In by far the closest vote of the season, it took to the second tiebreaker before GM Benjamin managed to snag the top honor for Week 7 in a super important game to put the New Jersey team on the brink of their first playoff berth since 2009.
In an deceptively tame looking position, GM Benjamin uncorked the nice sequence 18. Rd1 Qc7 19. Nh6+! soon scoring a big win for his team
WIM Iryna Zenyuk (1st Place, 5 Points): A game played in classical style by Benjamin featuring advantage in development translating into domination and slow deterioration of Black’s position. Simply elegant!
IM Greg Shahade (1st Place, 5 Points): This reminded me of an old time Lasker or Capablanca game. The position is symmetrical and seems almost even to the naked eye, but White just keeps improving the position and eventually cracks Black’s defenses. Nothing too exciting here, but it’s not easy to do this type of thing against a GM.
IM Salvijus Bercys (2nd Place, 4 Points): It looked like Black should have equalized, but a series of inaccuracies vs someone as good as Benjamin will not go unpunished. Black played lax chess, and Benjamin executed a beautiful symmetrical Pawn structure steamroll.
FM Jason Doss (2nd Place, 4 Points): It’s a pretty solid game until 32… Rd6, and Black comes quickly crashing down. The game appeals to me for White because of his small advantage throughout. It’s not very exciting per say, but it has an aesthetic element to it.
IM Jake Kleiman (4th Place, 2 Points): This game was very instructive. Hernandez seemed to be always one tempo away from consolidation. What made it unique was the length this fight for one tempo lasted. A very nice, well controlled game by Joel. I wish I could rank this game higher, but Joel made it look so easy that it is missing some of the pizzazz component of my judging criteria.
Total score of Benjamin vs Hernandez: 20 Points
With the strong exchange sacrifice 25… Rxf4!, GM Holt garnered the positional advantage which he eventually used to devastating effect
IM Salvijus Bercys (1st Place, 5 Points): I have always hated French until I studied it in depth with a couple of UTD folks. The exchange sac embodies the French in this game and is simply positionally demoralizing. While I think White misplayed the opening and should have not allowed the sac (fxg6 and Ng5 set up is very tricky for Black), this game is my GOTW.
FM Jason Doss (1st Place, 5 Points): I’m not sure if we’re supposed to judge a game by external factors such as ‘[time, importance, and pressure’, but if we are than this one takes it. It is an exciting game on its own merit even despite Black being left with only 30 minutes to play it all, and being down a point in the match. Toss in an exchange sac and I’m sold.
WIM Iryna Zenyuk (2nd Place, 4 Points): Not quite sure where White went wrong as for a non-French player (such as myself) White’s position looked strong. An exchange sacrifice reminded me the golden days of Petrosian – followed by Holt’s precise conversion of advantage, overall quite a nice game!
IM Greg Shahade (3rd Place, 3 Points): Conrad Holt is really good in the French Defense, and he used a typical but nice positional exchange sacrifice to give himself a more pleasant game. The computers may like White, but I think Black is doing just fine from a practical standpoint. In the end Charbonneau succumbed to Black’s pressure as he blundered with 38. Qxb5, allowing Black to win quite easily. Admittedly at this point Black already had much better practical chances.
IM Jake Kleiman (3rd Place, 3 Points): Conrad again impresses with his deep preparation. After the exchange sacrifice on f4, he was able to navigate the position so that White’s remaining Bishop was far from a three point piece. What made this game special was how the action appeared to take place on the Kingside. However, what we saw was the decisive blow taking place on the nearly vacant Queenside.
Total score of Charbonneau vs Holt: 20 Points
After an unusual opening, the game was thrown for another twist with 17. Nxc6?! after which GM Kamsky navigated the complications to a big win
IM Jake Kleiman (2nd Place, 4 Points): After a rather unorthodox opening structure, the extremely strong Gata Kamsky once again shows his world class understanding. Outside of fighting for the center, I believe he broke every opening rule only to follow up by moving Pawns in front of his castled King. Eventually Sadorra was suffering some space issues and finally decided to mix things up with the piece for three pawn trade. Gata then cleaned up a messy position quite convincingly. A very exciting and unbalanced game!
IM Salvijus Bercys (3rd Place, 3 Points): Sometimes I am just not good enough to understand Julio’s brilliance. Sometimes his brilliance is crazy. I vote crazy this game. I just am not sure what was the plan – Kamsky is too good at converting those positions to force them.
FM Jason Doss (3rd Place, 3 Points): I always enjoy seeing a Dutch (where is fpawn when you need him?). Not so sure I’m very excited about this game though. White’s piece sac seems dubious and feels like Black was never in any danger. Gata made this one look pretty simple.
WIM Iryna Zenyuk (4th Place, 2 Points): I am the biggest fan of Sadorra’s games with 1. d4 that result in Queens Gambit structures, where he has collected several very imaginative and impressive wins. This time fortune was not on his side. Kamsky showed once again a calm demeanor and converted an extra piece without much trouble.
IM Greg Shahade (4th Place, 2 Points): Kamsky is heating up which means that the rest of the USCL is in trouble. In this game Gata plays some kind of Stonewall Dutch and achieves a pleasant position pretty easily. Sadorra tries to relieve the pressure by sacking a piece for three pawns, but Gata always has slightly the better of it and does a great job of bringing the point home for the Knights. I ranked it below the other games because it just wasn’t super exciting to me somehow … maybe because Sadorra went for this piece sacrifice so early in the game?
Total score of Sadorra vs Kamsky: 14 Points
In an aesthetic finish to his devastating attack, FM Martinez ended the game with 34… Rh2+!
IM Jake Kleiman (1st Place, 5 Points): From a dubious position, Marcel launched an attack against Brattain’s king. It looked Black was playing bughouse in that he somehow was able to keep adding more and more pieces to the attack. The fireworks at the end sealed the deal for my nomination of GOTW.
IM Greg Shahade (2nd Place, 4 Points): Marcel Martinez’s vicious attack helps keep the Miami Sharks in serious playoff contention. Once Marcel played 24… f4, and had free reign on the Kingside, White was in huge trouble if not lost from a practical standpoint. It turns out that White’s best defense was the odd 24. f4 exf4 25. Qd2. A very important positional moment although also difficult to find. You simply have to feel how dangerous the position is after Black plays …f4. The final blow of 34… Rh2+ was a nice touch
IM Salvijus Bercys (4th Place, 2 Points): While I love the KID … this was more helpmate than KID winning. Who doesn’t defend as White anymore playing against a KID?
WIM Iryna Zenyuk (5th Place, 1 Point): Very standard King’s Indian win by Martinez, most KIDs are fun to watch, this one features an interesting idea: the e4-square can be given away if Black already has built up enough of an attack.
FM Jason Doss (5th Place, 1 Point): Well, if you needed an example game to show students how the KID wants to go then here you go. This is a very blunt affair, blow up the Kingside, jump on dark squares, sac Bishop on h3, and checkmate on g-h files. I know it’s superficial, but it’s effective.
Total score of Brattain vs Martinez: 13 Points
A series of wild complications began with 20… Nh4!
WIM Iryna Zenyuk (3rd Place, 3 Points): This is one of those games that Aagard can include in his puzzles books on defense or traps or whatever that White did to get out of this lost position.
FM Jason Doss (4th Place, 2 Points): For my money this is a travesty of justice. I liked Black and his method of play nearly from beginning to end. It just doesn’t feel right to award White the point for taking the material and surviving because Black wanted more.
IM Salvijus Bercys (5th Place, 1 Point): Why didn’t Black just take the draw? Errors don’t get GOTWs.
IM Greg Shahade (5th Place, 1 Point): This game shouldn’t be nominated as one of the top five games as Stripunsky simply had a pleasant position until he blundered with 30… Rf8 allowing 31. Qg3. Stripunsky could have taken a forced draw at a few moments, and there is no way that a player who is simply defending a worse position for a bunch of moves and then wins due to a horrible blunder by his opponent should win a Game of the Week prize.
IM Jake Kleiman (5th Place, 1 Point): This game was interesting, but I can’t award this game a higher spot because Alex just blundered. I don’t feel that Stukopin did anything special.
Total score of Stukopin vs Stripunsky: 8 Points