"Prehistoric" Shankland Ties for First at Sharjah Masters

While he might be a few years away from qualifying for the U.S. Senior Championship, 32-year-old American GM Sam Shankland was the "old man out" atop the standings of the 2024 Sharjah Masters in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Shankland finished the stacked event with an undefeated 6½/9 score, finishing third on tiebreaks.



Shankland's three co-champions were age 22, 17, and 17 again. The difficulty of competing against the "next generation" was certainly not lost on Shankland. Finishing first on tiebreaks was 17-year-old Iranian GM Bardiya Daneshvar, who already won his country's championship back in 2022. In second was another 17-year-old: Russian GM Volodar Murzin. The 22-year-old Uzbek GM Shamsiddin Vokhidov came in fourth by winning his final four games after beginning the event with a string of draws.



Interestingly, three of Shankland's four wins came with the black pieces. The lone exception was a second-round win against Swedish GM Vitaly Sivuk that saw Shankland take control early. From there, he won in rounds three and five with his trademark style of slow, positional play and accurate endgame conversion:




This set up a contentious encounter in the seventh round between Shankland and his countryman GM Hans Niemann. Niemann took the momentum from his previous event and got off to a hot 3/3 start, but had ran into three successive draws before his game with Shankland. The game looked headed towards a peaceful result until Shankland's precision and attention to detail rewarded him with a victory in a tricky pawn endgame:



Of Niemann's early wins, his first-round victory over Hungarian GM Gleb Dudin was particularly nice. Playing quickly and confidently, Niemann managed to pose a number of problems for Dudin until eventually the pressure was too great. Also included is a fine attacking gem from round two:




Any hopes Niemann had of springing back to the top of the standings ended in round eight, when he was the third straight victim of Vokhidov's late tear. After a speculative sacrifice did not go Niemann's way, he did manage to create a number of problems for his opponent, though, finally clawing back into an equal position just before a painful collapse sealed his fate:



From there, Niemann bounced back with a win in his final game to finish with a 5½/9 score.

Of the other Americans competing, GM Abhimanyu Mishra had a lot to be happy about with his 6/9 performance. No stranger to long games, a number of Mishra's wins came well into complex endgames. Below, enjoy a queen-and-opposite-colored bishops win from round seven and a fascinating Exchange sac that was one of the last games to finish in round nine:




GM Sam Sevian had a more level event, finishing with two wins and one loss and a 5/9 score. His eighth-round win showed some deep preparation in the Petroff:



Unfortunately, in his loss against Indian GM Pranav V., Sevian was unable to find a miraculous sac to reward several hours of tenacious defense:



The third leg of the UAE triple crown begins Friday, with the start of the 2024 Dubai Open. Results from Sharjah are available here.