Sunday, October 5, 2008

Interview with San Fransisco Mechanic FM Sam Shankland

EV: It seems like the SF Mechanics are all good friends, and in particular you, Vinay, Josh, and David seem close. Describe the influence (both how and to what extent) these three have influenced your chess development or style.

SS : Well we have studied a lot together. I was Vinay's student when I was around 1900 or so, and took lessons with Josh when I was 2150 or so. Now that I can at least pretend to be as strong as them, we can have good analysis sessions, especially over the summer when we would all analyze at Josh's place. They have all been a huge help in the league as well-- for example Vinay showed me the line I used in round 1 against Igor Schneider, and the preparation proved to be useful.

EV: Would you say Vinay has had the biggest influence on your chess? Can you see anything specific of his chess style in yourself?

SS : I guess in pure USCL games, yes, although don't count Josh and David out. David saw me at my first state championship when I was about 1000 and he has kept a watch on me ever since. I think our playing styles are very similar. But I think since analyzing with Vinay, my positional sense and defensive skills have also improved.

And almost all of my openings come from Josh, so they all have had quite a bit of influence on me. There is a stereotype that all people on the west coast do not know their openings. While it’s obviously not completely true, I have definitely seen that east coast players know their openings better. Josh knows more theory than me and David combined, so Josh did quite a bit of work with me on my openings, which I think have improved quite a bit.

One other person you might not expect is Danya Naroditsky. We have played more than 10 OTB games and countless blitz games on ICC. His openings are very strong as well, most notably the Najdorf. His knowledge of the Najdorf is phenomenal, and Josh's is not as amazing because he is a Lopez player. Danya basically refuted my first line against the Najdorf, and his brother employed it against me once.

John has helped me prep a lot too, and he can be credited for some of my success.

EV : Openings mostly?

SS : Yes, but he’s also talked to me about personal issues at school, good workout routines.

EV : And was his advice good? What I mean is, it’s always nice to have someone listen to you and empathize, but did he offer you strong concrete advice?

SS: Yes, he understands how other people’s minds work quite a bit better than I do. For example, one time he talked to me about this expert that I’ve played a few times who I had a personal problem with. And he offered his opinion. I was in general just pissed that the guy would always take a bye if he’d play me with black and whenever he was white he’d play the London system and beg for a draw. So I did not like him very much. But then John told me that he does that as white because he feels it is unsportsmanlike to win on preparation, i.e. ideas that are not your own.

EV : Ideas that are not your own... hmm... strange thing to object to maybe, but ok.

SS : Yeah, I don’t agree, and I still don’t like him, but I understand where he is coming from. Now the byes whenever I’d have white, that’s another story…

EV : I agree it’s nice to have someone who is basically on your side point out the motivations of someone you are angry with. Usually when I’m angry I’m not as good at thinking about the other person and seeing their point of view.

SS: Yeah, same here.

EV: Can you make a comparison of the difference in the type of knowledge you get from working informally in a study group with friends and taking lessons with a teacher?

SS : I actually find that in general working with a study group is much more beneficial, although I could be biased because when I first started analysis sessions with David, Josh, and Vinay (and, at the time, Alan Stein) I was much weaker than I am now and much weaker than all of them. Formal lessons can be good, but there can be a lack of diversity in the instruction you get, and opinions on any one given position can vary drastically in 2 equally strong players.

EV: Of any of these three or four or five guys, can you tell me a story of something you saw them do or something they said to you that had some non-chess influence on you?

SS: Hmm that’s a really good question… lemme think for a second. Ok, I'm going to have to go with something David said to me once. It’s somewhat chess related but not really.

It was back in 2006, right before the finals, and Vinay had consistently been a monstrosity in the league, and our best performer. But we did not know his availability for the championship match, so we did not put him in the lineup. It turned out later that he could indeed play, and I asked David if we should play Vinay and move him down to 3 and take the small time penalty, because it would probably be a stronger lineup.

David gave me a firm "no."

I asked him whether he thought the time penalty would be too much, and he replied “No, it’s just rude.”

And then, as it happens, we won the championship match, and David won a nice game on board 2, where we would have had Vinay. I guess showing that even if manipulating things to your advantage works, use what you have and you can still win.

EV: And this impressed you because you admire his principles, or you admire politeness, or you think he had some special intuitive sense of what would win?

SS: Yeah, principles and how he defended them by preparing hard, playing well, and making the most of our B lineup.

EV: It might be that you have answered my next question with this story, but I will ask it anyway. Which of these guys you admire the most on a personal level and for what quality? Or you don’t have to choose and could answer the question as "what quality of character do you like best in Vinay, Josh and David?"

SS: I think the quality I admire most in those three is how Josh manages to always see the best in people, both as people and as players. I never hear him say anything bad about just about anybody and he very seldom refuses a post-mortem.

EV : Wow, that's such a great thing to say about someone… it's a great thing just to notice about someone, in fact.

SS: Josh is just a great person like that … for Vinay, I like how he’s always polite. Josh is awesome and sees the best in people, but his jokes can sometimes be a bit much. Vinay jokes around too, but he is very good about sensing when it is too much.

And David I just like how dedicated he is to his morals, even though I of course don't agree with all of them. He would never sell his morals out for anything. For example, he refused to give his scoresheet in Las Vegas after he just had a masterpiece against the now 2700+ GM Nakamura, even though it would give him glory and make people see how good he is.

EV: But what's the principle there?

SS : He felt that players losing money from the prize fund so that the tournament could pay Monroi to broadcast games was wrong, and that he shouldn’t have to pay to play the tournament and the one thing he makes there just give away for free.

EV : That’s a complicated issue I think, as broadcasting games does much good for chess?

SS : It is; I’m not taking any positions, just saying I like how he did not sell out his morals.

EV : Makes sense. New question: I’ve seen a couple photos / heard a couple stories about you arm wrestling or doing one handed push–ups with other chess players. Is the rush of beating someone at chess and the rush of beating someone at arm-wrestling the same for you?

SS : Well, the physical stuff is more as a joke. I did not have a rush of energy or a huge desire to beat Dean Ippolito because I knew it would just never happen. To be honest, that arm wrestle started after I asked him if he would resign if I beat him in an arm wrestle. He replied no, but let’s arm wrestle anyways.

EV: But it's still a head to head contest where you slowly overpower someone right? There's still that competitive intensity?

SS : Yes, but I don't take it as seriously as chess, not even close.

EV: And one-handed pushups with Donaldson? HOW DID HE BEAT YOU??

SS : Ok, first off, last I checked, 6>4, so he did not beat me.
Although his first time, he did get more than I did. But if you take the best tries, I got more.

EV : So you claim you are an improving youth, even if he is a more accomplished one-handed-push-up IM? Perhaps you must practice with your study group? They could spot you at the gym?

SS : Lol I guess... I did practice them for awhile, because I could not do 2 handed ones, because of the unfortunate accident at the US Chess School, although now I'm starting to be able to again. David tried, he got 0. Josh probably could not do any. I don’t know about Vinay. John is definitely in good shape for an old man.

EV: Where I’m going with the question is that you've improved a huge amount in the last year, 2220-2420 it looks like, and I’m wondering what was responsible for this besides the study group. Specifically, to what extent you think it was sheer competitiveness/ desire to win?

SS : Increased competiveness is a big thing. Two years ago I was about 2250, and maybe 2200 strength max. And I had 2 wretched tournaments and lost 45 points. I "quit" for about 3 months, but I studied and reinvented myself. Since then I have been improving, and I think around now my rating has caught up. I do not expect to rip through 2400-2500 like I did 2200-2300 and 2300-2400.

EV : How did you convince yourself to return to chess?

SS : In the end, I tried to convince myself otherwise, but I just love this game. And I’m very competitive and didn’t like the thought of people passing me.

EV: Anyone in particular?

SS : Well, just about anybody I play against is my rival, although I still like them just fine. I want to have a + score vs everybody, no matter who they are. But I was thinking of people like John Bryant, Dan Yeager, Evan Ju, and many others on the top 100 list. That is not to say anything about them as a person. I know all 3, and I like them all very much.

Another important factor in my improvement in the last year was Denys Shmelov. We played a lot of training games this summer, and I saw both our play in various openings improve.

EV : Where and what time control?

SS : ICC, 90 0: serious games and we would analyze after.

EV: How many games?

SS: Probably at least 8, though I didn’t keep track. It was nice because our styles are very different and we are very close in strength. He’s positional and has a good sense of plans. My plans are not as good, but my opening repertoire is more versatile, and my calculation may be better, but I don’t know.

EV: How much do you think ICC is responsible for your improvement? I recently read an interview with Nigel Short in which he opines that ICC is the main cause of young players improving more rapidly now at the highest level than was possible in the past. Agree or disagree?

SS : When it comes to young kids, ICC blitz can be very helpful: helps with tactics and pattern recognition. But as they get older, it can develop bad habits of moving too fast, or playing too much on intuition without concrete calculation

EV: That happened to you?

SS: Yes. I moved way too fast for a long time. I still have that problem, but not as bad.

EV: What's your next major area of studying focus? Like do you have plans to learn an opening, or work on queen endings, or prepare for a tournament, or read a particular book?

SS : I don't know, haven’t thought about it much. I don't see myself working on chess much in my first semester. As a second semester senior, I will work a lot more. Once senioritis kicks in, I will probably start with endgames and technique.

EV : I see you are going to Vietnam for the World Youth, later this month. What's your goal? And are you doing any specific prep?

SS : No time for any real prep, my goal is to make the top 10, although based on the entries so far, it will be a longshot, as there are multiple GMs.

EV: So why didn’t you want to play last week?

SS: Mondays in general are very difficult for me. My last class does not meet on Wednesdays and the classes are longer on Mondays. I'm done about an hour and a half later on Mondays and it’s much harder to play, play well, and finish homework.

EV: But you are playing again this Monday. Board by board, rate SF's prospects?

SS : Wolff vs. Naka: Patrick is awesome and a very talented player but I cant ignore 2700 FIDE: I’d give Naka an edge, especially because he seems to be taking USCL more seriously this year.

Serper is always tough with white, but Vinay is a good defender and can hold his own. I'd predict a draw.

EV : And you?

SS : Tough question. I have not seen nearly as many of Readey's games but from what I have seen he can be quite strong.

EV : But you are white and outrate him by quite a bit?

SS: I think based on ratings, past history etc. and virtue of having the white pieces, I'd be a favorite but not a huge one. And if I lose I can look forward to people calling me arrogant!

EV : Oh well, in chess everyone does a weird dance around pretending they are not expecting to win. It's not like I didn’t ask you and you went around shouting "I WILL CRUSH JOHN READEY!!” I don’t think anyone can take offense at an opponent saying they expect to win a game: it’s just normal.

SS : Yeah, I mean, ok, I should be a favorite but the game is far from in the bag

EV : And then Danya's game is must-win for you probably?

SS : Yeah, and I think even with black, Danya is a favorite. I think he is underrated and has performed well in the league this year.

EV : How much interest do you take in matches that do not involve SF?

SS : Based on my competitive nature and wanting SF to win, I take some interest in Dallas and Queens. And I take interest in any game a friend of mine or someone I know or have played/ is playing, although not necessarily their team.

EV : So would you have an opinion, for example, on the outcome of the upcoming Queens - NJ match?

SS: I want NJ to win. Among other things, Joel is my hero. Although if Queens wont get swept, I hope their point comes on board 4. I played Ostrovskiy once, he seems to be a nice kid and reminds me of myself when I was his age.

EV : Yes, I know what you mean about Ostovskiy, in the sense that he's ambitious and loves chess.

SS: Yeah, also he gave me another free analysis game at Kasparov's seminar because he brought our game, so I got 5, not 4.

EV : Any prediction for board 3? Lenderman - Dean?

SS: Lenderman has white? I think dean should be able to hold down the fort; I’m guessing they will get an = position, and depending on how the match is going, someone could lash out and lose. Dean is well booked and very solid, but hard to ignore 5-0 from Lenderman.

EV : Of all the games you've played in the USCL, which is your favorite?

SS : My game with Richard Costigan. I mean, did you see that g file?!?!? Apart from that, I thought it was a very interesting game.

EV : Do you read a lot of the blogs and commentary on the USCL? What's your favorite and what, if any, do you take issue with?

SS : I try to post stuff for our own blog, and read anything about the Mechanics, and I always read Ginsburg's because it make me laugh. Some of the stuff he’s written about me, is irritating as well as hilarious. Like saying I won week 1 because “Schneider did not show up," when I played a fine game. And his h6 move was forced, not bad. And then he analyzed my game with Galofre and criticized my opening bigtime.

I’m currently 2425 USCF. Last time he beat someone rated that high in a USCF rated game was 2005. He’s still winless in the USCL and thinks he has any business criticizing my games, including giving a move like b6 3 question marks when I doubt anyone can prove an edge after e5 fxe5 fxe5 bb7 exd6 rac8. Well, b6 is not the most accurate, but I don’t think white can get much of an advantage: it’s not a "lemon." Sure, Kf8 was more accurate but b6 was not a ???

EV : Hahhaha, been checking Ginsburg’s results?

SS : Yeah, I had some free time on my hands wanted to see his qualifications, lol…

EV : And do you generally feel like lower rated players shouldn’t criticize the moves of stronger players? Or that they have an extra obligation to be accurate? Or nice? Or something else?

SS : Accurate, yes; nice, no. And, ok, Ginsburg and I have similar ratings, though my FIDE is a bit higher. At least for me, it’s more about my having never met him and his apparent interest in slandering my games. And he is winless after 5 games and I’m +9 lifetime.

EV: Good stuff. Anything else you want to get out there? A message for USCL fans?


EV : If you make the playoffs and the lineup was up to you, who would you play?

SS : Depends a lot on the opponents, but i think our strongest lineup is Wolff-Josh-me-Danya. Although Vinay can easily step in on 2, and then Josh or Wolff on 1.


Anonymous said...

Classic obnoxious comment by a kid touting lifetime records about himself rather than letting his fantastic play speak for itself.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

But it's impressive at 17 to *have* lifetime records to tout, no?

Mark Ginsburg said...

I don't understand the kid's hating.

The game vs Galofre was interesting and similar to Rensch-Bartholomew earlier in the USCL season. White played inaccurately, so what? It's hard to play accurately in the USCL, that helps with its drama.

See for the Galofre analysis. If there's a problem with the analysis, let's hear it! It's not a personal attack to analyze the Scotch. Galofre missed some very unusual tactics in the opening phase so I thought that to be worthwhile to mention.

Similarly in the Rensch game it's not a big deal to point out ...b6 is weak compared to Kf8. It's really not that hard to work out e4-e5 is strong there. These weird things happen in the USCL all the time - it's the stress of the time control. It's not a personal affront to point out mutual inaccuracies. The irony was that Rensch played e4-e5 a little later when it was really bad.
See for the unpleasant (for us) game.

I'm having a bad first experience with USCL but again these things happen. I didn't expect the kid to have such a thin skin! In today's computer age, such ego-involvement usually moves to the background.

phishcake5 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
phishcake5 said...

Great to see the interviews flowing again (particularly enjoyed this one). I love this time of year!

Anonymous said...

Ginsburg is a sore loser, way to go Sam!

dvigorito said...

gotta side with Gins on this one

Ilya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilya said...

Ginsburg is known for making ridiculously -funny statements, I think the guy is funny if you dont take him seriously and I mean how can you? But I gotta side with Shanky on this one, I also didnt get the sense he was cocky when I met him in Vegas in 06, it was a bit odd that he kept asking me for cannbis all the time--considering that i am not a drug dealer but other than that I think he is a great kid and I have no doubt that he will become a GM if doesnt quit chess

Mark Ginsburg said...

This new-fangled internet stuff is confuzzling. I was better at 1970s vintage telephone matches with their delays and "audio-typos."

Wonder how many people remember the National Chess League. Lubomir Kavalek "recruited" Ulf Andersson to play Board 2 against Jack Peters in a Washington vs LA Match. First of all, Ulf asked who his opponent was. When told, he quizzically said "Peh-turrz?". It was obvious Ulf had no idea who he was playing. More humorously, seeing his flag hanging at move 1, Ulf thought the time control was game in 1 minute. He blitzed off 15 moves in a gxf6 Caro Kann (Ulf was black). He then found out his clock had been set to 4:59 and he had until 6:00 to play the game. He spent a few minutes to wrap up the ending victory effortlessly. A hydrogen bomb weapon on Board 2 a lot like Boris Gulko in this USCL season!

PS Sam was right and ...b6 wasn't that bad in his Rensch game. I changed my comments accordingly.

Sam Shankland said...

Mark did the mature thing by conceding that b6 was not such a horrible move and admitting he was out of line by saying it was, so now I'm going to do the mature thing and admit that I overreacted to the galofre incident, while the other games and comments were offensive especially schneider not showing up when the only thing he missed all game was bf4, the galofre one he was not at fault at all and I was out of line for calling him out on it.

julius g said...

(Special thanks to Liz if she allows this comment, or even bigger thanks if she posts this as her newest topic and reinterviews Sam Shankland after his incredible game)

Sam Shankland - Sexiest Man In Chess By Julius G

New England Nor'easters have a pretty hot team, not just with the undefeated record, but with looks. IM David Vigorito is that brainy Professor you want to stay after school for and ask how to earn extra credit as Teddy Pendergrass comes over the intercom playing Love TKO for no apparent reason. IM Jan Van De Mortel has that cuddly appeal that you would trust him with your baby, and on the opposite side, FM Braden Bournival has that Mike the Situation Sorrentino appeal that you know he's trouble, but you are just too intrigued not to sleep with him once and wake up to a twenty dollar bill on your dresser. What about IM Robert? His last name is Hungaski, you figure out. But for every Destiny's Child there's going to be a Beyoncé Knowles, and the stand-out heartthrob on that team is without a doubt Sam Shankland. IM Sam Shankland is the Sexiest Man in Chess. You can find him at Brandeis University majoring in "Hittin' Dat." It's very hard to find a person with looks and brains, the chess world is filled with some trolls, and I'm looking at the women on this too, but Sam has the total package, but he didn't always. Prior to moving to New England Sam was just another pretty face, getting by in life on his looks. I've heard horror stories from GM Vinay Bhat about him being defeated by a Cuisinart Brew Central in several chess matches. That's what happens to you when you live in California, you just spend your days watching reality shows and taking ten bites of organic yogurt before you realize its sunblock. A source close to GM Josh Friedel via wiretapping has heard that the money he won for placing first place and becoming the 2008 World under 18 co-champion he spent on watching Tropic Thunder over a hundred times at the theater, not being high once. First year he got on the San Francisco Mechanics they caught him licking jumper cables, that's not doing his looks justice, and he's a Libra. Thanks to an Eastcoast intervention he's playing the best chess of his life, really taking his last name seriously and making GM Giorgi Kacheishvili his prison bitc....He's playing incredible chess is what I'm saying. He still uses his charm effectively as well, sending online mwahs and blinky-faced emoticons to his opponents during crucial moves, they are blinded by his amorousness and heart bubbles replace any thoughts they might have. Believe me, I'm as heterosexual as they come, but even I got confused at one point. He gives very educational lessons if you are an up and comer, I was his student once and we were examining a game on the Internet Chess Club during an online lesson, we would call each other via Skype. He told me in my endgame where I had a material advantage I should have avoided the exchange of so many pawns, and for some reason my first reply was, "Oh yeah, how about I give you a bed-rattling orgasm you sweet piece of ass." I just disconnected and never asked for another lesson again, I don't know what happened that day nor do I care to explore it any further. All I know is he should be called Sammie Sea Siren Shankland for the way he can shipwreck your train of thought during games. So as of 2010, Sam Shankland is officially the Sexiest Man In Chess, congratulations.