Sophie Milliet seeks French Championship record

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
8/18/2019 – The 2019 French Championships (Open and Women) are underway in Chartres and in the Women's Championship Sophie Milliet is vying for her seventh title. DHANANJAY KHADILKAR spoke with Sophie on the eve of the tournament about her memories of prior championships and her aspirations for the present one. In the first round Milliet drew with 2177-rated Mathilde Broly. Live games from 13:00 UTC (15:00 CEST / 9:00 EDT).

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Aiming for seventh heaven

It has been 16 years since Sophie Milliet won her first French women's national championship. But even today, she remains as motivated and focused to add yet another national title to her impressive tally, which currently stands at six. That's because winning her seventh crown at this year's Championnat de France, which is taking place in the city of Chartres from August 17th to August 25th, would be a history-making moment in French women's chess. Sophie currently shares the record of most national individual titles with Almira Skripchenko, who isn't playing in this year's event.

"It's one of my main goals for this year," Milliet told me. But to achieve her goal, Sophie, who is an International Master, will have to overcome the challenge of another International Master and defending champion: Pauline Guichard (pictured, right). Sophie actually considers Guichard to be the tournament favourite.

Pauline Guichard"Pauline has been playing very well this year. I don't consider myself the favourite. I haven't played that well recently. But not being the favourite also means I don't feel as much pressure. I just want to play some good games and see how it goes," she says.

Going by the Elo ratings, this year's championship looks like a race between the tournament's top two seeds. Both had an identical rating of 2409 in July 2019, while for August, Pauline's rating stands at 2405 and Sophie's at 2397. By contrast, the rating difference between Sophie and the third-seed Maria Leconte is more than 140 points.

Interestingly, their duel in Chartres this year will be a continuation of their tussle from 2018.

"I was a bit disappointed last year as I was leading for most of the tournament. But the loss against Pauline in the eighth round meant I had to settle for second place," she says. But she adds that last year's defeat to Guichard, which denied her the record seventh title, isn't playing on her mind.

Andrea Navrotescu"Each championship is different. The conditions are different. Moreover, to win a tournament like this, you need a bit of luck and you need to be in good shape," she says.
At the same time, Sophie is careful not to rule out any of the other eight contenders. "You never know. Someone can be in really good shape and hit a purple patch." She marks out Andrea Navrotescu (pictured, left) as a player to watch out for. "She is young, has lots of energy and has been playing professionally. She can be a dangerous opponent."

Speaking about her earlier titles, Sophie said her 2017 win was the most satisfying as she triumphed with a convincing margin of 2½ points. But she considers her win the year before as the most thrilling and nerve-racking.

"I won the 2016 title on a tiebreak. Three players had finished the tournament on 6½ points. We had to play blitz games to determine the winner. It was very stressful and intense. This was by far the toughest title."

At 35, Sophie is already a veteran of the French national championships, having played her first event in 2000. According to her, the big change in recent competitions is the increasing participation of young players.

"This year, half of the players are under 25. This is something new."

And how has her game changed over these years?

"My style has almost remained the same. I do feel that I am a more complete player now. But in 2003, when I won my first title at the age of 19, I had more energy which was of great help."

When did the thought of becoming the most successful French woman player cross her mind?

"Definitely not in 2003, when I won my first championship. I wasn't really thinking how things would be 16 years later. The thought about this record entered my mind when I won my fifth title in 2016. I knew the next one (which she won the year later) would equal the record."
Sophie says winning the title this year would make her extremely happy. But she isn't too stressed about the outcome of the championship.

"Of course, I would love to create the record this year. But there's no great urgency. If it's not this year, it could be next year or the year after. After all, I am not retiring yet," Sophie says with a smile.

Broly vs Milliet

Ruond 1: Broly vs Milliet | Photo: ffechecs.org

The first round was not exactly an ideal start, but Milliet can consider herself lucky to enter the second round with a half point. After throwing away a winning position Milliet was dead lost before her opponent, Mathilde Broly, squandered her own advantage.

 

55.♘c7+ would have brought the game to a swift conclusion as the e-pawn is a monster: 55...♚d7 56.e6+

Instead, Milliet was given a fighting chance after 55.c1? c4! and ...xe5 removing the immediate danger. Black's own passed g and h-pawns allowed her to salvage the draw.


Results of Round 1 (Women)

 

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Results of Round 1 (Open)

 

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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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