Cap d'Agde: The Ivanchuk - Karpov showdown
By Glenn Flear, Jean-Michel Péchiné, and Albert Silver
Courtesy of Europe Echecs - International Chess Magazine & Website
The tenth edition of the "Cap d'Agde Rencontres" chess festival saw 850 chess lovers meet in the famous Mediterranean holiday resort, from the 26th of October to the 3rd of November.
A musical performance to mark the opening
To keep them occupied, there were four open 'classical' tournaments, a high-level quickplay (Hamdouchi dominated), and a popular nocturnal Blitz event (won by Marie Sebag). Of these, a novel idea was 'le fil rouge' (the red wire) open, an event reserved to pure amateurs without Federation membership. So for many, this was their first ever chess tournament.
GM Bachar Kouatly played an exhibition blindfold game for the audience
One of the opens to keep the players involved, and bring in new players
Combat and Conviviality
As always, since the creation of this much-loved event in 1994, the festival evoked many positive memories: the rollercoaster ride of fighting chess, the pleasure of meeting friends both old and new, the conviviality of sharing many chess-fest moments with aficionados from all backgrounds, and of course partying whilst discussing Ivanchuk's latest masterpiece.
The large screens to share the action up close, as well as the banners of the Russian
company Kurkoff that was the main sponsor of the event.
Chief arbiter Anémone Kulczak arbiter of Grand Prix and 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov
The main event however featured eight chess gladiators, four men and four women, competing for the "Anatoly Karpov Trophy", the first one of its name outside of mother Russia.
|The participants of the «Anatoly Karpov Trophy» 2012
|| Vassily Ivanchuk
| Winner in 2010
|| Anatoly Karpov
| 12th World Champion and godfather of the "Rencontres du Cap"
|| Romain Edouard
| French champion 2012
|| Christian Bauer
| French champion 2012
|| Wenjun Ju
| World no.8 female
|| Marie Sebag
| Top French female player
|| Aleksandra Goryachkina
| 14 years old and 17th female in Russia
|| Sophie Milliet
| Four times French champion
The double-round-robin phase of the first week threw up some surprises and it became clear from early on that the men weren't going to have an easy ride into the semi-final stage. Marie Sebag and Wenjun Ju started strongly, and the highly-rated French stars Christian Bauer and Romain Edouard proved to be surprisingly vulnerable.
Top French player Marie Sebag enjoyed a strong start
The Molière Arena where the main event took place
The lower-rated players, local heroine Sophie Milliet, and the 14-year-old prodigy Aleksandra Goryachkina (already female World Under 18 champion and invited by Karpov himself) were tough to break down, but tended to blunder when down to their last couple of minutes.
WGM Sophie Milliet has been French Champion four times already
Aleksandra Goryachkina is the reigning World under-18
champion and was invited by Karpov himself.
Karpov first "at home"
Anatoly Karpov (2616) showed his class and beat 2012 French champion Romain Edouard (2688)
Top seed Ivanchuk looked imperial throughout, never being in any danger, and the astonishing Karpov, now in his sixties, showed his best form in years. He demonstrated impressive technique in simplified middlegames and endgames, showing the young guns that he is still the Karpov of old in this phase of the game. He pipped Ivanchuk on Sonnenborn-Berger, making Cap d'Agde his 171st first place in tournament play.
Wenjun Ju and Edouard
Aside from winning the 2012 French title, Romain Edouard has
been on a run and added 101 Elo since last year.
After Ivanchuk and Karpov, in third place there was Wenjun Ju who despite a collapse at the end kept had amassed enough points to qualify. The final slot was to be decided in the dogfight between Romain Edouard and Marie Sebag. A draw would have brought a resurgent Christian Bauer into the equation, but Edouard was too strong for Sebag, fatally pinning her knights, and booked his place in the semis.
The Ivanchuk Show
The semi-finals continued the Ivanchuk and Karpov show. The Ukrainian overpowered Wenjun Ju in both legs and qualified with ease. In the other bout, despite his lower rating, Karpov again showed that his positional understanding was superior. He outplayed Romain Edouard in a symmetrical Queen's Gambit Accepted without queens.
Super Final – Ivanchuk-Karpov
Ivanchuk, who is something of an idol in Cap d'Agde, is no stranger to the final here having beaten Nakamura in the 2010 event. Living legend Karpov, who was the champion in both 1996 and 1998, is the 'godfather' of the "Rencontres" since its creation.
Everyone had the question on their lips: Who will be crowned champion? The clash took place in the same Salle Molière arena, where Anand beat Kramnik to become 2003 World Rapid Chess Champion in 2003!
Vassily Ivanchuk and Anatoly Karpov begin the much awaited final
The deciding finale was nothing easy, neither for the players, nor for the spectators glued to their seats for hours. On the one hand there is the ultimate chess junkie, and endless source of masterpieces: Vassily Ivanchuk, and on the other is a rejuvenated Anatoly Karpov, who seemed to have rolled back the clocks in a game format that usually favors the young.
The final was to be two games played at the Fischer time control 25 minutes plus ten seconds increment, and if no winner came forth, then the players would proceed to the blitz tiebreaks. The first game was a credit to Tolya as Karpov had no problem dominating. and reeling in the point for a precious first win with white. Ivanchuk struck back in game two with a clean win of his own and it was clear that neither had an obvious edge over the other today.
Ivanchuk fought hard and it was a take-no-prisoners final with only one draw in eight games
The blitz games then started and once again the pattern repeated itself with a twist: Ivanchuk took the first blitz game with black, but Karpov equalized the score in game two. Did this mean an Armageddon would break the tie? No, since the rules stipulated a tennis-style tiebreak: the players would play sets of two blitz games until one of them came out the clear winner, with no established limit on the number.
The second set of blitz games began and this time Karpov was first to draw blood, in the second game, after a nerve wracking see-saw battle, Karpov managed to reach a drawn endgame only to lose on time with seconds left for both players.
A third set was needed! Again a tense battle ensued, with Ivanchuk quickly taking the upperhand, but this time neither could break the other and they drew. The second game was also a nervy fight, and just when it seemed as if the dust had settled and a draw would be agreed upon, it was the Ukrainian’s clock that came out blinking, indicating a loss on time.
In the end, Anatoly Karpov would not be denied the title as he rolled back the clocks
In what has been a week of exciting rapid games, and an even more exciting super final, it was a genuine pleasure to see Karpov not only here for the show, but displaying some of the flair that allowed him to dominate the world chess scene for so long.
Pictures by Jean-Jacques Archinard (Europe Echecs)