Game of the Week: Championship Match
by NM Arun Sharma
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Game of the Week:  IM Josh Friedel (SF) vs GM Pascal Charbonneau (NY)   1/2-1/2
Many of you might be suprised that in such an exciting match that I would end up picking a drawn game as the best one, but I personally feel this game deserved it.  Despite the large number of swings this game had, I think for the most part other than a few time pressure mistakes, it was a very well played game by both sides.  After a fairly typical opening, the first main interesting moment came when GM Charbonneau made the somewhat risky decision to play 16... a5?! (which as I mentioned in my description of the match that GM Yermolinsky disagreed with). 

IM Friedel vs GM Charbonneau: black to move after 16.c4

Charbonneau played 16....a5 to secure the c5 square
for his pieces and to prevent white from playing b4. This
move weakens the b5 square however, so GM Yermolinsky
preferred for black to simply play 16....Ne8 instead.

   The next main interesting moment I feel came after 22... f6 where, as IM Donaldson noted, that despite White's large space advantage, it's really difficult for him to make use of it or of his powerful passed d-pawn as the d6 square is just too well protected so it seems that Black will eventually protect his e-pawn in another fashion allowing him to force through f5 and e4 with the likely better game.  Friedel wasn't about to let that happen though and showed no fear with 23. h4! trying to break down the Black's weakened Kingside pawns and give no time for Black to prepare f5.  After 25. h5, Black suddenly appears to have a very tough position as his Kingside is very hard to defend with 25... f5 failing to 26. h6!  Charbonneau found a very tough defense though in 25... e4! allowing him to force through f5 at the cost of a pawn (which he soon won back).  Once the game liquidated into the ending (after 30... Nxh5), it definitely seems to favor White as Black's King is still in a rather dangerous position even with the Queens off the board and White's passed d-pawn is much more powerful than either of Black's passed pawns.  Once we reached 44... Rd2 it seemed like White might be on the verge of winning as his d-pawn looks very capable of Queening and Black's King is still in a rather dangerous looking situation.  However, low on time Friedel erred with 45. Ne7? to which we all know the amazing 45... Be5! quickly shocked us all (though I wasn't online at the time, I've been told by several how crazy the Internet crowd went after this move). 

IM Friedel vs GM Charbonneau: Black to Move after 45. Ne7

White had been better the entire game, but with just
seconds left on the clock black uncorked a shocking blow
with 45.....Be5!  after which white is suddenly fighting for his life
as ...Rh2 mate is threatened along with ...Rxf3.

    After 45. Ng3! White is likely winning as the likely continuation is 45... Bg7 46. Rxf8 Bxf8 47. Ne4 where if Black tries 47... Rd3+ White has 48. Kh4 and 49. Kxh5 which should be winning, and if he tries 47... Rd4 (to meet 48. Kh4 with 48.. Bxd6) then after 48. c5 Black is almost out of options as his Rook cannot leave the d-file because of d7 and if the Black King tries to approach the White Rook, White has Ng5+ followed by Re8 (with Ne6 looming).  So Black seems to be totally tied down, and White should be able to leisurely bring his King to the d-file and win without trouble.  However, all of this is moot as after 45... Be5!, the position turned 180 degrees, and suddenly Black has the almost winning position!  After the forced continuation 46. Rxe5 Rxf3+ 47. Kh4, Black definitely has the only winning chances, but it seems rather difficult for him to pull it off.  However with both players being under one minute, anything was really possible, and Friedel actually managed to create the winning chances after winning the exchange back, but Charbonneau was able to hold the balance.  A very entertaining game which likely at the end had both players disappointed not to have won but also very relieved not to have lost as certainly both those outcomes were very possible given the game's course.  Though I'm sure each of them would have loved to win the game and end the match in regulation in favor of their team, a draw in addition to perhaps being the fairest result for the overall team match (given the insane number of swings in three of the four boards) was of course undoubtedly the most exciting result also (for the spectators anyway, perhaps not the players themselves) as we got to experience all the drama of the regulation match a second time (and possibly even more of it) in the blitz playoff.  Thanks and congrats to both players for making their finals' game one that I'm sure none of us will soon forget, and I hope we have even more like this one next year! 

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