What If Death Match 31 Were Competitive Eating?

What If Death Match 31 Were Competitive Eating?

| 26 | Chess Players

What if added a food consumption element to its Death Matches? On which meal would GMs Sam Shankland and Georg Meier prefer to gorge?

For this and other pressing and non-pressing questions, we caught up with the players. You can read below what the they had to say before their upcoming tussle. 

What we do know is this: Death Match 31 will be one of the closest ever in rating and will crown the first two-time champion in the series (in the last two matches, GMs Wesley So and Dmitry Andreikin both fell victim to a sophomore slump). members can watch the three-hour battle live on  or on Saturday, March 28 at 9 a.m. Pacific time (GMT -7).

Shankland was the invited player while Meier narrowly qualified by virtue of his February blitz performance.

1. You've both played (and won) a previous Death Match. Tell us one thing you learned from the first one that you hope to use in this one.

GM: You need to adjust your match/opening strategy as quickly as possible if you hit a wall.

SS: Never relax. I remember some moment in my match with [GM Robert] Hess that I was up two games, had two completely winning positions in a row, and lost both of them -- the difference between a four-game lead and cruising to victory and a dead-even match that I had to win all over again.

Not Daniel LaRusso, but Sam Shankland.

2. How will you prepare for your opponent or the match in general?

GM: I have played Sam only with Black (three times). I need to have a look at what he does when he is Black himself :)

SS: I won't be doing much preparation. Blitz is supposed to be fun, openings are not especially important. Just like my match with Robert I expect to play lots of different lines, three to four different moves on move 1, and get a lot of different kinds of positions. It keeps things fun.

3. Sam will be playing in the morning, Georg in the afternoon. At what hour do you usually prefer to compete and why?

GM: I am not a morning person, so I am really glad to play any time after lunch hours.

Georg Meier, currently the fifth-highest on's blitz ratings.

SS: I quite like playing in the morning. I think I play a little worse than normal, but everyone else seems to play like a complete moron and beating GMs is like taking candy from a baby. Chess players tend not to be morning people, and the quality of their play shows it...  guess it will be different playing in the morning when my opponent is playing in the evening!

4. Please tell us what you studied in school and if your "chess thinking" was in any way useful for that subject matter.

GM: I am about to finish my undergrad in management and international relations. In August I will move on to graduate studies in international economics. Drawing a parallel between chess and studies I find my competitive chess experience to be very helpful. I am very good at estimating my capabilities and how much work I need to put in and at what point to get a good result. Differently put, like in chess I know when I am in control and when I need to put in an extra effort to try to stabilize the situation.

While in chess you obviously do not always succeed, its much simpler in studies, as long as you do the work it requires. Exams and other assignments don't get me nervous. The pressure I can experience during studies is just nothing compared to a very important game.

SS: I have a degree in economics from Brandeis University. I think a lot of the same natural skills that make good chess players also make good economists, but I wouldn't say "chess thinking" itself was especially useful.

Shankland at the 2015 Tata Steel Challengers Group. He ranked third and finished there as well (courtesy Zhaoqin Peng's Facebook page).

5. You're both so close in FIDE rating; this is one of the closest ever. Do you consider yourself the favorite, underdog, or toss-up?

GM: On a given day anything can happen between two good players. I do think that I am much more experienced than Sam playing online, which gives me an edge. That being said, he has probably spent the time differential on more useful things!

SS: Georg has been quite impressive in the blitz I have seen from him -- he's won multiple Titled Tuesdays, a Death Match, and had a very strong showing on day one of the World Blitz Championship. I'm not playing much blitz online these days so I guess I would consider myself an underdog, but I'm always confident in my abilities and I seem to play well in actual serious blitz events (for example, Robert's [Hess] internet ratings were ~200 points higher than mine at the time of our match, but I ended up winning anyway). I think the fans can expect a close match and any result is possible.

6. What has been the highlight of your chess career so far?

GM: Individually, beating Vladimir Kramnik with flawless play as Black and finishing second in the same Dortmund Tournament 2014. In team competition, European Team Champion with Germany 2011 (where I beat Caruana, Eljanov and Movsesian).

SS: All of my best achievements seemed amazing to me when they happened, but now as a 2660 player I can't point to a single really special result. I guess I would say the gold medal in Tromso, but I only faced four GMs in 10 games and nobody over 2700. I'm very much hopeful that my biggest overall career highlight lies ahead of me and not behind me.

Shankland receives his gold medal in Tromso (courtesy Shankland's Facebook page).

7. Where you envision yourself being in 10 years?

GM: I don't think that far ahead. As long as I have enough resources and time to do a vacation in California with my loved one every now and then I'll be happy :)

SS: I will have fulfilled my dream to become a dedicated and loyal househusband to a super rich sugarmama. In the extremely unlikely event that this does not happen, I'll still be playing chess and working hard to improve and reach my maximum potential.

8. What was the best game you ever played?

GM: My game against Kramnik mentioned above.

Meier took out Kramnik in Dortmund, 2014 a few hours after this photo (courtesy official site).

SS: The first game you see of mine in Chessbase. I was absolutely brilliant as an 11-year-old 1500! It's a shame I'm too old to play this well anymore.

9. Who's the best blitz player you've ever faced (in blitz)?

GM: Magnus Carlsen; There is no one even close. If you add a mouse, things change of course.

SS: It was an anonymous account online, so I'm not sure who it was. But this person was insanely strong and had a WFM title, if that helps narrow it down at all. Second best was Naka [GM Hikaru Nakamura -- MK] for sure. 

10. What's one innovation chess should adopt to make the game more popular?

GM: I like Fischer-random!

SS: To make chess more popular you have to introduce sex appeal. It would help to have more gorgeous players like Danny Rensch.

Danny Rensch showing his sartorial style. Georg Meier (left) is clearly not impressed.

11. If you died after having young children, which top world player would you most trust to be your child's parent? Why?

GM: I'd likely rise from the ashes to stop that from happening.

SS: I would trust any of Anand, Eljanov, or Judit Polgar with my children.

12. Whose games influenced you the most as you were getting started with chess?

GM: Vassily Smyslov's.

SS: Probably Fischer's. I grew up studying the old players in chess books and I did not even own any kind of computer chess program until I was 15 and 2200 or so. As the best player of the previous generations Fischer's games appealed to me the most.

13. What's the main reason that masters and IMs don't make GM?

GM: I think there is no sensible answer to this question. You always need to look at the individual case.

SS: Of course it depends a lot player by player but the biggest reason I would see is that they are not willing to put in the kind of work and dedication it takes, including training the less enjoyable but equally important elements of chess.

14. If this were a food-eating competition, which food would you be able to eat the most of?

GM: Swedish fish soup.

SS: Sushi. Don't test me, I'm quite the sushi chef!

Shankland "preps" for dinner but not for the Death Match.

15. Would you rather be a top-10 world chess player or an average professional in some other sport (if so which one)?

GM: Top 10.

SS: I would rather be an average joe professional dodgeball player.

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