|Alex Shabalov, Street Fighter|
GM Alexander Shabalov, won the event and the $25,000 first prize. Going into the final round, the 1992 emigre from Riga, Latvia, was tied with seven other players, but instead of following the example of a bunch of other GMs and taking he quick draw, he slugged it out with (then an IM now a GM) Varuzhan Akobian to take the title. Anna Hahn was awarded the Women's Champion title.
This tournament featured several new faces which included GM Maurice Ashley and FM Stephen Muhammad along with the then teenage sensation IM Hikaru Nakamura. Also included were the Mongolian couple, FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg.
Most of the favorites won in the first round, but the previous year's six-time champion Walter Browne was upset by 16-year-old Cindy Tsai. In one first round incident, top junior Hikaru Nakamura faced defending women's champion Jennifer Shahade. When Shahade claimed a three-fold repetition Nakamura didn't believe it and, according to witnesses, threw a tantrum. Shahade was right; it was a draw. Nakamura's snit was hard to understand because his position was already worse.
Nakamura also had also raised some eyebrows when he had privately asked the organizers about "players like Akobian." There had been some controversy about the 18-year old Akobian's invitation because normally there is a waiting period before an immigrant is allowed to participate in the championship and Goldin had just finished his waiting period and the 2003 event was the first for which he was eligible. An exception had been made for Akobian.
In other first round action IM Greg Shahade blundered and lost to the lowest rated player in the event, Julia Shiber who was rated 270 points below him.
Shabalov thrives on wild games. Describing his play, he said, "If the position after my move becomes more complicated then the game is going in the right direction." Being from Riga, Shabalov and his contemporary Alexei Shirov studied with Tahl and as a result both inherited Tahl's style. The downside of his style is that Shabalov sometimes loses to lower rated players more often than would be expected from a player with his rating.
With a style that's been described as a street fighter, Shabalov rarely offers or accepts early draws and going into the last round eight players were tied for first with 5.5 points. After 15 minutes, thanks to short draws, the stage was almost empty. Shabalov's game against Akobian was the exception. It lasted six hours. The event's main sponsor, Erik Anderson, was so pleased with Shabalov's fighting spirit that he awarded both players an extra $5,000! Anderson, president of West River Capital, a private equity investment company based in Seattle, started The America's Foundation for Chess in 2000.
This was Shabalov his first outright US title. In 1993 he shared the title with Alex Yermolinsky and in 2000 he shared a three-way tie with Yasser Seirawan and Joel Benjamin.
1) Alexander Shabalov 6.5
2-8) Gregory Kaidanov, Alexander Goldin, Boris Gulko, Joel Benjamin, Alexander Stripunsky, Alexander Ivanov and John Fedorowicz 6.0
9-17) Yasser Seirawan, Nick De Firmian, Larry Christiansen, Alex Yermolinsky,Varuzhan Akobian, Hikaru Nakamura, Gennadi Zaitshik, Ron Burnett and Justin Sarkar 5.5
18-24) Ben Finegold, Gregory Serper, Boris Kreiman, Alex Fishbein, Dmitry Gurevich, Igor Foygel and Stephen Muhammad 5.0
25-38) Sergey Kudrin,Yury Lapshun, Walter Browne, Michael Mulyar, Jesse Kraai, Greg Shahade, Tegshsuren Enhbat, William Paschall, John Donaldson, Anatoly Lein, Larry Kaufman, Irina Krush, Jennifer Shahade, Anna Hahn 4.5
39-44) Maurice Ashley, Eugene Perelshteyn, Aaron Pixton, Dean Ippolito, Elena Donaldson and John Watson 4.0
45-49) Camile Baginskaite, David Pruess, Gregory Markzon, Tsagaan Battsetseg and Julia Shiber 3.5
50-54) Stanislav Kriventsov, Marc Esserman, Esther Epstein, Laura Ross and Elina Groberman 3.0
55-56) Allan Bennett and Cindy Tsai 2.5
57) Olga Sagalchik 2.0
58) Anna Levina 1.5
No GM norms were made, but both FM Stephen Muhammad and FM Igor Foygel scored their third and final IM norm. WIM Jennifer Shahade scored both her second IM and second WGM norm.
The following first round win by Shabalov is impressive, especially his 20th move and the way he built up his position which just seemed to keep growing.