Canadians in Sants Open
GM Eric Hansen and IM Aman Hambleton, two of Canada’s most promising young players, both participated in the 15th edition of the traditional Sants tournament. This was my first opportunity to meet with both Canadian stars. I am very impressed!
Canadian Chess has changed significantly since my self-imposed exile began at the end of 2004. Most of Canada’s established grandmasters have also since withdrawn from active competition in Canada, along with about 1/3 of the total CFC membership.
Successive scandals involving incompetence, corruption or just plain nasty CFC leadership has resulted in other serious consequences as well: several years ago the Canadian government felt it was ncessary to take away the organization’s charitable status; almost all chess-sponsorship has disappeared; just this past spring one of the provincial associations (Saskatchewan) has also withdrawn from the national federation.
Adding to this sad state of affairs, the chess-politicos‘s continued bungling has eliminated the national magazine (while continuing to charge the membership for it!) and has FUCKED the national rating system’s integrity just so as to be able to punish those top-players who have withdrawn from active competition!
The result is that the state of Canadian Chess has deteriorated to perhaps the lowest point in my memory–I started to play chess some 40 years ago…According to long-time organizer and correspondence IM Gary Ruben, chess today in Canada is similar to how he remembers things back in the 1950’s! I think he might very well be right….
Despite the problems in Canadian Chess today, the game continues to attract talented youngsters such as Eric and Aman (as well as a few others) , both of whom have the necessary ambition and drive to become world class internationals. Both get absolutely no support from the CFC. Eric became a GM late last year while Aman is quickly closing in on his final norms. Both Canadians have rented an appartment in Valencia and intend to improve their game over the next 12 months.
The Sants tournament started slowly for me–it was my first non-team competition in a year (!)–and served mostly as a warm-up event before next week’s Spanish Team Championship in Linares. The long layoff had made my tactics a bit rusty and I spoiled a number of advantageous positions that I would have normally pounced upon:
Position after White’s 14th move. My opponent is a talented Russian boy who had defeated a strong 2500-gm the round before. Here I sensed that this was a critical position and I spent some 15 minutes seeking the most precise route before finally playing 14…h6(?), which throws away a golden opportunity to win the game.
I had seen 14…Rxf3! 15.Nxd6! but the in between move 15…Ne5!! escaped my attention. Black wins in every line. INSTEAD, after 14…h6 (?) Black has nothing and the game was eventually drawn, neither side being able to do much.
Position after White’s 18th move. The White Rook is almost trapped on b7 and here I debated whether to play 18…Qc6 or 18…e4, both good strong moves, but the latter being simply crushing. After some time I opted for the former, though later let my opponent escape with a lucky draw.
After 18…e4! I had calculated 19.PxP (what else?) 19…Qc6! 20.RxN (best) PxR 21.Qd5?!
Here I spent all of my time looking at the exchange of Queens, thinking that it was forced (but not clearly winning). HOWEVER, 21…Qc8! simply escaped my attention: the threats on h3 , a2 and ...Rd8 having no good reply. White could resign with a clear conscience!
I’d like to say that that was it, but infact I missed other opportunities on other games also! Such is the problem of a 58-year old trying to get back into form. What can I say: my chess level was OK but I lost too many half-points unnecessarily. FORTUNATELY, my chess got better as the tournament approached the end, and I managed to win my last two games, finishing with a (respectable?) 7 points out of 10 games. Hopefully that will be enough for competing in the Spanish Team Championship…
Photos (by Aman) of the last round games of Eric and I. Eric only drew a promising game, while I won. Aman could only draw his last round game against an Indian prodigy (Aman said he himself was even lucky to draw!) The final scores were 7 (myself); 6.5 (Eric) and 6 (Aman).
OFCOURSE, both Eric and Aman played better chess than I and also played tougher tournaments than I. But such is the law of the Open tournament…it is important to win the last game!
I was very impressed with the level of play of both Canadian youngsters. Aman has a definite Petrosian-streak in him, preferring positionally complex and difficult to assess struggles. Eric has a more universal Spassky-style of play , with a definite preference for attacking play.
I think both have promising futures! I think the Canadian National Team will be lucky to have both of them next year in Norway.