Canada, along with the USA, Russia, China and the Ukraine, is one of just a handful of big countries that constitutes a complete FIDE zone – thus allowing either their Closed championships, or indeed a separate event, to act as a Zonal tournament, with the winner qualifying into the next World Cup; and the winner of that, a ticket to the Candidates tournament which selects Magnus Carlsen’s world championship challenger.
Yet despite this, Canadians are indeed “God’s frozen people”, as even with this big advantage they have more or less been frozen out of the elite scene with no big-name chess star. The legendary U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall moved there from New York with his family in his youth, and spent his formative years honing his chess skills in Montreal, winning the city championship title in 1894 at the age of 17. As his autobiography records, "I began to look for new worlds to conquer. Fortunately for me, my family returned to New York a couple of years later…”
The closest they had to a true international elite star was Daniel “Abe” Yanofsky, who was born in Poland and his family moved in 1926 to Winnipeg when he was just eight months old. Yanofsky played in the first great post-war tournament in 1946 in Groningen, and sensationally defeated the Soviet champion and tournament winner, Mikhail Botvinnik, winning the brilliancy prize. But soon after that, the record-breaking eight-time Canadian champion gave up any hopes of a professional chess career for the financial security of becoming a very successful lawyer.
The only true homegrown Canadian talent to take full FIDE zonal advantage was Kevin Spraggett. Like Marshall before him, he made his name as a promising teenage rising-star on the Montreal chess scene, and then progressed through the professional ranks to become the only Canadian to have qualified for the Candidates' level, doing so twice in 1985 and 1988. Spraggett won the Canadian title seven times, but his Candidates’ qualifications were to be his peak, and he subsequently dropped down the rankings.
However there are several excellent Canadian tournaments, the pick of the bunch being the Edmonton International Chess Festival organised by Vlad Rekhson and Micah Hughey of the Alberta Chess Association. And recently, the latest edition of the Edmonton International invitational witnessed a sensational start for India’s Surya Ganguly, as he streaked to a perfect start of 7/7.
And with a sensational start as that, you would have thought it would have been impossible for him to lose the lead in the next round in an all-play-all, wouldn’t you? But that’s just the scenario that played out when he lost to Sam Shankland, as the Californian GM then went on to claim victory with his undefeated score of 8/9 to take the Edmonton title on tiebreak, thanks to beating Ganguly in their penultimate round clash.
It also proved to be a timely win for the in-form Shankland, as earlier this month he was also picked for the final reserve spot for the US Olympiad team. The full US Olympiad Team going for gold in Baku in September will be: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Ray Robson, and now Sam Shankland.
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11th Edmonton International
1-2. GM Sam Shankland (USA), GM Surya Ganguly (India) 8/9; 3. GM Alexei Shirov (Latvia) 6; 4. GM SP Sethuraman (India) 5.5; 5. GM Batur Sambuev (Canada) 5; 6. Bitan Banerjee (India) 4.5; 7. IM Richard Wang (Canada) 3; 8-9. FM Dale Haessel (Canada), Belsar Valencia (Philippines) 2; 10. FM Ian Findlay (Canada) 1.
GM Sam Shankland - GM Surya Ganguly
11th Edmonton GM International, (8)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 More usual in the Queen's Gambit Exchange is the recapture with 4...exd5 - but recently the former world champion Vladimir Kramnik has been setting a trend with the rarity of recapturing with the knight, and has played it also against Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov and Peter Svidler. 5.e4 This is the critical line where we reach a sort of Grünfeld Exchange set-up without Black's bishop being fianchettoed. 5...Nxc3 6.bxc3 c5 7.Rb1 Be7 8.Bc4 0-0 9.Ne2 Nc6 10.0-0 b6 11.Be3 Bb7 As mentioned previously, we have reached a Grünfeld Exchange set-up with the difference being that Black's bishop is on e7 rather than g7; and in theory, this should make the dark squares around the Black king more secure and less vulnerable to an attack. 12.Nf4 cxd4 13.cxd4 Rc8 14.Nxe6!? Shankland is a free-spirited player who always seeks to play dynamically. However when the dust settles, Black should emerge with the slightly better position with his additional minor pieces. 14...fxe6 15.Bxe6+ Kh8 16.Bxc8 Qxc8 17.Qa4 b5?! This is wrong. Ganguly had to move quickly and activate his extra pieces to cause problems for Shankland. And to that end, the obvious reply was 17...Bd6 the point being that if White plays e5 then the bishop retreats to b8 and now the long white diagonal b7-g2 has been opened and also there would be a wonderful outpost on d5 for a Black piece to commander. This leave White only other option to be 18.f3 a6 with an interesting struggle ahead for both sides. Black is now threatening ...b5 and looking to anchor his knight on c4. And note that if 19.Rxb6 Bxh2+! 20.Kf2 Qc7 21.Qb3 Nxd4!! 22.Bxd4 Bxe4 and White won't be able to do anything with his king walking about in no man's land. 18.Rxb5 Ba6 19.Rfb1 Bxb5 20.Qxb5 The quick body count is that Black has a piece for three pawns - but the danger is that those central White pawns on d4 and e4 are very mobile and can quickly cause a major headache for Black. 20...h6 21.h3 a6 22.Qb7! (See Diagram) With Black having the extra piece, Shankland seizes his moment to rightly exchanges off the queens that will mitigate any dangers of an attack on his king and maximise the mobility of his central pawns; and with the queens off, also the weak pawn on a6 is difficult to defend. 22...Qxb7 23.Rxb7 Bg5 24.Rc7 Nb4 More exchanges favour White. If 24...Bxe3 25.fxe3 Nd8 (Or 25...Nb4 26.a3 Nd3 27.e5) 26.Ra7 and in both cases White has the very active rook, his central passed pawns are intact and dangerous, and again the pawn on a6 is going to be won. 25.a3 Nd3 26.e5 Rb8 27.Kh2 Kh7 28.Kg3! Shankland rightly sees he can quickly have his king supporting the central pawns by heading to e4. 28...Rf8 29.Rc6 Bf4+ 30.Kf3 Ne1+ 31.Ke4 Nxg2 32.d5 The White pawns are now rolling and dangerous. 32...Nxe3 33.fxe3 Bg3 34.d6 Re8 35.d7 Rd8 36.e6 Bh4 37.Kd5 Kg8 38.Rxa6 Kf8 39.Ra4 Bf6 40.Rc4 Ke7 41.Rc8 Bg5 42.a4! The e3 pawn is insignificant to the speed of the a-pawn. 42...Bxe3 43.a5 h5 44.Kc6 1-0 Black resigns, as pushing the g-pawn for a countering passed pawn doesn’t work: 44...g5 45.Rxd8 Kxd8 46.e7+! Kxe7 47.Kc7 and the d-pawn queens.