Three Good Decisions

  • GM Shankland
  • | Feb 11, 2012

I recently won the Northern California International, and I’d like to take you through what I believe were my three most important psychological decisions of the event. The first one came in round 3. I had won my first two games without much trouble, and I was playing IM Adam Hunt, rated 2462 FIDE, with the black pieces. I would have really liked to score a win here, but I reached a difficult decision in the early middle game:


At this point, I knew that I had thought black was at the very least comfortably equal, if not slightly better, from my preparation. However, I viewed 14. h4 as the more critical try, and I had more or less glazed over Bxf6. After Bg5xf6 Be7xf6 Nd4-f3 we get to the diagram above, and I sank into a deep thought, over 30 minutes long, trying to come up with my best plan of action. I ultimately decided that b5! was the correct move.


My second big decision came in round 6. I had been having a solid event thus far, and I was sitting on 4.0/5. However, the newly un-retired IM Greg Shahade was showing some very good form and that his return to chess and studying had been fruitful- He had 4.5/5, having already played 3 GMs! So he was clearly on good form and the guy to beat, and I had the black pieces. I looked him up in chessbase before the game, and I saw with white he played 1. e4 about 85% of the time, with the other 15% being 1. c4. He had one game with 1. d4, which I briefly looked at because it was recent and I was trying to get a sense of how he was playing in his new form, rather than his pre-2003 version. I was certainly glad I did!
1. d4!?




Greg did not stick to his guns in this big game- this told me that he had probably prepared something specific. I also noted that his only 1.d4 game was a Meran, and the Meran is my main weapon against non-three knights lines in the Slav. I deduced he must have done some work there, and I did not want to find out what. I also realized that his c4 games could in theory transpose to the Meran, but there was something they could not transpose to…

1. … Nf6!

It was definitely time to give my backup line some attention. I haven’t played the Grunfeld as much as one would expect for the amount of work I’ve done in it, but it is still a mainstay in my repertoire and I bring it out from time to time. In this case I dodged my opponent's preparation, and when I played a somewhat uncommon move he did not know what to do, and by the time I was out of my prep the position was equal, but I had a huge time advantage. I went on to win in 24 moves and take the lead in the tournament.

The final good decision I made was in the final round. I was playing white against GM Josh Friedel, a former mentor of mine and occasional training partner. I was half a point ahead of him and IM Marc Arnold, who had black against a GM. A draw would be a great result here, and I would clinch at least shared 1st-2nd and probably clear first. However, I did not exchange all the pieces from the start of the game. I spent some time looking into lines which fizzled out to dull equality, but I thought that I would still have to play them out, and I knew Josh would not be giving me any gifts, no matter how equal the positions were. I’m a bit higher rated than him, but I think a restrained and patient approach to dull, equal positions is not the part of the game that gives me the rating edge. I decided my best bet was to try to get to a fighting position, but one without huge amounts of risks. The game went according to plan and I built up an advantage, only to mess it up with a ludicrous move e3 (Qa1 leads to a slight-moderate advantage for white), but after that I maintained the balance and even got some edge back later, but I decided to accept his draw offer to clinch the tournament.

All in all, I think the psychological and practical decisions I made this event were just as integral to my success as any of the moves I made. Hopefully I will be able to keep this kind of level headed mindset for all my future events.


  • 4 years ago


  • 5 years ago


    "I deduced he must have done some work there, and I did not want to find out what." That line really cracked me up; very clever and well put! Thanks for the useful article!

  • 5 years ago


    that was interesting .. Made me think a bout my game a bit ...

  • 5 years ago


    good games
  • 5 years ago


    Lot of thanks.

  • 5 years ago


    I Just could say " thank you"

  • 5 years ago


    Thanx for showing me very important things to take care in chess competition, very interesting...

  • 5 years ago


    Are you finding that it is 'easier' for players to prepare for you after your good showing in USCL and 2011 tourneys? What's the pressure to change openings entirely versus planning sidelines? Great to see a "" guy come back, make GM, and be successful!
  • 5 years ago


    Very interesting to get a peek into the psychological aspects of the game ... somehow I think there might be more to tell???

  • 5 years ago


    Great!  The article provides readers information on how a GM thinks rationally during the game.  Keep it up!

  • 5 years ago


    Nice article!

  • 5 years ago


    A key position on move 1!  You're my hero.  That was awesome.


    I wonder how much of your (or any similarly strong player's) rating is dependent on player-specific prep.  Would walking into each round without any knowledge of your opponent cost you 50 rating points?  100?  Of course it's impossible to answer with certainty, just curious what your intuition tells you.

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for the amazing article. 

  • 5 years ago

    GM Shankland

    Sorry about that- The first diagram should have been clearer. I've edited it and added a sentence that hopefully solves all problems to that effect.

  • 5 years ago


    I'm thoroughly confused. White does not appear to have Bxf6 in the first diagram.

  • 5 years ago


    Three rooks for three good decisions? :D

  • 5 years ago


    I think the rook on h1 moved to e1 and should be removed from h1. 

  • 5 years ago


    Is it just me or is there three white rooks on the first diagram?

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for explaining the hidden aspects of the game. 

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