Who will be the star of the next century after Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand leave the chess scene? Among many candidates, we should not leave out Ruslan Ponomariov. This super prodigy from Ukraine is getting stronger every day.

At this year's FIDE championship in Las Vegas, Ponomariov was eliminated by the experienced Bulgarian grandmaster Veselin Topalov, but only after a hard-fought match. In this month's European team championship in Batumi, Ponomariov was placed on the Ukrainian team's fourth board and played exciting chess right from the start.

For his age (he is only 16) Ponomariov has a rather mature positional style, but give him the opportunity and this youngster becomes a lion who can attack with force. He is well prepared in the openings and can play sharp variations. Against the Yugoslav Ivan Ivanisevic, Ponomariov was not afraid to repeat a fascinating piece sacrifice in the Taimanov Sicilian.

Ponomariov-Ivanisevic

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Qc7 5.Nc3 e6 6.Ndb5 Qb8 7.Be3 a6?! (Could it be that this logical move is a decisive mistake? Black may avoid trouble by playing 7...Nf6.) 8.Bb6!? (A rather demanding piece sacrifice, but Ponomariov is ready to walk over ravines.) 8...axb5 9.Nxb5 Bb4+ (White is threatening to win the queen with 10.Bc7. Black can prevent it with 9...Ra4, but after 10.Nc7+ Ke7 11.c4 Ra5 12.c5 the rook is not running away and white keeps the edge. Better seems 9...Ra5, for example 10.Nc7+ Ke7 11.Bb5 Rxb5 12.Nxb5 Qe5 and black is jumping out of the box.) 10.c3 Ba5 11.Nc7+ Kf8 (In the game Ponomariov-Al Modiahki, played at this year's FIDE championship in Las Vegas, black tried 11...Qxc7 12.Bxc7 Bxc7, but after 13.Qg4 g6 14.Bc4 white eventually won in 58 moves.) 12.Nxa8 Qxa8 13.Qd6+ Nge7 14.Qa3 f5 (It was difficult to get out of the pin. In the game Ganguly-Kabir, Calcutta 1999, black gave up the piece immediately 14...Qb8, but after 15.Bxa5 Qe5 16.Bb6 Qxe4+ 17.Be3 f5 18.0-0-0 white consolidated his position.) 15.b4 fxe4 16.bxa5 Kf7 and white won in 46 moves.

Against Laurent Fressinet of France, Ponomariov brilliantly took care of the undeveloped black king, opening up the central e-file with a knight sacrifice.

Ponomariov-Fressinet

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.d4 a6 (A new trend in the Scandinavian defense.) 6.Bc4! (The young Frenchman perhaps hoped that Ponomariov would repeat the move 6.Ne5, which he played against another Frenchman, Hauchard, in Belfort last year. Black had a good game after 6.. Nc6! 7.Nxc6 Qxc6 8.Bf4 Bg4 9.f3 Be6.) 6...Nbd7 7.0-0 b5 8.Bb3 Bb7 (Black neglected his king and the young Ukrainian quickly finds the weak point in black's camp.) 9.Ng5! e6 10.Re1! (Suddenly everything is breaking lose around the pawn on e6.) 10...Be7 (Black is unable to block the attack with 10...Nd5, because after 11.Qh5 g6 12.Qf3 white wins with a double attack on f7 and d5.)

11.Nxe6! (The pounding on the square e6 starts.) 11...fxe6 12.Rxe6 Qb4 13.a3 Qa5 14.Bd2 (Altough this tricky move is difficult to handle, white could have played simply 14.Qe2 Ng8 15.Bg5 Ndf6 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Nd5 Bxd5 18.Qh5+, winning either after 18...Kd7 19.Qxd5+ Bd6 20.Qxa8; or after 19.Bxd5 Rd8 20.Rxf6+ Nxf6 21.Qf7 mate.) 14...b4 15.axb4 Qf5 16.Qe2 Ng8 17.Ra5 Qf8 18.Nd5 Kd8 19.b5 (Another way was 19.Nxe7 Nxe7 20.Bg5 Nf6 21.Qe5 with a strong pressure.) 19...Bd6 20.bxa6 Bc6 21.Nb4 Nb8 (White can now play with 22.Nxc6+ Nxc6 23.Qe4 Nge7 24.Rxe7 Qxe7! 25.Qxc6 Bxh2+ 26.Kh1 Ra7 27.Bg5 winning the queen.) Not waiting, black resigned.

Maryland Junior Championship

John Rouleau of Rockville, 16, and Ksenia Didenko of Arlington, 13, won all four games at the 1999 Herschel Mednick Memorial Maryland Junior Championship, held Dec. 18 at Montgomery College in Rockville. As a Virginia resident Didenko, a former girl scholastic champion of Belarus, was not eligible to win the title. In the 61-player teen section, the new champion Rouleau edged the top-rated Ray Kaufman and Zhong Lu, both of Potomac, after they were held to last round draws.

In the preteen section (51 entrants), Boris Tartakovsky of Randallstown and David Glancy of Towson, won all four games and are the Maryland Preteen co-champions for the year 2000.

Results from U.S. Chess Center

In the Rated Beginners Open held Dec. 4: Mikhail Zhukovsky of Chevy Chase won the adult section; Jason McKinney of Fort Washington won the Premier section; Jacob Feldman of Herndon and Byron Hood of Vienna won the 4th-6th grade section and Ilya Sirotinin of Gaithersburg won the 1st-3rd grade section. Next tournament is New Year's Eve, the final rated chess tournament of the 1900s.

Solution to today's composition by Valeljo (White:Ke2,Qd6,Nf4,Nf7; Black:Ke4,Nb4,Ng4): 1.Ne6 Nd5 Qe5+!! Nxe5 3.Nd6 mate; or 1...Kf5 2.Nd4+ Ke4 3.Ng5 mate.