In 1951, he emigrated to the United States, where he became a mathematics professor. By 1952, Zemgalis had settled in Seattle. He was arguably the top player in the Pacific Northwest for the next fifteen years. In 1952, he won (3:1) a match against Olaf Ulvestad in Seattle. In 1953 and 1959, he won the Washington State championships. His 9–0 win in the 1953 Championship and his 6-0 win in the 1959 Championship are the only perfect score in the history of the tournament. In 1962, he won (4.5: 3.5) a match against Viktors Pupols.
William John Donaldson wrote a book on his chess career: Elmars Zemgalis: Grandmaster without the title (2001). Zemgalis was awarded the Honorary Grandmaster title by FIDE in 2003.
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