My first travels as a Samford Fellow took me to the East Coast of the United States for two tournaments: The New York International and the World Open. The former concluded last Sunday, and it was a very up and down event for me. I started out by drawing with two talented youngsters rated 400ish points below me- at this point, I was really wondering what was wrong with me. Did I suddenly become 2200 strength in April? It would explain the terrible US Championship and the first 2 games in New York. However, luckily for me I managed to score 4.5/5 in rounds 3-7, which convinced me that I can keep on following my goals of becoming an elite player and that I shouldn't start worrying about making IM Norms. Looking back at my disastrous start, I don't even think I played that badly- the starlets in training just happened to play really good games. I was particularly impressed by Jonathan Chiang- after getting a lousy opening with black and then pretty quickly losing a pawn, he defended like a genius despite his time pressure and held an endgame that I definitely should have won.
Probably I relaxed too early, but I still think the main reason the final result was a draw was that my opponent just defended so darn well. Luckily, I managed to turn things around shortly. After finally winning a game in round 3 against another 2200, I found myself in an ugly situation in round 4, where I thought I had basically no winning chances:
However, I prevailed. I kept my form up, even though I blew a won endgame in round 5. My most exciting game was probably round 7.
So after my horrendous start, I managed to be tied for first after 7 games. Unfortunately on the last day I got 2 very promising positions, but failed to convert either one, which relegated me to second place. There was one moment in particular that I was really upset with myself for:
This game had been going well for me for the most part- I managed to get a decent edge, but then I had to make a judgement call. I knew I was going to win a pawn, but I would have to make a concession- either let my opponent's pieces get some added activity, or put opposite colored bishops on the board. I went for the former (I'm still not totally sure which was the better choice) and then it became difficult to make progress. Ultimately, however, I aimed to reach the above position by trading down, thinking that white should have excellent winning chances. This was a ridiculous evaluation- the position is completely drawn, something my opponent understood and I did not (at least at the time I traded down). Black just plops his rook on the dfile and I can't get rid of it- the pawn on f5 gaurds the e4 square, so the rook on d5 will be untouchable. Black will play h5 to further discourage g4, and then the only thing he has to do is make sure I can't play Kh4 followed by g3 (if I can, then I just run the dpawn to d7 and h5 will fall, and white wins). But this is pretty easy- just leave the rook on d4 so Kh4 is always met by Rxf4+. I'm not that upset about drawing the game because even if I had correctly avoided this rook endgame, previously black had enough activity that I think his chances to hold were a bit higher than my chances to win (maybe 60-70%), but I was very upset with myself for misevaluating a technical position so badly.
So in the end, the tournament was very up and down, but the final result was pretty mediocre. Luckily I have another chance to prove myself in a few days at the World Open. Following the World Open, I'll be taking a couple days off before a long trip abroad for a match against the Chinese Team in Ningbo, a strong open in Dresden, and a training session with a very well respected trainer. Sorry everyone, but I am going to be another one of those Agressive and Hostile (commonly abbreviated to "A.H.") GMs who does not disclose who he works with. These next couple months full of tournaments and training will by my first opportunities to use the Samford Fellowship, and I'm very confident that things will keep turning back around and my rating will start going back in the right direction.
Best of luck to all,
GM Sam Shankland