Born in 1991, in Berkeley, California, Sam learned how to play chess at the age of six but did not become a tournament player until the age of eleven. Even with his relatively late start, Sam rose to prominence quickly, earning the title of the Grandmaster in 2001 and establishing himself as one of the top American players.
After losing his first two games in the 2010 US Junior Championship, he went on to win six out of the remaining seven games. He earned the title of the US Junior champion by defeating Ray Robson in the playoffs and thus qualifying to the 2011 US Championship, where he finished third.
Two years later, Sam won the prestigious Samford Fellowship and made his debut for the US national team in the Pan American Team Championship, showing a performance of over 2800. The following year he returned as part of the Olympiad team, where he took gold for his performance as reserve player. He went undefeated, scoring 9/10, including a last round win over the legendary Judit Polgar. Sam played fourth board in the 2016 Chess Olympiad, winning team gold.
2018 was a breakthrough year in his career. In April, he won the US Championship ahead of Caruana, Nakamura, and So, crossing the 2700 rating barrier for the first time. In the next months, he won the Capablanca Memorial and the American Continental Chess Championship, which earned him a spot to the 2019 World Cup. Since crossing 2700, Sam has reached the rating of 2731 which puts him in the top 25 in the world.