A Perfect Storm Leads IM Sam Shankland to US Junior title
By Mike Wilmering   
July 22, 2010
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IM Sam Shankland had an atrocious first two rounds at the Junior Closed Championship. After announcing his early retirement from chess before coming to the Junior Closed, Shankland appeared listless as lower-rated opponents made quick work of him in rounds one and two. 

Then, after scoring a win against FM John Bryant in round three, Shankland appeared more relaxed, and was even able to crack a few jokes in his post-mortem analysis with GM Ben Finegold and WGM Jen Shahade. Shankland went on a tear to close out the Junior Closed, scoring six points out of his final seven games.

Initially, his round eight draw appeared to seal his fate, as GM Ray Robson entered round nine a full point, and Parker Zhao a half point, ahead of Shankland. In a bizarre turn of events, Robson lost to FM Warren Harper in the final round, and Zhao was unable to convert a winning endgame against Bryant.

As the Bryant-Zhao game unfolded, Shankland and Robson were watching with tense anticipation to see if Bryant could hold the draw. As both players got down on time, Zhao finally agreed to a draw.


In an unlikely scenario, Robson, Shankland and Zhao tied for first place and had to play an Armageddon playoff to determine the champion.

The playoff, which will took place at 10 a.m CDT, on Tuesday, featured  a unique set of rules. Robson, by virtue of being first on tiebreaks, elected to receive a bye in the first round of the playoff. Zhao and Shankland had to play first to determine who would play Robson for the championship.

Both players had to bid on how much time they were willing to start with, and whoever bid the lesser amount of time got the option to choose his color, with the black pieces getting draw odds (meaning that in the case of a draw, black is declared the winner). Whoever lost the bid received a full 45 minutes, with both players receiving a five-second increment for each move.

Shankland's bid of 31 minutes was trumped by Zhao's 29 minutes and 54 seconds, but even with draw odds, Zhao was no match for the newly focused Shankland.


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Because of the victory, Shankland got his choice of color in the championship game, with Black again having draw odds. Shankland again chose Black and got a ten minute respite to mentally prepare himself for Robson. Robson attempted a line he hoped Shankland wouldn't know, the Fantasy variation of the Caro Kann, but Shankland was obviously prepared as he quickly whipped out the moves. Robson, as he has for most of the games throughout this tournament, once again found himself in time trouble, and Shankland cruised to an easy victory.


"I’ve been happy with my play," Shankland said. "I think ... in the last seven rounds of the tournament, I think I played my best chess. Unfortunately the first two count as well.”
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Shankland said he may make an exception to quitting chess, instead calling it a long hiatus with the possibility of returning next year.

“It’s a nice feeling to get someone who normally gets you, but really it’s just the title that matters. If he had offered me a draw at any point I would have just taken it.”

To review photos, videos and pgn files from the 2010 US Junior Closed and 2010 US Women's Championships, go to the official website, uschesschamps.com.