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Interview with an American Medallist: IM Sam Shankland Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
December 6, 2008
IM Sam Shankland, at the closing ceremony in Vietnam, Photo Dujiu Yang

The first installment in "Interview with an American Medallist" features 17-year-old IM Sam Shankland. Shankland has sky-rocketed from 2200 to 2450 FIDE in just over a year. Along the way, he picked up his IM title, a tie for first and the bronze medal in the World Under 18 Championship in Vietnam in October, which along with Darwin Yang's bronze in the Under 12, was the American takehome from this year's World Youth. This inspiring but self proclaimed "typical teenager" advises CLO readers on the Sicilian and endgames and talks about why he cares about what other people think. He also annotates all eleven (!) of his Vietnam games for CLO readers. Next up in Interview with an American Medallist: World Senior Champion GM Larry Kaufman and Women's Olympic Team Member WGM Rusudan Goletiani.

Jennifer Shahade- How did you feel after  winning your final round game of the World Youth Championship and clinching the bronze medal?

Sam Shankland- Signing my scoresheet was the last thing I remember. There was a 20-minute period where I was in some sort of trance. Apparently, I jumped up and gave team captain Michael Khodarkovsky a big hug, but I don't remember it at all. But by the time the closing ceremony came around, I was thinking, darn, why didn't I have better tiebreaks for the gold medal? Or why wasn't there a blitz playoff?

JS- Wait, there was a five way tie for first, so if there was a playoff, you also would have risked your bronze medal. You would have done that?

SS- Yeah, it would be worth it to go for gold.

JS- Did you get a chance to explore Vietnam much? What did you think of the country and conditions?

SS:I got to see a little bit of it and I hung out on the beach a bit. I've never seen so many two wheeled electrical vehicles in my life! As for the conditions, I came because I wanted to play the World Championship and win the tournament. In general, as long as I'm comfortable where I'm playing and there's decent food, I'm OK.

Dancers at the closing ceremony, Photo Dujiu Yang
JS- Did you prepare intensely for the games?

SS- Dmitry Gurevich helped me with preparation, but most of this was about my attitude going into the games. For instance, I saw that my opponent in round 7, Krishnan Saravana, played the BB5+ Sicilian, and I wanted to play for a win. Dmitry worked with me psychologically not to fear Bb5. Ironically Saravana went into main line Najdorf but someone who never played Bb5+ before played it in the next round.

 JS- It seemed like you played really well in Main Line Sicilians, including two games against the Dragon.  So for CLO readers who love the fire-breathing monster, tell us: does the Dragon lose by force?

SS- I played the Dragon for two years so I know how to kill it. The problem with the Dragon is that if you play a strong player you can be in trouble... all the 0-0-0 lines are good for White if he knows how to play positionally.

I think the Dragon is a great Sicilian for 1300-1400 players (but not absolute beginners). Even when it looks like you have a bad position, you can still win the game. For instance, I don't think it's so great for White to just shove the h and g pawns. The Dragon was the first Sicilian I picked up, but when I was about 2200 I gave it up for good.  Now I play the Najdorf about 80% of the time, 15% Classical, and 5 % other stuff.

JS- Your win against Pavlidis Anastasios featured the Nxc3 lines of the Dragon, which my brother really likes. 

Position after 12...Nxc3.


SS- Yes, I played Greg a blitz game in that line at the U.S. Chess School. That game continued 12...Nxc3 13.Qxc3 Bh6+ 14.Be3 (Not Kb1?? e5) Bxe3 15.Qxe3 Qb6 16.Qxe7, (unlike the World Youth game, where Sam eschewed the pawn) and he got a great attack after 16...Be6, but I think I won.

JS- Oh great, Greg loves it when his blitz losses are mentioned. 

SS- Hmmmm, actually I don't remember if I won, maybe he did. Or maybe it was a draw.


IMs Shahade and Shankland blitzing at the U.S. Chess School.
Photo Elizabeth Vicary


JS- How do you train back in San Francisco?

SS- David Pruess,  Josh Friedel, Vinay Bhat and I are all training partners and we analyze together. It's amazing to see how four different 2500's can have such different opinions about a position.

JS- And you used to work with Vinay when you were younger, right?

SS- Yes, I used to have group lessons with Vinay, which took me from 1700 to 2100.

JS- Do you think you would have gotten even more out of studying privately with Vinay?

SS- No, I think it would have been less beneficial with just Vinay. It was good to have a partner my strength. I could compare the moves I came up with the ones he did. I was an incentive to keep up with him... sort of like people who need a workout partner to go to the gym regularly.

JS- Well, it's also great for parents or adults who are working with a budget, cause small group lessons tend to be less expensive than privates. Speaking of the gym, what was your physical routine like?

SS- Before Vietnam, I went to my school gym and used weights and treadmill. Most years I play soccer, but this year I was unable to due to a Frisbee accident at the U.S. Chess School.

JS- Yes, I remember the picture that Elizabeth Vicary included in her U.S. Chess School article last summer. 

An injured Sam. Photo Elizabeth Vicary
SS- The one who person who really saw the silver lining in that photo was John Donaldson. He knew without soccer games, I'd be available for more U.S. Chess League games for the Mechanics!

JS- You're a senior now. What are your plans upon graduation?

SS- I really like Brandeis. But I'm also applying for the Samford so we'll see what happens with that.

JS- What would you do if you won the Samford?

SS- I'd love to live and play in Europe...but probably some place like England or France, where I know the language. I'd be self-conscious to live in a place where I didn't know the language. At some point, I'd also probably move into the "GM house" (GMs Jesse Kraai and Vinay Bhat and IM David Pruess currently live in the GM House, with GM Josh Friedel conveniently across the street.)

 JS- Which top players do you admire the most?

SS- I like Radjabov's style, which I think is closet to mine. He takes openings that are supposed to be bad or refuted and beats 2700s with them with White or Black.

JS- Do you use computers to analyze?

SS- I think it's good to analyze with computers, but only after you've annotated your games. Otherwise, it's too easy to get lazy and also computers can be wrong. Fritz told me Re3 was much worse than Rd3 in my final round game. If I just blindly took the computer's suggestion without analyzing, I'd be wrong. In the GM house, we almost never use computers unless it's for specific opening preparation. We're all strong IMs and GMs, between us we should find the right move.

Position after 43...Kg4. Fritz recommends Rd3, but according to Sam's analysis, Re3 is right.


JS- And even if the computer did find a move you guys didn't analyze, who cares in a way, it's about improving your own analytical skills, right?

SS- Yeah, for instance, I'm not that bothered by missing Nb7 in my round seven game against Saravana. Sure, Carlsen and Topalov would see it with less than a minute on their clock, but almost any other player wouldn't. I firmly believe that if that move was in a tactics book, I'd find it very quickly, but in a practical situation, it's not going to happen whether or not I analyze more with computers.


Position after 29....Bf4. White wins with 30.Nxb7!!


JS- Yeah, it's an incredible move, everything hanging at once.

SS- Yes, but like Mikhail Tal says, you can only take them one at a time.

Sam Shankland playing in Vietnam.
Photo Dujiu Yang
JS- What areas do you think you need to improve to make it to the next level? 

SS- I want to improve my understanding of opening themes that don't come as naturally to me as the Sicilian. Like the Ruy Lopez. If I were paired with Black against Julio Becerra, I might play the Black side of the Ruy. I'd be basically forfeiting the game and telling him, teach me a lesson in the Ruy Lopez Mr.Grandmaster.  Josh (Friedel) is good at the Ruy also, but Julio is incredible.

JS- You'd really do that, even though your chances to win the game would be worse?

SS- Sure, not if it's a $7,000 game of course...

JS- What kind of chess books do you like?

SS- Dvoretsky. His stuff is gold.

JS- I noticed you had a lot of tough endgames in Vietnam. Were you happy with this aspect of your play?

SS- I did have quite a few good ones. I'm very proud of my move Qb6! against Poetz in round 2. GM Dmitry Gurevich, a fine endgame player, was shocked at how good it was. I was also proud of grinding out Bao Khoa in round 1. The final round was obviously huge as well. My endgames in Vietnam were not thematic, they were more calculation based.

Position after 25...Qb6 in Sam's second round game


JS- What do you suggest to CLO readers looking to improve this part of their game?

SS- For endgames I would suggest learn some basic ones and then when you play a game that reaches an endgame, take it very seriously and think hard. Then learn that endgame like the back of your hand. For advanced players, I'd suggest Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual.

Sam preparing in Vietnam. Photo Dujiu Yang.
JS-  What are your plans for the future?

SS- I want to take some time to think about what I really want from chess. I'm taking a little break. Do I want to stop playing forever? I doubt it. But there are some other parts of my  life I want to focus on. Life social stuff, cause that's been lagging. It's also hard now that I won a World Championship. Some people say I'm over-rated because I went up in such a short time. Sam went from 2200 FIDE to 2436 FIDE in exactly one year, with 16 more points to come. In USCF, he went from 2248 in 10/07 to 2425 in 10/08.

Js- Who is saying that you're overrated?

SS- Well, based on the World youth where I got lucky many times, I'm assuming people would say it.  I don't want to look at blogs and news reports and see things like Some 2300 beat Shankland. Now it will be less of a big deal when I win and more of a big deal when I lose. 

JS- I guess that's one of the only problems with achieving: it raises expectations! But isn't it more important what you feel? It interests me that you are concerned about others... I think there's a cliché that champions don't give a hoot what people think of them, but in my experience, that's not the case.

SS- Yes, I'm definitely in the group of people who wants to achieve at least in  part for other people. But you're right... maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong. I shouldn't care. I'm confident in my abilities.

 JS- Did you get a lot of kudos for your win in Vietnam? I noticed this article about you in a Bay Area paper.

SS-Definitely I was recognized. There were announcements all over my school and when I entered on the first day I saw a banner that said, "Welcome Back Sam World Youth Chess Championship 2008 Bronze Medallist" I've also been getting recognition for years on my friend Michael Aigner's (aka f-pawn) blog , which has not only promoted me but also inspired confidence. 


This photograph of Sam, from the Grade Nationals three years ago was featured recently in Michael Aigner's blog.


JS- Congrats again and thanks for annotating the games below. Going over your thoughts on each game was a real treat for me. I particularly enjoyed your endgame in the first round, and the amazing Rd2 variation in your ninth round game. I'm sure CLO readers will also learn a lot from them.

Game 1



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c4 b4 12.Nc2 Rb8 13.Be2 Bg5 14.0-0 0-0 15.Qd3 f5 16.Bf3 Kh8?

 Conceding the light squares. 16...f4 was played in a similar game, Kamsky-Ivanchuk; 16...g6 maintaining the tension is probably best.

17.exf5 Bxf5 18.Be4 Bxe4 19.Qxe4 b3?!

The alternative is getting squeezed to death, but this just looks like suicide.

20.axb3 Rxb3 21.Rxa6 Nb8 22.Ra2 Nd7 23.Na1! Nc5 24.Qc2 Rd3 25.b4 Rd2 26.Qb1 Ne4 27.Nb3 Qe8 28.Nxd2 Nxd2 29.Rxd2 Bxd2 30.Qd3 Bg5 31.f3?!

Better was 31.Qe4 keeping the position solid. White will play g3 and Kg2.

31...Qa4 32.Kh1 h6 33.b5 Rb8 34.Qc3 Qa2 35.Nb4 Qe2 36.Qd3??

36.Re1 Qd2 37.Qxd2 Bxd2 38.Rb1

36...Qxd3 37.Nxd3 d5!

Now we reach a grueling ending that should be drawn with best play.  

38.Nxe5 dxc4 39.Nxc4 Rxb5 40.Nd6 Rd5 41.Ne4 Kh7 42.g3 Be7 43.Rb1 Rd7 44.Kg2 Rc7  44...h5 followed by g6 is a better setup.

45.Rb2 Ra7 46.h4 Bf6 47.Rc2 Bd4 48.Kh3 Re7 49.h5 Be5 50.Rc8

Now an eventual Ng6 will always hang over Black's head, and defense is more difficult. White should be winning.

50...Bc7 51.Kg4 Be5 52.Nd2 Rd7 53.Ne4 Re7 54.Ra8 Bd4 55.Nd6 Rd7 56.Nf5 Bf6 57.f4 Rb7 58.Nd6 Rd7 59.Ne4 Bd4 60.Rc8 Rb7 61.Nd2 Rd7 62.Nf3 Bf6 63.Ne5

Now White will get a passed pawn

63...Bxe5 64.fxe5 g6 65.hxg6+ Kxg6 66.Rc6+ Kg7 67.Kf5 Rd1 68.Rc7+ Kf8 69.Ke6 Rd3 70.g4 Rf3 71.Rc8+ Kg7 72.Rc4 Ra3 73.Kd7 Ra7+ 74.Rc7 Ra8 75.Ke7 Kg6 76.e6 Kg7


Position after 76...Kg7


This position is drawn without the pawns on h6 and g4. Now it is a win, but by a completely different method

77.Rb7! Kg6 78.Rd7! Kg7 79.Rd6!

There was a similar trick in a game between Aronian and Carlsen, in which a much younger Magnus played Ra7+?? Ke8 and had to resign in view of Kf6 e7+ or Ra8+ Rd8.


would be the drawing move, but...

80.Rd8! Ra7+ 81.Kf8! 


Position after 81.Kf8



Best defense. The point is that 81...Kf6 would usually draw after e7 Rxe7 Rd6 Re6 but the inclusion of the g and h pawns  allows White just enough tempi to transfer into a winning pawn endgame as in 81...Kf6 82.e7 Rxe7 83.Rd6+ Re6 84.Rxe6+ Kxe6 85.Kg7+-

82.Ke8 Kg5 83.Rd4 Rh8+?

83...Kf6 84.Rd6 (84.Re4?? Re7+ 85.Kf8 Rh7! with a draw) 84...Kg5 85.e7 Kxg4 86.Kf8 Rxe7 87.Kxe7 h5 88.Kf6 h4 89.Rd4+ Kg3 90.Kg5 h3 91.Rd3+ Kg2 92.Kg4 h2 93.Rd2+ Kg1 94.Kg3 h1N+ 95.Kf3 winning by one tempo

84.Kd7 1-0

Game 2



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 Be7 8.0-0-0 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 0-0 10.f3 [10.f4] 10...a6 11.h4 b5 12.Kb1 Qa5 13.e5 13.Bd3 b4 14.Ne2 e5 15.Qe3 Be6 16.Nc1 Rfd8

13...dxe5 14.Qxe5 Bb7 15.Bd3 Rac8 16.Ne4

16.h5 Rc5 17.Qg3 Rxg5 18.Qxg5 Nd5

16...Bxe4 17.Bxe4

17.fxe4 Nd7 18.Qg3 Bf6

17...Nxe4 18.Bxe7 Nd2+ 19.Ka1 Rfe8 20.Qg5 Ne4!

20...Nxf3 21.gxf3 h6 22.Qe5 Rxe7 23.Rhg1; 20...h6 21.Qxd2 Qxd2 22.Rxd2 Rxe7

21.fxe4 h6 22.Qe5 Rxe7 23.c3 Rd8 24.Rd4 Red7 25.Rhd1 Qb6!

Threatening both b4 and f6 and taking advantage of the weak back rank.


26.b3 f6 27.Rxd7 Rxd7 28.Qh5 Rxd1+ 29.Qxd1 Qe3; 26.a3 f6 27.Rxd7 Rxd7 28.Qh5 Rxd1+ 29.Qxd1 Qe3; 26.Rxd7 Rxd7 27.Rd4 b4

26...Rxd4 27.Rxd4 Kh7 28.h5 Rc8 29.Kb2 Qc6 30.Rd3 f6 31.Qd4 Qb7 32.Qd7? 32.Qe3 a5 is unpleasant, but White  can play on.

32...Qxe4 33.Qxc8 Qxd3 34.Qxe6 Qd2+ 35.Kb3 Qd1+ 36.Ka3 Qxh5 37.Qxa6 Qd5! 38.Qc8 f5 39.Qc5 Qd3


Position after 39...Qd3



Now Black is winning. 40.Qd4! and White  can hold. The king and pawn ending looks lost, but it isn't. I was lucky that this was the last move he had to make before getting another 30 minutes.

40...f4! 41.Kb3 Qc4+ 42.Kb2 g5 43.Qf6 Qd5 44.a3

Obviously a horrible blunder, but he is lost anyway  as his pawns cannot advance while mine can. 44...Qxg2+ 0-1

Game 3



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bc1 Nf6 8.f4 e6 9.Be3

9.Qf3 Qc7 10.Bd3 Nbd7 11.0-0 b5 12.Bd2 Bb7 13.a3 Nc5

9...b5 10.Be2 Bb7 11.Bf3 Qc7 12.a3

12.e5 dxe5 13.Bxb7 exd4 (13...Qxb7 14.fxe5 Nfd7 (14...Qxg2 15.Rg1) 15.0-0) 14.Bxa8 dxe3 15.Qf3 Ba3! (15...Bc5) 

12...Nbd7 13.Qe2 Be7 14.g4 Nb6


Position after 14...Nb6


Black is doing great, probably already a bit better. 14...Nc5? 15.Bf2 0-0 16.g5 Nfd7 17.0-0 with b4 to follow.

15.g5 Nfd7 16.0-0 Nc4 17.Bc1 g6 18.Kh1 e5

18...h6 19.f5 e5 20.fxg6 exd4 21.g7! (21.gxf7+ Kf8!) 21...Rg8 22.Nd5 (22.gxh6? dxc3 23.h7 0-0-0) 22...Bxd5 23.gxh6

 19.Nb3 exf4 20.Bxf4 Nde5 21.Nd5 Bxd5 22.exd5 0-0 23.Nd4 Nxf3

This is too optimistic, he had to grab the pawn. [23...Nxb2 24.Bxe5 (24.Nc6 Nbc4) 24...dxe5 25.d6 Qxd6 26.Bxa8 Qxd4

24.Qxf3 Ne5 25.Qb3 Rae8 26.a4 bxa4 27.Rxa4

White is now better, but will have trouble converting due to his king position

27...Ra8 28.Rfa1 Rfb8 29.Qc3

29.Qa2 is a better try.

29...Qb7 30.Nc6 Nxc6 31.dxc6 Qxb2 32.Qxb2 Rxb2 33.Rxa6 Rxa6 34.Rxa6 Rxc2 35.Ra7

35.Ra8+ Kg7 36.Rc8 f5

35...Kf8 36.c7 Ke8

Draws, I missed this idea.

37.Be3 Rc6 38.Bb6 Kd7 39.Ra8


Position after 39.Ra8

With just seconds to make the last move, he resigned, overlooking Rxc7! Bxc7 Kxc7 h4 f6 with a relatively easy draw 1-0


Game 4


1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ndf3 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Qxf6 10.Ne2 Bd6 11.Bg5 Qf7 12.0-0?!

12.Bh4! h6 13.Bg3 Bxg3 14.hxg3 and now if 00, Black's kingside will come under enormous pressure 14...e5 (14...0-0 15.Nf4 e5 16.Bh7+!+-) 15.dxe5 Ndxe5 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 17.Bb5+ Bd7 18.Bxd7+ Nxd7 (18...Qxd7 19.Rh5) 19.Nf4 Nf6 20.Qe2+±

12...0-0 13.Bh4 h6 14.Bg3 Bxg3


Position after 14..Bxg3



The most natural of the three captures, but also the worst and the only one that doesn't give an advantage. Surprisingly, the anti-positional fxg3 was best because e5 is  not possible for tactical reasons. 15.fxg3 e5 16.Qb3! (16.dxe5 Ndxe5 17.Nxe5 Qxf1+ 18.Qxf1 Rxf1+ 19.Rxf1 Nxe5) 16...Qe6 (16...e4 17.Ng5) 17.dxe5 (17.Rae1 e4 18.Nf4) 17...Ncxe5 (17...Ndxe5 18.Nxe5 Rxf1+ 19.Rxf1 Nxe5 20.Nd4)   15.Nxg3 was also not bad after e5 16.dxe5 Ndxe5 17.Nxe5 Nxe5 18.Bc2;   18.Ned4

15...e5 16.dxe5 Ndxe5 17.Nxe5 Nxe5 18.Nf4? 18.Nd4 18...g5!


Position after 18...g5



The only move that keeps the game going [19.Ne2 Ng4 followed by Qh5; 19.Nh3 Nf3+ 20.Qxf3 Qxf3 21.gxf3 Bxh3; 19.Nxd5 Nxd3 (19...Rd8 20.Be4 Be6 21.Qd4 Nc6) 20.Qxd3 Rd8 21.Rad1 Be6 22.Ne7+ Kf8 23.Qg6 Kxe7 24.Qxh6 Qf6

19...Ng4 20.Bg6 Qf6

20...Qg7 21.Nxd5 Nxf2 (21...Rxf2 22.Re8+ Rf8 23.Ne7+ Kh8 24.Rxf8+ Qxf8 25.Qd4+ Nf6 26.Rf1) 22.Qd2


21.Nxd5 Qxf2+ 22.Kh1 Qxg3; 21.Qxd5+ Kh8

21...gxf4 22.Bxg4 fxg3 23.fxg3 Kh8 24.Bf3 Be6 25.Qd2 Bg8

He offered me a draw, and down 35 minutes on the clock and not in a better position, I promptly accepted. ½-½

Game 5



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 Be7 8.0-0-0 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 0-0 10.f4 Qa5 11.Bc4 b5!? 12.Bxb5 Rb8 13.a4

Supposedly the best move, but personally I feel that e5 and Bc4 are both better tries

13...Rd8 14.e5

14.Rd3 a6 15.Qa7 Bb7; 14.b4 Qc7 15.e5 dxe5 16.Qxe5 Rd6

14...dxe5 15.Qxe5 Bb7

Black has equalized.

16.Rxd8+ Rxd8 17.Rd1 h6 18.Bh4 Rxd1+ 19.Nxd1


Position after 19.Nxd1



I had a lot of great Sicilian wins in this tournament, but this was one low point. I missed 21.c3!, if not for that move, Black would be doing really well. If I had seen c3 I would have played 19...Bxg2 20.Qb8+ (20.Ne3 Be4!³ 21.Nc4 Qd8 (21...Qb4 22.Qb8+ (22.c3 Qb3 23.Ne3 Qa2) 22...Kh7) 22.Bxf6 Bf3) 20...Qd8= 21.Qxa7 Ne4] 20.Qb8+

20.Bxe7 Qd2+ 21.Kb1 Qxd1+ 22.Ka2 Bd5+ 23.b3 (23.Ka3 Qxc2 24.Kb4 Qd2+ 25.Ka3 a5) 23...Qxc2+ 24.Qb2 Nc3+ 25.Ka3 Nxb5+ 26.axb5 Qc7

20...Kh7 21.c3!+-


Position after 21.c3


21.Qxb7 Qd2+ 22.Kb1 Qxd1+ 23.Ka2 Nc3+ (23...Qxc2 24.Bxe7 Nd2) 24.Kb3 Nxb5 25.Bxe7 Nd4+

21...Bxh4 22.Qxb7 f5 23.g3 Bf6 24.Qb8 Bd8 25.Ne3 g5 26.Kc2 Qb6 27.Qxb6 Bxb6 28.Kd3 a6 29.Bc6 Nf2+ 30.Ke2 Bxe3 31.Kxe3 Nd1+ 32.Kd4 Nxb2 33.a5 Not the best resistance ever, but the position is just lost after 21. c3! 1-0

Game 6



1.e4 c6 2.Ne2?!

An offbeat move that backfired

2...d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Ng3 Bg6 5.h4 h6 6.h5 Bh7 7.e6

White is supposedly better here, but he finds a move that is better than fxe6



Position after 7...Qd6


7...fxe6 8.d4 Nd7 9.f4 and Black will have trouble developing his f8 bishop.

8.exf7+ Kxf7 9.d4 e5 10.dxe5 Qxe5+ 11.Be2 Bc5 12.Nd2 Nf6 13.Nf3 Qc7

13...Bxf2+ 14.Kxf2 Ng4+ 15.Kg1 Qxg3 16.Qd4 (16.Ng5+ hxg5 17.Bxg4 this is also fine) 16...Be4 17.Rh3 looks like White  has more than enough for a pawn.

14.Nd4 Nbd7?

Better was 14...Re8 stopping Be3.

15.Be3 Rhe8 16.Qd2 Kg8 17.0-0-0 Ne5 18.Ne6 Rxe6 19.Bxc5 b6 20.Be3

Fritz says equal. It's wrong, Black is better.

20...Neg4 21.Bf4 Qf7 22.Rhf1 Rae8 23.Rde1


Position after Rde1


At this point, my opponent had just under a minute (with 30-second increment) to make time control. He had his hand hovering over his c-pawn, and then the lights went out in the tournament room and the clocks were stopped. About six minutes later the lights turned on, and he had thought about the position and found the correct move. At the time, I was very upset and I felt that I had been cheated, but of course my opponent did nothing wrong, he couldn't help but think about the position. My position was worse anyway and luckily, it all turned out well by the end of the tournament.

23...Nxh5 24.Nxh5 Qxh5 25.Bd1 Qf5 26.Rxe6 Rxe6 27.f3 Ne5 28.g4 Qf6 29.g5 hxg5 30.Bxe5

30.Bxg5 Nc4 31.Bxf6 Nxd2

30...Rxe5 31.Kb1 Qf4 32.Qg2 c5 33.Rh1 Bf5 34.a3 c4 35.Ka2 d4 36.Rh5 c3 37.Be2 Qc1 38.Bc4+ Kf8 39.Rh8+ Ke7 0-1

Game 7



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3

Not the most ambitious move.

6...e5 7.Nde2 Be6 8.g4 h6 9.Bg2 Nbd7 10.Ng3?

10.0-0 White  will play for f4-f5, not Ng3-f5, which makes little sense when Black's bishop is still on f8.

 10...Nb6 11.Nd5?


Position after 11.Nd5


Trying to stop Nd5, but this fails tactically.

 11...Nbxd5 12.exd5 Bxd5! 13.0-0

Unfortunately, White  still has some compensation. It's hard for Black to develop his pieces. [13.Bxd5 Qa5+]

13...Bxg2 14.Kxg2 Qd7

14...Be7 15.Nf5 0-0 16.f4 and Black is better, but White  has compensation.

15.f4 0-0-0 16.Rf3 Kb8 17.b4 Rc8 18.Bb2 h5 19.g5 h4 20.Nf1 Nh5

 20...Qf5! 21.gxf6 Qg6+ the move I missed 22.Kh1 Rxc2-+.

21.fxe5 Qc6 22.Ne3 Be7 23.c4 Rhd8 24.Nf5 White is back in the game.

24...Bxg5 25.Nxd6 f6 26.a4 fxe5 27.Bxe5 Rc7 28.b5 Qc5 29.Rf5 Bf4 30.b6?? 30.Nxb7!! I think it's fair to say neither of us even considered this move. 30...Rxd1 31.Nxc5 Rxa1 32.Nxa6+

30...Qxb6 31.Rxf4 Nxf4+ 32.Bxf4 g5 33.Bh2 Ka8 34.Rb1 Qc6+ 35.Kg1?


Position after 35.Kg1


35.Qd5 Qxd5+ (35...Qxa4 36.Rxb7 Rxd6 37.Qxd6 Qc2+=) 36.cxd5 Rc5 (36...Rc2+? 37.Kg1 Rxh2 38.Nxb7! Rb8 39.Kxh2 Rxb7 40.Rxb7 Kxb7 41.Kg2 Kc7 42.Kf3 Kd6 43.Kg4 Kxd5 44.Kxg5+-) 37.Rb2 (37.Nxb7 Rc2+ 38.Kg1 Rxd5) 37...Rxd5 38.Nc4 with a drawish position, although Black has better chances. 35...Rcd7 36.Qd5 Rxd6 37.Bxd6 Rxd6 38.Qe5 Rd2 39.Qxg5 Qd6 40.Qg8+ Ka7 0-1

Game 8


  1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bd4


Position after 12.Bd4



 12...e5 13.Bc5 Be6 is more normal, as in the recent game  Bryan Smith-Sergey Erenburg in the National Chess Congress.

13.Qxc3 Bh6+ 14.Be3 Bxe3+ 15.Qxe3 Qb6 16.Qc3Be6 17.h4 Rad8 18.Bd3 Rd5

 18...Qd4 19.Qxd4 Rxd4 20.Be4  

19.h5 Rc5 20.Qe1 Rb8 21.b3


Position after 21.b3



The sack is not sound, but he has to try it. Alternatives lose routinely. [21...g5 22.Qe4 Bf5 23.Qxe7 Bxd3 24.Rxd3; 21...Qa5 22.hxg6 Qxa2 (22...hxg6 23.Qg3 Qa3+ 24.Kb1) 23.gxf7+ Bxf7 24.Qg3+]

22.axb3 Qxb3 23.Rh4 f5

 23...Qa3+ 24.Kd2 Rb4 25.Ke2; 23...Rd8 24.Qb4 Rxd3 25.Qxc5


 He has a forced draw after this move, so I should have tried for an advantage with 24.Qf2!+-; 24. Rc4  and 24.hxg6 also lead to perpetual checks.  

24...Rxc4 25.Qe6+ Kf8  

25...Kh8 26.Qe5+ Kg8 27.Rxc4 



Position after 26.Qxc4



 26...Qe3+ 27.Rd2 Qe1+ 28.Rd1 Qe3+= 

27.Kd2 Rd8+ 28.Ke2  

28.Ke1? Qe5+ 29.Qe2 Qg3+ 

28...Qe5+ 29.Re4

He missed this move, this is why he did not take a draw on move 26. 1-0

 Game 9


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.0-0 Nc6 6.c3 Nf6 7.Qe2 e6 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4 d5 10.e5 Ne4 11.Be3 Be7 12.Ne1 f6 13.f3 Ng5 14.exf6 Bxf6 15.Nc3 0-0 16.Rd1 Nf7 17.f4 Nd6 18.Nf3 Qf7


Position after 18...Qf7


Up till here it's been pretty boring, with a very level position. Now my opponent finds a way to create a favorable imbalance. So maybe I should have tried 18...Nf5 19.Bf2 Rae8 20.g4 Nd6 21.Ne5 Qc8.

19.Ne5 Bxe5 20.dxe5!

20.fxe5 Nf5 21.Rf4 (21.g4 Qg6) 21...Qg6 22.Rdf1 Rf7 23.b3 Raf8 24.Qd2

20...Nf5 21.Bc5 Rfd8 22.g4 d4!?

22...b6 23.Ba3 Qg6 24.Kh1 Nh6 25.h3 Nf7 26.f5 Qh6

23. gxf5 dxc3 24.fxe6 Qg6+ 25.Qg2 Rxd1

25...c2 26.Rd7

26.Rxd1 cxb2

26...c2 27.Rc1 Qxe6 28.Rxc2 Qxa2 29.Qe4

27.Qxg6 hxg6 28.Rb1 g5


Position after 28...g5


28...Re8 29.Rxb2 b6 30.Bd6 Rxe6 31.Rc2

29.fxg5!  29...Nxe5 30.Rxb2 b6

I saw that I couldn't play the natural 30...Nd3 in view of the amazing 31.Rd2!! Nxc5 32.e7 Re8 (32...Ne6 33.g6 Re8 34.Rd7) 33.g6 Ne6 34.Rd7 a6 35.Kf2 Nc5 (35...b5 36.Kg3 b4 37.Kg4 a5 38.Kf5 Nf8 39.Ra7) 36.Rd8 Ne4+ 37.Ke3 Nf6. My opponent took a long time to play 29.fxg5, so I'm guessing he saw this line too. 


Analysis diagram after 31.Rd2!!


31.Re2 Nf3+ 32.Kg2 Nxg5 33.Be7


Position after 33.Be7


White is better, but this should be drawn.

33...Nh7 34.Kg3 Re8 35.Ba3 Nf8 36.Bxf8 Kxf8 37.Kf4 Ke7 38.Kf5

38.Ke5 Rh8 39.Rf2 Rh5+ 40.Rf5 Rxf5+ 41.Kxf5 b5 42.Ke5 a5 43.Kd5 b4 44.Kc4 Kxe6 45.Kb5 Kd5 46.Kxa5 Kc5

38...Rh8 39.Kg6 b5 40.Kxg7 Rh3 41.Kg6 a5 42.Kg5 b4 43.Kg4 Rh6 next. ½-½

Game 10 


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Nbd7 8.Qe2 Bb4 9.0-0 0-0 10.e4 Bg4 11.e5?

11.h3 Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Nb6; 11.Rd1! Qe7 12.h3 Bh5 13.Bf4

11...Nd5 12.Na2?

12.Ne4 Qe7 Black is fine, easily equal.

12...Ba5 13.Bxd5 exd5 14.h3 Bh5 15.g4 Bg6 16.h4


Position after 16.h4


This is too outlandish, but it has a tactical point.


16...f5 17.e6 Qe7 18.Bg5 Nf6; 16...f6 the move I want to get in 17.e6 Re8 18.h5 and White  wins a piece.


Too slow. [17.h5 Be4 (17...Bh7 18.g5 hxg5 19.Nxg5 Bf5 20.Qf3 g6) 18.g5 (18.Nc3 Bxc3 19.bxc3 Qe7) 18...Qe7 19.gxh6 f6; 17.g5 h5]

17...Qe7! 18.Nc3 Qe6! 19.Nh2 f6

White's position is falling apart

20.Bg3 fxe5 21.dxe5

21.f4 Bb6 22.f5 Qe8 23.fxg6 exd4 24.Qxe8 (24.Rxf8+ Nxf8) 24...dxc3+

21...d4 22.Ne4 Qd5 23.Nd6 d3 24.Qe3 Bb6 25.Qe1 Bd4 26.e6 Ne5 27.e7 Qxd6


Position after 27..Qxd6


Have fun with the exchange! 27...Nf3+ 28.Nxf3 Rxf3 29.Bh2 Rh3 30.e8Q+ Rxe8 31.Nxe8 Rxh4 32.Qd1 Be5

28.exf8Q+ Rxf8 29.Kg2 Qd5+ 30.f3

30.Kh3 h5

30...Nc4 31.Bf2 Re8 32.Qb4 Re2

32...c5 33.Qb5 a6 Trapping the queen, may be even stronger. 

33.Kg1 Bxf2+ 34.Rxf2

34...Qd4 if Rf1, Rxf2 Rxf2 d2 0-1

Game 11


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Kb1 Qc7 12.h4 Rfc8 13.h5 Qa5 14.hxg6 fxg6 15.a3 Rab8 16.Bd3


Position after 16.Bd3


16.Bxf6 Bxf6 (16...exf6 17.Qxd6 Bf7 18.Nd5 Rd8 19.Qe7+-) 17.Nd5 Qxd2 18.Nxf6+ exf6 (18...Kg7 19.Rxh7+ Kxf6 20.Rxd2 Rh8 21.Rxh8 Rxh8 with some compensation, although White  is clearly better.)19.Rxd2 Rc6 20.Bb5 Rb6 21.Be2


16...b5 was the move that has been played before, but its no good. 17.Qg5 Bf7 18.Nd5! and Black is a tempo short of being able to play e5. 18...Bxd5 (18...Nxd5 19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.Qh6+ Kf6 21.exd5) 19.exd5 b4 20.Bxg6! hxg6 21.Qxg6 bxa3 22.Rh7 and White  wins by one tempo.


I spent almost an hour on this move, I could not find any acceptable variations with queens on board. [17.Qe3 b5 18.e5 (18.Bxa7 Rb7 19.Bd4 e5; 18.Nd5 e5 19.Bc3 Nxd5 20.exd5 Rxc3 21.bxc3 Qxa3) 18...b4; 17.Qe1 b5 18.e5 b4 19.exf6 bxc3 20.Rxh7 Rxb2+ 21.Kc1 and Black is too fast 21...Rxc2+ 22.Kxc2 Qa4+ 23.Kb1 Qb3+ 24.Kc1 Qb2#; 17.g4! was best. 17...b5 18.g5 b4 19.Nb5! I overlooked this move. 19...Nh5 20.Qxb4 Qxb4 21.axb4 Bxd4 22.Nxd4 Rxb4 And White  is slightly better. 17...Qxd2 18.Rxd2 a6 19.Re1

This should be equal, but I was way down on the clock. [19.e5 dxe5 20.Bxe5 Ne4! 21.Bxe4 Bxe5 22.Rd7 Rc7]

19...Nd7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Nc3 b5 22.Bf1 Rc5 23.Rd4 Ne5 24.Nd5

This was a great move for both of us, as we were both in must-win situations. Now the position becomes very double-edged.

24...Bxd5 25.exd5 g5 26.Re3 h5 27.g3 Rf8 28.Be2 Rf5 29.b4 Rc8 30.a4 Rh8! 31.axb5 axb5 32.f4!


Position after 32.f4


White  needs a pair of rooks to come off.

32...gxf4 33.Rxf4 Rxf4 34.gxf4 Ng6 35.Bxb5 Nxf4!

35...h4 36.Bd7 Nxf4 37.Rxe7+ Kf6 38.Re4 Nxd5 39.Re6+ Kg7 40.Rxd6=


36.Rxe7+ Kf6 37.Re4 Nxd5 and everything is hanging. 38.Kb2 h4 39.Bd7 h3 40.Bxh3 Rxh3 Black is winning, White  cannot force the d6 pawn off.; 36.Bc6 Kf6 and Black's h-pawn is too fast.

36...h4 37.Bd7 Kf6

37...h3 38.Bxh3 Rxh3 39.Rxe7+ Kf6 40.Rd7 Ke5 41.c5=

38.Bh3 Rg8 39.Bd7 Rh8

39...Rg3 40.Re4 Rf3 (40...h3 Cute, but doesn't quite work 41.Rxf4+ Kg5 42.Rf5+ Kg6 (42...Kh4 43.Rf7 Rg1+ 44.Kb2 h2 45.c5 h1Q (45...dxc5 46.bxc5 h1Q 47.Rh7+ Kg3 48.Rxh1 Rxh1 49.c6) 46.Rh7+ Kg3 47.Rxh1 Rxh1 48.c6) 43.Rf1 h2 44.Bf5+ Kg5 45.Be4 Rg1 46.Rc1) 41.c5 Nxd5 42.Re6+ Kg5 43.cxd6 exd6 44.Rxd6 and White  should draw.

40.Bh3 Rb8 41.b5

not a move I'd like to play, but he forces it. It does, however, cost him a tempo.

41...Nxh3 42.Rxh3 Kg5 43.Kc2 Kg4 44.Re3!

Now White  should be drawing.



Position after 44..Re8


44...h3 45.Rxe7 Rh8 46.Re1 h2 47.Rh1 Kg3 48.Kc3 Kg2 49.Rxh2+! Rxh2 50.c5 Rh3+ (50...dxc5 51.Kc4) 51.Kb4 Rh4+ 52.Ka5 dxc5 53.b6 c4 54.Kb4 Rh6 55.Kxc4 Rxb6 56.Kc5=


Now Black is the one who should take a draw here.


45...h3 46.c6 h2 47.Re1

46.d6 e5!?

Trying to win this position is just a bad idea, although Black is still holding after e5. [46...h3 47.Rxe7 Rd8 48.Kc3 h2 49.Rh7 Kg3 50.Kc4 Rxd6 51.Kxc5=]

47.b6 h3 48.d7 Rd8 49.b7 h2 50.Re1 Kf5??


Position after 50...Kf5


50...Kf3 51.Kc3 e4 52.Kc4 e3 53.Kxc5 e2 54.Kc6 Kf2 55.Kc7 Rxd7+ (55...Kxe1 56.Kxd8 h1Q 57.b8Q Qh8+ 58.Kc7 Qxb8+ 59.Kxb8 Kf2 60.d8Q e1Q=) 56.Kxd7 Kxe1 57.b8Q h1Q 58.Qb1+ Kd2 59.Qxh1 e1Q=


51.Kc3 Ke6 52.Kc4 Kd6=; 51.Rh1 Ke6 52.Rxh2 Kd6 and because b2 (or a2) is not available to the rook, Black blockades and draws.


51...Ke6 52.b8Q Rxb8 53.Rxb8 h1Q 54.d8Q


with the same threat

 52...Rd8 53.Kc3!


Position after 53.Kc3


and now Black cannot play Kd6 after Kc4


A nice try, as both Rxd7 and b8=Q lose, but I didn't fall for the cheapo. 53...Ke6 54.Kc4 Rxd7 (54...e4 55.Kxc5 e3 56.Kc6) 55.b8Q Rxd1 56.Qe8+ Kf6 57.Qh8+ Ke6 58.Qh6+ Ke7 59.Qxh2; 53...e4 54.Rh1 Ke6 55.Rxh2 Kd6 56.Rb2


54.b8Q Rxd1 55.Qf8+ (55.Qc8+ Kf4 56.Qf8+ Ke4 57.Qa8+ Ke3) 55...Ke4 56.Qa8+ Ke3; 54.Rxd7 h1Q 55.b8Q Qc1+ 56.Kd3 Qd1+ 57.Kc4 Qxd7


I definitely got lucky to win this game. I'm not sure any of these games are perfect gems , but I can't complain. It was a great tournament and after 11 grueling rounds I was thrilled to manage to get eight points and tie for first. Becoming an IM was a nice bonus as well.  I hope you readers all enjoyed the annotations, and I promise you the road to the World championship wasn't as easy as it might look. Until I come back to chess, probably for the North American Open in Las Vegas, so long! --Sam Shankland



Sam Shankland at the awards ceremony with the gold medallist, Ivan Saric of Croatia and the silver medalist Son Truong Ngoc Nguyen of Vietnam. Photo Dujiu Yang