Only 12 Games Behind Fischer!

by admin on August 10, 2014

What do Mathias Ssonko, Martin Martinez, David Gluckman, Aman Hambleton, Guillermo Vazquez, Jahongir Vakhidov, and Judit Polgar have in common?

Answer: They are the victims of the juggernaut that has been Sam Shankland at the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway. After eight rounds of the tournament, Shankland (the alternate for the U.S. team) has a perfect 7-0 record, and he is now just 12 games short of tying Bobby Fischer’s record. (Actually, for all I know, he may be closer, if he ended his most recent tournament on a winning streak.)

Unfortunately the U.S. team has not done quite so well, although it is certainly still in contention for a medal of some kind. The team’s record is 5 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss, putting them at 12 points. China is the clear leader (with 6 wins and 2 draws for 14 points). Five countries are tied for second with 13 points, and there are three rounds left. The recap at Chessbase seems to set great store by the fact that historically you need to have at least 13 points after eight rounds to have a chance to win, and therefore they think the teams with 12 points cannot win gold. But I don’t believe it.

In his interview with Lawrence Trent, Shankland did not seem too impressed with his accomplishment so far. It’s a team tournament, after all, and the goal is to win a team medal, not an individual one. If he wins the top prize among the alternates, what does it mean? “It means that if you take away the best four players from every country, then I would win the gold medal,” he said. In other words, not such a big deal.

However, to chess fans from around the San Francisco Bay, which Shankland still calls home, it’s a very big deal!

One nice thing about winning all these games is that Shankland gets to play in a lot more matches than an alternate usually does. Just getting to play 7 games in the first 8 rounds is pretty cool. It probably wasn’t captain John Donaldson’s original plan, but how do you rest someone who is undefeated and untied? It’s like taking a pitcher out of a game when he has a no-hitter going. In fact, the only round that Shankland didn’t play — round three — was also the only match that the U.S. lost (to the Netherlands).

In round nine the U.S. will play against Germany. Good luck to Sam and the entire U.S. team!

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