The fan poll seemed to favor one of the other two finalists to take the prize, but in the end the judges disagreed with four of the five of them giving the first place nod to Romanenko.
IM John Bartholomew (1st Place, 3 Points): A full-scale battle to kick off the 2012 season! Romanenko responds to Gelashvili’s 15… f5 with the crafty 16. d5!, seemingly encouraging all of Black’s Pawns to come forward. His “rope-a-dope” strategy succeeds thanks to a timely Knight maneuver (20. Ne2! followed by 21. Nd4), after which the defects of Black’s structure were fully revealed. I really enjoyed the dynamic Pawn play in this cross-town match-up.
FM Kayden Troff (1st Place, 3 Points): I liked this game most since I felt the opposing player (Gelashvili) put up the best fight, it was not as obvious where he went wrong, and Romanenko found several strong moves to breakdown Black’s position. The moves 16. d5 (which eventually established the weakness on g3), 20. Ne2 (attacking g3 with the follow up idea of 21. Nd4 putting the Knight on a good square), 23. Qe1 (getting the Queen out of the way while attacking g3 and also opening up his Rook for potential pressure on Black’s Queen, and 24. f4 (trading off some of Black’s key pieces while opening lines for his own) were all good moves which broke down Black’s position.
FM Elliot Liu (1st Place, 3 Points): GM Romanenko chose a setup that is known for being one of the more dangerous and aggressive choices against the Modern. White immediately challenges Black’s unorthodox opening with the threatening Pawn advance h4-h5.
I think GM Gelashvili emerged from the opening okay though White’s position was probably more pleasant with a typical slight advantage.
Things got complicated, though, after Romanenko’s 16. d5. A critical position was reached after 18. Bxb6, and Gelashvili had a tough decision to make: recapture the Bishop on b6 to gain the Bishop pair but suffer a crippled pawn structure, or to take the Knight as he played in the game.
18… fxg3 seemed to be fine, but how Black followed this up was probably problematic. After 20. Ne2, I think they reply of 20… c4 was a mistake, as this overextends Black’s pawn structure. Perhaps something like 20… Rhf8 or 20… Kb8 are possible improvements.
Similarly, 22… d5 also appears to be questionable. 22…Be5 or 22…Rhf8 seem to be better tries. Perhaps Black missed White’s reply to this move which was 23.Qe1! which was simple and strong. Black’s weak, isolated pawn on g3 is attacked, Black’s Queen on d7 is now in line with White’s Rook on d1, and Black’s light-squared Bishop on b7 looks lousy since the Pawns on a6, b5, c4, and d5 are all on light squares.
After 27. e5, maybe Black is already strategically lost. White’s position became dominant across the entire board, especially on the dark squares. Unfortunately for Black, it was almost impossible to find ideas for potential counterplay.
White was winning by the time he opened the f-file, centralized his Queen to d4, and doubled Rooks on the f-file. The sequence with 23. Qe1, 24. f4, and 27. e5 gave him a decisive advantage. His strong passed e-pawn certainly didn’t hurt the situation either.
White mopped up efficiently thereafter, not giving Black any chances whatsoever. The reason why this game was so impressive to me was because of how clean it was. Good players make winning look effortless, and I think this was the case here. White played simple, strong moves, and Black hurt himself.
FM Victor Shen (1st Place, 3 Points): Beating a 2600 FIDE GM is not easy, but here Romanenko makes it look easy. After a sharp and provocative opening, Gelashvili had to play accurately to maintain the balance. 20… c4 was too weakening, and for tactical reasons White comes out on top. Pretty sure Black missed White’s 23rd (Qe1!) which puts Black under insurmountable pressure. An exciting game.
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2nd Place, 2 Points)
Total score of Romanenko vs Gelashvili: 14 Points
After a wild opening, IM Kapengut finished the game off nicely with the eye-pleasing tactic 25… Rxf3!
GM Alex Yermolinsky (1st Place, 3 Points)
IM John Bartholomew (2nd Place, 2 Points): New Jersey’s Albert Kapengut chooses a rare line in the Najdorf (6… Qb6!?) and quickly gains an advantage upon hesitant play from White (11. Nb1?!; 11. gxf6 was necessary). White is in bad shape by the middlegame, but 25…Rxf3! was an attractive way to decide the issue. Energetic play from Black.
FM Kayden Troff (2nd Place, 2 Points): I thought Black played really well in this game, but his ideas didn’t seem as hard to find as some of the tactical ideas behind Romanenko’s moves. 10… d4 was nice, but still seemed like a simple move and Kapengut didn’t show a lot of effort spending only three minutes showing it was prep, or just that he felt that it was just a logical move. And already after 11. Nb1 Black is better. After Black quickly achieved this advantage he played some strong moves in 0-0, Nc5, Be6, but there wasn’t anything really tricky about those moves. I did like 23… Kh8 shutting down all counterplay, and 25… Rxf3 was definitely an enjoyable move to see. I liked Black’s play overall, but I felt like it would have been better a better game if White had put up more of a fight.
FM Elliot Liu (2nd Place, 2 Points): This game featured the prettiest sacrifice out of all three games, with the kill shot 25… Rxf3!
The opening started out as a normal English Attack in response to the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian Defense, but then IM Kapengut employed the rather unusual continuation 6… Qb6, which led to a very interesting position.
There were probably three critical positions in this game. The first one occurred after Black played the risky looking 9… d5. I have no idea whatsoever whether or not this is actually a known line, but at first glance and intuitively, it just does not feel right making a move like 9… d5 with Black’s King still caught in the center on e8 and White’s Queen nicely placed on the convenient e2 square. Besides Black’s King safety issue, his lack of development is also a bit suspect.
I wonder what deterred FM Bournival from playing the simple and natural response of 10. exd5. Perhaps I’m blind and simply missing something obvious, but the position after the more or less forced 10… Nb4 11. Bg5! Nxd5 12. Nxd5 Nxd5 13. 0-0-0! threatening Rxd5 just looks rather unpleasant to me for Black upon first impression. Black’s King is still caught in the center on e8, and White seems to have a substantial lead in development which should leave him better. Perhaps White missed Black’s reply of 10…d4?
Uunfortunately for White, the second critical position of the game came immediately on the next move. Here I think White had to bite the bullet and play 11. gxf6. After 11… dxc3 12. bxc3 gxf6 13. Be3 Qc7, for example, the position looks fine for Black, and this result could not have been what White had hoped for from the opening. Regardless, this variation was what White had to play because after continuing with 11. Nb1?, I honestly think that Black was immediately much better and even close to having a winning position, especially after 12…e5 and 14…0-0. Here White’s King was the one that was dangerously caught in the center on e1, and his Pawn structure was very weak, especially with his overextended Kingside.
The third and final critical position of this game occurred after Black played 24… Qd3. Obviously, at this point, Black was clearly winning, and White’s position was close to collapsing. White’s last fighting chance was probably 25. Bd2, answering 25… Rxf3 with 26. Qe2, at least forcing an exchange of Queens. Still lost, but White could then pray and hope to salvage a draw somehow.
Unfortunately for White, he played 25. Rh3?, which lost immediately. This allowed the pretty (albeit temporary) sacrifice with 25… Rxf3!, and the game was over. The shot was not particularly hard to see, but it was probably the most pleasing move visually amongst the three finalists.
FM Victor Shen (3rd Place, 1 Point): Black was well versed in the Najdorf that arose, and played a powerful game throughout. Unfortunately, I thought this game was a little too easy because it was clear White was not prepared in the opening and was simply left with a bad position by move 11. Kapengut’s 25… Rxf3 was sweet, but you expect that from a player who worked with Mikhail Tal.
Total score of Bournival vs Kapengut: 10 Points
GM Becerra strongly capitalized on Black’s weak IQP with the nice tactic 19. Nc7 followed by 20. Nxd5! winning a Pawn which he converted cleanly
FM Victor Shen (2nd Place, 2 Points): From a Smith Morra, the players found themselves in a positional battle, with Black having a solid position and a single “weakness” of the isolated d-pawn. Black’s position was probably tenable until 15… Qe7? which allowed White to execute some nifty tactics to snatch the d5 pawn. GM Becerra converted easily, but it can be argued that this game between two strong players was essentially decided by a single bad move.
GM Alex Yermolinsky (3rd Place, 1 Point)
IM John Bartholomew (3rd Place, 1 Point): USCL legend IM Marc Esserman isn’t in the league this year, but others have been eager to take up the Smith-Morra baton in his absence (see also Gulamali vs Yuan from this week)! Here GM Finegold declines the proffered pawn, but soon finds himself suffering in an IQP(!) structure. Black’s decision to exchange Queens seemed suspect, and White converted his positional edge to a material one with a nice tactical sequence (19. Nc7 Rb8 20. Nxd5!). Good technique brought the point home.
FM Kayden Troff (3rd Place, 1 Point): Again I want to say that GM Becerra played really well, but I ran into the same problem as I did with the game I ranked second in that I felt like his opponent should have put up a better fight. The reason I liked this game the least is because of Finegold’s main mistake 17… Nfe7 I felt like Nd6 stopping Nb5 was clearly a better placement for the Knight with no obvious problems. I liked Becerra’s moves 16. g4 and 18. Nb5, but other than that nothing that White did just REALLY impressed me, even though he played strong and showed good technique once he was up a Pawn.
FM Elliot Liu (3rd Place, 1 Point): GM Becerra opened with the sharp Smith-Morra Gambit against the Sicilian Defense, and GM Finegold decided to steer the game into calmer waters by not accepting the classic Pawn sacrifice with 3… dxc3. An interesting opening ensued, where it seems like White got a comfortable edge. After 15. Qxe1, three of Black’s problems were his lack of Queenside development, his weak control of the crucial e-file, and the limited scope of his dark-squared g7 Bishop. Black attempted to solve at least one of these problems by trying to exchange Queens on the e-file with 15… Qe7. After White’s 16. g4!, however, White had a strong initiative that eventually proved too much for Black’s position to hold.
Move 17 was the critical move of the game and unfortunately for Black, after he played 17…Nfe7, White’s Queenside Knight lept into b5, and a move later White unleashed a relatively simple three-move combination that won a clear pawn for no compensation and gave him a winning game.
Perhaps an improvement to suggest for Black was 17… Nd6. Black was probably worried about something like 18. Bc5, but after 18…Ne4 19. Bxe4 dxe4 20. Rxe4 b6, for example, Black at least has some compensation for his lost pawn due to the fact that he has the two Bishops.
After White regained his piece on move 22, the rest of the game was relatively peaceful and straightforward. With good technique, he did not allow Black the chance to wiggle out.
A well played game, but the other two game candidates were more worthy of Game of the Week in my opinion.
Total score of Becerra vs Finegold: 6 Points