When Sam Shankland was just 18, he announced he would be retiring from the game of chess. In order to honor his previous commitments, however, he agreed to play in one more event, the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, which he managed to win after facing back-to-back playoff matches against Parker Zhao and tourney favorite GM Ray Robson. That achievement offered him an automatic invitation to play in the 2011 U.S. Championship, which ultimately proved to be a difficult offer to refuse.
Sam performed admirably at the 2011 U.S. Championship, edging veteran GM Alexander Onischuk in a playoff to reach the four-player quad finals. There he ran into eventual champion GM Gata Kamsky, who topped him 1.5-.5. After his defeat, Shankland remained upbeat.
“Just because I’m not in the running for first place doesn’t mean the tournament is over,” he said. “Plus third place sounds cooler than fourth. You can call it a bronze medal.” Shankland's positive attitude proved prescient as he toipped GM Robert Hess in a playoff for third place.
Shankland won a gold medal for the USA at the 2008 World Youth Championship in Vietnam, and the Brandeis University student has called the U.S. Championship "his dream tournament for the year." Sam also qualified to play in the 2009 U.S. Championship after winning the final match of the Tournament of State Champions. He also was recently awarded the Samford Chess Fellowship, which will afford him a full year to focus on and fine-tune his skills.
Because of his usually strong, but sometimes unpredictable, play, he is an intriguing player to watch at this year's championship.