Shankland on His Rise from GM to Top Hundred: Part II

GM Sam Shankland continues his series on breaking the top 100 players in the World. Read Part I here and also see his 2014 Best of CLO award. shankland 26. One is never too good to ask a victorious opponent what his or her mistakes were Post Mortems with strong players were always helpful for me in my youth, but I lost touch with them as I got deeper into grandmasterdom. It took a profound realization from a strong opponent for me to notice that when we get stronger it is even more important to ask our opponents where we went wrong after a loss. It's likely to be more subtle and less likely to be pointed out by an engine.
[pgn][Event "USA-CHN Summit"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2013.08.01"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Shankland, Sam"]
[Black "Wang, Yue"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B49"]
[WhiteElo "2599"]
[BlackElo "2705"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r3kb1r/1q1pn1pp/p3p3/1p2Pp2/8/2NQB3/PPP2PPP/2KR3R w kq - 0 14"]
[PlyCount "6"]
[EventDate "2013.??.??"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

14. f4 $6 {When I played this move, I thought nothing could be more natural.
But after the game, Wang pointed out to me that he thought this may have been
my biggest mistake. The only purpose of f4 is to defend e5, which I thought I
would have to do in response to Nc6. However, black has a better route for the
knight:} (14. Rd2 {I'm not sure this is the best move, but it is the simplest
one to illustrate the point. White does not lose time on f4 unless it is
necessary, and he might even enjoy that square's availability for a piece.} b4
(14... Nc6 15. f4 {Only now that black has committed to Nc6 does f4 make sense.
White looks happy enough to me}) 15. Ne2 Nd5 16. Nf4 $1 {And white has the
more pleasant side of equality instead of the other way around.}) 14... Rc8 15.
Rd2 b4 $1 16. Na4 Nd5 {And the position is roughly equal though I think most
people would prefer black. I was outplayed by my stronger opponent and
subsequently lost. Here, it's clear that f4 was pretty much just a wasted
move- black has no meaningful pressure against e5, and white would be much
better off increasing his control of he d-file} 0-1[/pgn]
7. One does not have to be a weaker player than someone to learn from them For much of my development I naturally assumed that I should only be trying to learn from people who had made it farther in chess than I had, and that it was pointless to try to learn from others. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I don't even play blitz with my coach anymore because the score is so lopsided, but under his tutelage I have progressed at a rate I never believed I could. In addition, at the end of 2013 I put together a group of ambitious young players to do opening work with me, and I divided the assignments so nobody would be working on the same thing at the same time. This meant I had to only select people I could trust blindly when I needed to and who were good enough to meet my high standards of analysis. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this has less to do with playing strength and more to do with ambition and work ethic. This work has shown up in plenty of places and proved itself to be invaluable, both in having a fearsome opening lab and in having more time to work on other elements of chess. Here is a recent example where I completely crushed a 2600+ player straight out of the opening... with analysis that came straight out of one of my workmate's laptops.
[pgn][Event "Qatar Masters Open 2014"]
[Site "Doha QAT"]
[Date "2014.11.30"]
[White "Shankland, Sam"]
[Black "Guseinov, Gadir"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B38"]
[WhiteElo "2642"]
[BlackElo "2592"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2014.11.26"]
[SourceDate "2012.05.23"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. c4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 O-O 8.
Be2 d6 9. O-O Bd7 10. Nc2 Qa5 11. f4 Rac8 12. Rc1 Be6 13. a3 Nb8 14. Nd5 Rfe8
15. Qd3 Nbd7 16. b4 Qa6 17. Nd4 Bxd5 18. exd5 b6 19. Bf3 Qb7 20. Rfe1 Nb8 21.
Bf2 Qd7 22. h3 e5 23. dxe6 fxe6 24. Nb5 d5 25. cxd5 Rxc1 26. Rxc1 Nxd5 27. Bxd5
Qxd5 28. Qxd5 exd5 29. Nxa7 Bb2 30. Rb1 Re2 31. Nb5 Nc6 32. Bxb6 Kf7 33. Rd1
Ne7 34. a4 Nc6 35. Bc5 d4 36. a5 Bc3 37. Nxc3 dxc3 38. Rc1 1-0[/pgn]
8. There is no such thing as a risk-free position, so don't aim for one In recent years, I've found a lot of players are hesitant to enter complicated positions, in their preparation or ingame. I think this is unhelpful for one's overall development. Playing complicated positions gives our opponents more opportunities to make mistakes, and challenges us to make difficult decisions. If you look at even the most positional players at the top (Carlsen, Kramnik, Gelfand all come to mind), they played even maniacally aggressive chess in their developmental years, and they can still do it now when a position calls for it. I've now gone 51 games in a row without a loss, including several 2700+ players. But my last loss was a good reminder that any thoughts of "I cannot possibly lose this position" or "I cannot possibly lose to this player" can lead to disaster.
[pgn][Event "RTU Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2014.08.24"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Ramondino, Rendo"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B50"]
[WhiteElo "2236"]
[BlackElo "2624"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "7k/7p/4Qbp1/8/nP1PR3/5q2/7P/6K1 b - - 0 39"]
[PlyCount "4"]
[EventDate "2014.??.??"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

{Much of my calculation work recently has been focused on finding ideas, but
as this game shows, it is not always easy. When one sees all the ideas in this
position it is very simple to calculate 2-3 moves ahead, but a failure to look
for hidden resources led to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.} 39...
Nc3 $4 {With both Nxe4 and Ne2+ threatened, I expected my opponent to resign
here.} (39... h5 {or}) (39... Kg7 {Would leave black with very good winning
chances}) 40. Qc8+ Kg7 41. Qb7+ {Black loses his queen, and the game. All I
could do was resign and shake my head in disbelief} 1-0[/pgn]
9. Play mainline openings, and don't be afraid to experiment I was reading over a forum once debating the merits of sidelines. Countless people were posting some version of "I don't have time or don't want to learn tons of opening theory, so I play sidelines (insert one of: anti-Sicilians, London system, any opening with "exchange" in its name, etc). They all had one thing in common- not one of them had a FIDE title. The stronger players were the ones who played the mainlines, and this is absolutely critical for a number of reasons. To begin with, higher rated players almost without exception would much prefer to avoid theory when playing with weaker opponents, so it is senseless to fear some devastating preparation in the mainlines. Secondly, the rationale of "this subpar line works for me now but it won't when I get stronger, I'll fix it then" is very dangerous. The last thing a chessplayer needs is to reach a level where he or she can no longer get away with a poor opening, and have to learn a new one from scratch and play their first game in it with zero experience. Most importantly, however, is that playing the middlegames that arise from mainline openings is an incredible learning experience for which there is no substitute. I was able to make it to almost 2500 with almost no preparation, and I don't think I could have done this by playing sidelines. After being an exclusive d4 player for 3 years, I finally gave e4 a try. The first few games were more experimentation- my preparation was obviously subpar and uneven. This did not stop me from winning two great games back to back against strong opposition:
[pgn][Event "22nd North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas USA"]
[Date "2012.12.29"]
[White "Shankland, Sam"]
[Black "Hammer, Jon Ludvig"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C58"]
[WhiteElo "2595"]
[BlackElo "2633"]
[PlyCount "57"]
[EventDate "2012.12.26"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Mark Crowther"]
[SourceDate "2012.12.31"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8.
Bd3 Nd5 9. Nf3 Bd6 10. O-O Nf4 11. Re1 Nxd3 12. cxd3 O-O 13. Nc3 f6 14. b3 Ba6
15. d4 exd4 16. Nxd4 Bxh2+ 17. Kxh2 Qxd4 18. Ba3 c5 19. Qf3 Bb7 20. Qf5 Rfe8
21. Nb5 Qh4+ 22. Kg1 g6 23. Qh3 Qxh3 24. gxh3 Rxe1+ 25. Rxe1 Nc6 26. Nd6 Ba6
27. Bxc5 Ne5 28. Re3 Nd3 29. b4 1-0[/pgn]
[pgn][Event "9th Panamerican Team"]
[Site "Campinas BRA"]
[Date "2013.01.24"]
[White "Shankland, Sam"]
[Black "Ortiz Suarez, Isan"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B90"]
[WhiteElo "2595"]
[BlackElo "2595"]
[PlyCount "61"]
[EventDate "2013.01.24"]
[SourceDate "2012.05.23"]
[WhiteTeam "USA"]
[BlackTeam "CUB"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. h3
Nbd7 9. g4 Rc8 10. Qd2 b5 11. O-O-O Nb6 12. g5 Nfd7 13. f4 exf4 14. Bxf4 Ne5
15. Kb1 Be7 16. Nd4 Nbc4 17. Qg2 O-O 18. Nd5 Bxd5 19. exd5 Qa5 20. Bxc4 Nxc4
21. Nc6 Qc7 22. Rhe1 Bd8 23. Qg3 f6 24. Re6 fxg5 25. Bxg5 Bxg5 26. Qxg5 Rce8
27. Ne7+ Kh8 28. Rg1 Nd2+ 29. Kc1 g6 30. Nxg6+ hxg6 31. Rxg6 1-0[/pgn]
As I worked e4 into my repertoire, I found it was a better fit for me. My results in rated games seem to agree: ChessbaseScreenshot 10. Dynamic players absolutely must learn to be good defenders In general I think it's very hard to make progress in chess without constant work on tactics, calculation, and other dynamics. They are always present even in the most subtle of games. But what I realized in particular is that when one follows the advice from 8th lesson and reaches highly complex positions, no matter how good one gets at dynamics, things can always go badly wrong. When they do, it is absolutely critical to bring good defense to the board, to stay focused, and to never say uncle until there is not a single resource or trick available. I previously mentioned that I have gone 51 games without a loss- this is in no way due to playing conservative chess, as I managed quite a few good wins in this timeframe, plus 30 rating points. It has everything to do with defending resourcefully when ambitious play backfired. A clear case of my improved defensive skills can be seen in this recent game with a top-ten player:
[pgn][Event "Qatar Masters"]
[Site "Doha QAT"]
[Date "2014.12.03"]
[White "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B11"]
[WhiteElo "2751"]
[BlackElo "2642"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "3n4/7p/6p1/2kp2P1/5P2/4K3/1P2B3/8 w - - 0 42"]
[PlyCount "7"]
[EventDate "2014.11.26"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

42. b4+ {After defending a slightly worse position all game, I reached a
critical moment. Calculating the consequences of Kxb4 accurately could mean
the difference between an immediate loss and accomplishing the draw with no
further suffering or uncertainty. While after the modest Kd6 the result is
still very much in question, a correct assessment of Kxb4 brings immediate
clarity. After a long think, I came up wih a very nice idea.} Kxb4 $1 43. Kd4
Nc6+ $1 {This looks bizarre, but it has a hidden point:} (43... Ne6+ {Was the
first move I considered, but after Ke5 I was not sure if black would hold or
not.} 44. Ke5 Nc7 45. Kd6 Ne8+ 46. Kxd5 Kc3 47. Bg4 Kd2 48. Ke5 Ke3 49. Be6 {
The computer shows black drawing a position like this, but it looked very
shaky to be during the game}) 44. Kxd5 Kc3 $1 {And it turns out the knight on
c6 is actually perfect. It it immune to capture, it prevents both Ke5 and Ke6,
and should white retreat his king to save the kingside and hope to run to g8
with the bishop, the knight can hop to e7 on a moment's notice.} 45. Kxc6 {And
a draw was agreed in view of Kd2-e3, taking all the white pawns} 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
While this is the one I was most proud of, I managed to save quite a few unpleasant or even lost positions in the past year, even against GMs.
[pgn][Event "ch-USA 2014"]
[Site "Saint Louis USA"]
[Date "2014.05.18"]
[White "Friedel, Josh"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A37"]
[WhiteElo "2505"]
[BlackElo "2634"]
[PlyCount "94"]
[EventDate "2014.05.08"]
[SourceDate "2012.05.23"]

1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 6. d4 cxd4 7. Nb5 d5 8. cxd5
exd5 9. O-O Nge7 10. Bf4 O-O 11. Nc7 Rb8 12. Nb5 Ra8 13. Qd2 Bg4 14. Nbxd4 Qb6
15. Be3 Qa6 16. Nxc6 Nxc6 17. Bh6 Bxh6 18. Qxh6 Bxf3 19. exf3 Qb6 20. Qd2 Rad8
21. f4 Rfe8 22. Rfe1 Rxe1+ 23. Rxe1 d4 24. a3 a5 25. Bf1 a4 26. Bd3 Qa5 27. Qd1
b5 28. Qc1 Qb6 29. f5 Na5 30. h4 Nb3 31. Qf4 Qf6 32. Qc7 Kf8 33. fxg6 hxg6 34.
Rd1 Rd5 35. Qb7 Qe5 36. Qc8+ Kg7 37. Qg4 Nc5 38. Bxb5 d3 39. h5 Qxb2 40. Qb4
Qb3 41. Rf1 d2 42. Qf4 Qxb5 43. h6+ Kg8 44. h7+ Kg7 45. Rd1 Qe2 46. Qh6+ Kxh6
47. h8=Q+ Kg5 0-1[/pgn]
[pgn][Event "Qatar Masters"]
[Site "Doha QAT"]
[Date "2014.12.02"]
[White "Kryvoruchko, Yuriy"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B53"]
[WhiteElo "2706"]
[BlackElo "2642"]
[PlyCount "108"]
[EventDate "2014.11.26"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 Nc6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. Qd3 g6 7. O-O Bg7 8. c4
Nf6 9. Nc3 O-O 10. h3 a6 11. Bxc6 Bxc6 12. Nd4 Bd7 13. a4 Qc7 14. Be3 Rfc8 15.
b3 b6 16. Rac1 Qb7 17. f4 e6 18. Rfe1 Rd8 19. Bf2 e5 20. Nde2 Bc6 21. Nd5 Bxd5
22. cxd5 exf4 23. Nxf4 Nd7 24. Ne2 Rac8 25. Nd4 Rxc1 26. Rxc1 Nc5 27. Qb1 Re8
28. Re1 Qe7 29. Nc6 Qg5 30. a5 bxa5 31. Bxc5 dxc5 32. d6 Bd4+ 33. Kh1 Be5 34.
Qd3 Qf4 35. g3 Qf6 36. d7 Qxc6 37. Qd5 Qa8 38. dxe8=Q+ Qxe8 39. Kg2 Qe7 40.
Qa8+ Kg7 41. Qxa6 h5 42. Qd3 Bd4 43. Re2 Qg5 44. Qd2 Qd8 45. Qc1 h4 46. Qf4
hxg3 47. Qxg3 Qe8 48. Qd3 Qe5 49. Rc2 Qh5 50. Qf3 Qh4 51. Qe2 Qg5+ 52. Kf3 Qf6+
53. Kg2 Qg5+ 54. Kf3 Qf6+ 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
[pgn][Event "3rd Al Ain Chess Classic"]
[Site "Al-Ain UAE"]
[Date "2014.12.23"]
[White "Shankland, Sam"]
[Black "Gopal, Geetha"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E60"]
[WhiteElo "2642"]
[BlackElo "2580"]
[PlyCount "197"]
[EventDate "2014.12.19"]
[SourceDate "2012.05.23"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. f3 c5 4. d5 d6 5. e4 e6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. Bg5 h6 8. Be3 exd5
9. cxd5 O-O 10. Qd2 a6 11. a4 Re8 12. Nge2 Nbd7 13. Bxh6 Nxe4 14. Nxe4 Qh4+ 15.
g3 Qxh6 16. Qxh6 Bxh6 17. Nxd6 Re5 18. f4 Rxd5 19. Nxc8 Rxc8 20. Bg2 Rd6 21.
O-O c4 22. Rfd1 Rxd1+ 23. Rxd1 Nc5 24. Rd4 b5 25. axb5 axb5 26. Rd6 Bg7 27. Bd5
Kf8 28. Rc6 Rxc6 29. Bxc6 b4 30. Bd5 Bxb2 31. Bxc4 b3 32. Kf2 Bg7 33. Ke3 Ke7
34. Kd2 Ne4+ 35. Kd3 b2 36. Ba2 f5 37. Kc2 Kd6 38. Ng1 Nc3 39. Kxb2 Ne2+ 40.
Kc2 Nxg1 41. Bf7 g5 42. fxg5 Nh3 43. g6 Ke5 44. Kd3 Kf6 45. Ke2 Bf8 46. Be8 Bd6
47. Kf3 Ng5+ 48. Kg2 Be5 49. Bb5 Kxg6 50. Bd3 Kf6 51. Bc2 Bd6 52. Bd3 Nf7 53.
Bc2 Ne5 54. Bb1 Kg5 55. Bc2 Bc7 56. Bb1 Ng4 57. Bd3 Bd6 58. Be2 Bc5 59. Bd3 Kf6
60. Be2 Ne3+ 61. Kf3 Nc2 62. Ba6 Ke5 63. Bb7 Nd4+ 64. Kg2 Ne6 65. Bc8 Ng5 66.
Ba6 Ke4 67. Bb7+ Ke3 68. Bc8 Ke4 69. Bb7+ Ke5 70. Ba6 Ba7 71. Bc8 Ne4 72. Kf3
Nd2+ 73. Kg2 Nb3 74. Bb7 Nd2 75. Bc8 Nc4 76. Kf3 Nb6 77. Ba6 Nd7 78. Bd3 Nf8
79. Bc2 Ne6 80. Bd3 Nd4+ 81. Kg2 Kd5 82. Kf2 Bb8 83. Ke3 Kc5 84. Ba6 Bd6 85.
Bd3 Kd5 86. Kf2 Ba3 87. Ke3 Bc1+ 88. Kf2 Kc5 89. Ba6 Kb4 90. Bd3 Kc3 91. Ba6
Bh6 92. Bc8 Kd2 93. Bd7 Be3+ 94. Kf1 Bg5 95. Kf2 Be7 96. Bc8 Bd6 97. Bd7 Be5
98. Bc8 f4 99. gxf4 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE If there has one thing that has never changed throughout my entire career, it's that the better I get at chess, the more I realize there is to learn. While I'm very happy with my rate of improvement in the last year, the road to chess mastery never ends and I'm happy to say I think I have found the next thing I should put a lot of attention toward. Going back to the first lesson of questioning one's own success, I  found the first example of an unpleasant recent trend in one of my wins from early 2014.
[pgn][Event "Northern California International"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2014.01.05"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Panjwani, Raja"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A10"]
[WhiteElo "2468"]
[BlackElo "2602"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "6k1/5p1p/6p1/1R6/4PK2/r4P2/7r/5R2 b - - 0 32"]
[PlyCount "33"]
[EventDate "2014.??.??"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

32... Rg2 $2 {This move was sort of played on autopilot. I had been at varying
levels of better throughout the whole game and I finally thought that I had
reached an easy technical win, but this optimism and laziness could have cost
me a half point.} (32... Rh4+ $1 33. Kg3 (33. Ke5 Rh5+) 33... Rxe4 $1 {It's
always a shame to miss a basic tactic. With 2 pawns down white can resign}) 33.
Rg5 $1 {All of a sudden white has serious saving chances} Raa2 {Keeping the
king cut off- this was my plan when I played Rg2. I thought I will easily run
the hpawn down the board. But, with resourceful defense, white is able to
relieve the laser along the gfile.} 34. Rxg2 Rxg2 35. Ke5 $2 {Letting black
off the hook} (35. Ke3 $1 {White prepares f4 and Kf3. With tenacious defense
and some luck he may save the game} Kg7 (35... g5 $2 36. f4 g4 37. f5 {White
should have enough counterplay}) 36. f4 h5 $17 {It's unclear what the result
should be, but my guess is it's closer to a draw than a black win. After
something like Kf3 Ra2 Rb1, I don't see a convincing way to make progress.})
35... Kg7 36. Kf4 h5 37. Re1 (37. Ke3 {It's too late for this now:} g5 $1 38.
f4 g4 {The pawns queen}) 37... h4 38. Rh1 g5+ 39. Kf5 Kh6 40. Ke5 Rf2 41. Rh3
Kh5 42. Kd4 g4 43. fxg4+ Kxg4 44. Rh1 h3 45. Ke3 Rg2 46. Rf1 h2 47. Rxf7 Rg3+
48. Kf2 Rh3 0-1[/pgn]
This was a clear case of relaxing a little too early and letting up when it still required precision and focus to bring the point home. The fact that I ultimately won the game anyway is irrelevant, and probably even actively unhelpful. Had this game taken place six months prior, I might have completely missed the red flag that I should work on keeping my focus and improving my technique in superior positions. While I was aware this was an area that needed work, it somehow got pushed aside while I worked on other problems I felt to be more pressing. Another key example that I might have overlooked due to my victory in the game can be seen from the penultimate round of my best result to date:
[pgn][Event "Olympiad"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2014.08.12"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Perez Ponsa, Federico"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D11"]
[WhiteElo "2541"]
[BlackElo "2624"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2kr3r/1pnnb3/p1p3p1/2Pppp2/1P1P2PP/3BP1K1/1P1BN3/5R1R b - - 0 23"]
[PlyCount "51"]
[EventDate "2014.??.??"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

{Going into this game I had 7.5/8 and was well on my way to a gold medal and
by far the best result of my career. It would be easy to get arrogant and
disregard the following oversight as unimportant, but this is why it's so
important to critically analyze wins as well as losses.} 23... Nf6 $2 {After
the game was over Alex Onischuk mentioned how impressed he was that I could
just beat 2550 guys with black in a straightforward play with little to no
risk. If my next move had been punished appropriately, his reaction may have
been different! After making this move I thought black was seriously better,
but I had miscalculated a critical line.} (23... e4 $15 {Leaves black with a
very pleasant position}) 24. g5 $2 (24. dxe5 $1 {Would have turned the tables.
I had calculated:} Nxg4 25. Nf4 $1 (25. Rxf5 $5 {This does not look bad either}
) 25... Nxe5 {And thought white is just a pawn down. But, a simple search for
candidate moves would have showed I should have calculated more precisely:} 26.
Nxg6 $1 {I completely missed this one. All of a sudden black will have to be
precise to hold on} Nxd3 27. Nxe7+ Kd7 28. Nxf5 Nb5 $14 {Black faces an uphill
struggle to make a draw}) (24. gxf5 $2 {This is also poor} e4 $1 25. Bc2 gxf5
$17 {Rdg8+ followed by Ng4 is coming. White's king is going to be harassed and
his pawns are rapidly falling}) 24... Nh5+ 25. Kg2 e4 $19 {White is
strategically busted. I find black's position to be very aesthetically
pleasing, with a 7 pawn long chain on the light squares complimented by the
dark squared bishop soon to come to c7. White can do nothing while black
improves his pieces to the maximum and prepares f4.} 26. Bc2 Ne6 27. Bc3 Rh7
28. Bd1 Rdh8 29. Be1 Bd8 30. Ng3 Nhg7 31. Ne2 Bc7 32. Bf2 Kd7 33. Be1 Ke7 34.
Bf2 Nh5 35. Be1 f4 36. exf4 Nhxf4+ 37. Nxf4 Nxf4+ 38. Kg1 Nd3 39. Bd2 Rxh4 40.
Rxh4 Rxh4 41. Rf6 Nxb2 42. Be2 Rh2 43. Kf1 Nd3 44. Be3 Rh1+ 45. Kg2 Re1 46.
Bxd3 Rxe3 47. Bxa6 Rg3+ 48. Kf2 Rxg5 0-1[/pgn]
Once again, I got lucky that my complacency went unpunished. But going forward, my luck started to run out. In particular my most recent event, the Tata Steel Challengers Group, saw several cases where I failed to convert advantages into wins. The most glaring example was my game with Valentina Gunina:
[pgn][Event "77th Tata Steel GpB"]
[Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"]
[Date "2015.01.20"]
[White "Gunina, Valentina"]
[Black "Shankland, Sam"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A48"]
[WhiteElo "2538"]
[BlackElo "2652"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2r1r1k1/pp1b1p1p/1q1B2p1/3p4/3P3N/2Pn2QP/Pn1N1PP1/R4BK1 b - - 0 24"]
[PlyCount "36"]
[EventDate "2015.01.10"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

{Black is up a clear exchange here and he can grab a pawn as well on c3. While
his knights are a little clumsy, they should not take long to extricate.
However, some combination of my relaxing too early and trying to keep it
simple lead to one bad move after another, ultimately drawing a completely
winning position} 24... Rc6 $6 {I thought I was being clever by forcing the
bishop to trade for one of my stupid knights or relocate somewhere undesirable,
but I had completely missed my opponent's next move.} (24... Rxc3 {This was to
the point and strong. White is completely lost}) 25. Rb1 $1 {Rxd6 is met with
Bxd3 when the b2 knight is in trouble. Black is still winning but now it is
tougher.} Rxc3 (25... Rxd6 26. Bxd3) 26. Bc5 Nxc5 $4 {A ridiculous blunder
caused by a desire to keep things simple. I thought I am trading off some
pieces and after Qxc3 Nca4, I will win d4 and just be up 2 pawns. But basic
calculation dispels this notion, calculation that I did not do.} (26... Qa5 $19
{Would win in short order}) 27. Qxc3 Nca4 28. Qb3 Qxd4 29. Qxb7 $1 {All of a
sudden things are not so simple} Nc5 $4 (29... Rd8 {defending calmly would
still secure a clear edge, though of course allowing white to get this far was
completely uncaled for}) 30. Qxa7 $2 {Now the position is equal. As horribly
disappointing and frustrating as it was to mess up yet another winning
position this tournament, if my opponent had found Nb3!!, it would have been
doubly so...} (30. Nb3 $3 {This move, which I had nor considered, wins
instantly.}) 30... Qxd2 31. Qxc5 Nc4 32. Nf3 Qxa2 33. Rb7 Be6 34. Ng5 Qa6 35.
Rc7 Qd6 36. Qb5 Re7 37. Rc6 Qe5 38. Nxe6 Rxe6 39. Rc8+ Kg7 40. Bxc4 dxc4 41.
Qxe5+ Rxe5 42. Rxc4 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Had I won this game and a couple of the other promising or even winning positions I had, I could have seriously fought for first place alongside Wei Yi and David Navara instead of settling for a very decent but unspectacular result. While this problem cost me more half points in Wijk Aan Zee than anywhere else in recent memory, it certainly did its damage in other tournaments as well.
[pgn][Event "ch-USA 2014"]
[Site "Saint Louis USA"]
[Date "2014.05.19"]
[White "Shankland, Sam"]
[Black "Gareev, Timur"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B75"]
[WhiteElo "2634"]
[BlackElo "2653"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r4rk1/1q2pp2/3p1npb/1P2n2p/p2BP3/1NN2P1P/1P2Q1P1/R2R2K1 w - - 0 27"]
[PlyCount "39"]
[EventDate "2014.05.08"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]

{This was a much stronger move. Black's rook on a8 turns out to be unhelpful-
white will get Na5 in no matter what, and the rook will lose time as the bpawn
rushes to b7. White should be winning} 27. Rxa4 $2 {My understandable desire
to trade pieces with a material advantage was incorrect here. White's
advantage is in the danger of his b5 pawn rather than a simple head count.
Losing control of the a5 square gave black the time he needed to organize
enough counterplay to save the game} (27. Nxa4 $1 {This was a much stronger
move. Black's rook on a8 turns out to be unhelpful- white will get Na5 in no
matter what, and the rook will lose time as the bpawn rushes to b7. White
should be winning} Bf4 28. Nc3 {Black cannot stop Na5- he should just be busted
}) 27... Rxa4 28. Nxa4 Ra8 29. Nc3 Bf4 30. Be3 {All of a sudden it is very
difficult to get Na5 in and mobilize the bpawn. White has lost a lot of his
advantage} Bxe3+ 31. Qxe3 Nc4 32. Qd4 Nb6 33. Ra1 Rxa1+ 34. Nxa1 d5 {And black
has a lot more play than he deserved. While white is still a bit better
objectively, accurate defense from my opponent salvaged him half a point.} 35.
Nb3 dxe4 36. fxe4 Qc7 37. Na5 e5 38. Qf2 Kg7 39. Nc6 Nbd7 40. Qd2 Qb6+ 41. Qf2
Qc7 42. b4 Qd6 43. Qe3 Qe6 44. Na5 Qd6 45. Nc6 Qe6 46. Na5 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
I will aggressively address the issue of my subpar technique in the coming months, but only time will tell if this will be what takes me to the next level or not. To say I'm happy with my recent performances would be an understatement, but the road to chess mastery never ends. Now that I am solidly in the top hundred in the world, I feel as though I have finally made it to the base of Mount Olympus, and that the hardest part lies ahead- the climb. But, nothing easy is worth dedicating one's career to. With several great and challenging events coming up this year, including but not limited to the US Championship, World Team Championship, and World Cup, I'm looking forward to starting the trek right away. Find out more about Sam on his official website, his facebook page and follow him on twitter.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain Text Comments


Share Your Feedback

We recently completed a website update. If you notice a formatting error on this page, please click here.