2003 US Chess Championship
2003 US Chess Championship (Round Nine)

Shabalov wins U.S. Championship!

GM Alexander Shabalov won the 2003 U.S. Championship by grinding out perhaps the hottest star on the American scene. Shabalov played inspired chess losing only to GM Joel Benjamin in the 8th round, but avoiding any mental lapses or too many draws.

In an interesting development, the first three boards quick agreed to draws in eight, seven and thirteen moves, respectively. The buzz going around in the tournament was the anticipated playoff  occurring on the next day. However, the Shabalov-Akobian match went the distance as the journalists in the press room went back and forth in their assessment of the position arising from a complicated French Defense.

Shabalov started the fireworks with
17.b5!? and attempted to open lines toward the centralized black king. Akobian was up to the challenge and played 17Qxb5  then took a second pawn with 20Bxa3. Fritz evaluated the resulting position as advantageous for black (-1.31) and the press room held a similar notion. Akobian decided to regroup his pieces with 25Qf8 and 26Be7 as Shabalov had mobilized for a kingside onslaught.

Game start 5 back 1 back 1 forward 5 forward Game end flip board autoplay


Black continued to hold serve, but "Shabba" moved his attack ahead full steam with 31.g6! fxg6 32.Nxe6! After 32Bxe6 33.Rxc6 Qe7 34.Rxb5, the momentum swung in white's favor as black had to jettison his queen after 34Kf7 (34 Rxb5 35.Qxb5 Kf8 (35 Bd7 36.Rc8+!) 36.Qb6) 35.Ng5+ Qxg5 to avoid a rout of his position. However, Akobian's clumsy rook and bad bishop could not develop a fortress to stop the white  couple (queen and king) from trampling on the dark squares. Shabalov decided the game with the beautiful 56.Qf6!! and with it, 1st place and a $25,00o prize. This game was also received a special prize at the closing ceremony.

GM norm eludes Muhammad but bags IM title!!

Prior to the tournament, FM Stephen Muhammad was a man on a mission. A mainstay in American tournaments, he scored many results, but had not enjoyed the consistency needed to collect IM norm. Starting with his first norm in July 2001, he instituted a regiment of focused study and inspired play to secure the IM title to gain three norms in a span of 18 months.

Muhammad's first norm came at the Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament (July 2001); the second at the 2002 World Open (July 2002); the final coming at this historic showing (January 2003). His play inspired many players at the tournament, and at the closing ceremonies, new U.S. champion
GM Alexander Shabalov was generous in his praise of FM Muhammad. GM Dmitry Gurevich was also heard giving Muhammad words of encouragement.

IM Stephen Muhammad

IM-elect Stephen Muhammad
(photo by Daaim Shabazz)

In Muhammad-Kreiman, white steered the game into a complicated Queen's Gambit Slav. The game  certainly has a precedence in last year's Foxwoods Open, IM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun played IM Larry Kaufman, but played 10Nxe5!? instead of 10Bg6. Muhammad forged ahead with 11.exf5 creating an imbalance in the position and summarily sacrificed a pawn with 14.d5!? Nbxd5 14.Nxd5 Nxd5 15.Bd4, but after 15e5! Muhammad was in trouble.

After 15e5! (1st diagram) white was forced to play 16.Bc3 in lieu of Bb4+, but the pressure continued with 16Bb4 18.fxg6 hxg6 19.Bc4 Bxc3+ 20.bxc3 Qh4+. Of course, there were many pitfalls for white as Fritz stated that every move except 21.g3 would lose immediately, so the game played on.
GM Maurice Ashley came to the press room to observe the game and initially began calculating favorable  lines for black such as 21.g3 Qe3+ 22.Kh1 Qd2! 23.h4 (23.Ra2? Rxh2+ 24.Kg1 Qxa2-+) 0-0-0. This is exactly how the game went, but instead of 0-0-0, black opted for 23Qg5 (2nd diagram) which at first glance looks devastating due to the weakness on g3 and rook sacrifices on h4.

Muhammad-Kreiman (position after 16...e5!) Muhammad-Kreiman (position after 24...Qd2-g5)

(Position after 16e5!)

(Position after 24...Qd2-g5)

After a few minutes, GM Ashley noticed a defense resource in 25.Qxb7! with multiple counter threats. Muhammad played the move and Kreiman bailed out with 25Rxh4+ taking the perpetual check after 26.gxh4 Qxh4+. Black could've tried 25Rd8!? But a win is improbable after 26.Qxc6+ Kf8 27.Qc5+ Kg7 28.Kf2 Nxc3 29.f4.

This result closed out a great tournament for FM Muhammad. He received many congratulatory remarks and perhaps was the talk of the tournament amongst the journalists, arbiters and players alike.  He will now be henceforth referred on The Chess Drum as
IM-elect Stephen Muhammad (until conferral). Congratulations!!

Read Final Report!

Report by Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum
Standings after Round 9