The World Cup in Baku is well under way and I have already shared my preview and analysis on my Youtube channel, which you can check here.
There are many interesting games already, but I was drawn to one episode in particular, because it is something that I can connect to what has happened before.
I don’t really know Sam Shankland, we have barely exchanged a few words the one or two times we’ve met. He gave me the impression of being very (in)tense, and I think that these two characteristics have something to do with what I will show you below. I realise that what follows may be entirely wrong, as I don’t know the player, but I will still share my impressions and thoughts.
Shankland seems to have been an author of inexplicable decisions more than anyone else in the top 30 in the world. We are talking about classical games here. The first example that struck me as inexplicably shocking came at the end of his game with Giri at the Wijk aan Zee tournament in 2019.
The position is a fortress for Black, who only needs to walk his king back to c8. However, what happened is that Shankland resigned! Giri was so shocked that he had to ask him to confirm that the stretched hand was in fact resignation and not an agreement to a draw.
The next example came at the Olympiad in Chennai last year.
With his last move 90.b3 Shankland made sure to exchange the last black pawn and ensure a draw in the game and a victory for his team. What happened next is more applicable to online chess than classical – Shankland noticed that his opponent took the queen and expecting the check on h1 he automatically grabbed his king and played Kc2, only to see the black queen land on g2 instead of h1!! It’s clear to see that the only legal move then, 91.Kc1, loses instantly to 91…Qb2 followed by …Qxb3. Shankland had nothing better than to resign, which also led to his team drawing the match.
The third shocker came yesterday.
Shankland was pressing for the whole game, but eventually didn’t manage to make more of it so it was time to accept that the position is a draw. However…
Black has enough counterplay and moving the king back to c2 should draw, but Shankland boldly went ahead with 57.Kxc4??? only to be mated after 57…Rc8 58.Kd4 Rbc3 with the inevitable …R8c3 mate.
So why are these inexplicable things happening to a world-class player?
My impression is that at the end of tough games the intensity and tension that Shankland brings to the game become too much for him to handle and this leads to blackouts when things like the ones above happen. The excessive force and effort that he uses during his games at the end become a burden that he can no longer carry and the brain just shuts down.
With this loss Shankland is now in a must-win situation with the black pieces. A very difficult, but not impossible task. His opponent is the young Moldovan Grandmaster Ivan Shitco, who will also have a lot of nerves to deal with, as drawing with White on demand is more difficult than it may sound. The game will definitely be interesting, as long as Shankland doesn’t push himself over the limit one more time.
Upd. Shankland didn’t manage to equal the score and lost the match.