Don't tell Vladimir Akopian that all the glitter disappeared from the $3 million FIDE World Championship in Las Vegas after all seeded players were eliminated. And don't call this Armenian grandmaster a "tourist" either as Garry Kasparov recently tried to do. Akopian displayed cool defensive instincts and a marvelous technique, when he beat England's Michael Adams in the semifinal with the score 2.5 to 0.5. In the best out of six games final Akopian plays Alexander Khalifman of Russia, who eliminated Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu of Rumania in the other semifinal.

Akopian, 27, may go all the way and become a new FIDE world champion this Sunday, finally living up to the expectations raised in his junior years. After winning world junior championships under 16, under 18 and under 20, Akopian did not push himself forward. He played mostly in open tournaments, often in the United States. However, he has good nerves and the knock-out format is suiting him well. Other, stronger grandmasters could not cope with the stress and made unexplainable blunders, for example the ultra solid, highly technical, Evgeny Bareev of Russia, who rarely loses.

Akopian-Bareev

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Qb3 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.g3 e6 8.Bg2 Be7 9.0-0 0-0 10.e3 (Not falling into the trap 10.Rd1 Bc2 and due to the threat 11...Nb6, white loses the exchange.) 10...Ne4 11.Qe2 Qa5 12.Bd2 Nxd2 13.Nxd2 Bg6 14.e4 Rfe8 15.h4 Rad8? (Loses a piece. After 15...h6 black is still in the game.) 16.Nb3 Qh5 17.Bf3 Qh6 18.h5 (The bishop goes.) Black resigned.

Vassily Ivanchuk of the Ukraine has all the tools to become a world champion, except nerve. In the early rounds, he played probably the best chess in Las Vegas, but when things got tough against the Rumanian wonder boy Nisipeanu, Ivanchuk blundered his way out of the championship.

Nisipeanu-Ivanchuk

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nxc6 Qf6 6.Qd2 dxc6 7.Nc3 Qe7 8.Be2 Nf6 9.0-0 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 Qxe4 11.Re1 0-0 12.Bd3 Qd5 13.b4 Bxf2+?? 14.Qxf2 (Hoping only for 14.Kxf2 Qd4+ winning the rook at the corner.) Black resigned.

All nine American grandmasters were eliminated in Las Vegas in the first two rounds and most of them headed north to Reno for the 100th U.S. Open. Alex Yermolinsky took the title in a blitz play-off after he shared the first place with Alexander Goldin, Ed Rozentalis, Alexander Shabalov, Gabriel Schwartzman and Michael Mulyar, all scoring 7.5 points in 9 games. It was one of the strongest U.S. Opens with 26 grandmasters at start.

Shabalov came to Reno straight from his brilliant victory in the very strong MK Cafe Open in Koszalin, Poland. Shabalov scored 8 points in 9 games, a full point ahead of the Czech grandmaster Zbynek Hracek and Alexandre Lesiege of Canada. The average rating of the 74 participants was 2542.

Like his friend Alexei Shirov, Shabalov plays with a lot of imagination. After all, they both started in the same chess school in Riga, Latvia, often visited by the legendary world champion Mikhail Tal. Shabalov's game against last year's winner, Igor Khenkin of Israel, is a perfect example of his style. Khenkin-Shabalov

1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Bd3 f5 5.exf5 Bb4+ 6.Kf1 Nf6 7.Be2 (Threatening to trap the bishop with 8.c5. The immediate 7.c5 bxc5 8.a3 is met 8...c4! with a good game for black as Shabalov demonstrated against Dreev at the 1998 Elista Olympiad. It continued in an exciting way after Shabalov spiced it with sacrifices leading to a perpetual check: 9.Bxc4 Ba5 10. Nf3 0-0 11.Bd2 Nc6 12.Bxa5 Nxa5 13.Ba2 Ne4 14.b4 Rxf5 15.bxa5 Nxf2 16.Kxf2 Qh4+ 17.Kf1 Ba6+ 18.Kg1 Rxf3 19.gxf3 Rf8 20.Nd2 Qg5+ and draw was agreed.) 7...0-0 8.c5 bxc5 9.a3 Ba5 10.dxc5 Ne4!? (Shabalov's improvement over 10...Nd5, played in Belyavsky-Short, Groningen 1997. From the square e4 the knight tickles the pawn on f2 and the bishop on b7 has more scope.)

11.b4 Qf6 12.Ra2 Bd5 13.Rb2 Nc6! (White finally trapped the bishop, but his pieces are still napping. On the other hand black has almost all his pieces in action. ) 14.Nf3 (After 14.bxa5 black can either increase the pressure with 14...Nd4 or attack via the open b-file 14...Rab8!? 15.Rxb8 Rxb8, when white can easily slip, for example 16.Be3?! [better is 16.Nd2] 16...Qa1 17.Bd3 Bc4! and black wins) 14...Rab8 (Asking white how he is going out of this pin.) 15.fxe6 dxe6 16.h4 (Wasting time with a pawn move does not seem right, but after 16.Rc2 Bb3 17.bxa5 Rfd8 18.Bd3 Nxc5 19.Qe2 Nxd3 20.Rxc6 Ba4 21.Rxe6 Rxb1 black wins.) 16...Nxc5 17.Qc2 Ne4 18.bxa5 Nd4 19.Qd3 (On 19.Nxd4 Qxf2 mates.) 19...Nb3 20.Rc2 (After 20.Qd1 Nxc1 21.Rxb8 Rxb8 22.Qxc1 Qb2 23.Qxb2 Rxb2 black has a big advantage, for example 24.Nbd2 Nxd2+ 25.Nxd2 Rxd2 with black's advantage or 24.Bd3 Nxf2 wins.) 20...Nbc5 21.Rxc5 Nxc5 22.Qc2 Be4 23.Qxc5 Rxb1 (White position is hopeless, for example 24.Nd2 Rxc1+ 25.Qxc1 Qxf2 mate; or 24.Qe3 Qa1 25.Qxe4 Rxc1+ black wins.) White resigned.

Solution to today's problem by E. M. Hassberg (White: Kh8,Qc8,Rg1, Rg7; Black: Kh4,Rg2,Rh2):

1.Qc2! Rxc2 2.Rh7 mate; or 1...Kh3 2.Qh7 mate; or 1...Rxg1 2.Qxh2mate.