- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

Latvians rule.GM Alexander Shabalov of Pittsburgh and Jersey City, N.J., WIM Anna Hahn, both natives of the small Baltic state, have won the new 2003 U.S. men's and women's championships in Seattle. Both hail from the Latvian capital of Riga, both were seeded sixth in their division in the 9-round Swiss event, and both used some bottom-of-the-ninth heroics on their way to victory.
Shabalov bounced back from a painful penultimate-round loss to GM Joel Benjamin (a game that won the first brilliancy prize) with a difficult win over California IM Varuzhan Akobian to finish alone in first at 6-2. All of Shabalov's rivals, including Benjamin, John Fedorowicz, Boris Gulko, Alex Stripunsky, Alexander Ivanov and Gregory Kaidanov, played it safe with short, last-round draws, allowing "Shabba" to break away.
Hahn, 26, won a three-way playoff after going 4-4 in the mixed male and female field of 58 players. She upset both 2002 women's champ Jennifer Shahade and Brooklyn's Irina Krush in the playoff.
Shabalov, who claimed a share of the title in 1993 and 2000, took home $25,000 for his efforts, while Hahn won $12,500. In a nice gesture, Erik Anderson of tournament organizer America's Foundation for Chess gave Shabalov and Akobian an extra $5,000 each to reward their fighting effort in the final round (and perhaps to shame the players who took the quick draws).
Shabalov-Akobian proved to be a worthy title-deciding encounter, not perfect but full of admirable fighting spirit. Shabalov as White flirted heavily with defeat, giving up two pawns early and getting only obscure compensation for long stretches. In the end, however, White's relentless pressure causes the young Akobian, clearly a rising star, to crack.
Shabalov's 11. Bd3 g6 12. Bxf5!? in this Advanced French already ensures a sharp, unbalanced fight. White gives up his strong bishop for the knight but leaves the Black pawn on h5 weak and the Black king with no real place to hide on the wings.
Leaving his king in the center, however, Akobian puts the White queenside under heavy pressure, forcing Shabalov to take new risks: 16…a5 17. b5!? (sacrificing at least one pawn and hoping for open lines as compensation down the road) Qxb5 18. Bg5 a4 19. Rb1 Qa5+ 20. Kf1 (the boring Bd2 Qa7 21. Bc1 Qa5+ 22. Bd2 draws) Bxa3 21. Ra1 Qb4!?, forcing Shabalov to fight to regain his material.
With 23…b5, the connected passed pawns look terrifying, but Shabalov continues to play for the attack with 24. Bf6 Rh6 25. Re1 Qf8 26. Qe2! (Bg7?! Qxg7 27. Rxa3 Nc5 is just fine with Black), lining up against the Black king in the center. The tide shifts definitively on 26…Be7 27. Bg5 Rh8 28. Rec1 Rb8 29. Rab1 Bxg5 30. hxg5 Qa3 (see diagram; with the queen lured from the defense, Shabalov strikes) 31. g6! (undermining Black's central barricade) fxg6 32. Nxe6! Bxe6 33. Rxc6.
White wins a queen but misses a clean kill on 34. Rxb5 Kf7 35. Ng5+?, when 35. Rxb8 Rxb8 36. Qa6!, threatening 37. Rxd6 and 38. Ng5+, would have been decisive; e.g., 36…Bc8 (Bd7 37. e6+ Bxd6 38. Rxd6! Qxd6 39. Ng5+) 37. Rxc8 Rxc8 38. Qxc8 a3 39. Qh8 a2 40. e6+ Kxe6 41. Qe5+ Kf7 42. Qxd5+ Kg7 43. Qxa2, winning.
Still, Shabalov finds a beautiful winning motif, invading first with the king and then the queen through an unlocked back door on the kingside, which the Black rook and light-squared bishop are helpless to prevent. White clinched his title with a final sham queen sacrifice: 54. Qh4+ Ke8 56. Qf6! Rxf6 57. exf6 Be6 58. c6 (Black can't stop both passed pawns) g5 59. fxg5 f4 60. g6 fxg3 61. f7+, when 61…Bxf7 62. gxf7+ is hopeless. Akobian resigned.

Indian GM Viswanathan Anand is in the driver's seat with four rounds to go in the Category 19 Corus Chess Tournament that wraps up this week in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. Anand is undefeated and half a point clear of Dutch GM Loek Van Wely and Hungary's Judit Polgar.
The tournament has been a setback for young Ukrainian star Ruslan Ponomariov, the surprise winner of FIDE's world championship title last year. Ponomariov, 19, had some strong early results after winning the title, but he has lost several games in Wijk aan Zee and is far back in the pack.
He may have hit bottom with a stinging loss to 15-year-old Azerbaijan sensation Teimour Radjabov in Round 8, a Classical King's Indian in which the champ got no advantage from the White pieces. In this line with 14. Ne6 Bxe6 15. dxe6, White must play aggressively as he can't hold his e-pawn in the long run. White's pieces take up dangerous-looking posts, but no real threats emerge, and Ponomariov is wide open for the counterpunch.
White is barely holding on when a defensive lapse puts him in a mating net: 32. Bc5 Qd2+ 33. Nf2? (keeping it competitive was 33. Kg1 Ne1 34. Nf2 Nf6 35. Qg6) Nf6 34. Qg6 Ng4 35. Kg1 Nce3! (blocking the bishop on c5 from f2) 36. Bxe3 Nxe3 37. h4 (Qh5 g4 38. a4 Qe2 39. axb5 Qf3 and mate to come) Qe2! 38. Qh5 g4!.
The White queen is now cut off from the defense and Ponomariov can't stop 39…Qf3 and 40. Qg2 mate. White resigned.
U.S. Championships, Seattle, January 2003
1. e4e632. Nxe6Bxe6
2. d4d533. Rxc6Qe7
3. e5c534. Rxb5Kf7
4. c3Nc635. Ng5+Qxg5
5. Nf3Qb636. Rc7+Qe7
6. a3Nh637. Rxe7+Kxe7
7. b4cxd438. Rc5Rhc8
8. cxd4Nf539. Qa6Rxc5
9. Bb2Be740. Qa7+Ke8
10. h4h541. dxc5Rc8
11. Bd3g642. Qxa4+Bd7
12. Bxf5gxf543. Qd4Be6
13. Nc3Rg844. f4Ke7
14. g3Bd745. Qb4Rc6
15. Bc1Rc846. Kh3Bd7
16. Ne2a547. Kh4Kf7
17. b5Qxb548. Kg5Ke7
18. Bg5a449. Qb3Re6
19. Rb1Qa5+50. Qxd5Bc6
20. Kf1Bxa351. Qa2Bd7
21. Ra1Qb452. Kh6Be8
22. Nf4Rh853. Kg7Bd7
23. Kg2b554. Qh2Rc6
24. Bf6Rh655. Qh4+Ke8
25. Re1Qf856. Qf6Rxf6
26. Qe2Be757. exf6Be6
27. Bg5Rh858. c6g5
28. Rec1Rb859. fxg5f4
29. Rab1Bxg560. g6fxg3
30. hxg5Qa361. f7+Black
31. g6fxg6resigns

65th Corus Chess Tournament, Group A, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2003
Ponomariov Radjabov
1. Nf3Nf620. Qh3c6
2. c4g621. Ne3Qf6
3. Nc3Bg722. Ng4Qe7
4. e4d623. Be3Nxe6
5. d40-024. g3Qd7
6. Be2e525. Rf1d5
7. 0-0Nc626. Rf5dxc4
8. d5Ne727. Bxc4Nd4
9. b4Nh528. Rxf8Rxf8
10. Re1f529. Qh5Qd6
11. Ng5Nf630. Kg2b5
12. f3Kh831. Bf7Nc2
13. Rb1h632. Bc5Qd2+
14. Ne6Bxe633. Nf2Nf6
15. dxe6fxe434. Qg6Ng4
16. fxe4Nc635. Kg1Nce3
17. Nd5Ng836. Bxe3Nxe3
18. Bd3Nd437. h4Qe2
19. Qg4g538. Qh5g4
White resigns
David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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