2016 French Youth Championship: Exemplary

by Christophe Philippe
5/9/2016 – The 2016 edition of the largest French chess event took place in Gonfreville l'Orcher, a small town near Le Havre, in the northwestern region of France. The lovely rural town with fewer than 10 thousand inhabitants seemed ill-suited for such a large competition where thousands were expected, yet they overcame it with sponsorship and teamwork making it a truly exemplary event.

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2016 French Youth Championship: Exemplary organization

by IM Christophe Philippe

The official poster of the event

The organization was fantastic thanks to the strong commitment of Cyrille Vaugeois, the president of the local chess club, and mayor Jean-Paul Lecoq, who mobilized big sponsors like Total (oil), ERDF (French electricity) or Rédeim (commercial real estate).

Under normal circumstances the town was too small to receive such a large event, lacking a suitable infrastructure. This is not a criticism of the lovely rural town, but simple reality in numbers: the official population of the town is under ten thousand, so imagine suddenly being faced with over 1300 players, not to mention parents and coaches!

Gonfreville-l'Orcher lies near Le Havre, about two hours drive from Paris

Among the highlights of the picturesque region is the Château d'Orcher, which dates back a thousand years

It is a true attestation to the commitment and competence that the combination of sponsorship and hard work not only made it possible, but a bonafide success. The result was the erection of a very impressive temporary “chess-village” for the approximate 3000 to 4000 parents, coaches and families.

Special chess-themed benches were set up...

... and were made ample use of by the parents waiting for their children to finish.

The superb "chess village" that was setup just for the event

The event itself was composed of 1330 young players aged five to 20 years old who played in the sports center next to the structure. This resulted in a wonderful (this profusion of accolades is completely justified) chess festival that ran for eight days and nine rounds of classical games for the players. More than this, there were numerous lectures, demonstrations, small shops, video streamed commented games of no fewer than 50(!) boards for the parents and online audience, and more.

One of the main halls where the tournament was held, ready for hundreds of competitors

This was the DGT room, where 50 DGT boards were used to broadcast the games live

The major of Gonfreville opens the championship...

...and the president of the local chess club welcomes all competitors and families.

The FFE (French Chess Federation) came with 17 arbiters and seven staff members to take
care of this huge competition, assisted by some 80 local volunteers who helped them to run
a smooth event with no serious incidents to speak of.

This 2000 m2 area was where the parents and coaches could lounge and follow the games

At the rear of this village, the French Federation placed 10 TVs so that parents could follow
40 of the 50 broadcast games. Just behind was a giant screen that showed the commentators
and the live broadcast that was being shown online.

A cameraman followed the action in the playing rooms in order to offer a genuine TV-quality for the giant screen

The community manager of the French Federation, Samuel Bielka, is well-known on Facebook and Twitter

In another room of the village is the conference room which offered a different lecture each day.
Here GM Darko Anic explains to parents how to deal with the stress of their kids in chess competition.

This is the official store with event merchandise for sale, including t-shirts, caps, mugs, and more

Ye Olde Chess Shoppe

Local IM Guillaume Vallin gave the obligatory simul

About 10,000 young chess players competed from September 2015 to March 2016 in the 90 French departments, who then strive to qualify for the 29 regional championships in order to finally qualify for this last step in the French Youth Championship. 14 tournaments took place: from boys and girls under-8, to boys and girls under-20, as well as two additional opens for kids (mainly local) who had not qualified.

This is the playing hall for the Under-12 to Under-20 tournaments, bringing together roughly 800 players

500 players in the Under-8 and Under-10 competed in an another big hall, with bleachers to watch the kids

Although the competition was suitably fierce, the players enjoyed many activities and were enthusiastic

Among the VIPs to visit was Hugues Duboscq, a resident of the region, who swam for France
in four Olympics and won three medals

Still, the real star was MATTIX the mascot, whom the children loved

The 14 champions, including select second or third place finishers some others second or third will then compose the 2016 French Youth team, and represent France in the 2016 European and World Youth Championships in the months to follow.

A video of the event with highlights of all there was to see

Needless to say, a girl can perfectly well play in the 'boys' event, though if she does she will not be eligible for the female title play of her category. After all, she could not play in both at the same time.

Such was the case this year with Andreea Navrotescu (2268 Elo), several notches stronger
than her female rivals, who gave even her male rivals a run for their money in the Boy's
Under-20 competition where she finished third with 6.5/9!

Anysia Thomas (left) finished first in the Girl's Under-20

This was the "Bretagne" area where only the players and coaches could come to analyze.
It was entirely off-limits to parents!

Nevertheless, one of the most remarkable stories of the 2016 tournament was the incredible success of the "Bellahcene" family from the club Bischwiller, who took home no fewer than three titles! First there was Meriem Bellahcene who won the Girls Under-14 7.5/9, then there was Sofia who won the Girls Under-12 with 8.0/9 and finally Jenna Bellahcene who stormed through the Girls Under-8 with 8.5/9! In fact, had their 18-year-old brother, Bilel Bellahcene, taken part, with his 2480 FIDE, ranked no. 56 in the FIDE Top 100 Juniors list, a fourth title was more than likely!

A local music group at the closing ceremony

The first to be honored were quite appropriately the 80 volunteers for their selfless help

Here is the Boy's Under-8 podium...

...and here is the Boy's Under-10.

In the middle, in first place, is one of the Bellahcene sisters, Sofia, who took gold in the Girl's Under-12

The podium for the Girl's Under-16

The final podium for the Boy's (so to speak) Under-20. In first was FM Dylan Viennot who
simply crushed the field with 8.5/9. In second (left) was Alexis Tahay with 7.0/9, and in
third (right) was WIM Andreea Navrotescu.

The event's success was thanks to the combined efforts of the town Gonfreville-L'Orcher,
the French Federation, and the local chess club.


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