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Q&A: Grand Master Sam Shankland ’14 to pursue professional career

Published: December 6, 2013
Section: News


Sam Shankland ’14 says that when he started playing chess competitively at age 10, is considered very old by today’s standard. That hasn’t seemed to handicap him, as just five years later, he became a national master in the United States. Today, Shankland is a recognized Grand Master (GM) in chess. The Hoot spoke with Shankland to catch up on his career, his recent accomplishments and future aspirations.

The Hoot: What is your role in working with the chess club on campus?

Sam Shankland: I never really officially taught the chess club or played with them, but I’m still somewhat involved. I go to meetings now and then, and I have made some friends there. Recently I played a five-board blindfold simul (playing five games at once, blindfolded, relying only on the players telling me the coordinates of their moves) with the chess club to raise money for the Waltham Group. While I am not a major presence at chess club, I still go when I can, and I enjoy myself there.

TH: How has your chess career progressed, and what are your plans for the future?

SS: I had a really hot streak from 2010 to 2012—my biggest achievements came in 2011. In spring semester of my first year, I took third at the 2011 U.S. Championship and won $20,000. Later in the summer, I participated in the World Cup and defeated Peter Leko in round one. He was number 17 in the world at the time and has been as high as number four and challenged for the World Championship. Although 2013 has not been a great year for me, I did make my debut playing for the U.S. National team. I was our top scorer at the Pan-American Team championship in Brazil, and our victory there qualified the U.S. for the World Team championship. This championship is currently happening, although I was not selected for the event. I was also our top scorer at our friendly match with China in Ningbo. I took clear first at the ZMDI Open last August, one of Germany’s strongest events. This year, I was selected as the 2013 Samford Fellow and provided with an $84,000 fellowship given out once a year to the most promising American player under the age of 25 to improve their chess and try to enter the world elite.

TBH: Since you’re a senior, how has schoolwork and approaching graduation affected your chess playing?

SS: This year has been hard for me. While I was playing quite a bit in 2011 and 2012, I was only playing abroad over the summer. I have been improving significantly and need to be playing more abroad, but my classes have been getting harder. It has become much more difficult to manage everything. I believe this has had an adverse affect on both my chess career and my studies. While I have learned a lot at Brandeis and greatly enjoyed my time here and made friendships that I hope to keep for a long time, I am looking forward to graduating and dedicating myself completely to my chess career.

TH: How has your experience at Brandeis influenced your chess playing?

SS: When I first came to Brandeis I was on my way out of the chess world, frustrated by politics and my own lack of improvement. I think prior to coming here I was putting way too much pressure on myself as a very young man trying to make it as a professional player, and it adversely affected my results. While chess has always been very important to me, during my time at Brandeis it has not been the only part of my working life, so a lot of this pressure was lifted, and very quickly, my results shot through the roof. At the same time, however, I have less time to study and play, so now that I am more mature, I think the negative consequences of school on my chess career are starting to show as well, although they certainly do not outweigh the positive effects.

This interview has been edited for clarity.