Rencontrez Etienne – Le Champion

by Sabrina Chevannes
12/30/2016 – Etienne Bacrot is not in the chess media that often, but he has been a talent from such a young age. He recently won the strong FIDE Open at the London Chess Classic with good friend Sebastien Maze. Sabrina Chevannes decided to find out a bit more about the Frenchman and what was behind this strong performance.

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This year’s FIDE Open event, which ran alongside the main Classic, was extremely strong and the Azerbaijan international, Eltaj Safarli, was the favourite to win the event. However, two very good friends, Eitenne Bacrot and Sebastien Maze, both from France, shared the 1st place prize and glory.

Since Sebastien had to run off immediately after the event to make it in time to play in Sitges, I caught up with Etienne, to find out his thoughts on the event and what he’d been up to during the event.

Sebastian Maze

Sabrina Chevannes: I’ve never seen you in London before! Where have you been all these years? What made you suddenly decide to play the tournament now?

Etienne Bacrot: Well, I had thought about playing before, but this year was perfect because not only was Maxime playing, but my wife also wanted to come visit London. The tournament has always looked good, with good playing conditions, but the prizes also got better this year too!

S: That’s nice that your wife came with you; did you get to see much of London together?

E: Yes, we have walked around a lot! We arrived one day before the tournament and went to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and just enjoyed the city and of course, the pubs.

S: Have you been to London before? Or was this your first time?

E: I have been just once to London, but it was many years ago. But, you know what we chessplayers are like – we just go to where we play and don’t see much else! I came to do a simul many years ago, but didn’t get to see anything exciting.

S: There are soooooo many of the French here! What’s going on? And most of you have not played before.

E: Ah yes… well, we all like to play with Maxime [Vachier-Lagrave]. He is a good friend and a lot of fun, plus we really want to support him in a big event like this. And when one of us wants to play an event, we tell another and then they bring another! It’s like a snowball effect!

Laurent Fressinet

Matthieu Cornette

S: So, when you came here, were you confident? Did you envisage winning the event?

E: Not at all really. It was sort of like a half tournament, half holiday, so I didn’t really have great expectations. Of course, once I started playing well and getting good results, I started to feel in good shape and that helped.

S: What about Sebastien?

E: Well, I don’t think he thought he would win it either – he also likes to come to have fun. But we are very good friends and were even training together many years ago. In fact, we were almost living in the same place for a while! It was great to win the event with such a good friend.

S: It’s always nice to go into a tournament relaxed, but have a pleasant surprise of playing good chess. What would you say your best game was?

E: Ah, that would be my 8th round game against Aravindh – it was very nice. But in general, I think I played many very interesting games here.


S: Aravindh was all over the chess media and there was so much hype about this wonderkid! He was on 6.5/7 and people were wondering if he could be stopped. How did you feel when you went to play him?

E: Actually, I had no idea! I just went into the game and played him just like he was anybody else! But it was a great game – he seems like a really strong player; it was definitely a fight.

Aravindh Chithambaram

S: There was also a lot of chat about your last game against Abhijeet Gupta… if I can call it that! You guys agreed a draw in 5 moves! I mean, it’s quite understandable from my point of view, but many were thinking that this was bad for chess and disrespectful to spectators and organisers. What do you think?

E: It makes no sense for me to push for a win in these circumstances. Gupta is a very strong player and I guarantee £6250 if I take a draw. OK, £7500 is much better of course J But, this is normal in chess and surely the organisers expect this? It is different in the main event as there are spectators and they sign a contract etc. but we are just here to play and try and earn a living. We need to do what is best for us and I feel that taking a draw was the best thing to do in that situation. If anything, it is Gupta who should be trying to beat me!

My wife and I were hoping that there would be a draw on the 2nd board, but OK, if I had to share with anyone in the tournament, I am very happy that it is Sebastien.

S: That’s nice! £6250 is still a very decent amount of money though – what do you intend to spend it on?

E: Before Christmas, it is always nice to win some money and especially in an open tournament, where it is not easy to do so. The money will probably be going toward paying off my new swimming pool.

S: Wow, that sounds nice! You’ve got a swimming pool in your place now?

E: Yes, it is very big and nice, especially in the summer… but it was very expensive! I won a nice amount of money in Gibraltar, and now here and it is still not quite paid off! But it definitely helps!

S: I think I will definitely be expecting an invite to a pool party soon! The French team are probably one of the closest teams I’ve seen at events – you are always together and supporting each other… it’s so nice!

E: We do take the tournament seriously when we are here, but each evening, we make sure we meet up, go for dinner, have several drinks… it is good that the games start so late! OK, Maxime did not do so well, which was sad for us, but he was happy for myself and Sebastien.

S: What do you think was behind your success for this tournament? Good opening preparation?

E: Actually, not much at all – I was quite chilled out before most games. I think that opening preparation is not as important and it is all about the play in the middlegame. A lot more work in the opening is required in Maxime’s section. Although, I say that, but I was caught out in a lot of games in the opening here! Then, somehow I was lucky with how the games turned around and I think the fact I maintained my energy before the game helped.

As for the rapid, well, I thought I stood a very good chance of winning this tournament after my performance in the classical play, but Valentina had to go and ruin those plans!

S: She did indeed, and we are all so proud of her! But what’s next for you?

E: No idea! Maybe Gibraltar, but I will just play some league games and then enjoy Christmas. After that, I don’t know what I will do. I have just really enjoyed myself at the tournament this year – it was really nice. I hope that I can come back next year and hope that Maxime will win it too!

Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, Sabrina now lives in London where she is managing director of the London Academy of Chess and Education. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK. Sabrina is a Women International Master and an active chess player.


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