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Utah's Russian chess wiz Igor Ivanov dies of cancer

Igor Ivanov, a Russian defector who became Utah's greatest chess player, has died in St. George of cancer. He was 58.

Despite his illness, Ivanov tied for first place in the Utah Open tournament just three weeks ago. He was Utah's only grandmaster, the highest rank in chess. In 1979, he defeated then-reigning world champion Anatoly Karpov.

"He was our state champion," said John Coffey, vice president of the Utah Chess Association. "He was our best player by far. Nobody else even came close. Serious chess players like having someone of that caliber. He'll be missed for the great player that he was."

First place outright was denied him at the Utah Open in Salt Lake City on Oct. 29 when he became too ill to play one of his games. He was diagnosed with cancer in March.

At the time of his death, the U.S. Chess Federation ranked Ivanov 50th in the country.

Ivanov started playing chess at age five in his hometown of St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), Russia. Though he was taught the game by his mother, he wrote on his Web site: "It was not long before I could beat her." Ironically, Ivanov's mother didn't see much of a future in chess and asked her son to focus on music, hoping he would become a concert pianist. "He often wondered how far he might have gone had he devoted more time to the game in his youth," family spokesman Alan Crooks said.

In addition to beating Karpov, Ivanov earned draws against former world champion Boris Spassky and later world champion Garry Kasparov.

This led to Ivanov's invitation to the Soviet chess team, giving him the opportunity to travel abroad and, in 1980, defect during a stop in Canada. Ivanov lived in Utah since 1991. He took first place in the Utah Open in 1991, 1992, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005, the only years he entered.

In August, Ivanov participated in the U.S. Open in Phoenix. Playing against some of the toughest competition in the country, Ivanov won five games, drew two and requested half-point byes for health reasons in the first and final rounds to finish the tournament undefeated and tied for eighth place.