Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sam Shankland & Our Young Heroes

A while back International Master Sam Shankland gave this interview. He was upset with many things. He was upset with his tournament results. He was upset with the technicalities that prevented him from attaining his Grandmaster title. He was upset with his experience as a professional player in his gap year between high school and college. He basically stated that he'll be quitting the game of chess. He has been repeatedly criticized as being a spoiled, arrogant kid for his behavior in this interview as well as other off camera language. I really only hold one position on this matter...


I love the fact that he was pissed off and didn't give a shit about the camera. And did you see him shoot those daggers with that 100 yard stare? Damn!! This is EXACTLY how an 18 year old should behave!! People say his behavior is immature? Fuck that! He has his whole life to measure his words and calculate his actions. Sam Shankland is standing on the edge of adolescence, looking into the future as an adult chess professional, and he's pissed off. He deserves to be angry. I can't even imagine the amount of dedication and sacrifice required to achieve what he has done. Winning the World Under 18 at age 16? You know what I was doing at age 16? I was throwing dirt clods at my neighbor's house and pushing carts at the local grocery store.

It wasn't long ago that Hikaru Nakamura said that he didn't see being a professional chess player as a viable option for his future. He has since changed his mind (thank Caissa), but I have heard the same thing from Robert Hess. How soon until we hear this from Roy Robson?

But think about it...what are our top young chess players supposed to do when they graduate from high school? Perhaps they receive a scholarship and are able to dedicate themselves to playing through college. Then what? After graduation, they are forced to either downgrade chess to a hobby as they juggle the start of a non-chess career or they take a vow of poverty and continue to slug it out on the weekends for the chance at a slice of a meager prize fund.

And when they head back to their crappy hotel room, they get to watch a week-long broadcast of the National Spelling Bee on ESPN and primetime CBS.

Top cash prizes at major chess tournaments pale in comparison to those given to bowling, hot dog eating and rock-paper-scissor "athletes." Let me copy & paste that sentence again: Top cash prizes at major chess tournaments pale in comparison to those given to bowling, hot dog eating and rock-paper-scissor "athletes."

And after they do leave chess, how the hell are they supposed to adjust to being a schmucky cubicle crawler in the straight world? Think about Gata Kamsky for a minute. Regarded as a chess prodigy, he received his Grandmaster title at age 16 and was a challenger for the World Championship at age 22. He then completely left chess to attend law school.

Can you imagine Gata's first day at a law firm as a scrub attorney after being a top chess celebrity?

Senior Partner: Hey Gata, get your ass in here! I need you to photocopy this file and pick up my dry cleaning.

Grandmaster Gata Kamsky: With all due respect, but after being born in the Soviet Union, making my way in America, defeating the greatest chess players on the planet and accomplishing more by age 12 than most people accomplish in a lifetime...I feel I'm capable of more than just photocopying.

Senior Partner: Well, guess what you gatta find a new job. Pack up your shit, you're fired!!

They've held up their end of the bargain. They became great young chess players. We have failed them. We have not given them viable options to become great adult chess players. Our greatest players are quitting before they reach their full potential.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cry.


Anonymous said...

John: It is lamentable that a talent like Sam Shankland has become cynical and bitter at such a young age. I know that he's been criticized a lot for his remarks, but I wonder how much those nay-sayers know about what really goes on behind the scenes at USCF and FIDE. Setting aside the valid complaint about economic realities of chess here in the United States, how can we attract talent to the game when those who purportedly act for the "good of chess" are self-serving and corrupt?

Shankland's major sin is the same one committed by another young, talented American player in the 1960's: he's saying what's on his mind rather than assuming the BOHICA position. In fact, I think terms like "spoiled" and "selfish" were applied to this other American player. It wasn't until he was nearly dead that his allegations were proven to be substantially true.

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

Greg, those are some great points. Often casual players will dismiss chess simply as a hobby or pastime but fail to recognize the amount of commitment required to play at a high level. That commitment requires compensation of some type...without that compensation it is almost impossible to attract and keep talent interested.