Though there is also a big event on in Switzerland, all eyes have been on Montreal this past couple of weeks, with two interesting events running side by side. The 8th Montreal International is a ten-player category 16 event with a fascinating mix of top names and young aspirants. Meanwhile the Monroi Women's Grand Prix Final runs alongside, with some British interest as England's Jovanka Houska and Scottish resident (and British women's champion) Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant are in the hunt for the first prize.
Sergey Tiviakov has been the leader in the main event for much of its course but he lost on Friday and allowed Vasyl Ivanchuk to overtake him with one round to play. If the Ukrainian super-grandmaster stays ahead in the last round, it will his fourth big tournament victory in a row (Havana, Foros, Odessa, Montreal). He has been a huge star for over 15 years, and one of the few players who could frighten Garry Kasparov, yet has never found this level of consistency before. His latest run means that he has broken into what we've been calling the 'big three' (Anand, Kramnik, Topalov) as a quick calculation of his rating shows that he will be ahead of Topalov after the final round even if he loses. If he wins, I think he will actually go ahead of Kramnik, despite the world champion's victory in Dortmund. Their July ratings are Anand 2792, Topalov and Kramnik both 2769, Ivanchuk 2762. Kramnik gains 10 from Dortmund, while Ivanchuk gained 9 from Foros and would gain another 9 or 10 from Montreal if he beats Harikrishna in the last round.
That eventuality would make it Anand 2792, Ivanchuk 2780, Kramnik 2779, Topalov 2769. Whatever happens, it's pretty clear that we should be talking about a 'big four' these days. And, in the post-Kasparov chess world, the initial letter 'K' in the surname is no longer as magical as an initial letter 'V' in your forename.
A win, by the way, is by no means a formality for Ivanchuk in the last round. Harikrishna already has the scalps of Short and Tiviakov to his credit so far in this tournament and he is in excellent form. He could win the tournament himself by beating Ivanchuk.
Which brings me to the main talking point of the Montreal event: the dismal showing of Nigel Short. He got off to an absolutely dreadful start, 0/4, which became ½/6 (thereby equalling his ½00000 start at the 1980 Phillips and Drew tournament when he was 14 years 10 months old). It is reported that he was suffering from dental problems, which is indeed unfortunate, though I'm also told that Alekhine had similar problems in the early stages of his world championship match against Capablanca, had six teeth pulled out and went on to become world champion.
I am struggling to think of another stellar player of any era who has scored so few points in a similar context. It has happened in matchplay, of course (Taimanov/Larsen v Fischer, Adams v Hydra, Miles v Kasparov spring to mind), but not in tournaments with sub-2700 opposition available.
Since then Short has drawn with Kamsky (playing the Ponziani - a great rarity at this level, but a long-time favourite opening of the BCM editor) and then beating Elyanov in round eight. He still has a chance to avoid the wooden spoon if he beats Bluvshtein in the final round (they drew in a Petroff in the recent Canadian Open incidentally). A final score of 3/9 would hardly represent a Topalovian come-back but that would at least pull back his TPR to 2522 and a rating loss of only about 19 points.
One cannot help wondering whether the dental problem was the only reason for Short's debacle or whether yet another airing of his ancient grudge against Kamsky after round two may have been a contributory factor. The English grandmaster has an elephantine memory for slights and disputes from the past and his inability to keep a statesmanlike silence could perhaps be his Achilles heel in a tournament context. It was noticeable how he occasionally liked to dust off and rehash some old vendetta in one of his newspaper columns whenever there was a slow news week in chess. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes offensive, but he no longer has this conduit for his pent-up aggression. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened between the Kamskys and Short all those years ago, he should surely have channelled all the remaining aggro into their individual game in Montreal and let the pieces do the talking. And, if I might be permitted to patronise the former world championship finalist further on his selection of opening (just this one time - I promise it will never happen again): the Ponziani is not a good choice if you want to play for a win with White. Believe me, I've tried and it's not up to the job.
One thing about this tournament that I definitely don't like: the time limit. They've got a great field of players, playing one round a day, and they foist FIDE's rotten time control on them. Why? Oh, and why the early evening start? It was going to be 6pm but then (after the players understandably grumbled) they moved it back to 5pm. But that still seems too late in the day to me. 1pm to 8pm, proper time control (or incremental equivalent) should have been used.
Meanwhile in the women's group, Jovanka Houska went into the lead when she defeated US owmen's champion Irina Krush, only to lose to the reigning British women's champion Keti Arakhamia in the following game. Both are very much in contention for the honours (although I'm struggling to find the current table on the official site. Both are sharing the lead: finally tracked down the table on the chaotic Monroi site here. Arakhamia, Cramling and Houska lead with 4/6, one round to go. Actually, looking at the table, this tournament has been mainly about seven players beating up the little Canadian girl Myriam Roy but then drawing with each other - apart from Jovanka Houska, who has been easily the most combative of the group of seven. She plays Cristina Foisor in the last round, while Arakhamia and Cramling play each other.