Rapid chess in a Bordeaux wine chateau

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
8/26/2021 – The region of Saint Emilion near Bordeaux is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest wines. Hundreds of hectares of vineyards belonging to different domains dominate the landscape. One of these enchanting wine estates was the venue of a rapid chess tournament held on August 22. The 77 participants played the nine-round event in the midst of giant metal tanks and hundreds of wine barrels at the Château Montaiguillon. | Pictured: Maxime Lagarde and Mathieu Cornette | Photo: Thibault Plaire

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Enchanting

The region of Saint Emilion near Bordeaux in south-western France is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest — and some of the most expensive — wines. Hundreds of hectares of vineyards belonging to different domains dominate the landscape that surrounds this ancient town, which is a UNESCO heritage site. One of these enchanting wine estates, located on a hill around six km from Saint Emilion, was the venue of a rapid chess tournament held on August 22. The 77 participants played the nine-round event in the midst of giant metal tanks and hundreds of wine barrels at the Château Montaiguillon. 

Saint Emilion

The ancient town in Saint Emilion, a UNESCO heritage site | Photo: Dhananjay Khadilkar

Mathieu Ternault, who owns and runs the family wine business, was again the driving force behind the second edition of the tournament that featured two Grandmasters, including the French national champion Maxime Lagarde, and five International Masters. The event, though played in a festive atmosphere with lively background music between the rounds and a crêpes truck serving the famous French pancakes, wasn’t short of competitive spirit. 

Tournament favourite Lagarde, with a 2684 rapid rating, led halfway, after winning the first five rounds. Trailing him by half a point at that stage was GM Mathieu Cornette, who is rated 2515 in rapid play. 

Mathieu Cornette

Mathieu Cornette | Photo: Thibault Plaire

The sixth round clash between the top two seeds proved to be decisive as Cornette outplayed Lagarde with white pieces. He maintained the momentum until the end to emerge as the winner with 8½ points. Lagarde finished half a point behind, while IM Loic Travadon was third with 7 points.

Speaking about the tournament, Cornette said he thoroughly enjoyed the “unique venue and the relaxed atmosphere.” Cornette’s wife, IM Deimante Daulyte-Cornette, who finished 14th in the recently concluded European Individual Women’s Championship in Romania, echoed similar sentiments, albeit with a tinge of sadness following a loss to Travadon in the sixth round. 

“I like the friendly atmosphere. I came here to have fun. But even in such a relaxed setting, when you play a bad game it’s difficult to enjoy,” she said with a smile. Daulyte-Cornette finished in fourth place with 6½ points. 

Mathieu Cornette, Deimante Daulyte-Cornette

Mathieu Cornette and Deimante Daulyte-Cornette | Photo: Dhananjay Khadilkar

Lagarde knows this place well, not just because of his participation in the two editions of the tournament, the first of which was held in 2019. “Even when there is no tournament, I visit this place as Ternault is one of my best friends,” he said. 

Lagarde says although he has played at many “nice locations”, playing in the château is unlike any other experience. 

The other IM in the tournament, Jean-Baptiste Mullon, who is also the vice president of the French Chess Federation, contends that organizing tournaments in such locations helps to boost the game.

“For example, the mayor of the nearby town of Montagne, Catherine Henry, paid a visit during the tournament. She was very pleased with the event. Each time you organize chess in new locations, it raises the awareness of the game and helps in its spread,” he said.

Chateau Montaiguillon

A marvellous playing venue | Photo: Thibault Plaire

Ternault, who is a FIDE master, explained his motivation behind organizing the tournament. “Wine and chess makes for a heady cocktail! As a wine-maker and a passionate chess player, it gives me a chance to bring the two together under a single roof. The larger point of this exercise was to share good moments with my friends who are equally passionate about chess,” he says.

However, for Ternault, there was one downside of being the chief organizer. He couldn’t participate in it. “There were just too many things to look after… from arranging food and beverages, chairs and tables etc. Also, since the venue is in the middle of the countryside, I had to arrange for the pickups and drops of some participants to the railway station,” he says.

Mathieu Ternault

Tournament organizer Mathieu Ternault | Photo: Thibault Plaire

Saint Emilion

Hundreds of hectares of vineyards dominate the landscape | Photo: Dhananjay Khadilkar

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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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Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 8/26/2021 09:05
I was there – even with a terrible performance, I thoroughly enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere.
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