Robert Hess and Sam Shankland are 20 year-old college students. They are also two of the top chess players in the U.S. And Saturday March 31st, at 11:00 AM Pacific, they will clash in a 3-hour Death Match!
To be so good so young, they obviously have each experienced a meteoric rise. Hess is the higher rated, at 2717 USCF / 2635 FIDE ranked #5 in the country. Shankland's ratings, at 2656/2580, have not quite caught up with his performances, as he is about to crack the top 10.
Hess made his breakthrough earlier: in early 2009, the young IM managed to fit several important tournaments into his school schedule, winning the national high school championships, the SPICE Grandmaster Invitational (GM norm), earning his final norm at Foxwoods, and then taking second place in the U.S. Championship! Such a rise from IM to contender for the U.S. Championship would surely not be seen for... another two years.
In early 2011, Shankland earned his 5th or 6th GM norm, and would finally be awarded the title. Still, it was with "IM" next to his name that he shocked the U.S. with a run that brought him third place in the U.S. Championship-- thanks to a knockout match win against Hess.
The 2011 U.S. Championship was in many ways also an important triumph for Hess. He defeated U.S. #3 Onischuk in an endgame, en route to convincingly winning his group and qualifying for the Final Four. Here is one extraordinary game of his, showing again that the youngster's technique was up to the highest standards of experienced GMs:
In the Final Four, after losing to Shulman and Kamsky respectively, Hess and Shankland met in a match for 3-4th place. The two slow games were tied, and a rapid tie-break game was played, with Shankland having 45 minutes, and Hess 30 minutes plus draw odds:
After this game, Hess, who obviously had to be very happy with his standard time control play (4 wins and 7 draws against the top players in the country), vowed to get better at rapid chess. This match will be a good testing ground for that.
The future certainly looks exciting for American chess with, in addition to Shankland and Hess's successes, the upsurge of several other young stars like Robson, Lenderman, and Holt. But this match-up between Shankland and Hess can certainly be considered the premiere match of the next generation of American chess talent.
The match consists of three hours of non-stop blitz action. At stake-- prestige, loads of cash, and a psychological edge over a top rival in future events. Yet both players seemed so focused that none of these factors entered into their thinking! Said Hess: "Essentially, I'm just looking to have a good time. [...] I'm coming in with my typical attitude: I just love to play." Said Shankland: "I'm looking forward to a full-on brawl with a strong GM." Shankland was particularly looking forward to playing the same opponent several times with both colors so that the result would be meaningful.
I can't wait to see what will happen on the 31st, when these two young stars take off the gloves, and whip out the mouses. Join me and IM Danny Rensch from 11:00 am to 2:45 pm PAC to watch the action at www.chess.com/tv !!