Sam Shankland US Junior Champion in bidding war

by ChessBase
7/22/2010 – Three players tied for first in the US Junior Championship. The playoff mode is unusual: the players secretly bid for the amount of time they would be willing to accept for their games. The lower bid gets that, the choice of colour and draw odds, the opponent has 60 minutes. In the end Sam Shankland triumphed over Parker Zhao and GM Ray Robson. Final report from Saint Louis.

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2010 U.S. Women's and
Junior Closed Championships

Two of the most prestigious tournaments in the country, the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship and the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, took place from July 9-20 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. IM Anna Zatonskih was looking to defend her crown, which she won for two years in succession. In the Junior section Ray Robson was the top seed.

A Perfect Storm

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 to ensure he didn't blunder away his chance at a playoff for the title.

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 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.

In the playoffs: Parker Zhao and GM Ray Robson

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.

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.”

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.”

Sam Shankland Bio

I was born on October 1, 1991 in Berkeley, California. I lived there until I was four, and then when my brother was born, my parents decided to move to Orinda, a small suburb in the Bay Area. I lived there until September 2009, when I decided to move in with my friends in El Cerrito, where I currently reside.

I started playing chess when I was nine years old, and I played my first tournament when I was ten, achieving my first USCF rating ever of 1269. At first, I didn’t play very often, mainly just the Friday night scholastic tournaments at the Berkeley Chess School, the place where I first learned chess. A year later, my rating had dropped a bit and I was down to under 1086. Starting at that point, I would go on to have one of the steepest learning curves in American chess history. It started with a strong result in the Berkeley Peoples K-6th grade chess competition, where I tied for third place. I then played another scholastic tournament in Stockton, and this would be the first time that I took first place in a reasonably strong scholastic tournament, scoring a perfect 4/4.

I then played the K-6th grade state championship, an enormous tournament with some 200 entrants. I was still listed as being rated 1083 because my other results had not been submitted yet, and I had no idea that I was actually unofficially 1300 already. Thus, it came as quite a shock to me that I upset the top seeded Aaron Garg, rated over 1600, in round two. I would maintain a perfect score all the way to the last round, where unfortunately my Cinderella Story was ended by a painful last round loss. Still, I tied for fourth overall in all of California for K-6th grade. This was the start of a long string of good results.

Just three years later, I became a National Master, breaking 2200 USCF. However, at that point I ran into a brick wall and leveled out. I would stay at about 2200 for about a year, and at the end of that year something wonderful happened. I had two wretched results in a row, losing 45 points. I was very down on myself, but it was a good wakeup call – I had been so blinded by my previous successes that until then I had not noticed what I was doing was the wrong attitude toward chess, and my style or attitude had realized its limitations. For more about what exactly that entails, look at the coaching tab.

Sam 'n Josh on their way to a 2009 US Chess Championship round

I then took the summer off from tournaments, and I studied almost every day with the three best friends I’ve ever had in David Pruess, Josh Friedel and Vinay Bhat. Following that summer, I had not only become a stronger player in general but my attitude toward the game completely changed.

From August 2007 to October 2008, I went from a no-name 2200 USCF to an IM rated over 2450 FIDE, as well as becoming the youngest California adult state champion ever at 16. Just a month later, I would go to Vietnam to play the World u18 championship. Initially I was not even invited by USCF because I needed to be a certain rating as of April, and one of my results was not submitted in a timely manner. The head of the US delegation, FM Aviv Friedman, helped to get me a spot on the team, which I am eternally grateful for. I also must say I think he made the right choice, as I went on to tie for first place and become the 2008 World under 18 co-champion, receiving the bronze medal on tiebreaks. This would be my biggest claim to fame to date. Since then my FIDE rating has increased to nearly 2500 and I have two of the three required norms to become a Grandmaster, and I’m still an active tournament player and searching for the final norm.


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