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Elena Akhmilovskaya Donaldson, 55, top chess player


Associated Press/file 1988


NEW YORK — Elena Akhmilovskaya Donaldson, who was a chess champion in both the Soviet Union and her adopted country, the United States, and was once ranked among the world’s top female players, died Sunday in Kirkland, Wash.

She was 55.

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The cause was brain cancer, said her husband, Georgi Orlov.

Ms. Donaldson was known as Elena Akhmilovskaya when, in 1978, she helped the Soviet Union win the chess Olympiad, a biennial international team tournament, finishing with a perfect record, 10 wins in 10 games.

She played on the triumphant Soviet team again in 1986, and the same year, as the second-ranked woman in the world, she lost a world championship match with another ­Soviet player, Maya Chiburdanidze.

She made her biggest headlines during the 1988 Olympiad in Salonika, Greece, when she eloped with the captain of the American team, John Donaldson.

They settled in Seattle, and Ms. Donaldson, who reached the level of women’s grandmaster, went on to win three US women’s championships, in 1990, 1993 (a shared title with Irina Levitina), and 1994.

Elena Bronislavovna Akhmilovskaya was born in Leningrad on March 11, 1957. Her father was an engineer, and the family moved often; young Elena spent much of her childhood in Krasnoyarsk, a river city in east central Russia, where her mother, Orlov said, was a regional chess champion before she died when Elena was a teenager.

She studied law and physics at the local state university (now part of Siberian Federal University), but she left school before graduation to pursue her emerging chess career.

Ms. Donaldson’s first ­marriage, in the Soviet Union, ended in divorce, as did her second marriage to John Donaldson.

Orlov, an international master (one designation below grandmaster) who had helped train Ms. Donaldson for top-flight matches in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, moved to the United States in the early 1990s; they married in 1995 and lived in Redmond, Wash.

In recent years, the couple operated a chess school in ­Redmond and in nearby Seattle.

In addition to her husband, Ms. Donaldson leaves a sister, Tatiana Resninskaya; a daughter, Donna Van Zandt; and a son, Nicholas Orlov.

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