski-Schroer
If the Turing test is the name for the not being able to tell that a computer is not a human, what do you call not being able to tell that a person is not a computer? Hungaski had to have ice in his veins to play this game with queen and knights circling his king.
1. Week 4: Friedel-Akobian
From my perspective, the game of the year should be epic … really epic. And this game certainly was, with the showy endgame making up for a maneuvering middlegame. This game made me realize that if this is what it takes to beat Akobian, well, I’m probably never going to do it. And I realize that this leaves open some talk of “West Coast Bias.” And I’m OK with both of those things.