Berkeley Chess School alumnus Sam Shankland advances to Chess World Cup quarterfinals

photo of Shankland
Andreas Kontokanis/Creative Commons
Sam Shankland is a two-time Chess Olympiad gold medalist, 2018 U.S. chess champion and Berkeley Chess School alumnus. He is to play at the Chess World Cup quarterfinals in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Andreas Kontokanis under cc BY-SA 2.0.)

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Berkeley Chess School alumnus Sam Shankland advanced to the quarterfinals of the Chess World Cup in Sochi, Russia, on Monday. 

Shankland had his earliest encounter with chess at the age of six when his father first taught him “how to move the pieces.” He later joined the Berkeley Chess School, where he said he found a community of chess players and improved his skills significantly until he outgrew its standard.

“I’ve always been a competitive person,” Shankland said. “I was always a good athlete, but not the best one. I found chess and got really good really fast. I think humans are supposed to like things we’re good at. I enjoyed the game and kept going.”

Now, Shankland has set his sights on the quarterfinals of the Chess World Cup, a monthlong international elimination tournament with 206 players, administered by the International Chess Federation. According to the tournament’s regulations, players participate in at least two games with the same opponent, with each player having white and black pieces once to promote fairness.

Shankland is no stranger to the spotlight. According to his website, Shankland’s career highlights include receiving his grandmaster title, winning gold in the Chess Olympiad for the U.S. team in 2014 and 2016 and being crowned the U.S. champion in 2018. 

For the Chess World Cup this year, Shankland shared how he occasionally feels anxious. But up to this point, he stated that he is pleased with the results.

“It feels great to be playing well,” Shankland said. “Sometimes I do get nervous before a game, but once I get in it, I am just really focused. It doesn’t really bother me much now — playing high stakes games.”

When Shankland isn’t playing chess, he can be found teaching chess or writing method books. Specifically for the Berkeley community, Shankland has taught summer chess camps at the Berkeley Chess School. According to Berkeley Chess School’s website, he is their “Grandmaster in residence.” Shankland also noted how he makes an effort to give back when he can.

For tournaments, Shankland explained how it’s important to keep his guard up to prevent any slips. Although players remain friendly with one another, he stated how it is hard to become friends with competitors.

“At the top level, it’s hard to have friendships,” Shankland said. “It’s a lot easier with competitors you’re not peers with — it’s much easier to be friends with someone you’re not competing with. But there still is camaraderie with guys you’re playing with.”

The quarterfinals are set to last for at least two days before the next round begins.

As of press time, Shankland has won one match in the quarterfinals and is looking to win his second match to advance to the tournament semifinals.

Contact Ashley Tsai at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ashleyttsai.