The Sam Shankland secret is starting to get out.
Long known as one of the best American players, the low-profile California GM is starting to make a name for himself across the pond as well. Shankland captured the Prague Masters tournament in June over a world-class field and just made a strong run in the 128-player FIDE World Cup knockout tournament in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Shankland was the last American standing in the event, reaching the quarterfinals and twice putting former world championship challenger GM Sergey Karjakin of Russia on the canvas before losing their match in a rapid playoff. With his recent run of success, Shankland has pushed his rating above 2720 and threatens to crash the party of the longtime Big Three of American chess — GMs Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So.
Unfortunately for a chess columnist, Shankland’s most interesting game at the World Cup was a crushing loss to Karjakin when the American GM needed just a draw to advance to the Final Four. In what has often been a random event, Karjakin has now made the semifinals a record four times in the FIDE World Cup knockout format, winning the whole thing in 2015.
In must-win mode against Shankland, the Russian veteran demonstrated the adage that when both players are on the attack, bet on the side that’s attacking the king.
Karjakin opts for the King’s Indian Attack and Shankland, to his credit, doesn’t bother to play it safe despite with a one-game lead. By 11. Nf1 b5 12. h4, the tracks for the game have been laid: White will go all-out on the kingside, while Black will storm the queenside.
White’s 18. Kh1! is key to his plan — although Shankland’s attack seems to be coming much faster, the half-open g-file will prove a more critical asset. Black’s 21. d4 Na5?! (stronger was 21…a3 22. Bf1 axb2 23. Rb1 Ra1 24. Rxb2 Nh7, with better chances of neutralizing White’s assault) looks to be one preparatory move too many, as Karjakin revs up for a stunning breakthrough.
Thus 22. g5! Nc4 23. Qc1 hxg5 24. Bxg5 b3 25. Bxe7 Qxe7 26. Bf1 a3 (see diagram; White’s queenside is crumbling but the kingside attack trumps all) 27. Rxg7+!! Kxg7 28. Ng4!, and suddenly Black can’t stop the attack even with an extra rook.
The finale, which Shankland sportingly plays all the way out to mate: 28…f5 (there’s nothing better; e.g. 28… axb2 29. Qh6+ Kg8 30. Nf6+ Qxf6 31. exf6 and mate next) 29. exf6+ Qxf6 30. Nxf6 axb2 31. Qg5+ Kf7 32. h6! Ng6 33. Nh4 bxa1=Q (Black’s attack cashes in just as he’s about to lose) 34. Qxg6+ Ke7 35. Qg7+ Kd6 36. Qd7 mate.
Karjakin on Tuesday clinched a spot in the finals, eliminating fellow Russian GM Vladimir Fedoseev. His opponent will be Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, a surprise finalist after upsetting Norwegian world champ Magnus Carlsen in a rapid playoff in the other semifinal match.
We wrote here last week about how hard it is to keep up with the national and global chess scene these days, as tournaments crank up after a long COVID-imposed hiatus. It turns out we totally overlooked the results of the 49th World Open, Philadelphia’s July 4 weekend Swiss event that has long been a highlight of the U.S. summer chess season.
GM Hans Niemann (who went on to pick up his first U.S. junior title a few weeks later) and GM John Burke shared the World honors this year, tying for first at 7½-1½. Niemann claimed top honors in a blitz playoff, but Burke did himself proud with a last-round victory against tough Ukrainian-born GM Ilya Nyzhnyk to claim at least a part of the top prize.
Even grandmasters can have a bad day at the office, and that seems to be what happened to Nyzhnyk, who was undefeated going into his fateful last-round battle with Burke. Then things fell apart.
It’s not clear if Black got his opening lines tangled in this Petroff’s Defense or just had a death wish that day, but things gets ugly fast after 9. Re1 Bb4?! (a strange move in a well-known position; White doesn’t have to be asked twice to gambit a pawn for the attack) 10. Nc3 Bxc3 (10… Nxc3 11. bxc3 Bxc3 12. Bxh7+! Kh8 13. Bg5 Qa5 14. Bc2 Bxe1 15. Ne5 with a raging attack) 11. bxc3 Nxc3?! 12. Qc2 Ne4 13. Bxe4 dxe4 14. Qxe4.
For the trivial investment of a pawn, White has a massive lead in development, a domination of the central file, and even an exchange-winning threat on tap with 15. Ba3. Even a queen trade after 16. Qe7! Re8 (there’s no relief in 16…Qxe7 17. Bxe7 Re8 18. Bxf6 Rxe1+ 19. Rxe1 gxf6, in light of lines like 20. Re8+ Kg7 21. d5 cxd5 22. cxd5 b6 23. d6 Bb7 24. Rxa8 Bxa8 25. d7 and wins) 17. Qxd8 Rxd8 18. Be7 Rd7 19. Bxf6 gxf6 20. Re8+ Kg7 21. Nh4 keeps Black thoroughly boxed up and struggling to get his queenside into play.
By 24. Rh8 Bb7 (Kg6 25. Rg8+ Kf6 26. f4, and Black’s in a mating net) 25. Rxh7 Rg8 26. h3, White is two pawns up with a far superior position. Even Black’s passed c-pawn can’t divert Burke from his well-earned victory: 29. Re1 c3 30. Re5 Rg6 31. Ng3, and Black resigned facing 31…Rg8 (c2 32. Ne4 mate) 32. Ne4+ Kg6 33. Reh5 c2 34. R5h6 mate.
Karjakin-Shankland, 2021 FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, July 2021
1. e4 e6 2. d3 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. Ngf3 Be7 5. g3 a5 6. Bg2 a4 7. a3 c5 8. O-O Nc6 9. Re1 O-O 10. e5 Nd7 11. Nf1 b5 12. h4 Bb7 13. h5 h6 14. Bf4 Qb6 15. Qd2 Rfc8 16. g4 Qd8 17. N1h2 Ra6 18. Kh1 b4 19. Rg1 Nf8 20. axb4 cxb4 21. d4 Na5 22. g5 Nc4 23. Qc1 hxg5 24. Bxg5 b3 25. Bxe7 Qxe7 26. Bf1 a3 27. Rxg7+ Kxg7 28. Ng4 f5 29. exf6+ Qxf6 30. Nxf6 axb2 31. Qg5+ Kf7 32. h6 Ng6 33. Nh4 bxa1=Q 34. Qxg6+ Ke7 35. Qg7+ Kd6 36. Qd7 mate.
Burke-Nyzhnyk, 49th World Open, Philadelphia, July 2021
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. c4 c6 9. Re1 Bb4 10. Nc3 Bxc3 11. bxc3 Nxc3 12. Qc2 Ne4 13. Bxe4 dxe4 14. Qxe4 Nd7 15. Ba3 Nf6 16. Qe7 Re8 17. Qxd8 Rxd8 18. Be7 Rd7 19. Bxf6 gxf6 20. Re8+ Kg7 21. Nh4 f5 22. Nxf5+ Kf6 23. g4 b6 24. Rh8 Bb7 25. Rxh7 Rg8 26. h3 c5 27. d5 b5 28. f4 bxc4 29. Re1 c3 30. Re5 Rg6 31. Ng3 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.