It also regularly holds top-notch tournaments. Last week, I competed in a new event that the club plans to hold four times a year. The first was the Winter Classic (presumably, the next will be the Spring Classic, followed by Summer and Fall). It featured two strong, 10-player round robins. I was in the A group, which had an average rating of around 2640. I was the co-top seed (along with Jeffery Xiong).
The tournament ended Sunday and, unfortunately, it did not go as well as I hoped as I finished in a tie for fourth. David Howell of England took clear first.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis
The author, left, playing in Round 1, a game that he lost.
I got off to a rocky start, losing with White to Yaroslav Zherebukh, a grandmaster who recently tranferred his affiliation to the United States from Ukraine. Zherebukh played a very good game.
Shankland, Sam vs. Zherebukh, Yaroslav
Winter Classic |St. Louis |Round 1 |20 Mar 2017 |0-1
18. Na4At this point, I remembered the computer had given Rb5 as best, and Black is fine if he plays some precise moves. So when Zherebikh played: 18... f5I felt I that had to be better. In fact, this is not the case at all! The move f5 is the best, and when given time to think the computer agrees. I saw several ways to equalize, but I was under the mistaken impression that I should be playing for an advantage. 19. Nbc5
( 19. Nac5This was probably a better move. After: 19... Bxb320. Nxb3fxe421. Qc4+Kh822. Qxe4Qxe4+23. fxe4Rf2Black is definitely fine, but I'm not in trouble either. )
19... fxe420. fxe4Bf7I already really disliked my position, and I barely even understood how this had happened! 21. Qd6Qg522. Qg3?!Understandably, I wanted to exchange queens, but this was ill-advised.
( 22. Rc1The computer evaluates this position as okay for White, but it still looks pretty uncomfortable after a simple move like: 22... Rfe8 )
22... Qxg3!23. hxg3Rb5!I now have major problems with my piece coordination. The knight on c5 does not have a good square to go to. 24. Rc1
( 24. Nd3Bg6!The pawn on e4 (and everything else) will be lost fairly soon. 25. Nxb4Rxb426. Nc5Rf2!27. b3Bxe4+And White is clearly worse. )
24... Bg6!Black is threatening Rf2. 25. Rc2Re8!Another strong move. White cannot save the e-pawn and Black's pieces are starting to invade. 26. Rd1Re5?!A little impatient.
( 26... Kh7!Prophylaxis at its finest. Black prevents Rd6, and I am hard pressed to find an answer to Re5. 27. Rd6Rxe4!28. Nxe4Bxd629. Nxd6Rd5And Black has a huge edge. )
27. Rd6!Black may have overlooked this move, but he recovered nicely. 27... Be8!28. Rd8
( 28. Re6Rxe629. Nxe6Re5This was not a bed of roses either. )
28... Kh7!Now Bg6 is a significant threat. 29. Rc8The only way to prevent Bg6 29... h5!Patient and strong. White is practically in zugzwang and Black is ready to initiate exchanges, followed by playing Rg5. I blundered badly now, but the position is lost anyway.
( 29... Bg630. Rxc6 )
30. Ka1?Hoping to prepare a3.
( 30. b3Ba3!Zugwang )
( 30. g4h4 )
30... Bxc5Oops. Now if I trade everything, Rc1 is mate at the end! 31. Rxe8
After an up and down draw with Dariusz Swiercz of Poland in Round 2, I failed to convert a much better position in Round 3 against Li Ruifeng of the United States, who was the bottom seed. It was a tough pill to swallow.
Shankland, Sam vs. Li Ruifeng
Winter Classic |St. Louis |Round 3 |20 Mar 2017 |1/2-1/2
Nf6I have a very good position, but I needed to play precisely to maintain my advantage. My next moves left a bit to be desired. 29. Nd4
( 29. Qd3!This move was stronger. I rejected it because of 29... Qf730. Qxd6Ne431. Qa3Ra8Thinking that the bishop on b2 would be lost, but I overlooked 32. Qd3!With a counterattack on the bishop on d7. White would have a big edge. )
29... Ne430. g4This was my whole idea when I
played 29. Nd4. White is much better, but the position is complicated. I also had simpler options. With time trouble looming, I failed to navigate the complications well enough to convert my advantage. 30... d5!31. Nxf5?A step in the wrong direction
( 31. cxd5!cxd532. f3!Nd633. Ba3!This should be enough to give me a decisive edge as the threat of Qc7 is hard to stop, but precise calculation is needed. For example: 33... fxg434. Qc7gxf335. Bxf3Qf736. Qxd6Bxd437. Bxd5Is a hard line to find with just a couple of minutes left on the clock before time control. )
31... Bxf532. Bxg7Kxg733. gxf5Qe5!I overlooked this move when I played Nd4. Black has good chances to hold a draw.
( 33... Rxf5?34. f3Nd635. c5 )
( 34. Bh3This move was stronger, though after: 34... Rxf5I think Black should be okay. )
34... cxd535. f3Nf6!Another good move. Now I have a lousy bishop and my king is somewhat exposed. Combined with the lack of targets in Black's position, I have basically no chance to win the game. 36. Rd4Rfe837. Qd3Rc838. Bh3Rc739. Qd2Kh840. Kh1Rec841. Qf2Rc1
While I was struggling, Howell had emerged as the tournament leader by winning two of his first three games. He beat Xiong and Samuel Sevian, who are the two strongest American juniors. His victory over Sevian was a bit uneven, but the game with Xiong was a blowout.
Howell, David vs. Xiong, Jeffery
Winter Classic |St. Louis |Round 2 |20 Mar 2017 |1-0
12. g3g5?!This is too ambitious and weakens too many squares. Howell, who does not shy away from a fight, takes advantage immediately. 13. Bg2f414. gxf4!White is happy to open the g file. His king is totally content in the center.
( 14. Bc1g4And Black would be more or less okay. )
14... gxf415. Bc1Nc616. Qd3!Another strong move. White prevents Qb6, which was the only sensible way for Black to prepare to castle on the queenside. 16... Rg8
( 16... Qc717. Nb5! )
( 16... Qb617. Qxd7+ )
17. Rg1Nf6Black's position was not good, but now it is beyond repair. White wins a pawn and establishes a monster bishop on f4. 18. Bxf4!Qa519. Kf1O-O-OBlack has castled, but White is the one with the safer king! 20. Nb5!Energetic and strong 20... Rdf821. Bh3Rxg1+22. Kxg1Rg8+23. Kf1Qb624. Nd6+Bxd625. Qxd6The rest requires no commentary. 25... Rd826. Ng5Ba627. Nf7Bxc428. Nxd8Nxd829. Rc1
I managed to right the ship with a win in Round 6 win against Sevian, only to follow it up with another devastating loss with White, this time to Alexander Ipatov, who plays for Turkey.
After seven rounds, I had a score of minus 1. While the tournament was very compact rating-wise (the gap between Xiong and myself and Li was 113 points), I felt I should be doing better. This is where mental fortitude comes into play — something that I have struggled with in the past. I fought not to lose focus or my drive to keep fighting, and I was rewarded for this resilience with wins in the final two games. I was particularly happy to beat Vladimir Fedoseev of Russia with the Black pieces in the final round, as by that time he was in first and was playing quite well.
Fedoseev, Vladimir vs. Shankland, Sam
Winter Classic |St. Louis |Round 9 |20 Mar 2017 |0-1
a613. a5?!I already liked my position a lot, but this move felt
really out of place. Not only does White allow Black to play b5 in the Benoni, he actually forces me to play it! 13... b5!White is unable to win the pawn. 14. dxe6
( 14. cxb5axb515. Nxb5exd5 )
14... Rxe6!Otherwise White could take the pawn on b5.
( 14... Bxe6?15. cxb5axb516. Nxb5Nxb517. Bxb5And I do not have time to take on a5 since the rook on e8 is attacked. )
15. Nb3?!Asking for trouble.
( 15. cxb5Nxb516. Nxb5axb517. Bxb5Rxa518. Rxa5Qxa519. Bc4Re7I was expecting this. Black's position is a little more comfortable, but it's nothing special and I think a draw is still the most likely result. )
15... Nxe4!I had to calculate this carefully. Now Black's pieces spring to life. 16. Nxe4Rxe417. cxb5A unfortunate necessity.
( 17. Nxc5?Rd4!And White loses a piece since: 18. Nd3Fails to 18... bxc4 )
17... Nxb518. Nxc5It looks like mass exchanges in the center have resulted in near equality, but here I sprung my idea: 18... Rxe2!White cannot keep the extra material. 19. Rxe2
( 19. Qxe2This would have released the pin on the d-pawn. I had to calculate carefully, but I would have been much better after: 19... dxc5!20. Qe8+Qxe821. Rxe8+Bf822. Bh6Bb723. Rxa8Bxa824. Bxf8Kxf825. Rc1Bc6!26. Rxc5Na7!I now plan to play Bb5 and Nc6. It is possible that my advantage is already decisive. )
19... Nd420. Ne4d5!Another critical move. I attack the knight before deciding whether to take on e2 or play Bg4.
( 20... Nxe2+21. Qxe2d522. Nc5!I wanted to avoid this. By playing d5 first,
White does not have this option. )
21. Rd2White tries to change the course of the game, but it does not work.
( 21. Nc5?Bg4!The point. 22. f3Bxf3!23. gxf3Nxe2+24. Qxe2Bd4+And I would win material. )
( 21. Nc3Nxe2+22. Nxe2d4This was probably White's best try, but the position is very unpleasant. I have the better pawn structure and a powerful bishop pair on an open board. )
21... dxe422. Ra4Nf3+!A critical move. 23. gxf3
( 23. Qxf3Qxd2!And I would win. )
23... Qg5+24. Kh1Bh325. Qg1Qh5White is up an exchange, but
his king is in grave danger. He must immediately give back his extra material. 26. Qd1?
( 26. Qg3This move was more resilient, though after 26... Qb5!Black threatens mate on f1 as well as the rook on a4. After 27. Qxh3Qxa4White's pieces are passive, his pawns are weak, and his king is exposed. And material is equal once again. )
26... Be5!Now it's all but over. White cannot prevent Bg4 and there will be a disaster on f3 or h2. 27. Ra3Bg428. Qg1Bxf3+29. Rxf3Qxf3+
( 29... exf3The engine suggests keeping the queens on the board, but I saw that the ending was easily winning and did not cogitate further. )
30. Qg2Rc831. Qxf3exf332. Rd1Rc233. Kg1Bxb2I am up two pawns. The rest was easy. 34. Bh6f635. Be3Be536. h3Ra237. Bd4Bxd438. Rxd4Rxa539. h4Rh540. Rf4Kg741. Rxf3Rxh442. Ra3g543. Rxa6Rb4
I was not the only one who was happy with my win. Howell had drawn his previous five games to allow Fedoseev to take a half point lead. But my victory gave Howell a chance to come back and win the tournament. He did just that in a marathon of a game. He actually avoided the 50-move rule (if there are no captures or moves by a pawn after 50 moves, a player can claim a draw) by playing 101. … Kxe5. That was the 49th move!
Li Ruifeng vs. Howell, David
Winter Classic |St. Louis |Round 9 |20 Mar 2017 |ECO: B11 |0-1
( 98. Ng3!This was necessary. White would then have to defend for another 50 moves after: 98... Rf3+99. Kd2Rxg3100. Kxe2But I think he should hold. The bishop on d6 will do be very effective. )
98... Rf8!99. Ba7
( 99. Bc7Rc8 )
( 99. Bd6Rxf6 )
99... Rc8+100. Kd4Rc4+101. Ke3If Black had to waste one tempo moving the bishop, White could claim a draw. But after 101... Kxe5!The 50-move counter is reset and a pawn has been won. Li did not manage to put up much more resistance. 102. Nd7+Kd6103. Nf6Ke5104. Nd7+Kf5105. Bc5Re4+106. Kd2Bc4107. Nb6Be6108. Na8Ke5109. Nc7Bc4110. Ne8Re2+111. Kc3Rg2112. Nd6Rg3+113. Kc2Kd5114. Kd2Rf3115. Kc2Rf6116. Nb7Bf1117. Kc3Bh3118. Kd2Ra6119. Bf8Bc8120. Na5Bf5121. Kc3Rg6122. Bc5Rg3+123. Kb2Ke4124. Nb3Kd3125. Nd4Rg2+126. Kc1Bd7127. Nb3Kc3128. Na5Bg4129. Nc6Rd2
On the whole it was a very up and down event for all the players, not just me. While Howell was a bit lucky to score 1.5/2 from lost positions against Ipatov and Sevian, I think that he did play the best and deserved to win the tournament. My score of five points out of nine was what my rating predicted I would score and I was quite happy to have turned things around at the end. I’ll return to St. Louis next week for the US Championship.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.
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