Sunday, 29 July 2007


The Montreal tournament ended much as it began, with another loss for Nigel Short. He tried a weird line of the King's Gambit (which is probably a better bet than the Ponziani) where White gives up the queen for not too much. For a while there was the impression that he might bamboozle the young Canadian Bluvshtein but it was not to be and he went down in flames.

So it was 2/9, a 2427 TPR and a 29 point rating loss for Short. What went wrong? Frederic Friedel of ChessBase asked this question of Short and an article appears here on the ChessBase site. As suspected, it appears to be a combination of things. Dental trouble (but only for the first two rounds), the presence of Kamsky (as we surmised), but also an assortment of other hassles and problems which seem to have undermined the English no.2's singlemindedness. He also makes the fair point that he is a less consistent player than his English rival Michael Adams. But in the final analysis he is at a loss to explain the enormity of the disaster. Probably he should just forget about it and concentrate of doing better at his next event - which I believe is the Liverpool Summit Match, where he represents a British team which plays matches with China, India and a composite European Union team.

Vasyl Ivanchuk duly despatched Harikrishna to take first place. This was his fourth tournament victory in a row, giving him a 2858 TPR, and enough rating points to take him to the number two spot in the world rankings, behind Anand but ahead of Kramnik and Topalov. Which makes it all the sadder that he will not be appearing in Mexico for the world championship tournament. Ivanchuk is now reaching the sort of age (38) when a number of other players have started to lose their edge, but quite the opposite seems to be happening with him. He doesn't seem to have become involved in any other distractions along the way (such as journalism, politics or poker-playing).

Ivanchuk looks to have all the hallmarks of a Korchnoi-style longevity, if for different reasons. The main clue to Korchnoi's longevity as a player is probably the fact that he has remained a rotten loser all his life. In Ivanchuk's case, the key factor is probably his eccentricity; one gets the impression that he is really only fit for playing chess and would be out of his comfort zone doing anything else. The key factor that they share is the fact that neither of them became world champions despite coming desperately close. It is still not too late for Ivanchuk, of course, and I would not discount his chances.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

A Close Run Thing

In the end the Monroi Women's Grand Prix was won by Pia Cramling. Well done to her, but it was a very close run thing. She will know as well as anyone that she came perilously close to losing her last round game.

Here's the position with Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant (White) to play

White to play and win the Monroi Women's Grand Prix...

31 Bxe5?

Sadly, that's not the right way to do it. The answer turns out to be 31 Rg3! immediately. I sat and stared at this for a while, wondering what would happen if Black played 31...d6 but White then has the lovely finish 32 Bxh6! gxh6 33 Rg8+ Kh7 34 Qg6+! Nxg6 35 fxg6 mate. If Black doesn't play d6, she has no good way to stop White's queen from infiltrating at f7. 31...Qxc2 32 Bxe5 fxe5 33 Rg1 and Black is powerless against the threat of Qf7 (if the bishop moves, 34 Qxg7 mate). Finally, if Black tries a bishop move, e.g. 31...Bd6, White has a pleasant choice between 32 Rxg7! and 32 Bxh6!, both of which lead to a swift mate.

31...Qxe5 32 Qf7 Bd6 33 Rg3 Rg8 34 Qxd7?

White's back rank is just too vulnerable to allow her the luxury of taking this pawn. 34 Bc4 holds White's position together by anchoring the f1 square.

34...Rbd8 35 Qb5 Bc7

Fritz thinks White is now beyond salvation and it is not hard to see why. There are too many pins and skewers to deal with and, once the g8 rook comes into play at e8, the back rank is under too much pressure.

36 Qc6 Rge8 37 Kg1 Bb8 38 Qc4 Re7 39 Kf1 Rxd5! 40 Qxd5 Qe2+ 41 Kg1 Ba7+ 0-1

A bit sad, that, for Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant. Jovanka Houska drew her last-round game, so that meant that Pia Cramling took first with 5/7 and Jovanka Houska second with 4½.

V for Victory

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.

Monday, 23 July 2007


I've just been reading an article on the ChessBase website, which is a big promotion for some music composition/accompaniment software called Ludwig. It ends with the statement "Ludwig will be available as a ChessBase product in October this year".

Music software? ChessBase? I checked everywhere for signs of a spoof. Not dated 1 April. I was a bit taken aback when I saw photos of a sheepish-looking Vladimir Kramnik joining in an impromptu musical recital and playing some strange-looking percussion instrument. Rather undignified, I thought, and not to be compared with such semi-pro musicians as Taimanov, Smyslov and Portisch giving one of their rather impressive mini-concerts. "That's the world chess champion standing up there, holding his maraccas", I said to myself, losing the internal battle against cheap innuendo. Has it come to this for our chess heroes? You couldn't imagine someone persuading Botvinnik to get up on stage and play a version of "Camptown Races" on the spoons, could you? Whatever next? Bobby Fischer, the ever-so-slightly un-PC stand-up comedian? Garry Kasparov, stage magician, sawing lovely assistant Judit Polgar in half? 'Tapdancing Tolya' Karpov showing us his ballroom moves on Celebrity Come Dancing?

So have I been spoofed? I don't think so. It appears it is not just the poker players who are deserting the professional game for easy money, our friends at ChessBase are also diversifying. Will they rebrand as AnythingforadollarBase?

John Saunders
Editor of British Chess Magazine, also part-time clown and acrobat, children's parties and barmitzvahs a speciality...

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Dunderheads v Nosher - When?

I'm getting impatient waiting for the great chess event of the year. No, not the Mexican world championship; I mean the hearing of the FIDE Ethics Commission, when Nigel Short is called on to answer for comments he is alleged to have made in relation to Messrs Azmaiparashvili and Makropoulos. If you need to refresh your memories of what I'm talking about, check out my entry on dunderheads and also this one where I introduced the subject.

Earlier today I became quite excited when I saw something about FIDE Ethics Committee hearings in Athens on 28 July on FIDE's website. Sadly, it only turned out to be a case about some Moroccan arbiters which scarcely interests me, scheduled for 10am that morning, and the (admittedly rather more interesting) charges to be answered by Topalov and Danailov (relating to alleged comments made against Kramnik during and after the Elista match) at 4.30pm in the afternoon. This makes one wonder precisely how long the committee expects the hearings to take. Are they intending to resolve the Moroccan issue by lunchtime and the Bulgarian case by dinner-time?

But no sign as yet of the Dunderheads v Nosher case. When the time comes, I do hope we are going to be able to enjoy live video transmission across the web. Hopefully those enterprising people at ChessBase can ensure someone is present with a camcorder. The Moroccan and Bulgarian cases are listed as "public hearings" - so why shouldn't we all get the chance to watch via the web? If Short is subsequently convicted and required to drink hemlock (the punishment meted out to another great Athenian philosopher, Socrates, some 2,500 years ago when he was found guilty on trumped-up charges of "corrupting the youth of Athens" - the two cases are remarkably similar), then presumably execution of sentence will also turn up on YouTube...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

A Little Gem from the Emerald Isle

Here's a poser for you - WHITE TO PLAY.

This position is from the game Nick Pert vs Gavin Wall and was played in round six of the recent Irish Open Championship. White has just played a fairly standard sacrifice to break through on the queenside: Bd3xa6 followed by Qa4xa6, but Black has replied Rc7-b7 and it is not at all obvious how White pursues his attack. Can you find the right plan?

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Various Items

My goodness, it has been a long time since I last blogged. There has been so much going on in terms of major chess events. I've been avidly following the action in Dortmund and Foros, but never quite found the time to comment on them. Of course there will be coverage in the August issue of BCM. One of the reasons for my erstwhile silence has been my involvement in various other chess projects.

I seem to spend huge amounts of time chatting with people on Skype. I guess most of you will be aware that this is one of a number of ways of talking to people across broadband internet. I've been using for some time but it seems to me that it has recently taken off in a big way. Personally I use it more and more to talk to chess contacts round the world, or even have business conferences. Audio quality is usually very good and the remarkable thing is that it is free (well, once you've bought a computer and paid for your fast internet connection, that is). I cannot believe that the world's telephone companies will allow this to go on indefinitely so I'm getting my (lack of) money's worth while I can. Actually, the fact that Skype is free is becoming a problem: I end up spending hours yacking with people, and suddenly the day has gone by.

As well as conducting business deals across Skype, I have also been interviewed via Skype for ChessFM's online radio show 'John Watson on Books'. I must say it was an absolutely joy being able to chat with John Watson on his show. He is one of the world's most respected chess authors and the calm, rational, good-humoured person that comes over in his books is exactly the way he is in real life. I have never met him in the flesh and we have only ever corresponded via email, but after a while I felt so relaxed talking to him that I almost forgot that our conversation was being recorded for online transmission. Our only minor difficulties were that John had to remind me that some of my British slang ("taking the mickey") fails the transatlantic test (I think John himself understood the expression but I had to explain for the benefit of US listeners that it has nothing to do with Mickey Adams) and that the elderly, obscure and out of print books which predominated amongst my selection of favourites might baffle a largely young and American audience. If you want to listen to the show, it should still be available online at the ICC until 6 or 7 July. I don't see it in their online list of on-demand programmes - you may need to download free osftware programs Blitzin or Dasher to gain access to it, and you may also need to be a member.

My only chess outing in the past few days has been to Hastings Chess Club where they were celebrating the club's 125th anniversary. I have already written this up in detail, and with photos and video clips elsewhere on the BCM website. It was very enjoyable to celebrate this occasion with Hastings CC members who are obviously immensely proud of their club - and rightly so. A huge amount of work has gone into organising their club over a century and a quarter, and without all this selfless, voluntary activity it couldn't hope to have survived so long.

Perhaps someone at Hastings could do us all a favour and write a chess book called Secrets of Chess Club Organisation. In the long run, this would be vastly more useful than 100 books on how to play the Sicilian Defence. Without legions of volunteers and helpers, competition chess would simply disappear. As someone who has played a part in trying to run a chess club (looking back I don't think I was very good at it), I know that it is damnably difficult to keep a club running for 5 or 10 years, let alone 125. Of course, there are other splendidly-run clubs elsewhere in Britain as well as Hastings but I don't there are as many of them as we need and I know for a fact that clubs can die for want of a bit of common sense in their organisation. Now that our cadre of professional players is dwindling down to a handful, it may be time for a 'back to basics' campaign so that we can attempt to rebuild British chess from the bottom up.

Incidentally, I had a look on the ECF website for something about setting up a chess club and found a link to 'advice' near the top of the left-hand column. I clicked on that and found some reasonable stuff about (for example) catering for junior players at chess clubs, and the basics of how to set up an 'event' (presumably a tournament or simul) but nothing particularly detailed about setting up and running a chess club. Maybe this is something for a website in its own right - a gap in the market for some enterprising soul...