Bacrot and Milliet new French champions

9/5/2003 – France is a leading chess nations – when you consider that 944 players took part in the 78th national championship. The men's and women's sections were won by two young stars, Etienne Bacrot and Sophie Milliet. The event was held in Aix-les-Bains, where great French literature was created. Jean-Michel Péchiné of Europe Echecs tells it all in a beautiful illustrated report.

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Chess and Romance in Aix-les-Bains

The 78th French Chess Championships took place the last two weeks of August in Savoy. The event was hosted by the romantic city of Aix-les-Bains, on the banks of the largest natural lake of France. In the fall of 1816, the famous French poet Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) spent some time there at the spa where he met the wife of a well-known physicist, Julie Charles, who suffered from tuberculosis. Their platonic love developed on the shores of the alpine Lake Bourget. During the winter of 1817, they met in Paris and each promised to return to Aix-les-Bains the following summer.

Lamartine was the only one to make it, Julie's illness being too far advanced. She died in Paris in December, and in his sorrow Lamartine dedicated to her a magnificent poem entitled "The Lake" (original French "Le Lac" – the phonetic magic of this piece is explained for foreigner here). It was first published three years later in a volume of poetry entitled "Meditations".

Precisely that – tragedy, sorrow and meditation – were on the program of the 78th edition. 944 competitors participated in seven tournaments. As usual, the main event was the National, a round-robin with 11 rounds, with the following participants: Joël Lautier (2677), Etienne Bacrot (2645), Josif Dorfman (2607), Christian Bauer (2589), Anatoli Vaisser (2571), Andrei Sokolov (2554), Jean-Marc Degraeve (2541), Robert Fontaine (2541), Manuel Apicella (2522), Jean-Luc Chabanon (2498), Laurent Guidarelli (2392) and Almira Skripchenko (2489).

All the games of the men's section in zipped PGN

It came as no surprise that the favourites Lautier and Bacrot (2645) ended together at the top of the table, each with a fine result (+5 =5 –1). More unexpected was that Andrei Sokolov delivered exactly the same impressive performance! A top player at the beginning of the 80s Sololov won a splendid Ruy Lopez against Bacrot, and in round five he narrowly failed to wrap up his game against Lautier after a spectacular sacrifice in the style of Mikhail Tal!

Sokolov,A (2554) – Lautier,J (2677) [B86]
Ch FRA Aix-les-Bains (5.1), 2003

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Nbd7 8.Bg5 Nc5 9.f4 Be7 10.Qf3 Qc7 11.0-0-0 b5 12.Bxf6 Nxb3+ 13.axb3 Bxf6

14.Nf5!? exf5 15.Nd5 Qb7 16.Rhe1 0-0 17.Nxf6+ gxf6 18.Qg3+ Kh8 19.Qh4 Qe7 20.e5 dxe5 21.Rd3 Rg8 22.Rh3 Rg7 23.fxe5 Bb7 24.exf6 Qxe1+ 25.Qxe1 Rxg2 26.Qh4 (26.Qe7 was better) 26...Rg1+ 27.Kd2 Rd8+

How would you counter the check? White can move his king to e3 or c3, or even interpose his rook on d3. But he must not play 28.Ke2? because that leads to an instant draw by perpetual check. Sokolov allow Lautier to demonstrate it to him: 28...Rg2+ 29.Ke1 Rg1+ 30.Ke2 Rg2+ 31.Ke3 Re8+ 32.Kd3 Rd8+ 33.Ke3 Re8+ 34.Kd3 Rd8+ 35.Ke3 ½-½.

Andrei Sokolov was well prepared, and the presence of his wife in Aix-les-Bains was definitely one the motives of his sound inspiration on the board. Love on the banks of Lake Bourget is always a source of artistic creation, as Lamartine demonstrated two centuries ago. And so the National ended in a three way tie between Andrei, Etienne and Joel.

A large part of the numerous public was expecting the first National title of Lautier. Unfortunately for the current number one on the French Elo list, his main rival Bacrot gave the other two no chances. The youngest GM in the field scored an astonished 3/3 to conclude the double round robin playoff with two wins against Lautier. For Joël, the final result was tragically the same as it was last year in Val d'Isère, and that should be a source of meditations.


Etienne Bacrot

So Etienne Bacrot won the title once again in a Rapid chess playoff. It represents the fifth national title in a row for the 20-years-old, who is still Junior! He already holds the French record, and now he has got only one objective world wide record to beat: that of legendary Frank Marshall, who won all the US Chess Championships played from 1909 to 1936! However, this is another story...

All the games of the women's section in zipped PGN


Sophie Milliet

The 2002 champion Marie Sebag did not participate in this year's women's competition. The young Junior Sophie Milliet (2275) won it easily, her first title with a remarkable +7 =4. Apart from being the most attractive on the scene, Sophie was also the most spectacular on the board! Always playing for the win, she began her tournament with a perfect 5/5. The final result earned her a second WGM norm in Aix-les-Bains.

Picture gallery


The kitsch entrance of the Casino where the Opens were played


Men and Women playing together on the stage


The unlucky second by tie-break: Joel Lautier


Millet vs Roumegous: Women fighting with natural eleganc and a handbag on the table


Future chess stars enjoying their presence in Aix-les-Bains


No age limit for chess, as shown by Petrus Burghouwt and Lucien Mouillaux, two of 944 players of the 78th championships


Almira with Agostino Scalfi, the Italian organiser of the Saint-Vincent’s events in Aosta Valley, who visited the National after a short trip through the Alps.


GM Hicham Hamdouchi analysed the games live for the public with the help of Gregory Vanobbergh from Europe Echecs


Not too much pressure for Anatoly Vaïsser and Iossif Dorfman who did their best in a cool tournament.

Report and photos: Jean-Michel Péchiné of Europe Echecs


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