Alexander Shabalov is the 2003 U.S. champion. The bold and daring grandmaster scored 6.5 points in nine games and won the $25,000 first prize. Before Saturday's last round in Seattle, eight players had a chance to win the title, but fear of losing some of the large prizes suffocated the fighting spirit of six of them and they agreed to quick draws.

The decisive French defense game between Shabalov, 35, and the young talented Varuzhan Akobian, 18, had all the elements of a great championship battle: a sharp opening with pawn sacrifices, complicated middlegame with a tactical breakthrough and a queen sacrifice that broke the blockade in the endgame.

Shabalov-Akobian

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2 Be7 10.h4 h5 11.Bd3 g6 12.Bxf5 gxf5 13.Nc3 Rg8 14.g3!? (Shabalov tries to improve on the games of Alexander Grischuk, who tried here 14.Ng5 and 14.0-0.) 14...Bd7 15.Bc1 (Threatening to weaken the dark squares with 16.Bg5 costs white time.) 15...Rc8 16.Ne2 a5! (Dismantling white's queenside.)

17.b5!? (What is a pawn to a charging warrior? It slows down black's play on the queenside. After 17.bxa5 Nxa5, the black pieces come to life too quickly.) 17...Qxb5 18.Bg5 a4 19.Rb1 Qa5+ 20.Kf1 Bxa3 21.Ra1!? (Seeing that after 21.Rxb7 Bb4 black is fine, Shabalov is mixing things up.) 21...Qb4? (There was no need to entangle the pieces. Giving up the pawn 21...Bb2! 22.Rxa4 Qb5 would force white to look for a draw with 23.Kg2 [On 23.Ra2 Bxd4! is possible.] 23...Nb4 24.Ra7 Qb6 25.Ra4! Qb5! etc.) 22.Nf4 Rh8 23.Kg2 (Shabalov doesn't mind being a couple of pawns down as long as his light pieces keep the black king worried.) 23...b5 24.Bf6 Rh6 25.Re1 (Threatening 26.Re3 Bb2 27.Nd3.) 25...Qf8 26.Qe2 Be7? (Maybe black did not see that after 26...b4 27.Qa6 Nb8 28.Qb7 b3 29.Bg7 he has 29...Qb4! escaping.) 27.Bg5 Rh8 28.Rec1! Rb8 29.Rab1 Bxg5 (After 29...b4 30.Qa6 is dangerous.) 30.hxg5 Qa3 31.g6! (The tide is changing. Suddenly black is hurting along the sixth rank.) 31...fxg6 (On 31...Rg8 comes 32.Ng5!)

32.Nxe6! Bxe6 33.Rxc6 (Black's position has collapsed.) 33...Qe7 34.Rxb5 Kf7 35.Ng5+? (Only winning the queen, but the game was won faster after 35.Rxb8 Rxb8 36.Qa6! and after 36...Bd7 37.e6+! Bxe6 38.Rxe6! wins.) 35...Qxg5 36.Rc7+ Qe7 37.Rxe7+ Kxe7 38.Rc5 Rhc8 39.Qa6 Rxc5? (Leaving white with a passed pawn. Better seems 39...Ra8.) 40.Qa7+ Ke8 41.dxc5 Rc8 42.Qxa4+ Bd7 43.Qd4 Be6 44.f4 Ke7 45.Qb4 Rc6 46.Kh3 Bd7 47.Kh4 Kf7 48.Kg5 Ke7 49.Qb3 Re6 (On 49...Be6 50.Kxg6 wins.) 50.Qxd5 Bc6 51.Qa2 Bd7 52.Kh6 Be8 53.Kg7 Bd7 (It seems that black has almost created a fortress, but Shabalov finds a wonderful way how to break the blockade.) 54.Qh2! Rc6 55.Qh4+ Ke8 56.Qf6!! (The queen sacrifice gives white two annoying passed pawns.) 56...Rxf6 57.exf6 Be6 58.c6 g5 (After 58...Bd5 59.c7 Kd7 60.Kxg6 Kxc7 61.f7 Bxf7+ 62.Kxf7 Kd6 63.Kf6 wins.) 59.fxg5 f4 60.g6 fxg3 61.f7+ Black resigned.

Still, Akobian played well in the championship and his win against Igor Foygel in the King's Indian is a fine attacking gem.

Akobian-Foygel

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 0-0 5.Bg5 d6 6.e3 (A slow, solid positional system against the King's Indian.) 6...Nbd7 7.Be2 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Nh5 10.Nd2! (Immediately clarifying the pawn structure on the kingside.) 10...Nxg3 11.hxg3 c5?! (A dubious move, weakening the light squares, but after 11...e6 white has either 12.f4 or 12.g4 with advantage.) 12.d5 f5 13.f4! (Fixing the kingside first, white assumes the control of the light squares later.) 13...Nf6 14.Qc2 e6 15.fxg5 hxg5 16.dxe6 Bxe6 (Holding by a thread, but after white's next move black's position falls apart.)

17.g4! (With the rook looking dangerously down the h-file, white opens the diagonal b1-h7 for a final attack, for example 17...Nxg4? 18.Bxg4 fxg4 19.Qh7+ Kf7 20.0-0+ wins.) 17...Nd7 (After 17...fxg4 18.0-0-0 Qe7 19.Bd3 Rfe8 20.Bh7+ Kf8 21.Rdf1 white has an enormous pressure.) 18.gxf5 Bxf5 19.Bd3! (A key move in the fight for the diagonal b1-h7.) 19...Bxc3 (Black cannot hold on with 19...Qf6 because after 20.Nd5! Qxb2 21.Qxb2 Bxb2 22.Bxf5 Rxf5 23.Rb1 Rxd5 24.cxd5 Bc3 25.Rxb7 white should win. And after 19...Bxd3 20.Qxd3 Nf6 21.0-0-0, threatening either 22.Nd5 or 22.Nde4, white slides his pieces through the uncontested light squares to victory.) 20.Bxf5 Bxd2+ 21.Kxd2 Rf6 (After 21...Nf6 comes 22.Be6+ Kg723.Raf1, threatening to win with 24.Rxf6!)

22.Be6+!! (The bishop sacrifice clears the way for the white queen. The black king has to march hopelessly into a mating net.) 22...Rxe6 (After 22...Kf8 23.Rh8+ Ke7 24.Rh7+! Kf8 25.Rah1! wins soon.) 23.Qh7+ Kf8 24.Qh8+ Kf7 (Or 24...Ke7 25.Rh7 mate.) 25.Rh7+ Kg6 26.Rg7+ Kf5 (Or 26...Kf6 27.Rf1+ Ke5 28.Rxg5+ Ke4 29.Rg4 mate.) 27.Rf1+ (After 27...Ke4 28.Qh7+ Ke5 29.Qf5 mates.) Black resigned.

Solution to today's study by V. & M. Platovs (White: Kd4,Re4,Rf1,P:b2,g4; Black: Ka4,Qh6,Ba2,P:g5): 1.Kc5+ Ka5 (Not 1...Kb3? 2.Rf2! Bb1 3.Rb4+ Ka2 4.Ra4+ Kb3 5.Ra3+ mate.) 2.Ra4+!! Kxa4 3.Rf3 Bb3 4.Rf6!! Qxf6 stalemate. Spectacular rook sacrifices!

White draws.