Russian émigrés dominate US Championship

1/10/2002 – It’s ironic that, in the aftermath of Bobby Fischer’s historic victory over the legendary Soviet Chess machine, nowadays it’s the Russians who dominate the American game. You will find more details in John Henderson's report here...

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With many émigrés now living in America, many joke that the U.S. Championships could easily be mistaken for the USSR Championships. Over half the field in the present U.S. Championships taking place at the Seattle Centre in the Emerald City belongs to the former Soviet Union, and two with contrasting passages to the West, Boris Gulko and Alexander Shabalov, meeting in the top board clash of the fourth round – the full-point going to Shabalov, who now has the sole lead in the tournament with a perfect 4/4.

Gulko, who is one of the few players with a plus score against Garry Kasparov, spent most of his life in the former Soviet Union and is the only player to have won both the USSR and US titles.

However, during the late 70’s, political persecution thwarted a promising career at its peak. Boris and his wife, Anna (who after ending a protest fast was deprived of the 1982 USSR women’s title due to a blatant official fraud), attempted to emigrate to the West and as punishment had to endured persecution and even imprisonment in a Gulag before intense international pressure in 1986 forced their release - the Gulkos eventually settling in Fairlawn, New Jersey.

A two-time U.S. Champion in 1994 and 1999, Boris has also been a candidate for the World Championship title several times. He also has represented the U.S. team seven times at chess Olympiads and was a member of the team that won gold for the U.S. during the World Team Championships in Lucerne, 1993.

No such hardships however for the Latvian-born Shabalov, who benefited enormously from the break-up of the former Soviet Union to freely move to the US in 1992. From his aggressive style of play, it comes as no surprise that Shabalov, the former junior champion of the Soviet Union, had among his chess teachers the legendary Riga magician Mikhail Tal.

Shabalov discovered the game of chess by watching his father play with his friends. He soon proved to be a natural talent by winning the highly competitive Under-16 Championship of the Soviet Union in 1982. Because of political turmoil in his homeland, Shabalov decided to move to America in 1992 and ended up in Pittsburgh where his wife obtained a medical residency. In 1993 he won both the prestigious U.S. Open and the U.S. Championship sharing the latter title with another émigré, Alexander Yermolinsky.

Leader board: 1 A Shabalov 4/4; 2-4 L Christiansen, A Yermolinsky, B Kreiman 3.5; 5-9 G Kaidanov, J Benjamin, G Serper, A Fishbein, N de Firmian 3...

B Gulko – A Shabalov US Championships (4) Nimzo-Indian Defence 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 0–0 5 Bd3 d5 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 dxc4 8 Bxc4 c5 9 Nf3 Qc7 10 Ba2 b6 11 0–0 Nbd7 12 Bb2 Bb7 13 c4 Rfd8 14 Re1 Rac8 15 d5 exd5 16 cxd5 c4 17 e4 b5 18 Nd4 Qe5 19 Qf3 Re8 20 Rab1 Nxe4 21 Nxb5 Qxd5 22 Nxa7 Rb8 23 Red1 Qe6 24 Nb5 Qg6 25 Qh3 Ndc5 26 Nc3 Nd2 27 Rbc1 Bc8 28 Bb1 Nxb1 29 Qe3 Bb7 0–1


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