Shankland's amazing run continues in American Continental

by Antonio Pereira
6/11/2018 – Just like Caruana in Norway, Sam Shankland won his last two games to take sole first place in the American Continental Championship. This was his third tournament victory in a row, an incredible achievement that propelled him to the 27th place in the live ratings list. Diego Flores finished clear second and secured a World Cup ticket. | Pictured: Sam Shankland, Diego Flores and Pablo Salinas | Photos: Uruguayan Chess Federation

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Undisputed champion

In January, Sam Shankland's rating was 2668, a similar number to the ones shown in his FIDE rating card since 2015. Five months later, he has already climbed to 2727.2 and is now the 27th best-rated player in the world (those who believe in superstitions might say this is "a sign"). His rise was accompanied by three consecutive wins in very strong tournaments.

In April, Sam finished ahead of the Caruana-Nakamura-So trio to be proclaimed 2018 U.S. champion. A few weeks later, he finished first at the Capablanca Memorial, leaving Alexey Dreev a distant one-and-a-half points behind. Only twelve days later, he flew to Montevideo to play the gruelling American Continental. Thanks to his latest results, he arrived as the clear favourite — second seed Jorge Cori entered the event with a 2659 Elo rating, a number that resembles Shankland's January mark.

Shankland and Flores

Shankland and Flores were in a league of their own | Photo: Uruguayan Chess Federation

When we last reported from Uruguay, Shankland was sharing the lead with Neuris Delgado and Diego Flores after eight rounds. On Friday, the American was paired against Argentina's best-rated player, the always dangerous Sandro Mareco. The game was drawn in 26 moves. Meanwhile, Flores defeated Delgado after outplaying him positionally:

 

In the penultimate round, one of America's strongest young talents, Jeffery Xiong, had White against Shankland. They had drawn rather quickly in this year's U.S. Championship, but Saturday's game followed a very different script. In a sharp Sicilian, Sam went for a typical exchange sacrifice, 16...Rxc3:

 

Black to move

The decision was approved by the computer, but there was still a long road ahead. Shankland, however, proved his technical prowess once again and, despite being an exchange down, used his bishop pair to get an overwhelming advantage. Xiong did not resign quickly, but had to accept defeat on move 41, staring at Black's five connected passed pawns on the move:

 

Xiong resigned

Flores drew Robert Hungaski in Round 8, so Sam caught him in the lead before Sunday's last round. Both players were paired against IMs about 200 points lower-rated than them. Only Shankland triumphed, however. His final victim was the winner of Wednesday's blitz event, Tomas Sosa. The young Argentine already had a worse position, but his 18...e5 left his king too vulnerable:

 

White to move

After 19.dxe5 Bxe5 20.Bd3 g6, Shankland finished the game in style:

 

The attack on the kingside is too strong

The sacrifice is screaming to be played: 21.Bxg6! hxg6 22.Rxg6+ Bg7 28.Rh4 and White's rooks dominate the open g and h-files. Sosa tried to find a perpetual, but to no avail. Resignation came on move 33.

Shankland's last round win annotated by GM Daniel King

When Sosa resigned, it was not clear that Shankland would finish clear first, however, as Flores had a positional advantage against Peru's Brian Escalante. The advantage disappeared on move 29:

 

White to move

Here, Flores played 29.Kf2 instead of the correct 29.d4. It's better to fix the black pawn on a light-square in order to attack it later with the bishop. Escalante did not take long to equalise and the players agreed to a draw after 35 moves.

Flores and Delgado

Flores got a crucial win over Delgado | Photo: Uruguayan Chess Federation

In the U.S. Championship, Fabiano Caruana had a great performance, but Shankland's was almost too good to be true. Flores found himself in a similar situation in Montevideo, as his seven wins in eleven rounds were not enough to finish ahead of Sam. Nonetheless, the player from Junin had a great tournament.

The World Cup spots

Shankland and Flores grabbed two of the four World Cup spots offered in the tournament. They will both travel to Batumi next year. Sooner than that, however, they will play in this year's Olympiad, where the U.S. team will add even more power to its very strong line-up. With three top-ten regulars and an inspired Shankland on fourth board, is it too much to call them clear favourites ahead of Russia? 

The American Continental Championship awards four tickets to the World Cup and does not use mathematical tiebreaks to allocate them. Thus, the seven players that tied on 8/11 played a single round-robin with a 15+10 time control to decide who would get the cherished spots. The contenders were Jorge Cori, Emilio Cordova, Kevin Cori and Brian Escalante from Peru; Sandro Mareco from Argentina; Pablo Salinas from Chile; and Robert Hungaski from the United States.

The drawing of lots before the playoff | Photo: Uruguayan Chess Federation

Peruvian GM Jorge Cori finished with four wins undefeated to take the top spot, followed by GM Emilio Cordova, also from Peru, with 4.0 / 7. The pair earns a ticket to the first round of the next FIDE World Cup knockout event slated for 2019.

Cordova can thank his teammate for sealing his place by beating Sandro Mareco in the last round of the tiebreak in a wild game. At one moment, Mareco had a fearsome attack and was just a few moves away from winning.

 

The Argentinian didn't manage to find 37...Qb4, holding both the rook on g4 and the pawn on b3 and threatening the devastating ...Rxg2+.

Instead, Mareco played 37...Rg5 allowing Cori to collect the b3-pawn and stabilise his position. He managed to defend against the black attack, beat back an exchange sac and forced resignation on move 59. (You can find all tiebreak games below.)

Final standings (top 20):

 

Final standings — tiebreak

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Cori Jorge 5,0 0
2 Cordova Emilio 4,0 0
3 Mareco Sandro 3,5 0
4 Cori Quispe Kevin Joel 3,0 0
5 Escalante Ramirez Brian Sebasti 2,5 0
6 Hungaski Robert 1,5 0
  Salinas Herrera Pablo 1,5 0

All games

 

Tiebreak games

 

Links




Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/11/2018 07:41
Thanks for these interesting stats praddy. The most amazing series is the 1972-1973 Tal one, given the proportion of wins. There is Capablanca (1916-1924) of course - but the context may be distant from the one of modern chess - did he play a higher proportionagainst much less strong players, relatively to the other ones here mentioned? I do not know.

Sam is in the rare series where the number of wins is close or higher to the number of draws (1 of 4, including Capablanca) known ones in that list - we do not know for Kramnik and Drasko) - as compared to the other series from other players where the draws are in higher proportion.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/11/2018 07:31
Will the (deserved) Cinderella effect continue? Finalist in the World Cup for a participation to the Candidates?

Far from guaranteed, but not impossible...
KevinC KevinC 6/11/2018 01:00
@praddy06, He posted on his Facebook timeline yesterday that he has gone 60 games without a loss.
praddy06 praddy06 6/11/2018 11:40
Congrats Shankland for winning the American Continental Championship and also for his unbeaten streak of 51 games with 25 wins & 26 draws

Top unbeaten streaks in Chess (min 50 games unbeaten) with win and draws.
------------------------
Mikhail Tal in 1973-74 - 95 games (46 wins & 49 draws)
Vladimir Malakhov durung 2015-2017 - 93 games (37 wins & 56 draws)
Mikhail Tal in 1972-73 - 86 games (47 wins & 39 draws)
Wang Yue in 2008 - 85 games (30 wins & 55 draws)
Milan Drasko in 2006-07 - 84 games
Vladimir Kramnik in 1999-00 - 82 games
Ding Liren in 2017-18 - 76 games ongoing (20 wins & 56 draws)
Wesley So in 2016-17 - 67 games (25 wins & 42 draws)
Vachier Lagrave in 2015-16 - 67 games (27 wins & 40 draws)
Capablanca during 1916-24 - 63 games (40 wins & 23 draws)
Le Quang Liem in 2016-17 - 59 games (26 wins & 33 draws)
Wesley So in 2014-15 - 54 games (30 wins & 24 draws)
Sam Shankland in 2017-18 - 51 games ongoing (25 wins & 26 draws)
Fabiano Caruana in 2016-17 - 50 games (19 wins & 31 draws)
daftarche daftarche 6/11/2018 08:22
2800 is not a joke. and his videos are designed to help much weaker players not himself.
Marselos Marselos 6/11/2018 08:10
He also did "Kicking & Screaming".
Wile E. Coyote falling down shows a signpost:
"Let's finish the cartoon now, before I fall ...."
chessroboto chessroboto 6/11/2018 07:52
Congratulations to Sam and go USA! Looking forward to seeing Shankland join the 2800's. I wonder if his recent instructional videos on ichess helped him in his recent tournaments?
Bobbyfozz Bobbyfozz 6/11/2018 02:40
Terrific Sam!
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