French Top 12: Bischwiller and Clichy lead

by Albert Silver
6/3/2016 – France has one of the most comprehensive chess leagues anywhere, layered from top to bottom for players of all strengths and ages. At the very top is the suitably named Top12, which contrary to many leagues played out a few matches at a time over many months, is decided in a single round-robin between the teams. It is packed with grandmasters including MVL who is now world no. 4.

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Each year, over 15 thousand players compete in varying league matches in teams of four, six, or eight players. The most successful teams will move up in division while the least successful will be moved to a lower one. The Top 12 represents the summit of this pyramid and is played over the course of eleven straight days at the end of the season.

The official poster

This year the competition is being held in the Ladoucette château (castle) in Drancy from
May 28 to June 7, 2016. A most suitable choice for the game of kings.

There are rules regarding the team composition as well as board choices, for example, each team must have at least one French player, one male and one female. At least four of the eight players in the teams must be European Union players residing in France, and no team can have more than three foreign players. Finally, if two players are over 100 Elo apart in a team, the higher rated must play on a higher board.

The entrance to the venue

The elegant interior with tables, chairs, banners and chess-themed paintings throughout

At the very top of the pecking order is Clichy with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on board one,
followed by Laurent Fressinet on board two. MVL's performance has been superb and he
is now the world no. 4 on the Live Ratings list with 2793.

If the teams are of varying strengths as expected, Elo is not everything. Consider that in round three, Bois-Colombes, one of the top teams but with only one player over 2660, held the impressive Clichy to a draw with three wins each. If any of the games was to be called decisive it was the win by Paraguayan grandmaster Axel Bachmann with black over Laurent Fressinet (2692 FIDE).

Laurent Fressinet - Axel Bachmann

[Event "TCh-FRA Top 12 2016"] [Site "Drancy FRA"] [Date "2016.05.30"] [Round "3.4"] [White "Fressinet, Laurent"] [Black "Bachmann, Axel"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C84"] [WhiteElo "2692"] [BlackElo "2632"] [PlyCount "84"] [EventDate "2016.05.28"] [WhiteTeam "CLICHY Echecs 92"] [BlackTeam "C.E. de BOIS COLOMBES"] 1. e4 Nc6 2. Nf3 e5 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 d6 7. c3 O-O 8. Nbd2 b5 9. Bc2 d5 10. Re1 d4 11. Nf1 Nd7 12. a4 Rb8 13. axb5 axb5 14. Bb3 Bf6 15. cxd4 exd4 16. Bf4 Nc5 17. Rc1 Be7 18. Bd5 Nb4 19. Nxd4 {[#]} Rb6 $1 {In spite of the many minor pieces still on the board, Black has seen ahead and prepares a rook lift to the kingside.} 20. Qd2 Nbxd3 21. b4 Nxf4 22. bxc5 {[#]} Bg5 $1 {Once more the Paraguayan grandmaster shows his tactical acumem as he plays this timely zwischenzug threatening to win the queen.} 23. Qc2 ({Playing } 23. cxb6 {would not be losing in any way, at least not objectively, but the chaotic imbalance might not be to Fressinet's taste as he really wants to dampen Black's ambitions.} Nh3+ 24. gxh3 Bxd2 25. Nxd2 Qg5+ 26. Kh1 Qxd2 27. Rcd1 Qxf2 28. Rf1 Qb2 29. b7 Bxh3 30. Rg1 c5 {and good luck trying to evaluate this.}) 23... Rg6 24. Rcd1 Nxd5 25. exd5 Qxd5 26. Nxb5 Qb7 27. Nd4 Bf6 28. Ng3 h5 29. Qe4 h4 30. c6 Qb4 31. Ngf5 Rg5 $1 {Black has been outplaying White ever so slightly and now has an edge thanks to his bishop pair and pressure against the king.} 32. Ne7+ $2 {The common wisdom is to simplify when trying to ease pressure, and avoid exchanges when on the offensive. Naturally this needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis, and here this only makes things worse.} Bxe7 33. Qxe7 Qxe7 34. Rxe7 Bh3 35. Rd3 {[#]} Ra8 $1 {Another strong zwischenzug. The back rank threats take precedence needless to say.} 36. Rde3 $2 {White finally cracks under the pressure.} (36. Kf1 {was the ugly, but necessary choice.} Bxg2+ 37. Ke2 Rc8 {and the game is not over yet.}) 36... Rxg2+ 37. Kh1 Ra1+ 38. Re1 Rxe1+ 39. Rxe1 Rg4 40. Re8+ Kh7 41. Rd8 Bg2+ 42. Kg1 Bd5+ $1 {cutting off the white rook from his knight, with ...Rxd4 to follow} 0-1

A superb effort, yet in round six Bois-Colombes, made up of five grandmasters rated over 2600, was held to a draw by the relatively modest team of Vandoeuvres, whose lineup only has two players over 2500. It just goes to show that there are times when heart trumps Elo.

Heroes for a day, the team of Vandoeuvre showed its spirit of David as it brought down
the Goliath team of Bois-Colombes

A nice little video showing the feel and look of the competition by French Federation cameraman Vincent Vallet

Second seed David Navara from the Czech Republic

The third ranked player is Etienne Bacrot (right) with 2702 FIDE

The top female player is GM Marie Sebag

Each day the viewers are asked to vote on a 'Game of the Day' among the 48 games played. In round
five it was the win of Jean-Noel Riff (left) who won an 18 move miniature against Phillipp Schlosser.
Jean-Noel Riff - Phillipp Schlosser

[Event "TCh-FRA Top 12 2016"] [Site "Drancy FRA"] [Date "2016.06.01"] [Round "5.7"] [White "Riff, Jean-Noel"] [Black "Schlosser, Philipp"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B32"] [WhiteElo "2506"] [BlackElo "2539"] [PlyCount "37"] [EventDate "2016.05.28"] [WhiteTeam "MULHOUSE Philidor"] [BlackTeam "BISCHWILLER"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Qb6 5. Nb3 Nf6 6. Bd3 d5 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. O-O e6 9. c4 Nf6 10. Nc3 Be7 11. Bf4 O-O 12. Qe2 Nd4 13. Nxd4 Qxd4 14. Be5 Qc5 15. Rad1 Rd8 16. Bxf6 gxf6 {[#]} (16... Bxf6 {would have changed nothing.} 17. Bxh7+ $1 Kxh7 18. Rxd8 Bxd8 19. Qd3+ f5 20. Qxd8) 17. Bxh7+ Kf8 ({If} 17... Kxh7 18. Rxd8 Bxd8 19. Qd3+ Qf5 20. Qxd8) 18. Ne4 Qe5 19. Qg4 1-0

Matthieu Cornette and Christian Bauer show their good spirits

GM Igor Kovalenko (right) had a remarkable run last year and broke 2700

19-year-old Matthias Bluebaum is Germany's top-rated junior with 2633 FIDE

Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer gets ready for another day of competition

Brazilian grandmaster Alexandre Fier


The official site has also provided live commentary in YouTube in French, conducted by Sylvain Ravot, who
has brought guest commentators each day

Special mention must be made of the excellent site made for the compeittion at that has included live commentary, regular good resolution photos in a gallery, and daily reports summarizing the results. They have even acquired a sponsor for the daily Best Game, which is voted on by the viewers. Kudos.

Standings after six rounds

Rk Team Pts Gms d. p. c.
1 Bischwiller 17 6 18 25 7
2 Clichy 17 6 16 22 6
3 Nice Alekhine 16 6 9 19 10
4 Bois-Colombes 14 6 12 22 10
5 Saint-Quentin 14 6 2 15 13
6 Mulhouse Philidor 13 6 0 16 16
7 Vandoeuvre 11 6 0 16 16
8 E.C. Montpellier 9 6 -4 9 13
9 C.E. Strasbourg 9 6 -10 8 18
10 Chalons-En-Champagne 9 6 -7 11 18
11 Drancy 9 6 -16 7 23
12 Evry Grand Roque 6 6 -20 5 25

Click for match pairings and team composition


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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