Ivanchuk Tops Montreal; Kamsky Disappoints
By IM Irina Krush   
October 1, 2007
GM Pascal Charbonneau (l) and GM Gata Kamsky (r). Photo: Irina Krush
Last year Andre Langlois, the organizer of the Montreal International, promised to come back with an even stronger event in 2007. And he certainly kept his word: the 2007 edition boasted an average rating of 2650 FIDE, and for the first time ever, featured one of those rare creatures, a top-five player, Vassily Ivanchuk. Vassily was a great catch for the organizer; the people above him on the rating list (Viswanathan Anand, Veselin Topalov, Vladimir Kramnik) usually can’t be seen playing anywhere but in the most elite tournaments, but Vassily is known to be more democratic in his tournament selections. Ivanchuk had already enjoyed one visit to Canada, playing in the Canadian Open in Edmonton two years ago, but this was his first time in Montreal.

Two other stars made their Montreal debuts this year as well: British GM Nigel Short, who has been making his home in Athens, Greece for more than a decade, and Brooklyn’s Gata Kamsky. Nigel, although he doesn’t receive top flight invitations these days, was one of the best players in the world in the early to mid 90s, a regular participant of supertournaments such as Tilburg, Linares, and Wijk aan Zee, and a challenger for the world crown (he lost a match to Kasparov in 1993). Hopefully, Gata doesn’t need such a thorough introduction to American chess fans, but still I’ll say a few words about his current position in the chess world. Since his return to chess in 2004, Gata’s results have been mixed: a poor showing in Wijk aan Zee 2006 followed by a near first place in the Mtel Masters five months later; a 3½-½ victory over solid 2700 French GM Etienne Bacrot in this May’s Candidate Matches, followed by a lackluster 1½-3½ loss to Gelfand a few days later. His sporadic invitations to the top tier events seem to be a reflection of the inconsistency of his results. Since the competition for these invitations is so tough, it really takes a string of hot results and a hefty rating (yes, heftier than Gata’s current 2718!) to impel them to come your way. Gata, however, isn’t losing sleep over the whims of tournament organizers, and is instead focusing his thoughts on the world championship cycle, specifically, the upcoming World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk this November.

The tournament was rounded out by some very strong grandmasters in the 2650-2700 range, and two young Canadian GMs, Mark Bluvshtein from Toronto, currently studying chemistry at York University, and Pascal Charbonneau, a native Montrealer who’s been living and working in New York City for the past year.

There are a couple of stories that came out of Montreal 2007. The first, although probably not the most surprising one, is that Ivanchuk continued his winning ways, posting a seven out of nine score and a performance rating of 2857, adding Montreal to his recent victories in Cuba, Aerosvit, and the Pivdenny Bank Rapid Cup. His terrific score, a point ahead of his nearest rival, Sergey Tiviakov, belies the actual struggle for first place: after seven rounds, Tiviakov had amassed 5½ points, with Ivanchuk trailing by half. It was only in the last two games that the wind blew decisively in Ivanchuk’s favor; he won both games, while Tiviakov only managed half out of two.

Ivanchuk won his games in all kinds of ways; in positional play, combinational play, and through converting technical endgame advantages. My favorite game of his was his last round victory over Indian GM Pantalun Harikrishna; Ivanchuk was leading by half a point, with Tiviakov and Harikrishna right on his heels.

Chucky in Montreal

GM Vassily Ivanchuk (FIDE 2762)
GM Pantalun Harikrishna (FIDE 2664)
8th It Montreal CAN (9), 07.28.2007

White to play

31. Rf1

The players have just repeated moves a few times, with Black playing ... Rf8-e8-f8 and White Qd2-d3-d2 and back. Now White avoids three-move repetition by defending the f2 pawn with his rook. Upon seeing Rf1 I thought, could White possibly be trying to win in this way? When I asked Ivanchuk about this position the next day, he agreed that Black shouldn’t lose, but said that White has a nagging, risk-free edge. 31. Rc2 blunders the Exchange with 31. ... Nb4.

31. ... Qd6

Black doesn’t have an obvious plan and starts shuffling his pieces around, figuring that White doesn’t have one either. Ivanchuk mentioned that Black should’ve gotten in ... g6 at some point to patch up his light squares, so maybe this was Black’s chance. Pretty soon, White gets his bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal and forces Black’s knight from its good post on d5.

32. Re1 Qd7

Now when Black threatens f2 with 32. ... Qf6, the pawn can now be defended in a more active way with 33. Re2, so White made a little progress.

33. Bc2 Nf6 34. Qa3!

The beginning of a very nice queen maneuver.

34. ... Rd8 35. Qc5!

In essence, a prophylactic move. The d4 pawn needs to be protected before White can play Re7, since 35. Re7 Qxd4 would give Black counterplay.

35. ... Qf7?!

Not the best resistance, but Black was already quite difficult to hold. Even worse was 35. ... Qxd4 allowing the elegant 36. Re8+!!

The beautiful deflection/interference idea behind 35. Qc5. 36. ... Rxe8 (36. ... Nxe8 37. Qf8 mate; 36. ... Ng8 37. Qf5) 37. Qxd4 drops the queen. This exact idea can be replicated after White plays Re7 and then Black takes on d4.

36. Bb3 Qf8 37. Qxa7

When I saw Ivanchuk’s game again after having not followed it for a while, I wondered how in the world Harikrishna’s a-pawn had disappeared from the board for no compensation.

37. ... Re8 38. Re5 Ng4 39. Rxe8 Qxe8 40. Qf7 Qd8 41. a4, Black resigned.

Harikrishna threw in the towel. I love how easy Ivanchuk made it look here.

Ivanchuk made an unsolicited speech at the closing ceremony, where we learned that he really enjoyed his stay in Montreal and would be happy to come back for Montreal 2008. Let’s hope the organizer takes him up on it.

The big surprise of the tournament was who wound up at the bottom of the crosstable; not one of the young and much lower rated Canadian fellows, but none other than seasoned veteran Nigel Short, who garnered a dismal two points from nine games. His result was so striking that it prompted a ChessBase.com headline of “Vassily Ivanchuk wins, Nigel Short crashes at 8th Montreal International” and a long interview conducted by Frederic Friedel, the main guy at ChessBase, where he tries to dig into Nigel’s soul to discover (surely, there must be a reason!) what was behind this catastrophic showing. To be honest, I found the whole premise of this hunt for “THE reason” to be ridiculous. Sure, Nigel could offer some explanations, especially for his start (he had dental problems, and during his round two, nineteen-move loss with White to Harikrishna, he was medicated to relieve the pain), but sometimes people just have bad tournaments.  Many factors may play a role in this, but it’s almost impossible to explain it away totally, even with all those reasons. The same factors might be there in a tournament that you win.

So after hearing about Nigel’s dental problems, his complaints about not feeling welcome in Montreal, his daughter Kyveli’s cancelled flight from Montreal to New York, the presence of his old nemesis Kamsky, and the psychological damage incurred by all those accumulated losses, are we really any closer to knowing what caused Nigel’s result? I’ll just add that Nigel did manage to win a game, in round eight, with Black, against one of the top seeds, Pavel Eljanov (FIDE  2701). Now, how do you explain that?

Coming back to our top American representative, Gata had a solid Montreal, and was tied for first with Ivanchuk after four rounds with three out of four. He was  in a comedy of errors with Polish GM Kamil Miton in round two, but he was the one laughing at the end:

Kamil and Kamsky’s Komedy


Gata Kamsky (FIDE 2718)
Kamil Miton (FIDE 2648)
8th It Montreal CAN (2), 07.20.2007

Gata had let a very big advantage slip away a few moves ago, and now White doesn’t have much of anything. But here he blunders with ...

25. Ng5

... overlooking that after Black takes the pawn with ...

25. ... Qxa4

... White is facing the double threat of ... Qxa2 and ... Bxf2 discovered attack.

26. Qh3??

White actually had a chance to save himself with 26. Rxe7 but with a minute on his clock, Gata didn’t have much time to evaluate the consequences of the queen sac 26. ... Bxf2+ 27. Kxf2 Qxg4 28. Rxf7. White has a rook and bishop for the queen, and dangerous threats against Black’s king, so now it’s Black who has to be careful: 28. ... Qa4 29. Be6 Qf4+ 30. Kg1 Qe3+ 31. Kh1 Qxe6 32. Nxe6 Kxf7 33. Nd8+ Kf6 34. Nxb7 Rb8 and while Black has the more pleasant position, White should be able to make a draw.

26. ... h6??

This just lets White back into the game. Black could have just traded rooks and taken the piece that Gata left on a2: for example 26. ... Rxe1+ 27. Rxe1 Qxa2 28. Qxh7+ Kf8 when f7 is covered by Black’s queen, so White has nothing to show for the piece here.

27. Bxf7+ Rxf7?

27. ... Kg7 was a better continuation for Black.

28. Nxf7 Kxf7 29. g4!

Black’s minor pieces suddenly lose their secure posts.

29. ... Nd6 30. Qf3+ Kg7 31. Qf4

Black is now forced to part with the bishop.

31. ... Bxf2+ 32. Qxf2 Qxg4+ 33. Qg3 Qxg3+ 34. hxg3 Nf5 35. g4 Nh4 36. Re6 Kf7 37. Rb6 Nf3+ 38. Kg2 Ne5 39. Kg3 Rb8 40. Rd5 Nc6 41. Rd6 Ne7 42. Rd7 h5 43. g5, Black resigned.

Gata’s best effort from Montreal was the following smooth positional victory from round four.


Queen’s Indian Defense (A47)
GM Gata Kamsky (FIDE 2718)
GM Sergei Tiviakov (FIDE 2648)
8th It Montreal CAN (4), 07.23.2007

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Be7 5. c3 b6 6. h3 Bb7 7. Nbd2 cxd4 8. exd4 d6 9. Bd3 Nbd7 10. 0-0 0-0 11. Re1 Re8 12. a4 a6 13. Bh2 Qc7 14. c4 a5 15. Nb1!?

The beginning of the knight’s productive journey to a7. The backwards knight maneuver can be found in several openings for Black, such as in the Breyer system of the Ruy Lopez, or in various Sicilians, such as the Boleslavsky variation of the Classical, but I can’t recall any examples of White employing it.

15. ... Qd8 16. Nc3 d5 17. b3 Bb4 18. Rc1 Rc8 19. Re3 Nf8 20. Nb5 Ne4 21. Rc2 Re7 22. Qc1 Nd7 23. Na7! Ra8 24. cxd5 exd5 25. Nc6 Bxc6 26. Rxc6

After some good maneuvering (not only with the knight, but also Rc2-Qc1), White emerges with the bishop pair and a clearly superior position.

26. ... Qf8 27. Re2 Rae8 28. Rec2 h6 29. Bf4 g5 30. Bc7 Nef6 31. Bf5 Qg7 32. Bd6 Bxd6 33. Rxd6 Nf8 34. Rc8 Rxc8 35. Qxc8 Ne8 36. Rxb6 h5 37. Qd8 Re2 38. Bd3, Black resigned.

After round four, Gata slowed his pace and reeled off a string of draws, essentially taking him out of contention for first place going into the final round. Unfortunately Gata’s overall solid tournament was marred by the timing of his only, and distinctly unglamorous, loss in the final round as white against Eljanov. The last round has the power to make a poor result sweeter, or to leave a sour taste behind no matter what preceded it. As a parting gift from Montreal, when it came time to drive home, Gata discovered that his alternator was broken, and the return to his much-missed Brighton Beach was delayed a few days.

Of course, I wouldn’t conclude this article without mentioning how Pascal fared in the strongest tournament he’s played in to date, and actually, his first serious tournament in the year since he’s started working in the “real world” in New York City. Just like last year, Pascal dug himself a deep hole in the first half, and spent the second half showing that he could climb out of it. By scoring 2½ out of his final four games, he avoided the cellar and even gained a few rating points.

Another funny similarity: he again beat the guy who, along with him, was competing for last place. Pascal seems to shake the rust off as he goes along, and fortunately the losses collected on the way don’t keep him from fighting in each and every game. Hopefully in the future he’ll play himself into form before round six.

I might have given the impression that I was simply a spectator at Montreal, but the truth is I was playing in a tournament too, held in the same room. This year, the Montreal International was part of a larger chess festival that included the very strong Quebec Open, and the MonRoi Women’s Grand Prix finale, which I had qualified for based on my performance in Gibraltar. The Monroi tournament was seven rounds, won by Swedish GM Pia Cramling with five out of seven. No need to dwell on my own disappointing result there (three out of seven) but still I would like to thank Brana Malobabic, the CEO of Monroi and her sister Zeljka, who did a great job of organizing this inaugural event and making all the players feel welcome in Montreal. See you in Montreal 2008, which Langlois has tantalizingly hinted will be better than ever!