French Team Ch: three dominate

by Albert Silver
6/1/2014 – It had almost seemed as if the reigning champion, Clichy, would whitewash the event as they successively beat top challengers Bischwiller and Mulhouse, all with top players on their front lines. Just when the danger seemed past, Evry, a team that has been struggling in the event, pulled off a huge 3-3 upset, including some very unexpected board results. The lesson is never drop your guard.

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The French Chess Leagues are underway, and much like many top leagues such as the Bundesliga, the Russian Team championships, or the Chinese Chess League to name but a few, a wide assortment of top players can be found. Where it distinguishes itself from the others is that contrary to its colleagues that spread the competition out over a period of four to twelve months, the French 'Top 12' will play out all eleven rounds from May 24 to June 3 on successive days.

Eleven teams are playing eleven rounds, and will compete every day except on the day they have a Bye. Theoretically there would be twelve teams, hence the title 'Top 12', but Marseille declared forfeit and thus only eleven teams will play. The club Tours de Haute-Picardie in Saint-Quentin, France, recently promoted to the division, is hosting the competition in the Palais de Fervaques, one of the most beautiful buildings in the region.

Rounds six to eight

Round six of the French 'Top 12' saw the showdown between the two leaders, Clichy and Bischwiller. Both teams were the only ones left with immaculate records, but of the two, Clichy came with the bigger guns in Vachier-Lagrave, Jakovenko, and Fressinet.

When push came to shove, Clichy was the one doing the pushing

Bischwiller is no pushover with Romain Edouard on board one, followed by Andrei Volokitin, but they were different weight divisions and Clichy punished the challenger with a no-nonsense 5-1, including two white wins by MVL and Jakovenko. Strasbourg was determined to end a string of defeats, and Vladimir Baklan, on board one paved the way as he scored a win helping lead his team to a 4-1 victory over Metz.

Chess is often decided but by a single move

GM Alejandro Ramirez annotates Riazantsev-Baklan:

[Event "TCh-FRA Top 12 2014"] [Site "Saint-Quentin FRA"] [Date "2014.05.29"] [Round "6.1"] [White "Riazantsev, Alexander"] [Black "Baklan, Vladimir"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B30"] [WhiteElo "2692"] [BlackElo "2636"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "40"] [EventDate "2014.05.24"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] [WhiteTeam "Club d'Echecs Metz Fischer"] [BlackTeam "C.E. Strasbourg"] {Even top GMs learn again and again that in chess, one move is enough to spoil a beautiful position.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 {An unusual line against the Rossolimo, but not without merit.} 4. Nc3 (4. e5 Ng4 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. d3 g6 7. Bf4 Nh6 $11 {Wallace-Naiditsch, 2014}) 4... g6 5. Bxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Nd5 7. Ne4 Bg7 8. O-O d6 9. c4 f5 $1 {This is already shaping up to be a sharp game. White's superior structure and slight development edge can easily be overshadowed by Black's majority in the center and the bishop pair. Both sides must play carefully.} 10. Nxc5 $1 {A nice counter.} (10. exf6 Nxf6 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. d3 O-O $15 {Is the type of position Black dreams of. Notice how useless White's knight is for now, and even on e4 it is not that great.}) 10... dxc5 11. cxd5 Qxd5 {Black's structure is even worse, but White's is also shattered now. As long as White retains his pawn on e5 he can keep the bishops decently controlled.} 12. b3 $1 O-O (12... Bxe5 13. Nxe5 Qxe5 14. Ba3 $16 { will allow White to recover the pawn on c5 and emerge with a great advantage as Black's bishop is nowhere near as useful as White's.}) 13. Ba3 Bxe5 $2 { This simply reverts to the previous variation, Black had to be more patient.} ( 13... Ba6 14. Re1 Rfe8 $1 {defending the e7 pawn is key to allow c4.} 15. Rc1 c4 $14 {and White is a little better, but its nothing too bad.}) 14. Nxe5 Qxe5 15. Re1 Qf6 16. Qc2 $1 {Nice! White's queen will be even better than the bishop on c5.} f4 17. Qxc5 f3 18. Qc4+ Rf7 19. Bxe7 Qf5 {White's up a pawn and he has the better attacking prospects. All he has to do is not underestimate the f3 pawn.} 20. Qxc6 $4 {Surprisingly this is exactly what Riazantsev does! It is unclear what exactly he missed as Qg4 is the most natural move.} Qg4 { And it's all over! There is no good way to prevenet checkmate! A dramatic end to a game that White had played perfectly.} 0-1

Round seven saw another clash of the titans as Clichy and Mulhouse had a dogfight. Mulhouse is one of the strongest teams, and brings names such as Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2724) and David Navara (2712), not to mention Grzegorz Gajewski (2641) who has been an important contributor to the team's success. Aside from their surprise defeat to Bischwiller in round five, they had won all their matches, including a massive 6-0 win over Strasbourg in round three. The top players did their job in neutralizing Clichy's strike force, but Clichy's strength is not only in its 2700 top boards, and victories by Almira Skripchenko,  and former 2700 players Loek Van Wely and Maxim Matlakov clinched the 3-0 win. At this point, Clichy led, followed by Bischwiller and Mulhouse.

Almira Skripchenko got the ball rolling for her team in round seven

It had to happen, and Clichy was finally prevented from whitewashing the competition as Evry, one of the clubs in the middle of the pack, surprised the reigning champions by a 3-3 score (in number of wins), including a surprise result by Christophe Sochacki (2449) who defeated Laurent Fressinet (2711). The quickest match of the day was Mulhouse's 3-1 defeat of Bois-Colombes, including a win by David Navara over Alexander Ipatov.

Fressinet was victim of an upset as Sochacki beat him to level the match against Clichy 3-3

Alexander Ipatov had a tough time against David Navara

GM Alejandro Ramirez annotates Ipatov-Navara:

[Event "TCh-FRA Top 12 2014"] [Site "Saint-Quentin FRA"] [Date "2014.05.31"] [Round "8.1"] [White "Ipatov, Alexander"] [Black "Navara, David"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2613"] [BlackElo "2708"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2014.05.24"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] [WhiteTeam "C.E. de Bois-Colombes"] [BlackTeam "Mulhouse Philidor"] {Ipatov didn't have that great of a position, but he also saw it fall apart with only one move.} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Bc5 5. d3 {A reverse Sicilian gives rise to close but interesting positions. Many times the battle will be on how useful Black's dark-squared bishop will be.} d6 6. Nf3 O-O 7. O-O a6 8. a3 Bd7 9. b4 Ba7 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bh4 {White takes advantage of the fact that Black's bishop is on a7.} Nd4 $1 {Right on time, Navara has this under control.} (11... g5 12. Nxg5 hxg5 13. Bxg5 $18 {leaves Black powerless against Ne4 or Nd5.}) 12. Nxd4 (12. Nd5 $2 Nxf3+ 13. Bxf3 g5 {is only a problem for White.}) 12... Bxd4 (12... exd4 13. Ne4 g5 14. Nxg5 hxg5 15. Bxg5 { is completely unclear. White has definite compensation, but is it enough?}) 13. Bxf6 Qxf6 14. Rc1 Bxc3 15. Rxc3 c6 16. a4 Qe7 17. a5 Bg4 18. Qd2 Qd7 19. Rb1 { White is focusing on breaching the queenside, but Black has his own ideas in the opposite side of the board.} Bh3 20. Bh1 (20. Bxh3 {is never a fun move to play, but distracting the queen and playing b5 immediately is worth looking at. }) 20... Qe7 21. Rcb3 $2 {The question mark is because of White's reluctance to play b5, which he needed to do sooner rather than later.} Be6 22. R3b2 Qc7 23. Ra1 Rfc8 24. Qe3 d5 25. Qc5 Rd8 26. e3 dxc4 $1 {White has wasted too much time and now Black opens the d-file with great effect as he controls it unopposed.} 27. dxc4 Rd3 28. Rc1 Rad8 29. Bf3 Bh3 30. Rbb1 Rd2 31. Bg2 Qd7 32. Bxh3 Qxh3 33. Rf1 Qf5 34. Rbe1 Qe4 35. b5 h5 36. h4 R8d6 {In time pressure White has barely been surviving, but he is still holding on and he has some pressure on the queenside. He is under the strong threat of Rg6, but he figures he will throw in the pawn trade in first.} 37. bxc6 $4 (37. Re2 $1 { Using the overload on the rook of d2, this was the only way to hold on to the position.} R2d3 $1 $15) 37... Rg6 $1 {Black ignores the position on the queenside and focuses entirely on the kingside, now the game is over.} 38. Kh2 Qf3 {It is impossible to defend f2 and with that White's position collapses.} 0-1

Pictures by D. Dervieux

Standings after eight rounds

Rk
Team
Pts
M
diff
Gms+
Gms-
1
Clichy
23
8
25
32
7
2
Bischwiller
22
8
8
21
13
3
Mulhouse Philidor
20
8
14
22
8
4
Bois Colombes
15
7
4
18
14
5
Montpellier
15
7
1
16
15
6
Metz Fischer
14
7
-2
15
17
7
Chalons en Champagne
12
7
-2
13
15
8
Evry Grand Roque
11
7
-4
14
18
9
Strasbourg
11
7
-11
12
23
10
Tours de Haute Picardie
10
7
-10
10
20
11
Rueil Malmaison
7
7
-23
7
30

Links

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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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