Death Match 31: Shankland vs You?

Death Match 31: Shankland vs You?

| 21 | News

The first Death Match using the new format will take place in March.

GM Sam Shankland has accepted his spot as the invited player, but any member can qualify to be his opponent.

Shankland will also try to buck the recent trend of prior winners losing in their sophomore effort. Both GM Dmitry Andreikin and GM Wesley So failed in their quests to go 2-0.

No player has ever won two Death Matches.

Although his opponent is still to be determined, Shankland's upward-trending career will give him good chances. Some recent highlights:

  • Currently on his peak rating of 2652.
  • In his inaugural Olympiad went +8=2-0 for a 2831 performance rating, a gold medal, and beat GM Judit Polgar in her last professional game.
  • Beat GM Peter Leko in the 2011 World Cup's opening match.
GM Sam Shankland at the 2014 U.S. Championship. His highest finish was third in 2011.

Shankland's first win came nearly three years ago in Death Match 3. In that fledgling era of the series, he (and his opponent, GM Robert Hess) were actually the first two grandmasters to play in a Death Match.

In fact, seven of the first 11 matches were won by non-GMs! After that, the grandmasters took control, winning 17 of the next 19.

In order to qualify to meet Shankland for three hours of bullet and blitz, you'll need to finish the month of February atop the blitz standings.

You must also have played 100 games in February, but prior Death Match players are eligible to compete once again. You can only qualify to compete once per year, so GM Hikaru Nakamura and So are still eligible since they were invited players in January.

A snapshot of's blitz standings as of January 21 reveals some impressive names.

Note also that unlike in 2014, there is no qualification based on bullet rating. Only the blitz rating will count. has seen a surge in strong players recently, thanks to the monthly Titled Player Tuesdays (the last edition had 89 titled players and 22 GMs!).

There's no telling how many players may attempt to face off against Shankland. By the way, the next Titled Player Tuesday is January 27 and next month's edition is on February 24 (and yes, the nine blitz games played in that event do count toward your 100-game minimum!).

There are other changes to the 2015 Death Matches, mostly the time controls and length of time of each of the three segments. You can read about the alterations here.

Death Match 4 winner vs. Death Match 3 winner at the 2013 U.S. Championship

Although Shankland is in the middle of playing in the challengers group in Wijk aan Zee, caught up with him for a quick retrospective of Death Matches  (he watches many) and other thoughts on his career.

1) No one's ever won two Death Matches (Andreikin and So both failed to go 2-0). How confident are you of overcoming the sophomore jinx?

I haven't really thought about it, especially considering I don't even know my opponent yet. I'll just go in and play, and if I play my best I think I should be able to win. 

2) You've shot up in rating over the last year, including your gold medal at the Olympiad. Can you attribute your success to anything in particular? Are you planning to play professionally? I assume you're happy you "un-retired"?

I've always disliked the word "retire." Back in the day I quit for nine months, I needed some time away to remind myself why I love chess -- I would hardly call this a retirement. I'm glad to be back and that I'm improving, but the better I get the more I realize there is to learn. I'm hopeful I can be a chess pro, but I definitely have to get stronger than 2650 to make that work.

"Shanky" awaits his opponent in the next Death Match!

3) What were you memories of your first Death Match? Were you tired at the end? Did Hess have you on the ropes at any point?

I was very tired at the end, and I had a great time! Robert never had me on the ropes, nor I him until the very last minute. I ended up winning the match by three games, and this was a bigger lead than anyone ever had previously. It was an extremely tense match and we were very good opponents for each other.

4) Do you still have bragging rights over Hess from the match?

I don't think anyone should ever have the right to brag due to one victory. Robert is a great player and I'm proud of myself for beating him, but I would certainly never claim to be the better player just because of that match.

5) By the time you play the match, it will be almost exactly three years since your first. Did you think the Death Match series would last this long?

I'm glad it did! It's been a blast to follow, and I'm really looking forward to playing one again.

6) I know you've tuned in to some other Death Matches in the 27 iterations since yours. Which player or contest impressed you the most?

Naka looked the best to me.

7) Besides making the prize fund $100,000, what changes would you make to the Death Matches?

You could invite me to more of them, and you could get Mr. T to do live commentary. Other than that, I'd say they are perfect.

Shankland at the 2015 Tata Steel tournament.

8) If we could figure out a technological way to do it, would you be willing to commentate live on one of the games while playing? Wear a heart-rate monitor? Have a live camera on you?

I don't like commenting on my games while playing, but I'd wear whatever monitor or camera you wish. I doubt there would be much interesting to see from that -- I normally have a very level head. I think the games would be more interesting, and they are fast-paced enough that there isn't any idle time to enjoy watching a heart rate.

9) Could you envision a day when top GMs preferred touch screens to play blitz and bullet?

I've always liked a mouse myself. At 23, I'm pretty old fashioned as chess players go. Better yet, I like boards and pieces. No analog clocks though, I'm not that ancient...

10) What's one thing about the life of a professional chess player that the average amateur doesn't know about?

If I told you, you wouldn't not know it anymore, would you?

Bonus: We asked both Nakamura and So the same question prior to their Death Match, and since you have good chances to make the team again: Assuming they both play in 2016, what is the chance the U.S. will medal in Baku?

With such a strong top two, it would really depend on how the lower boards would do. Assuming this will be my responsibility, I'm always confident in my abilities. I won't assign a numeral percentage chance of a medal, but expect to see us on the top boards in the final rounds.

More from FM MikeKlein
Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

New ChessKid Adventure App Released

New ChessKid Adventure App Released