Keeping A Promise And Doing The Impossible
In my last blog, I was talking about why someone would quit chess, but what gives someone the incentive to win? What keeps you fighting when the going gets tough? A lot of that depends on how badly you want it. If you don’t want it enough, you are not going to do it when it gets tough.
I have (like most of you I am sure) been watching the Women and Junior Championships. Though both championships have had some amazing games and good fighting chess, I admit that I have been most interested in the Junior (after all, I am not planning on playing in the Women’s Championship any time soon ). In the Junior’s Championship, we have Parker Zhao who started at the bottom (second to last in the standings) and ended up tying for first and Eric Rosen who started in last place in the standings and had a great performance. And as always, it is fun to watch Ray Robson play. I was paying most attention though to my openings coach, IM Sam Shankland. After stating that he was quitting chess, he had a horrible start with two losses. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on with him so I asked him (over Skype). He told me that he was tired and burned out on chess. Now I know what it is like to feel tired. He had played in three straight norm tournaments which means nine rounds each, but I quickly reminded him that “...my coach, IM Shankland, would tell me that you can decide to quit later, but right now you are playing chess and you need to focus!!” He laughed and said to me, “Don’t worry, I’ll finish with a plus score; starting tomorrow, no more losses.” I told him that I was going to hold him to that. And then I said, “If you are too tired to do it for you, then do it for the promise you just made to me.”
I don’t know if he was serious at the time and it was definitely very questionable since he still had 7 games to go if he could keep that promise since nobody plays perfectly. So I just waited to see if he would keep his promise.
Third round game against John Daniel Bryant was a little scary because he went down the exchange and almost broke his promise right after he made it. Sam got a passed pawn and got his Knight in the perfect spot to protect his King even though it was open. Sam won because John’s King was open and Sam forked his King and Rook. John resigned after he got forked. It was intense and even though (as Sam said) he was a little lucky, he still kept his promise.
Next game Sam was scheduled to play Ray Robson as Black. It was tough to say if Sam would be able to keep his promise because Ray was the number one seed and he had to make sure he played his best (which hadn’t exactly happened in any of his other games so far). It didn’t seem like a seriously intense game though. In the end Sam felt he might have been slightly better and he had a lot more time. But after repeating a few times, they agreed to a draw. One more game down and he still kept the promise.
The next round Sam was playing Tyler Hughes with White. Sam had a good position out of the opening and got the Bishop pair out of the middle game which was useful since it was an open game. They traded Queens and Sam had a better endgame since he had the Bishop pair. Sam traded one of his Bishops for Tyler’s Knight, but Sam got a pawn. It got down to a Bishop endgame where Sam was up a pawn and Sam won. Still keeping the promise with four rounds to go.
The sixth round and Sam is playing Darwin Yang with Black. The opening was solid and the middle game was a little complicated, but after some trades Sam seemed to have some pressure. It got into a Queen and Knight endgame and because of some tricks Sam was able to win a key pawn that kept Darwin’s king protected. After the pawn was taken Sam won shortly after. It started looking like Sam might have a slim shot at winning this thing (as long as he kept his promise).
Next game he was playing Rosen, and like the advice he gave to my friend Scott Treiman at the World Open (see: http://blog.chess.com/KaydenTroff/casualties-of-chess), my advice was (no offense Eric), “Don't lose to a guy who's name sounds like a flower.” My advice worked! It was a slightly closed middle game, but Sam opened it up and got the exchange along with the win. Only two more games to go and still keeping the promise.
He played Steven Zierk next game. It was a solid game in which he got the advantage as Black, but (as Sam says) he messed up a won Queen endgame and ended up with a draw. Draw isn’t too bad, but it looked like he didn’t have a chance at winning since Ray Robson had to lose (which hadn’t happened yet this tournament) and Parker Zhao had to lose or draw, even then Sam had to win his game against Conrad Holt then win the playoffs. But he had to at least keep his promise.
Last game against Conrad Holt (or Thunder Holt as some people call him) and Sam had White. It seemed like Sam had a good chance of winning since Conrad hadn’t been having a great tournament and Sam was on a roll. Sam was slightly better out of the opening, but then Conrad made a big mistake and Sam ended up winning pretty badly because Conrad never could develop his Rooks. Sam kept his promise… maybe not all the way though yet!
By the time Sam was done it looked like Ray would lose, but Parker was winning. So Sam probably wouldn’t be playing for the Championship and one of the lowest rated players would win the whole thing. Even though Parker had the win, John Bryant had some tricks. Ray did end up losing and Parker still looked like he was going to win. John Bryant ended up pulling a trick and drew the game! And Sam was playing for the Championship! I made sure Sam knew I was still holding him to his promise.
Sam had to play Parker Zhao an Armageddon match. Side Note: An Armageddon match is where white has time odds, but black has draw odds. So if it is a draw Black advances.
White had forty-five minutes and then both players bid what time they wanted if they were Black. Sam bid thirty-one minutes and Parker bid thirty minutes. Since Parker bid less time than Sam he got Black with the time he bid (thirty minutes) and draw odds. So Sam had forty-five minutes with White and Parker had thirty minutes and draw odds with Black.
Out of the opening Sam stayed in theory for a while, but then got a slight edge going into the middle game. In the middle game both players played well, then after Sam broke the center open Parker missed something and Sam went up a Queen for a Knight and Rook. Sam had a great position and won not too long after he went up the Queen for the Knight and Rook. The promise was still kept and Sam has only one more round to go.
Sam was playing Ray Robson. Sam had Black with forty-five minutes and draw odds. Ray had White with forty-five minutes. You might think Sam had a huge advantage, same time with draw odds; how is that fair? Ray Robson had the choice of playing the loser in an Armageddon match and if he won he got to play the winner in an Armageddon match with bidding just like Sam and Parker did. Or he could just play the winner with White and same time but his opponent gets draw-odds. He chose the second choice (I personally think he should have taken the first choice). He got to choose because he had better tiebreaks. I don’t know how he had better tiebreaks because all three of them played the same people, but that is a question for someone who knows how tie breaks work.
Sam went right from his game with Parker to playing Ray. Ray played the fantasy variation which it seemed he prepared, but it seemed like Sam played a line Ray was not planning on because Ray was thinking a good amount early on. I was excited because Sam had equalized, but I got more excited because Sam got into a better position. Sam eventually got in to a winning position and it was clear he was going to at least draw. Ray got down to 15 seconds and dropped a piece in time trouble then resigned.
Sam not only kept his promise, but he did what people were saying “Have you ever seen that before?” I ask you, have you ever seen someone lose his first two games miserably then win the tournament? I don’t think I have before. Sam kept his promise and did the impossible! I have to say, I did not think he would win the tournament after his first two games.
I think the reason Sam was not playing well in his first two games was because he stopped having fun (I could be wrong). Maybe his promise to me gave him a reason to fight again. After he made me that promise he started having fun again and started playing better every game. He was like a runaway truck gaining speed as he went!!
Congratulations Sam! And Irina Krush who won the Women’s Championship! Thanks Sam for being a good friend and for keeping your promise!!