The tournament with ten top grandmasters is taking place from July 19 to 29 in the Hilton Doubletree Hotel, 505 Sherbrooke Street East in Montréal, Canada. The participants include Vassily Ivanchuk, Gata Kamsky and Nigel Short.
Vassily Ivanchuk won the 8th International tournament a full point ahead of his nearest rival, winning a total of five games and losing none. His performance was 2855. At 38 the Ukrainian GM, who achieved international fame when he won the Linares tournament in 1991 at the age of 21, seems to be at the height of his career. Currently Ivanchuk is number four in the world rankings, just seven points behind Topalov and Kramnik (and 23 points behind the leading Anand). You can start calculating what is going to happen in FIDE's October list.
Vassily Ivanchuk won the tournament in great style
Sergey Tiviakov, who was leading until round eight
Pentala Harikrishna of India
The Montreal International Chess Tournament 2007 will be remembered not for Ivanchuk's convincing victory but for the negative score by Nigel Short. Minus six by a super-grandmaster, a 2430 performance, all of this ripe for a Guinness Book entry. We are tempted to say that this was the biggest breakdown we can recall in modern times – but there is of course Alexei Shirov's 0.5/9 at the Keres Memorial Rapid chess tournament in Tallinn 2006.
Still it was an extraordinary turn of events for the former world championship challenger Nigel Short. We decided to track him down and press him for an explanation, even if that is not the most sensitive thing to do. We have known him and been friends since he was 15, so it was done with his best interests at heart. And in the hope that a nice long talk about his problems might provide a therapeutic solution to them.
Frederic Friedel: Nigel, good to have reached you in the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. Tell me, what is going on?
Nigel Short: You mean my results?
Frederic: Yes, of course, minus five. You going for a record or something?
Nigel: (laughs) No, no, although it may look like it. I really have no clue what's going on. I am completely mystified.
Come on, there must be a reason.Your dental problems?
That explains the first two rounds. I was simply drugged out of my skull. I was in so much pain from my teeth. But that was only during the first two rounds.
What exactly happened?
Well, I need some root canal treatment, and in fact I knew that before I came to Canada. I went to see the dentist the day before I left, but the treatment requires about four visits. She gave me some medication and when I went to Ottawa the toothache had magically disappeared. I thought optimistically that maybe things were fine. But I started to get discomfort just before coming to Montreal. By the second day it was really excruciating. That was when I lost like a complete idiot to Harikrishna. Then we had a free day and I went for treatment. They have very good dentists and very good equipment here. I was quite amazed at the computer graphics of my teeth. What they did was to open up the tooth and remove the infection, and then sort of stuck me back together. But the guy said in the end: you are going to have to get that fixed when you get back home. So I have a temporary fix and I'm okay.
What about the third round? Were you in pain? Were you still drugged?
No, not at all.
So what happened in rounds three, four, six...?
As I said, I haven't a clue. I was just not able to recover from the two losses. I am at a loss to explain how I was not able to halt the slide. I played terribly against Tiviakov in the third round, and against Chucky – well Chucky for me is a very difficult opponent, even at the best of times. And he is in tremendously good form at the moment, winning absolutely everything. So it was just one thing leading to another.
But that can't be the full explanation. You have had bad starts before...
There were some other factors, but it is very difficult to apportion blame to which one contributed most to my dismal performance.
What factors, Nigel? Psychological?
Yes, so to speak. It sounds trivial, but for instance I did not get a very good feeling about this tournament before I came. In the Ottawa event even I actually stayed with the main organiser, who is a very nice guy, Gordon Ritchie. He was actually instrumental in negotiating the US-Canada free trade agreement, twenty years ago. Anyway I was staying at his home with my daughter Kyveli, who had her 16th birthday during the tournament, and we were very welcome, like members of the family. Very nice people, warm and friendly. The atmosphere for the Montreal event was completely different, I just had negative feelings.
Nigel Short facing Pascal Charbonneau in round six (Nigel lost)
It's just a lot of small things. For instance a couple of years ago I had been in correspondence with the organiser here, about playing in the tournament in Montreal. I asked for some moderate appearance fee, but this was rejected. I heard later that it was apparently because he had said "we can get Bruzon for much less." So I was supposed to compete on wage terms with a Cuban, although, of course, he has nothing like my name recognition.
But these are normal things in a chess player's life...
Yes, I know. That was just a very minor irritation and not at all unusual. I don't even know whether the above story is true, but it sounds plausible and I believed it. As I said there were a lot of little things that knocked me off balance. I met the main organiser, Andre Langlois, while I was still in Ottawa, and asked him whether someone could meet me when I arrived at the train station in Montreal. His immediate, rather surprising, response was "we are only meeting people at the airport" which seemed like a very odd way of welcoming people. In fairness, he made this offer subsequently, but I could not help thinking it had been done a touch reluctantly. I arrived at the hotel, I was there for a day without seeing anyone from the organising committee, and all I had was an email saying that the first round started at six o'clock the following day. No openings ceremony or greeting or anything. And I had five Blacks! It would have been nice to see how this was decided. Actually I later had a frank discussion with Andre about these and other small matters. He is a decent guy who earnestly wants to improve his event. He listened patiently and accepted my points. Various things will be changed next time. In fact the tournament is far better than anyone only reading this slightly irritable account would imagine, but the fact remains that for the first few days, at least, I felt rather alienated.
Then other things started to happen which had nothing to do with the tournament. My daughter Kyveli was supposed to leave from Montreal to New York, and her flight was cancelled. So we had to come back to the hotel and get up very early the next day, which was the day of the first round, and her flight was cancelled again. Eventually she got away much later on. This was all very energy sapping, because you worry about your 16-year-old daughter travelling all on her own from Canada to the US, dealing with annoying questions from immigration etc. So there I was, with teeth giving me problems, I had slept for about four hours, I was not feeling welcome. I did not play so well against Miton in round one. Actually not so badly. The second round was my nadir. I was completely drugged up against Harikrishan and lost pathetically with white in the simplest of ways.
So all that blew the first two rounds for you. Then you had your free day, the temporary root canal treatment, daughter has arrived safely in the US. How were you feeling in round three?
I was fine. I just played horribly. I don't have a full explanation, but I think that sometimes you are damaged because you are damaged, if you understand what I mean...
You are exhausted because you have a bad score. What should I say?
Are you generally in good physical condition? Any other problems? One of our common friends speculated that you might have been drinking...
Garry Kimovich? It's ironic because I have hardly drunk anything at all during these past few months. I have a recurrence, in milder form, of my liver problems which hospitalised me a few years back, so drinking just makes me ill. Incidentally, last year when I was drinking normally I only lost one game, the whole year...
Seriously? To whom?
You remember, against the "Inuit", Jens Kristiansen in the Politiken tournament. You wrote about it. Anyway, that was with normal alcohol consumption. These last months I have been almost completely dry, and have lost plenty of games. So that is not the explanation – unless I am suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms (laughing).
Okay, let's be brave and use the K-word. Is Gata Kamsky's presence at the tournament a serious problem?
Nigel's nemesis? US grandmaster Gata Kamsky
It certainly does not help. I think I am suffering from some sort of delayed trauma after the death threat from his psychotic father [during the PCA world championship candidates match against Gata Kamsky in Linares 1994]. For example at the start of our game yesterday my heart was beating very erratically and uncontrollably. I could just feel it, beating very fast.
Tell me about the start of the game. No handshake?
Well, I had decided beforehand that I wasn't going to refuse the handshake, but I certainly was not going to offer one either – not after his antics against me in 1995 – namely his failure to restrain his violent father and his exceptionally ugly psychological warfare. He constantly accused me of cheating during that match. These written accusations included, among other things "looking at Anand " and "visiting the toilet too much". The Kamsky manual of tricks has obviously sold at least one copy in Bulgaria.
Video of the start of Short vs Kamsky, provided by Robin Lindsay for the Montreal Chess Fest blog. Robin tells us that Kamsky arrived late for the game, and "took an eternity to play his first move". Nigel stayed away from the board until Kamsky did so. Unfortunately Robin was instructed by the arbiter to stop filming because the allotted five minutes had past, which is why the video ends abruptly and at a critical moment.
The trauma game in round seven
Anyway, he appeared late for our game here, after I had played the first move. I was standing to the side when he came, sat down and did some neck exercises, for quite some time. It took him over five minutes while seated there to play his first move. After that I approached the board, sat down, wrote down his move, and played my move. That was it. So there was no embarrassment or anything, and no handshake. Actually we shook hands at the end of the game.
You did? The draw offer? How did that come about?
I played a move and I said "Draw?" His hand came immediately across the board and I grasped it.
And afterwards both of you analysed together, and then went for a beer...?
No, no, none of that (laughing). Actually the funny thing was that, two days before, by coincidence both Kamsky and I had played the obscure Bb7 variation of the Marshall Attack on the same day. Kamsky played it against Ivanchuk I played it against Sutovsky. Now I haven't played the Marshall Attack for fifteen years, so it was a very weird to see these two games simultaneously. I have been joking that it was the product of our joint analysis sessions (laughs).
I am really determined to find a reason for this extraordinary performance. So one more time: after the first two rounds...
... I did not feel bad about anything. Maybe I am just overworked. After this liver problem I was advised to have lots of rest. I haven't been playing that much – I played two tournaments in May, and then I was working more or less the whole of June with Parimajan [Negi] – we were working the whole day – and then I went to Ottawa, where I had a decent result, and now I am here. I think my energy levels are running out. I lost three games in Sarajevo and one in Baku, and now five games here, compared to one game in 2006.
Surely this is your worst result ever?
Definitely. I am a player who has had plenty of bad results in my time, but I also win tournaments. Michael Adams is the sort of player who typically comes in third in super-GM tournaments. The point is he doesn't often have super spectacular results, but he never really crashes either. I have a much wider fluctuation. However, I think that this is beyond any doubt the worst tournament of my career. I've played dreadfully, for example many, many years ago in Dortmund, where I lost a sack of points as a teenager. I've finished last in plenty of tournaments. But for someone rated in the top half of this field to be in last place, and in last place by a good margin, is definitely the worst of my career.
I'm going to let you go now, we probably shouldn't dwell on all this just a few hours before the next game. Take heart, shrug it off and go get yourself a full point.
You mean go out there and beat a Ukrainian Super-GM with black? Yes sir, will do (laughs). Piece of cake.
After this rather long and persistent telephone conversation Nigel actually went out there and crushed Eljanov, rated 2701, with black. He said to us later that this might add credence to the Kamsky hypothesis. "I felt unburdened, and people remarked how relaxed I appeared." Unfortunately we cannot claim to have cured him with our long therapeutic conversation (and charge him a fee for it). In the final round Nigel lost badly to Bluvshtein. We will have to continue probing.