Shankland Wins U.S. Championship; Women Go To Playoff
GM Sam Shankland celebrates just after winning the 2018 U.S. Championship. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Shankland Wins U.S. Championship; Women Go To Playoff

| 106 | Chess Event Coverage

Horse racing went 37 years without a Triple Crown winner. It only took GM Sam Shankland 26 years.

Shankland won again today, his sixth victory in St. Louis, to win the 2018 U.S. Championship, a 2700 rating, and a spot on the American team at the next Olympiad. His 8.5/11 final score is tied for the most points in the event since the tournament became a 12-player round robin in 2013.

The man whose mark he matched is also the player he held off today for the $50,000. GM Fabiano Caruana also scored 8.5/11 in 2016 for his title, but finished a half-point back this year.


GM Sam Shankland remained mostly composed while his game was winding down, except for this one brief moment where he allowed his joy to show. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Caruana also won again, today over GM Alex Onischuk. The closing effort of two wins was better than he thought he needed to do to get into a playoff. But the irrepressible Shankland (2701, world #45) never let the world number two back into the tournament. He received GM Awonder Liang's handshake shortly after Caruana's win on the adjacent table.

On the other side of the room, conferring a title will be delayed a day. WIM Annie Wang stumbled for the first time this fortnight. Her promising attack fizzled as the defending champion wanted to keep her crown for one more day. WGM Sabina Foisor's win over Wang means the U.S. Women's Championship will be decided in a playoff.

That's because moments after Wang's loss, IM Nazi Paikidze offered a tactical draw to IM Rusa Goletiani in an unclear position. It was accepted, so free chess tomorrow.


"The long opposition." | Photo: Mike Klein/

The playoff will begin at the normal time of 1pm Central and will be twin games of 25+5 with the additional time being delay, not increment. If still tied, Wang and Paikidze will go to an Armageddon game, which will be five minutes to four minutes with a two second increment and Black getting draw odds. (Paikidze told she much preferred Black in that situation.)

Shankland was confident all day. Despite seeing the rare 7...e5 in the Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann, he showed no hints of unfamiliarity. Shankland responded immediately with the little-known rejoinder 8. h3.

"I certainly wasn't going to try to provoke a fight right from move one," Shankland said. "This line gave me some flexibility and also has a touch of poison." Very early on, Liang didn't play what Shankland considered to be the critical line.


Now super-GM Sam Shankland. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Unlike most of the tournament, Shankland paced instead of remaining at the board. Then he paced some more. When he came back to the board, he often stood beside his chair.

Three of the four games that didn't affect first place ended with early draws. Similar to lapped cars on a racetrack, they pulled over to the shoulder to let the leaders get to the finish. Much like the entire event, Shankland never let his foot off the gas.

"It's beyond my wildest dreams," Shankland said. "I never thought I had a chance to win the tournament."


Shankland was always on the move today. He said this is his lucky shirt, which he wore four times this championship. "I hope I don't smell," he told  | Photo: Mike Klein/

He told that he only began believing that it was possible after he took the lead in round nine. Caruana then trailed by a half game and thought 1.5/2 would be good enough to force a playoff. Turns out, even 2.0/2 wasn't enough.

Shankland said today may not have been his favorite game, but it might have been the one he played the best.

"This is my life's work," Shankland said. "All the sweat, blood, and tears, from all these years, this makes it worth it 10 times over."

His performance rating yielded 2885, just shades away from GM Magnus Carlsen's highest-ever live rating. Shankland's 2701 makes him only the seventh American to crest the Super-GM barrier. He said this is the best he's ever played, even compared to the individual gold medal he won at the 2014 Olympiad with a +8 score ("merely" a 2831 TPR).

"I just played really well and I got really lucky. That's a tough combination to beat."'s lengthy interview with Shankland.

"I'm sure that my mom is watching right now and is going completely nanners," Shankland said. (That's slang for "bananas" for all the non-Millennials out there.)

"It's going to be awesome to call myself U.S. Champion."


GM Fabiano Caruana couldn't make it three tournament wins in a row, although that was hardly his fault.  | Photo: Mike Klein/

The win makes Caruana's incredible tournament an afterthought. And that's not easy to do -- Caruana's +5 performance and 2837 performance rating was one better than GM Wesley So predicted would win the tournament; instead it didn't even earn him in playoff!

Whether or not California will call home to two title winners remains to be seen. The Golden State had a chance to become even more gilded today, until Wang suffered her only loss.


Caruana looks on and likely realizes that there's no stopping Shankland. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Curiously, part of Foisor's strategic planning came from the help of Shankland! No, rules were not violated. Foisor explained that she perused the new champion's book yesterday (after today's win, only one copy left according to Amazon!).

Today, she remembered the main theme: pawns can't move backward. Foisor targeted the h6-pawn to pry open the teenager's king.

"I thought I was a lot better," Wang said. "And then 19...Nb4. I don't know why! At least I still get into the playoff."


Analysis by GM Robert Hess.

"I was so excited for the last round," Wang told, emphasis on the past tense. "It would have been a lot better if I had won today. It would have been clean."

For once, she said her homework will take a backseat tonight. Despite many young players cutting their teeth in G/30 tournaments, Wang said she doesn't have much experience in rapid. 

"I think I kind of have to," she said about practicing the time control tonight. "I can't go into it not knowing anything."

Just after Wang's game ended, Paikidze sat up while Goletiani craned her neck, both trying to confirm the result. Wang's loss prompted Paikidze to offer a draw and take her chances in the playoff.


IM Nazi Paikidze will seek her second national championship tomorrow. For once, she won't have to do reconnaissance on anyone else's game. | Photo: Mike Klein/

She felt fortunate to get the chance. Yesterday, she told she rated her chances to win the event at about 40 percent. Today, after the opening where she presumed an initiative for Wang, Paikidze said those odds fell to 10 percent.

Unlike Wang, who insisted she had zero knowledge of Paikidze's position, the chaser was keeping herself fully informed of her rival's proceedings. At one point, Paikidze told that her choice at her own board was governed by what was happening in the leader's game.

Paikidze clearly wasn't banking on playing more chess tomorrow. She didn't know the time controls of the playoff until after her game ended. 

Like Wang, she plans to play some rapid tonight.

"I have a friend who I was asking for advice the whole tournament," she said to That mystery friend she said was 2550. When asked if it was better to play training games against a strong GM or someone close to the skill level of your upcoming opponent, Paikidze said she preferred the former since that will only make tomorrow seem much easier.


IM Rusa Goletiani, the woman who is making all of the tournament staff work tomorrow :-) | Photo: Mike Klein/

"I would give myself a little bit of an advantage," Paikidze said about the playoff. "But I'm not being objective. Sixty percent." Her husband was in the live chat and agreed that she thinks of herself as the favorite.

"Of course I have an advantage because I was chasing her all tournament, but she has nerves of steel."

Whatever happens, you can expect Paikidze to arrive first, as always. She's made a habit of coming a full half hour before play begins.

"I'm paranoid I'll be late," she said.


The Punctuality Gambit -- sort of like the chess version of "The Langoliers," Paikidze is often the only chess player in the tournament hall at 12:30. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Also of consequence today was GM Ray Robson beating GM Jeffery Xiong. The two are in a very close battle for the fifth and final Olympiad spot, which is decided by a formula of various ratings so cannot yet verify which one of them will get the invite to Batumi (what is known is that this is the last event that counts for qualification).

2018 U.S. Championship | Final Standings

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM Shankland, Samuel 2671 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 8.5
2 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2804 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 1 1 ½ 1 8
3 GM So, Wesley 2786 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 6.5
4 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 5.5
5 GM Robson, Ray 2660 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 ½ ½ 5.5
6 GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2599 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 5.5
7 GM Xiong, Jeffery 2665 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 5
8 GM Izoria, Zviad 2599 0 1 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 5
9 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2647 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 4.5
10 GM Zherebukh, Yaroslav 2640 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.5
11 GM Liang, Awonder 2552 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 4.5
12 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2672 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 3

2018 U.S. Women's Championship | Final Standings

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 IM Paikidze, Nazi 2352 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 8
2 FM Wang, Annie 2321 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 1 8
3 GM Krush, Irina 2422 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 7
4 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2444 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 6.5
5 FM Yu, Jennifer 2367 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 6.5
6 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 0 1 ½ 5.5
7 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2308 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 5
8 WGM Sharevich, Anna 2281 0 0 1 ½ ½ 0 1 1 0 0 ½ 4.5
9 FM Gorti, Akshita 2252 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 4.5
10 FM Feng, Maggie 2243 ½ 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 1 0 1 ½ 4.5
11 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 2306 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 0 0 1 3.5
12 IM Derakhshani, Dorsa 2306 0 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 2.5


Congrats to member grasshopperqc on winning the US Chess sweepstakes, run by and sponsored by Runners up are amrugg, SharKuthri, fischerrook, and Fast_eddie1. All receive three-month diamond memberships!

See all the results and find future contests at



The 2018 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship are twin 12-player round robins from April 18-30. The time control is 40/90, SD/30 with a 30-second increment from move one. You can follow all the action at the official website. Games will be daily at 1 p.m. Central time (11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. UTC). is on site and will be bringing you daily reports and video interviews.

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FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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