In another close overall vote, the creative encounter between SM Shmelov and GM Holt edged out both of the nice endgame grinds, with the unusual situation of a drawn game taking top honors in the the GOTW Contest.
IM John Bartholomew (1st Place, 3 Points): A rich Slav struggle in which the players fully exhausted their respective resources. After some intriguing opening nuances, SM Shmelov entered the middlegame with a superior Kingside structure, which he attempted to exploit with stealthy manoeuvring. A lesser opponent may have become unglued, but GM Holt responded with active and enviable precision; 26… h5! and 33… f5! were particularly astute counters, and it was amazing to see how effectively Black used the fifth rank (31… Rd5!, 37… Ree5!?, etc.). There’s no doubt this draw was the most well-played and competitive game of the final three, and in a week where technical skill was in abundance, I think this game deserves top billing.
IM Victor Shen (1st Place, 3 Points): Yeah. You thought those were mouse slips, didn’t you?
FM Kayden Troff (1st Place, 3 Points): A crazy draw which saw both players find great moves to fight on. When I watched this game live I thought “Draw or no draw, this game has Game of the Week written all over it!!”
GM Holt played the less common 12… Qc7 instead of 12… Qe7, and SM Shmelov immediately lashed out with 13. g4 giving him a more unusual, but more spacious Pawn structure in front of his King. The structure on the Kingside got even more interesting when White traded his Bishop (16. Bxf6) to double Black’s Pawns. Black chose not to fix his doubled Pawns by playing 19… Rxe5 keeping the position a little more open for his Rooks and two Bishops. It seemed like Black was going to quickly crash through White’s Kingside with moves like f5 and h5, but SM Shmelov started backing his structure up with 20. Kg2, 21. f3, and then swinging his Knight over with 23. Ne2 and 24. Ng3. Black slowly started building up on the Kingside when White swung his Knight back over to the Queenside with 29. Nf1 and 30. Nd2, hoping to take advantage of some of the weaknesses on the Queenside. With Nc4 coming it seemed like Black had chances of facing a worse position and then he found 31… Rd5 keeping the position complicated. He then started getting his pieces active with 33… f5, and he followed up nicely with 34… Qg4+, 35… Rxf5, 37… Ree5, 38… Rc5, and then finally 39… Rfe5!, threatening to make the position dangerous if White prolonged the Queen trade any longer. White continued to fight for the advantage, but once Black played 46… Rc5 threatening Rxc4 White played 47. Rd5 avoiding the threat, but leading to a quick draw.
FM Elliot Liu (2nd Place, 2 Points): Draws shouldn’t automatically be voted to third place as they can be very entertaining. Black just seemed to be better in this game, but GM Holt wasn’t able to find a clear cut way to break through SM Shmelov’s defenses. Around move 26 or so, I thought Black had a good chance to eventually win the game as White’s King was a little shaky, and Black’s dark-squared Bishop was very powerful. Kudos to White for putting up good resistance and an overall well-played defensive effort. Also, as far as style points are concerned, Holt certainly earned them by having one of his Rooks “under attack” (kind of) for an unbelievable nine consecutive moves (moves 31-39)!!
GM Alex Yermolinsky (3rd Place, 1 Point)
Total score of Shmelov vs Holt: 12 Points
Despite having the wrong Rook Pawn for his Bishop, GM Kacheishvili completed a nice endgame grind with 92… Bc4+! 93. Ka1 Bg8, creating a decisive zugzwang
GM Alex Yermolinsky (1st Place, 3 Points)
IM John Bartholomew (2nd Place, 2 Points): GM Kacheishvili serves up a slow-roasted dish in this good old fashioned grind. The Rook lift with 15… h5! 16… Rh7, and 17… Rb7 started the fire, and White was already on the rack by move 24. Black gives the position plenty of time to cook, and a tasty dinner was served some 70 moves later (much to the delight of the New York faithful!). A frustrating game for GM Kraai, who was agonizingly close to a draw. I’m somewhat surprised he chose 13. Qxd5, as this isn’t the most challenging move and looks like an invitation to be tortured in exactly this fashion.
IM Victor Shen (2nd Place, 2 Points): Giving GM Kacheishvili a safe endgame advantage is a dangerous thing to do. Perhaps he wasn’t 100% accurate, but playing White in that position must’ve been torture.
FM Kayden Troff (2nd Place, 2 Points): Here GM Kacheishvili showed some great play by slowly grinding down an equalish endgame. I picked it second since I didn’t think it was quite as exciting as the Shmelov vs Holt game, and even though Black played well, GM Kraai had good chances for a draw. Two Pieces and the Queens got traded off quickly in the opening, and it appeared to be a relatively drawish position, but then Black quickly started shaping up his pieces for any fight he could muster. He gained a nice position with his Kingside Pawns with 14… f6 and 15… h5 clearing the h7-a7 rank for his Rook maneuver with 16… Rh7 and 17… Rb7. Quickly after this maneuver it seemed like Black had a slight advantage, however White defended well for a while. Then after 42. f5 and exf5 GM Kraai seemed to have successfully shut down Black’s chances of breaking through with his Pawns.. After 66. Nxd5 the game seemed to be heading towards a draw, but Black still kept putting up complications for White to deal with. Unfortunately White let Black obtain a good King position with 78 .Ng2 instead of the more accurate 78. Ke3 and Black quickly got his King and Bishop placed well and started to roll the f-pawn down the board winning White’s Knight. White was unable to obtain the theorized light squared Bishop and a-pawn draw, instead being forced into zugzwang having to play 94. b4 and after 94… axb3 it was over.
FM Elliot Liu (3rd Place, 1 Points): Should White have been able to ultimately hold this endgame? I certainly have not been able to do any analysis on it. GM Kraai looked like he was doing a good job of hanging in there under GM Kacheishvili’s pressure, but maybe he got suckered in by Black to play 66. Nxd5. Of course this move looks obvious since it gets White’s pawn back, but Black hadn’t made too much progress for at least twenty some moves.
Total score of Kraai vs Kacheishvili: 10 Points
GM Erenburg completed a nice Knight manuever with 34… Ne6!, forcing White to exchange his Knight for Black’s Bishop, after which Black’s good Knight soon triumphed against White’s bad Bishop
FM Elliot Liu (1st Place, 3 Points): GM Erenburg gradually outplayed GM Khachiyan. 26… e5! was a strong move. Black’s Bishop was a monster on e4, but ironically, once it was traded, White was left with a bad Bishop vs. good Knight situation, which was strategically losing.
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2nd Place, 2 Points)
IM John Bartholomew (3rd Place, 1 Point): “Good Bishop” versus “Bad Bishop” was the theme of this game. GM Khachiyan erred with 27. gxh6? and compounded the problem by failing to switch to resolute defense (though admittedly it’s already very unpleasant for him). A nice game, but the only thing that stands out is how quickly GM Erenburg capitalized on his advantage.
IM Victor Shen (3rd Place, 1 Point): Nice game by Black, but White really lost the thread in time trouble. Otherwise he should have been fine.
FM Kayden Troff (3rd Place, 1 Point): A good game where the players got a closed middlegame in which GM Erenburg was able to pressure GM Khachiyan into making some inaccurate moves and then take advantage nicely. Once Black played 9… Qxb3 they got a very closed Pawn structure that is somewhat common in the Slav that usually gives White better chances. With the Queens off the board White showed no fear in extending the Pawns in front of his King with h3, g4, and f4. Black was slowly improving waiting his chance for a breakthrough and he seemed to get that chance after 26. g5, responding with 26…. e5. Here occurred White’s first inaccuracy with 27. gxh6 allowing the e and g-files to become open instead of 27. g6! to be followed by fxe5 and 29. Nxe4 with a solid position. Quickly Black brought his Knight to g6 which allowed him to take control over the g-file. Then White was too slow to pull off his own Knight maneuver, and Black made trouble for him by bringing his Knight to e6 threatening d4. Then Blackdoubled his Rooks on the g-file putting pressure on White, and once Black got his Knight all the way in with 38… Nd3+, forcing the sacrifice of an exchange, he easily converted his material advantage into a win.
Total score of Khachiyan vs Erenburg: 8 Points