Earlier this year, it seemed very unlikely that I’d be able to play in my fourth Montreal International. Montreal is usually held at the end of July, and the Dortmund match already filled that time slot for me. But an unexpected source came to the rescue: the Montreal Gay Games were scheduled for July 26 to August 5 and apparently all the city’s hotel rooms were booked for this period (the hotel where the players are always lodged is located right in Montreal’s gay quarter). Andre Langlois, the organizer, thus decided to move the tournament’s starting date to August 8, and he was forced to truncate the event to 9 rounds instead of the usual 11 because of the Canadian Championship, which was set to begin on August 18th.
So I had just enough time to make it back from Dortmund! Of course, it’s not my favorite thing to play in tournaments back-to-back, but I love playing in Montreal and I’ve had good results there the past few years. Anyway, I’d already faced an identical situation in 2004, when Montreal began the day after I got back from Krasnoturinsk, Russia. This time, though, I didn’t quite have the luxury of playing the ‘next day’ because due to a heavy delay in JFK, I only got to Montreal at 2 AM of the day of the game (it’s not that bad; the games start at 6 PM).
Surprising everyone and especially myself, I won my first two games in convincing fashion, against Slovakian GM Likavsky and one of Canada’s best juniors, Nikolay Noritsyn, though it soon became clear that Noritsyn was not going to have the (best) tournament of his life. Here is my win against Likavsky:
Ed.Note: Irina's 23.g4! prepares Qe2-e4 by blocking the c8 bishop's access to f5. 29.Rxf4!, highlights the power of the d5 Knight, making Black regret c6 temporarily sacrificing a pawn,but permanently sacrificing the d5 square. Irina, who, published a couple of videos of her best games when she was 14 will have to include this one in "Krushing Attacks-Volume 3."
Things were looking great…and unfortunately, practically every round after that was disappointment upon disappointment! In round 3, I couldn’t convert two extra pawns against local player Sylvain Barbeau, who had a very respectable +1 score until he stopped scoring in the last 3 games. Then I lost a game practically out of the opening to Cuban GM Arencibia. I went for a line I hadn’t analyzed, and then, despite knowing the stem game, decided to improvise with something that ‘looked’ playable but which actually landed White in a tough position.
After a solid draw against IM Thomas Roussel, another top Canadian junior, I managed to throw away a totally winning position against Eric Lawson, though it must have been exciting for the spectators, since at some point I was down 2 knights (but with reasonable compensation) ! Here is the game:
In round 7, I proved my devotion to the bishop pair by saccing a pawn to GM Mitkov for no reason other than getting two lovely bishops in return; anyway, at the end, I played like a fool in a totally drawn rook and bishops-of-opposite-color endgame and lost it. To crown this wonderful tournament, I mixed up my penultimate round pairing and showed up ready to play Tomas Krnan with Black; instead I found myself playing Huzman with White.
By the end, though, I was glad I wound up not losing any rating points, despite having thrown away so many points during the tournament! On a good note, I managed to break my tradition of losing in the last round of every Montreal that I’ve ever played in; I made a draw against Krnan in the final round, which incidentally left him a half point short of his first GM norm. But Tomas still had a great tournament and finished in clear second, though he was ranked seventh at the start.
Of course I shouldn’t neglect to mention the winner, Alex Huzman from Israel. I have a funny link to Alex: we both had the same coach, Mikhail Trosman, when we were young. Alex simply showed his high class and didn’t seem to have any problems amassing his +4 score.
In Round 8, Huzman found himself in the following position against IM Lawson. He'd had a huge positional advantage for some time, and was trying to convert it.
Huzman had just played 42.Qh3. Normally, White wouldn't want to trade queens in this structure, which would lead to a draw if not for a crucial tactical detail. After 42...Qxh3?, accepting the bait, 43. Kxh3:
Now, Black played Be7 to meet Kg4 with f6. Huzman then played 44.f6! sacrificing a pawn, but making way for his king to invade on f5 via g4. White won easily after regaining the pawn on g5 with the same positional edge as before, but more open lines to exploit it.
Mikhail Trosman, childhood coach of both Irina Krush and Alexander Huzman.
I guess it’s about time to discuss what went down in the Montreal A group, which boasted an impressive average rating of 2613, making it a category 15 tournament. Understandably, the organizer was very proud of the strong field he had gathered, and he may well be right in saying that this is the strongest tournament held in North America since the famous Montreal 1979, where Karpov and Tal played.
Personally, I was very pleased to see that no less than 3 U.S. grandmasters were taking part in the A group, because although it seems like America isn’t all that far from Canada, for some reason there has never been a strong U.S. presence in previous editions of the tournament. Only Alex Onischuk had played in the Montreal International before, back in 2003. It was the first time for both Boris Gulko and Ildar Ibragimov.
Native Montreal star Pascal Charbonneau, with U.S. Champion Alex Onischuk rising from the board.
The Americans didn’t quite conquer Montreal this year, with Boris Gulko showing the best result with fifty percent. However, I do think that Boris’s result is a bit of a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy picture: nearing 60, he held his own against much younger and energetic opposition. It’s hard to explain the underperformances of our U.S. Champion, Onischuk, and our GM Of TheYear, Ibragimov. It seemed to me that in a few of his games, like against Miton and Eljanov, Onischuk simply played too dubiously in the opening/early middlegame and gave his opponents pretty easy points.
Gulko: A bright spot in an otherwise disappointing showing for the Americans.
Ildar was doing fine, but finished poorly, losing his last three games.
The winner, 23-year-old Pavel Eljanov from the Ukraine, took his opportunities when they came and defended well the couple of times he landed in tough positions. He started off rather quietly, drawing his first three games, but came on strong after that, going +4 in 6 games! Here is his interesting game against Ibragimov:
Actually, with hindsight we can see that Pavel capitalized on the players who weren’t in their best form: Onischuk, Ibragimov, Mikhalevski, and Charbonneau.
Results: (Winners and U.S. players in bold)
A group (All GMs):
1. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) -6.5
2. Kamil Miton -6
3. Artyom Timofeev -5.5
4. Emil Sutovsky-5.0
5. Boris Gulko -4.5
6. Alexander Onischuk -4.0
7-9: Pascal Charbonneau*, Victory Mikhalevski, Oleg Korneev -3.5
10. Ildar Ibragimov-3
* Pascal officially plays for Canada, but lives in New York City.
1. GM Alexander Huzman (Israel) 6.5
2. IM Tomas Krnan 6
3. GM Walter Arencibia 5.5
4. Tomas Likavsky 5
5-7. Thomas Roussel Roozmon 4.5, IM Irina Krush and Nikola Mitkov
8-9. Eric Lawson and Sylvain Barbeau-3.5
10. Nikolay Noritsyn-1.5
Click here for final crosstables.
The organizer promised an even stronger Montreal for 2007, so that’s something to look forward to!