Marie Sebag – France's new wonder-girl

9/11/2003 – She is sixteen and was invited to play in the Grand Prix de Sénat rapid chess tournament in Paris. In the semifinals Marie Sebag knocked out GM Laurent Fressinet, Elo 2640, with a dry 2-0 score. In the finals she had veteran GM Anatoly Vaisser on the ropes, but botched it up in the endgame. Read all about this exciting tournament in Jean-Michel Péchiné's illustrated report.

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Parity in Chess and Politics

The Grand Prix de Sénat TV Mag Rapid tournament took place in Paris September 5th-6th. Four players competed, with an absolute parity between men and women. In the end GM Anatoly Vaïsser won the title, after a bloody Sunday for women on the board! The event was co-organized by the Senat, upper house of the French parliament, and French magazine TV Mag, from Figaro’s group. Traditionally after the final, the four players invited in Paris have to play simultaneous games in the Luxembourg garden, a real Parisian favourite; which is a beautiful 25 hectares green oasis on Paris fashionable left bank.


The history of France’s second chamber began with the Council of Elders (1795-99), which became the Conservative or Imperial Senate in 1799 and ended up by impeaching its president, Napoleon, in 1814.

For the fourth edition the organizers decided to innovate by inviting two women and two men. The main goal was to promote “gender parity in politics”, as an Act has been promulgated for it in France in June 2000. The ultimate purpose deriving of the progressive Act is to have an equal number of men and women candidates, prearranged in the lists of representatives to be elected, like in a “Mille-Feuilles cake”, with a man, a woman, a man, a woman, etc. making up the layers.


The two main organizers Yves Marek (left), councilor of Culture for Senat, and journalist Bertrand Guyard, from TV Mag.

On Saturday 5th, two distinguish GMs, Anatoly Vaïsser (2571) and Laurent Fressinet (2640), were pitted against two of France's finest WGMs: Almira Skripchenko (2485) and Marie Sebag (2432). They played two games mini-matches of 25 minutes each, then tie-break (blitz) if required. The toss decided the semi-finals Sebag-Fressinet and Skriptchenko-Vaïsser. After a terrific battle, held at the vibrant Salle Medicis, "old man" Anatoly, 54, defeated his rival in a decisive tie-break (2-0). Almira didn’t deserved such a dry score in the blitz, after her two arduous draws in Rapid chess.


Young star Laurent Fressinet, here giving Almira the glare, didn’t want to lose twice in a week-end against a women! After the loss of the third place Almira declared: “This is my main default, I panic when there is so much possibilities on the board and so little time to think about them. I missed the win against Laurent in our first game”.

The main attraction was the fantastic qualification for the final of Marie Sebag, after two splendid wins against Laurent Fressinet. “First, she plays very fast!" said Laurent ruefully, "When she is in confidence, well prepared and in a good form, Marie plays at 2600 GM level”. The young lady he was talking about is sixteen years old.


The opening of the finale between Marie and Anatoly

The final attracted a large public and many VIPs. Everybody was hoping for a victory of young star Marie. And the fact is Anatoly could hardly believe what happened in the first game of the final. With black, he played his favorite opening, the French Defence, but he suddenly lost control of the position after a horrible move (19…a5). Marie didn’t overlooked this mistake and ten moves later she had a winning position! Alas for the new French wonder-girl she played her endgame disastrously and missed the win in a terrific time crisis. In the second game Anatoly with white didn’t leave her any chance to come back into the match. Vaïsser was definitely the lucky one of the week-end, even if he played with experience, showing good nerves! But in the end he deserved to follow his friend Vlad Kramnik in the list of prize winners. Vladimir won the title last year.


Even if she lost and it was Rapid chess, Marie achieved one of the greatest performances for a woman in French chess history.

Here are all the games to replay and download

Picture gallery


Washington Square, Museon Park, the Luxembourg garden in Paris, chess in an universal “open air” language! Standing in the background in the leather jacket is GM Eloi Relange.


The winner Anatoly congratulated by his wife. Here with Yves Marek and Sabrina Grimaldi (onn the right), director of the website of TV Mag.


Former vice-French chess champion Nina Mousset-Evtouchenko (on the right) with Mrs Vaïsser.


IGM Bachar Kouatly, director of Europe Echecs, and Patricia Empain-Guyard, wife of Bertrand, and a good chess amateur, just like her famous father, Baron Empain.


Hungarian violinist and rising star Kristof Barati and virtuoso Edward Wulfson appreciated the spectacular performance of their friend Anatoly Vaïsser.


Mrs and Mr Relange, two painters, and notably parents of GM Eloi, who commented the games live for the public.


Almira opened the traditional simultaneous games with elegance in Paris, Fashion capital


Lucas, son of Sabrina Grimaldi from TV Mag, played against Marie. On the left is his chess teacher Stéphane Schabanel.


Yves Marek, former vice-chess National champion of Tunisia, once drew a game against the legendary Misha Tal. Here he plays against Laurent Fressinet.


France's top GM Joël Lautier, with Anatoly (right) and Kristof Baraty, who played the simul against Fressinet.


Willy Iclicki, well known FIDE official, with Almira


A great victory for the always young in his mind Anatoly, who is seated here with his trophy like a young player after his first win.

Report and photos: Jean-Michel Péchiné of Europe Echecs


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