Sam Shankland had high hopes going into a strong invitational tournament in St. Louis that ended last Sunday. He reports on how and why he fell short and analyzes games of the winner, David Howell.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis needs no introduction. It has become the de facto home of the United States Championship (which starts there next week), and it has done amazing work in popularizing the game in schools throughout the St. Louis area. 

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. 

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. Na4 At 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... f5 I 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. Nac5 This was probably a better move. After:
19... Bxb3 20. Nxb3 fxe4 21. Qc4+ Kh8 22. Qxe4 Qxe4+ 23. fxe4 Rf2 Black is definitely fine, but I'm not in trouble either.  )
19... fxe4 20. fxe4 Bf7 I already really disliked my position, and I barely even understood how this had happened!
21. Qd6 Qg5 22. Qg3?! Understandably, I wanted to exchange queens, but this was ill-advised.
22. Rc1 The computer evaluates this position as okay for White, but it still looks pretty uncomfortable after a simple move like:
22... Rfe8  )
22... Qxg3! 23. hxg3 Rb5! 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. Nd3 Bg6! The pawn on e4 (and everything else) will be lost fairly soon.
25. Nxb4 Rxb4 26. Nc5 Rf2! 27. b3 Bxe4+ And White is clearly worse.  )
24... Bg6! Black is threatening Rf2.
25. Rc2 Re8! Another strong move. White cannot save the e-pawn and Black's pieces are starting to invade.
26. Rd1 Re5?! A little impatient.
26... Kh7! Prophylaxis at its finest. Black prevents Rd6, and I am hard pressed to find an answer to Re5.
27. Rd6 Rxe4! 28. Nxe4 Bxd6 29. Nxd6 Rd5 And Black has a huge edge.  )
27. Rd6! Black may have overlooked this move, but he recovered nicely.
27... Be8! 28. Rd8
28. Re6 Rxe6 29. Nxe6 Re5 This was not a bed of roses either.  )
28... Kh7! Now Bg6 is a significant threat.
29. Rc8 The 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... Bg6 30. Rxc6  )
30. Ka1? Hoping to prepare a3.
30. b3 Ba3! Zugwang  )
30. g4 h4  )
30... Bxc5 Oops. Now if I trade everything, Rc1 is mate at the end!
31. Rxe8
31. Nxc5 Rbxc5 32. Rxc5 Rxc5 33. Rxe8  )
31... Rxe8 32. Nxc5 Re5 33. b4 a5 34. Re2 Rxb4

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
Nf6 I 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... Qf7 30. Qxd6 Ne4 31. Qa3 Ra8 Thinking 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... Ne4 30. g4 This 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! cxd5 32. f3! Nd6 33. 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... fxg4 34. Qc7 gxf3 35. Bxf3 Qf7 36. Qxd6 Bxd4 37. Bxd5 Is a hard line to find with just a couple of minutes left on the clock before time control.  )
31... Bxf5 32. Bxg7 Kxg7 33. gxf5 Qe5! I overlooked this move when I played Nd4. Black has good chances to hold a draw.
33... Rxf5? 34. f3 Nd6 35. c5  )
34. cxd5
34. Bh3 This move was stronger, though after:
34... Rxf5 I think Black should be okay.  )
34... cxd5 35. f3 Nf6! 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. Rd4 Rfe8 37. Qd3 Rc8 38. Bh3 Rc7 39. Qd2 Kh8 40. Kh1 Rec8 41. Qf2 Rc1

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. g3 g5?! This is too ambitious and weakens too many squares. Howell, who does not shy away from a fight, takes advantage immediately.
13. Bg2 f4 14. gxf4! White is happy to open the g file. His king is totally content in the center.
14. Bc1 g4 And Black would be more or less okay.  )
14... gxf4 15. Bc1 Nc6 16. 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... Qc7 17. Nb5!  )
16... Qb6 17. Qxd7+  )
17. Rg1 Nf6 Black's position was not good, but now it is beyond repair. White wins a pawn and establishes a monster bishop on f4.
18. Bxf4! Qa5 19. Kf1 O-O-O Black has castled, but White is the one with the safer king!
20. Nb5! Energetic and strong
20... Rdf8 21. Bh3 Rxg1+ 22. Kxg1 Rg8+ 23. Kf1 Qb6 24. Nd6+ Bxd6 25. Qxd6 The rest requires no commentary.
25... Rd8 26. Ng5 Ba6 27. Nf7 Bxc4 28. Nxd8 Nxd8 29. 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
a6 13. 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. cxb5 axb5 15. Nxb5 exd5  )
14... Rxe6! Otherwise White could take the pawn on b5.
14... Bxe6? 15. cxb5 axb5 16. Nxb5 Nxb5 17. Bxb5 And I do not have time to take on a5 since the rook on e8 is attacked.  )
15. Nb3?! Asking for trouble.
15. cxb5 Nxb5 16. Nxb5 axb5 17. Bxb5 Rxa5 18. Rxa5 Qxa5 19. Bc4 Re7 I 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. Nxe4 Rxe4 17. cxb5 A unfortunate necessity.
17. Nxc5? Rd4! And White loses a piece since:
18. Nd3 Fails to
18... bxc4  )
17... Nxb5 18. Nxc5 It 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. Qxe2 This 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+ Qxe8 21. Rxe8+ Bf8 22. Bh6 Bb7 23. Rxa8 Bxa8 24. Bxf8 Kxf8 25. Rc1 Bc6! 26. Rxc5 Na7! I now plan to play Bb5 and Nc6. It is possible that my advantage is already decisive.  )
19... Nd4 20. Ne4 d5! Another critical move. I attack the knight before deciding whether to take on e2 or play Bg4.
20... Nxe2+ 21. Qxe2 d5 22. Nc5! I wanted to avoid this. By playing d5 first, White does not have this option.  )
21. Rd2 White tries to change the course of the game, but it does not work.
21. Nc5? Bg4! The point.
22. f3 Bxf3! 23. gxf3 Nxe2+ 24. Qxe2 Bd4+ And I would win material.  )
21. Nc3 Nxe2+ 22. Nxe2 d4 This 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... dxe4 22. Ra4 Nf3+! A critical move.
23. gxf3
23. Qxf3 Qxd2! And I would win.  )
23... Qg5+ 24. Kh1 Bh3 25. Qg1 Qh5 White is up an exchange, but his king is in grave danger. He must immediately give back his extra material.
26. Qd1?
26. Qg3 This move was more resilient, though after
26... Qb5! Black threatens mate on f1 as well as the rook on a4. After
27. Qxh3 Qxa4 White'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. Ra3 Bg4 28. Qg1 Bxf3+ 29. Rxf3 Qxf3+
29... exf3 The engine suggests keeping the queens on the board, but I saw that the ending was easily winning and did not cogitate further.  )
30. Qg2 Rc8 31. Qxf3 exf3 32. Rd1 Rc2 33. Kg1 Bxb2 I am up two pawns. The rest was easy.
34. Bh6 f6 35. Be3 Be5 36. h3 Ra2 37. Bd4 Bxd4 38. Rxd4 Rxa5 39. h4 Rh5 40. Rf4 Kg7 41. Rxf3 Rxh4 42. Ra3 g5 43. Rxa6 Rb4

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
1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Qe2 Nxe4 6. Qxe4 Qd5 7. Qe3 Bf5 8. b3 e6 9. c4 Qe4 10. Bb2 Na6 11. Be2 Nb4 12. O-O Nd3 13. Bxd3 Qxd3 14. Nh4 Qxe3 15. dxe3 Bd3 16. Rfd1 Be2 17. Rd4 f6 18. Nf3 Bb4 19. a3 e5 20. axb4 exd4 21. Nxd4 Bg4 22. f3 Bd7 23. Ne2 Kf7 24. Bd4 b6 25. c5 Be6 26. cxb6 axb6 27. Rc1 b5 28. Rxc6 Rhc8 29. Rxc8 Rxc8 30. Nc3 Rb8 31. Ne4 Ke7 32. Bc5+ Kd7 33. Nd6 Kc6 34. g4 g6 35. Ne4 f5 36. gxf5 Bxf5 37. Ng3 Bd3 38. e4 Ra8 39. Kf2 Ra3 40. h4 Rxb3 41. h5 Kd7 42. hxg6 hxg6 43. Kg2 Bc4 44. f4 Ke6 45. Kh3 Bd3 46. Kg4 Bc2 47. f5+ Kf6 48. fxg6 Bd1+ 49. Kh4 Kxg6 50. Nf5 Be2 51. Ng3 Bf3 52. e5 Rc3 53. Bd6 Bd5 54. Ne2 Rc4+ 55. Kg3 Kf5 56. Kf2 Ke4 57. Ng3+ Kd3 58. Nh5 Be6 59. Kg3 Ke3 60. Nf6 Rc1 61. Kh4 Kf3 62. Kh5 Kf4 63. Kh6 Kf5 64. Kg7 Rc8 65. Kh6 Ra8 66. Kg7 Bc4 67. Kh6 Bf7 68. Nd7 Rg8 69. Nf8 Rg2 70. Kh7 Bc4 71. Kh6 Bb3 72. Kh7 Ba2 73. Kh8 Bg8 74. Bc7 Bd5 75. Bd6 Rg1 76. Kh7 Rg4 77. Kh8 Bg8 78. Bc7 Bb3 79. Bd6 Rg1 80. Kh7 Ra1 81. Kh6 Ra7 82. Ng6 Ke6 83. Nf4+ Kf7 84. Kg5 Ra1 85. Kf5 Rf1 86. Ke4 Kg7 87. Nh5+ Kg6 88. Nf6 Rd1 89. Nd7 Bd5+ 90. Kf4 Rd4+ 91. Ke3 Re4+ 92. Kd3 Kf5 93. Nf6 Bc4+ 94. Kc3 Rf4 95. Bc7 Ke6 96. Nh5 Rf7 97. Bb8 Be2 98. Nf6? White now loses the e-pawn ... and on the 49th move without a capture or a pawn move!
98. Ng3! This was necessary. White would then have to defend for another 50 moves after:
98... Rf3+ 99. Kd2 Rxg3 100. Kxe2 But I think he should hold. The bishop on d6 will do be very effective.  )
98... Rf8! 99. Ba7
99. Bc7 Rc8  )
99. Bd6 Rxf6  )
99... Rc8+ 100. Kd4 Rc4+ 101. Ke3 If 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+ Kd6 103. Nf6 Ke5 104. Nd7+ Kf5 105. Bc5 Re4+ 106. Kd2 Bc4 107. Nb6 Be6 108. Na8 Ke5 109. Nc7 Bc4 110. Ne8 Re2+ 111. Kc3 Rg2 112. Nd6 Rg3+ 113. Kc2 Kd5 114. Kd2 Rf3 115. Kc2 Rf6 116. Nb7 Bf1 117. Kc3 Bh3 118. Kd2 Ra6 119. Bf8 Bc8 120. Na5 Bf5 121. Kc3 Rg6 122. Bc5 Rg3+ 123. Kb2 Ke4 124. Nb3 Kd3 125. Nd4 Rg2+ 126. Kc1 Bd7 127. Nb3 Kc3 128. Na5 Bg4 129. Nc6 Rd2

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.