Shabalov crowned chess champ

Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 10:04 p.m.
SEATTLE - With a stunning queen sacrifice, Latvian-born Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov of Pittsburgh defeated an up-and-coming rival to win the U.S. Chess Championship.
It took Shabalov 61 moves over almost six hours Saturday night to beat 19-year-old Varuzhan Akobian, an Armenian who lives in Glendale, Calif., for the $25,000 prize, the biggest in the tournament's history.
Among the women on Sunday, Anna Hahn, 26, of Jersey City, N.J., beat last year's top female finisher, 22-year-old Jennifer Shahade of New York City, and 19-year-old New York University student Irina Krush in a tie-breaking round of speed chess to take home the $12,500 women's championship.
Shabalov, 35, had twice tied for the title - in 1993 and 2000 - but this was his first outright championship. He could have clinched first place with a win or a draw Friday night, but he lost to Joel Benjamin of New York.
Shabalov celebrated victory Saturday night with a paper cup of Scotch. "All I needed yesterday was a draw, but I lost, so I was pretty angry with myself. I just decided I was going to do whatever I needed to do."
Last year's winner, Larry Christiansen of Cambridge, Mass., tied with four other players for third place.
Shabalov, playing with the white pieces, tested Akobian with an aggressive opening. By mid-game, Akobian found himself in time trouble. Shabalov took an advantage that he sealed by sacrificing his queen on the 56th move; Akobian resigned five moves later.
It was still a break-out tournament for Akobian, who has played strong chess for the past year. Most notably, he won the World Open in Philadelphia last summer.

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