Bischwiller retain French club championship title

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
5/29/2019 – The defending champions led by Israeli GM Maxim Rodshtein were undefeated and skated past powerhouse Asnières Le Grand Echiquier featuring Maxime Vachier-Lagrave en route to victory in the 11-round event that was held in the city of Brest in western France from May 18th to May 28th. | Photos: French Chess Federation

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Oparin top scorer with 8½/10 for Asniéres

Bischwiller were crowned the French club champions for the second year in a row after defeating Mulhouse Philidor 5½:2½ in the 11th and final round of the Top 12 event, held in Brest in western France. Bischwiller finished the championship on a perfect score of 33 points, four points ahead of the second-placed Asnieres. Mulhouse Philidor completed the podium with 26 points.

Bischwiller, the only unbeaten team in the tournament, was composed of Maxim Rodshtein, Markus Ragger, Arkadij Naiditsch, Etienne Bacrot, Romain Edouard, Laurent Fressinet, Jean-Pierre Le Roux, Marie Sebag and Nino Maisuradze.

The final round was a mere formality as far as determining the tournament winner was concerned. The defending champions had sealed this year’s title after defeating their nearest rivals Asnieres in a tense encounter in the penultimate round. 

Asnieres and Bischwiller

(Left) Harikrishna and Vachier-Lagrave of Asnieres; (right) Bacrot and Naiditsch from Bischwiller | Photo: French Chess Federation

Bischwiller got past Asnieres on the strength of wins from Rodshtein and Naiditsch, which made up for a loss from Sebastien Maze to Russian up-and-comer Grigory Oparin. 

 

The position would be about equal after 16...hxg5 17.♕f2 ♝xg3 18.♖xg3 ♜dg8, but Cornette opted for the more aggressive 16...e4 which left him worse after 17.xe4 dxe4 and the Zwischenzug 18.xd6 xd6 19.h3 winning a pawn. By the time the h-pawn was ready to begin marching down the board on move 27, Cornette gave up.

With world no 6 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and world no 25 Pentala Harikrishna in their ranks, Asnieres were the other strong contenders for the title. But, even before falling to Bischwiller, a loss to Nice Alekhine in the eighth round dented their title chances. An upset with Black by "German Prince" Dennis Wagner over Sergei Movsesian was key for the Nice team. 

 

Wagner fell into a trap here with 38...Nxe4 (...Rd6 is balanced) as 39.Qg6 Nf6 gives White a winning attack. But on the last move of the first time control, Movsesian missed it!

40.♖f2! threatens to take the knight and there's no adequate defence.

The Armenian GM played 40.e4? which allowed Wagner to consolidate his pawn advantage by 40...e7. Movsesian tried to maintain the pressure, but the black king escaped while White's ended up in hot water. 

 

Wagner finished the game with 54...g4+ 55.h2 f4 56.g6 h4+ and Black's attack is too strong.

Asnieres

The team of Asnières Le Grand Echiquier finished clear second | Photo: French Chess Federation

Metz Fischer, Clichy Echecs 92 Nice Alekhine, Grasse Echecs, Vandoeuvre Echecs and T H F Saint-Quentin were the top nine finishers.

The three remaining teams — Cannes, Cemc Monaco and Gonfreville l'Orcher finished in the relegation zone and will be replaced next year by winners of each of the three groups of the National I division.

More than 60 grandmasters battled it out in the 11-round event that was held in Brest in western France from May 18th to May 28th

The tournament witnessed the participation of top French grandmasters as well as a number of strong foreign players including Harikrishna, African champion Bassem Amin, Maxim Rodshtein, Arkadij Naiditsch, Loek Van Wely and the young Indian trio of Nihal Sarin, R Praggnanandhaa and D. Gukesh. 

Speaking about his impressions of the tournament, Vachier-Lagrave said that this tournament helps him to meet French players. 

“It’s always interesting to play the French league because I don’t get to meet French players often. Here I see a lot of very well-known faces. Plus, it’s nice to be able to bring chess to all parts of France. I am glad that Brittany (the region where Brest is located) is part of the fun.”

For GM Fressinet, the participation of foreign players makes the tournament more interesting. 

“It’s great to see some new faces. This year, especially we have had many very young Indian players (Nihal Sarin, R Pragnanandhaa and D. Gukesh). A mix of French and foreign players makes it more interesting,” he said.

Gukesh and Tabatabaei

Gukesh beat Yuri Solodovniche in Round 8 sitting alongside Iranian young-talent M. Amin Tabatabaei | Photo: French Chess Federation

One of the tournament’s key regulations is that each club can field three foreign players. 

“You have eight players playing on eight boards. There’s an obligation to have at least one French woman player and maximum three foreign players,” French chess federation official Christophe Phillipe said.

Philippe contends that the tournament format is one of the reasons why many top international players play in this event.

“It’s a very strong tournament. It is probably the second or third strongest league in the world. The matches are held for 11 days in a row at the same place. This makes it easier for clubs to bring strong players and pay for their travel only once,” he said.

French IM Sophie Milliet, who represents Grasse Echecs, said the tournament is very competitive. 

“There are some big stars and big teams. This year, two teams were clearly above the rest. There aren’t many quick draws. It’s a good challenge for the weaker teams to face such good opposition,” she said.

Final standings

Rank Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Rd. BP MP
1
Bischwiller
  6 5 6 11 58 33
2
Asnières Le Grand Echiquier
  6 5 6 7 7 11 60 29
3
Mulhouse Philidor
  4 5 5 6 11 50½ 26
4
Club d'Echecs Metz Fischer
2 4   4 5 4 4 5 11 48 25
5
Clichy-Echecs
3 4   5 7 11 52½ 24
6
Nice Alekhine
3 3   4 6 7 11 52 24
7
Grasse Echecs
4   6 5 6 6 6 11 50½ 24
8
Vandoeuvre-Echecs
4 4 2   5 4 4 6 11 40 21
9
Les Tours des Hauts de France
2 3 ½ ½ 2 3 3   5 11 30½ 17
10
Cannes Echecs
2 3 1 2 4   5 4 11 31 15
11
C.E.M.C. Monaco
3 1 3 ½ 2 4 3   5 11 28 14
12
Orcher la Tour
2 1 2 1 2 2 3 4 3   11 26 12

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Dhananjay is a Paris based journalist and a chess enthusiast. While he enjoys playing the game, he is more fascinated by the drama and history associated with it.
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