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Esther Epstein of Massachusetts won the 1997 U.S. Women's Championship, which ended Monday in Chandler, Ariz. Epstein, the 1991 co-champion, went undefeated, scoring 7 1/2-1 1/2 in the round robin of the nation's best female players. She received the first prize of $4,000.

Defending champion Anjelina Belakovskaia of New York finished second at 7-2, thanks to a 125-move win in the last round over former champion Anna Gulko of New Jersey. Gulko fell to third at 6 1/2-2 1/2.

Other scores: Anna Khan (New Jersey) and Jennifer Shahade (Pennsylvania), 5-4; Irina Krush (New York), 4 1/2-4 1/2; former champion Sharon Burtman (Orange), 3 1/2-5 1/2; Ivona Jezierska (Van Nuys), 3-6; Jennie Frenklakh (Monterey), 2-7; and Tatyana Zitserman (Minnesota), 1-8.

The 1997 U.S. Championship has reached its second stage, four-game semifinal matches, in Chandler. Joel Benjamin (New York) leads Gregory Kaidanov (Kentucky), 1-0, and Yasser Seirawan (Washington) leads Larry Christiansen (Massachusetts), 1-0.

The four semifinalists advanced by winning their preliminary round robins. Benjamin and Christiansen topped Group 1 with 5-2 scores. John Fedorowicz (New Jersey), also undefeated, finished third at 4 1/2-2 1/2. Next were Boris Gulko (New Jersey) and 1996 champion Alex Yermolinsky (Ohio), 3 1/2-3 1/2; Walter Browne (Berkeley), 3-4; 1996 U.S. Junior champion Jorge Zamora (Rhode Island), 2 1/2-4 1/2; and Alexander Ivanov (Massachusetts), 1-6. Ivanov is married to Esther Epstein.

Kaidanov and Seirawan scored 4 1/2-2 1/2 to lead Group 2. After an upset loss to Gabriel Schwartzman (Florida), Seirawan won his last three games. Other scores: Nick de Firmian (New York), 4 1/2-2 1/2; Roman Dzindzichashvili (Massachusetts), Alexander Shabalov (Pennsylvania) and Schwartzman, 3 1/2-3 1/2; Sergey Kudrin (Massachusetts), 2 1/2-4 1/2; and Dmitry Gurevich (Illinois), 2-5.

The winners of the semifinals will meet in a six-game match for the title of 1997 U.S. champion.


The new state champion is IM Mladen Vucic of Burbank. Vucic won the title by taking first prize in the 19th annual Southern California Open last weekend in San Marcos. He scored 5-1, including wins with Black in the final two rounds over James Maki and former state champion Thomas Wolski.

Tied for second at 4 1/2-1 1/2 were Maki, Wolski, Steve Ramos and IM Igor Ivanov. Ivanov, one ot the pre-tournament favorites, lost in the first round to Eric Kuniholm, but later defeated state invitational champion Cyrus Lakdawala and drew Vucic. The expert prize was shared by Kuniholm, Thomas Nelson and Rickie Simms, who scored 3 1/2-2 1/2 each.

Attila Felsen and Michael Thurber tied for first place in the Premier (under-2000) section, scoring 5-1. Timothy McGuiness took the under-1800 prize.

Santy Wong scored a perfect 6-0 to sweep the Amateur (under-1600) section. Next at 5-1 was Austin Ong, followed by Ernest Scott and best unrated Danuke Kuruppu at 4 1/2-1 1/2.

There were 94 players in the tournament, the lowest turnout for the Southern California Open since its 35-player beginning in 1979. Nevertheless, the sponsoring Southern California Chess Federation (SCCF) incurred only a small loss.

Javier Angel, Emil Gyulnazarian, Samantha Hess and Charlene Ong scored 3-1 to tie for first in the 14-player SCCF Booster tournament on Monday.

The Santa Monica Bay Chess Club, which meets Monday evenings in Joslyn Park, 633 Kensington Ave. in Santa Monica, will begin a six-round tournament on Sept. 8. Call Mike White at (310) 446-3044 for information, or register at the site at 7 p.m.

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