In the first three way initial tie for voting for the best game of the week, in the end a tiebreaker judge voted for this impressive effort by one America’s top young stars, who played a great game to knock off the very strong GM Ramirez with the Black pieces.
The somewhat strange looking 20… Bxf3! ended White’s dreams of checkmating the Black King, and the young GM-elect eventually broke through on the Queenside, scoring a huge victory
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (1st Place, 4 Points): I like the simplicity of this game and how Black handled the position. First, I like taking on f3, as it is a difficult decision for many players to give up that Bishop regardless of the nature of the position. I also liked the transfer of the Queen to e5 to control the dark squares. White simply didn’t find a good plan to stick to. The Rook on h4 became very poorly placed after White abandoned the Kingside attack which was not going to pan out. White ended up blundering with 34. Bb7 at the end, but Black overall simply played better than White, and the attack at the end was very nice.
FM Jim Dean (2nd Place, 3 Points): In some ways it looked as if Black didn’t do anything special to win this game, but he played very solid and appeared to make some very good decisions with 20… Bxf3, followed by the …Qd7-Qe6-Qe5 manouvre. The Queen invasion led to some annoying back rank pressure and after some accurate moves at the end, the young GM-elect Xiong made it look easy against an extremely strong opponent.
GM Josh Friedel (3rd Place, 2 Points): This opening by Black, a favorite of Karjakin, seems to always result in unusual games. I thought White was very slightly better out of the opening, but slowly he started to drift. In particular, I didn’t like putting the Rook on h4, as there was no way he would create mating threats on the Kingside once Black takes on f3. Both handled the complications that arose after 26… b5 superbly, but White’s position always looked much more dangerous. Sure enough, the mistake eventually came with 34. Bb7, as it was necessary to move the h-pawn instead. Only after a move like Rh1 (threatening Qf1+) is Bb7 necessary.
After that, White’s position is quite unenviable, and Black cleaned up quite nicely. The only blip was on move 35, playing Rd1 (Rc3+ was cleaner), which allows White to sac his Queen with 36. Qxd1! While I’m not sure this would save the game, I don’t think allowing it is a good practical decision. The final position is a funny one, as while both Kings look vulnerable to my eyes, only White’s can actually be attacked. A fun game and quality King hunt. The only reason I’m not ranking it higher is because while the quality of play from Black was quite high, none of the moves jumped out at me as particularly difficult to find or aesthetically pleasing.
Tiebreaker Judge, IM Marc Esserman (1st Place)
Total score of Ramirez vs Xiong: 9 Points
GM Stripunsky put a nice finishing touch on a great game with 28… Qxd3!!, forcing immediate resignation
FM Jim Dean (1st Place, 4 Points): This game really appealed to me….I loved the non-forcing nature of Stripunsky’s exchange sacrifice with 22… Rxc3, and the buildup of interesting play leading up to it. Following the sac, Black’s pressure looks very difficult to deal with, and it’s not shocking that White went astray with 26. Qf4. The beautiful Queen sacrifice to finish it off speaks for itself.
GM Josh Friedel (2nd Place, 3 Points): White’s opening play with 17. g5 and 18. e4 looked highly optimistic, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how to punish it. I liked Black’s exchange sac a lot, which was strong both objectively and practically. The practical side is what did White in, as he blundered with 26. Qf4 (a move like Qb2 was necessary, and while I’d rather be Black it isn’t easy to break through). Another game with a bad blunder which results in a picturesque finish. Major props to Alex for the exchange sac, and the final move of the game is just awesome. I can’t believe I’m not giving a game with the move 28… Qxd3 first place, but while the finish was most pleasing in this game, the hunt was too brief for my tastes.
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (3rd Place, 2 Points): A really nice attack from Black, but the game overall was a little too one sided. In a position with opposite side castled Kings, White simply did not to manage to build an attack fast enough whereas Black’s pieces were all already on good squares and ready to start the action. White could have defended better, but it’s hard to do when one is playing a strong a GM and is under pressure from early on. 28… Qxd3 was a very nice shot at the end.
Tiebreaker Judge, IM Marc Esserman (2nd Place)
Total score of Bartell vs Stripunsky: 9 Points
With 30. Bg7!, FM Liu started a quickly decisive mating attack, ending with a pretty mate
GM Josh Friedel (1st Place, 4 Points): What started out as a quiet Breyer turned sharp once Black challenged the the center with 19… d5. While I don’t necessarily think it was a bad play, Black misstepped with 20… Nxe4, and after a forced sequence ending with 23. Qd6! White ended up with a clearly better game. I’d have preferred 20… Qxe5, although after 21. f4 Qxc3 22. e5 Black has to choose between sacrificing a piece (which may not be bad) or playing something ugly like Nh7 and hoping the Pawn will be enough. In an unpleasant position, Black blundered with 24… Bf8 (I’d have tried taking on a4), after which Elliott finished the game with both accuracy and style. The blunder spoiled the quality of the game somewhat, though White’s flashy and accurate finish counts for a lot in by book. I found the King hunt particularly satisfying, and the mate is quite an unusual one.
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2nd Place, 3 Points): Black started the complications in the center but made an inaccuracy with 20… Ne4. Elliott played very accurately and found all the right moves to keep his opponent under pressure. I like the Queen transfer to the Kingside via d6-f6-h4. A beautiful checkmate at the end, so props to Black for playing it out until the end.
FM Jim Dean (3rd Place, 2 Points): Liu really played an excellent game here. After a somewhat standard Ruy Lopez, White makes a nice choice with 21. Bxe4, with the nice follow-up plan of 23. Qd6. Black’s 24… Bf8? turned White’s pleasant position into a joyride, and Liu finished things off in fine style. 30. Bg7! was a cute finisher, though not extremely difficult to find.
Tiebreaker Judge, IM Marc Esserman (3rd Place)
Total score of Liu vs Costello: 9 Points
Draw or Win? Both players showing great tenacity, ended up taking nearly 100 more moves to finally determine a conclusion.
FM Jim Dean (4th Place, 1 Point): After making a poor decision with 37… Qxe3, IM Aldama shows great tenacity to hold on for 100+ more moves in making a draw. While it’s nice to see such a long and hard fought battle, I found the other decisive games more appealing.
WGM Tatev Abrahamayn (4th Place, 1 Point): Tireless defense from Black, but White simply wasn’t able to convert a very nice advantage.
GM Josh Friedel (4th Place, 1 Point): Black sacrificed a Pawn early and had good compensation for much of the game. After a couple mistakes by Aldama (allowing White to establish a Knight on d4 and trading Queens are my culprits), White was able to get into a two Pawn up opposite-colored Bishop ending. Black defended tenaciously, however, and White was unable to find a winning plan. I think a better chance was to cut off Black’s King with Rd7 around move 54-56, but otherwise it was difficult to suggest too many improvements.
Overall a well-played game by both players, though I’m sure Zherebukh would like a second try at converting the ending. A quality and well-fought game, but nothing special by either side.
Tiebreaker Judge, IM Marc Esserman (4th Place)
Total score of Zherebukh vs Aldama: 3 Points