Alexander Shabalov, a 35-year-old grandmaster from Pittsburgh, won the U.S. Chess Championship on Saturday night. The nine-round tournament in Seattle featured 58 of the nation's top players, including 20 grandmasters.
Shabalov, an uncompromising fighter, certainly did not coast to victory.
He led the tournament after seven rounds but lost his next game to fall into an eight-way tie for first place entering the final round. While his rivals drew, Shabalov defeated Varuzhan Akobian of Glendale in a long, difficult battle to claim sole possession of first place. His score of 6 1/2-2 1/2 represents five wins (the most in the tournament), three draws and one loss.
Shabalov will receive $25,000, a record prize for a U.S. champion. This is his second national title. He was a co-champion in 1993, shortly after he immigrated to the U.S. from Latvia.
The seven players who scored 6-3 and tied for second place received about $9,300 apiece. They are grandmasters John Fedorowicz of New York, Alexander Goldin of Illinois, Gregory Kaidanov of Kentucky, Alexander Stripunsky of New York, and former champions Joel Benjamin of New York, Boris Gulko of New Jersey and Alexander Ivanov of Massachusetts.
Two Southern Californians competed. John Watson of San Diego scored 4-5, a good result that capped an extraordinary comeback from a 1999 stroke. The Southland's top star, 19-year-old Akobian, was among the leaders throughout the tournament and finished with 5 1/2-3 1/2.
The tournament also counted as the U.S. Women's Championship. Defending champion Jennifer Shahade (New York), Anna Hahn (New Jersey) and former champion Irina Krush (New York) scored 4 1/2-4 1/2 to tie for first place. A playoff today will determine the winner.
America's Foundation for Chess, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, ran the tournament for the third time. Besides supporting the premier event for professional players, the foundation sponsors a variety of chess programs for schoolchildren. Every participant in the championship pledged to devote two days this year to promoting scholastic chess.
Jack Peters is an international master and writes The Times' chess column.