The Road to Recovery

GM Shankland
May 14, 2013, 1:03 PM |

This is roughly how I feel right now. The US Championship concluded a couple days ago, and every now and then there are tournaments where absolutely nothing goes right. Things started off very poorly- I was playing Conrad Holt with black in round 1, and he was someone I really, REALLY wanted white against. Furthermore, throughout his life he has always played the exact same openings, which makes him a very easy player to prepare for, but... against me he deviated on move 3! I knew this could not be good news, and I tried a sharp sideline that I have done a lot of work on recently, but Conrad had some really nasty new idea for white- cxd5!? (!) instead of the nearly automatic Nh4 or Ng5. I very quickly got an unpleasant position, but I defended reasonably, for awhile. The key moment came when I played Nbd7, returning my extra pawn on d6. I had calculated a long forced line all the way until f5, when I thought black was absolutely fine- his king simply comes to e6 and he can collect the pawn- but I missed Bf1. When he played it, I looked like this...

Instead, Rc8 instead of Bxd5 or g6 instead of Qxe1 are clear improvements, when white's edge is minimal.

After that I caught a couple lucky breaks to get to 2.5/4, but round 5 was another total disaster. I got a very playable position very quickly with black, but subsequently played one of the worst games of my life. I relinquished the bind and pins I had and improved white's pawn structure with consecutive poor moves like cxd4? and Bxd4? and d5?, leaving myself with a very bad position, and soon enough it led to my second loss to a lower rated player in one tournament- something that hasn't happened to me in 3 years.

Finally after this pitiful excuse for a game I had a rest day, but all I could think about was the poor quality of my play. It was as if a voice in my head was telling me that because I was playing badly I am a bad human being and that I should be embarassed to even show my face anywhere in the vicinity of chessplayers. I did not react well- the best response would be:

But my response was:

From then on out the nightmare just continued. I missed a winning continuation in game 6 and game 8, scoring 0.5/2 in those games. When all was said and done, I ended up scoring 50%, playing down every game and significantly down most games. So no World Cup, no Olympiad, 12 rating points down the drain. But any great chess player knows that disappointments happen, and harsh as they may be, they are necessary for growth as a person and as a player. This will be good motivation for me to study harder than ever, and I've promised myself to study like crazy to avoid this kind of result in the future, and set myself back on course for greater chess improvement. The next month and a half will be dedicated to hardcore studying, and then...

 To play the New York International, where I have high hopes for a good result. A great player needs to be able to overcome extreme disappointment, so if I hope to one day be a great player, this will be a good test for me. Also, I take some comfort in the fact that if for me a disaster means getting 12th place in a country of 300 million, my life isn't go too badly so far. Finally, I want to conclude by saying while the tournament was a huge disappointment for me personally, the staff at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis did a wonderful job organizing and I could not be more happy or honored to be playing in the US Championship under their rule, and they are continuing to set very high standards for chess tournaments everywhere, something for which I, and all other professional chess players, should be extremely grateful.

Best wishes to all,

GM Sam Shankland