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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Fighting Game by Sam Shankland

     Grandmaster Sam Shankland (born October 1, 1991) is one of the US's most exciting players. He was California State champion in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012, Champion of State Champions in 2009, World Under-18 co-champion in 2008, US Junior Champion in 2010, and a gold medalist Chess Olympiad in 2014. His current FIDE rating is 2656.
     Starting at the age of 11 it took him eleven years to become the highest rated US-born player in the country since Bobby Fischer. These days though he is ranked #7 behind Nakamura, Caruana, So, Robson, Kamsky and Onischuk with a USCF rating of 2756. Like Fischer, he learned chess almost entirely on his own. 
     Back in 2010 Shankland announced on his blog that he was quitting chess. He was angry with the system for achieving GM norms that requires you to not only score the required number of points in a tournament but you have to play a specified number of GM's and players from other countries. Specifically, it seems he played in a tournament in Philadelphia where only six GM's entered and he didn't get the pairings he needed. He also had a poor result which didn't help. One wonders what he would have done in the old days when, to get the GM norm, one had to be INVITED to play in international tournaments...open events didn't count. 
     Today's requirements explain why it's easier to earn a norm in Europe which is why Caruana moved to Italy a few years ago. Khalifman once bemoaned the fact that there is an inflation which has made it too easy to get a GM norm and as a result, the GM title is debased. You just can't please everybody. 
     While there does exist today a huge number of very strong players, a lot has to do with the sheer number of people playing chess. Thanks to the Fischer Boom, a lot more players are active today than ever before so, naturally, the number of strong players has taken a huge leap. Nevertheless, in the old days quality was a factor...if you were a GM, everybody knew it. These days, players nobody ever heard of have the title. Anyway, Shankland's comments stemmed from his youth and impulsiveness. Fortunately, his frustration subsided and he's still active today. Besides playing, he gives simuls ($500 plus $20 per board, lectures ($200 per hour) and online private lesson for $150 per hour. 
     Here's a game from the 2010 Olympiad...the one where he scored nine points out of ten and won the medal for top reserve player. The biggest complaint players had about this Olympiad was the bathroom facilities...they had to use outside toilets. At least it probably discouraged players from sneaking off to the toilet and using the chess apps on their cell phones! 

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