GM Shankland on the World Team Championship – Web Extra

In the September 2017 issue of Chess Life, GM Sam Shankland wrote about Team USA’s performance at this year’s World Team Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk. This “web extra” features additional material that was not included in the print article.  

GM Sam Shankland. Photo: Anastasia Balakhontseva

Although the U.S. qualified for the World Team again this year, our squad was significantly weakened as our top three players were already committed to playing in the conflicting Grand Chess Tour. Still, I was optimistic about our chances. Our open team included me on board one; GM Alex Onischuk, who had just tied for first in the U.S. Championship; GM Varuzhan Akobian, who recently had a breakthrough and got up to 2670; and the young and improving GMs Ray Robson and Jeffery Xiong. Our women’s team was comprised of IM Anna Zatonskih, four-time U.S. women’s champion; WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor, our reigning U.S. women’s champion; WGM Katerina Nemcova; and rising talents WFM Jennifer Yu and WIM Akshita Gorti.

We faced numerous challenges before the tournament even began: a long journey, flight delays, and changes to the tournament schedule that cut our pre-tournament rest time in half. When the dates changed, two members of the women’s team arrived in Khanty-Mansiysk just a few hours before the first round! This may well have affected the overall standings as Jennifer Yu lost a tough game to Iulija Osmak in round one. If she had been a bit better rested, I think it might have resulted in a drawn match.

In round three, the men’s squad played China, the top seed and reigning champions. All four games were drawn, but we squandered some real chances. For example, I had Ding Liren in all sorts of trouble, but did not manage to put him away. It was a really frustrating and disappointing game for me.

The women got on the scoreboard in round 3 by tying their match with Poland, thanks in no small part to Sabina bouncing back from her round 2 loss to score the first individual victory for the women’s team.

IM Anna Zatonskih. Photo: World Team Website

Round four was a tough loss against India for the men, but on the other side, the women won their first match, dispatching Egypt 3½ -½. Anna won a quick game as her opponent walked into a well-known Catalan trap:

GM Alex Onischuk. Photo: Anastasia Balakhontseva

For round five, the men’s squad played Belarus. The match started very well, with two reasonably fast draws on boards three and four. That left just me and Alex Onischuk playing, and we both had very good positions. But then things began to fall apart.

The women faced Russia in round five. Anna defended a worse position very resourcefully and actually outplayed her former women’s world champion opponent decisively. In the end, though, she was a bit too happy to make a draw that she could have only dreamed of a few moves before.

In round six, the men’s team played against Egypt, with Ray quickly punishing an early mistake and scoring his first win of the event.

Meanwhile, the women faced another tough opponent, China, in round six. Unfortunately, they never really had a chance to win and lost 3-1. While Sabina had a very solid position throughout, she missed one resource and her opponent never let her back into the game.

Jennifer Yu. Photo: World Team Website

Going into round seven, we had a real opportunity on our hands, and we emerged from what felt like a pretty smooth victory over Turkey. Meanwhile, the women drew their round seven match with Vietnam. Jennifer did an impressive 180 against her opponent, Thi Kim Phung Vo, by digging in and taking advantage of every slip.

The men suffered a heart-breaking loss to Ukraine in round eight. In what felt like a tragic turn of events, Var lost on time in a drawn rook ending.

This loss eliminated the men from any medal contention. The women also had a brutal round eight and ended up drawing Azerbaijan.

GM Jeffery Xiong. Photo: World Team Website

Even though no medals were possible, the tournament was not yet over. The men’s team faced Russia in the final round, and although we lost 4-0, it was a much closer match than one would think. For example, GM Jeffery Xiong had some chances against GM Vladimir Fedoseev, but unfortunately lost his way in the time scramble.

In the women’s section, our team lost their final match to Georgia. However, there was a big upset elsewhere as an Egyptian player took down GM Wenjun Ju, the number two woman in the world, with a very pretty tactic.

Although it was a really rough tournament for the U.S. in more ways than one, our young players all impressed me with their eagerness to learn. With these rapidly-improving players adding depth and breadth to our teams, I anticipate many successful future tournaments.

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