Suicidal somnambulism

by Jonathan Speelman
3/5/2023 – Facing the mighty Baden-Baden in the Bundesliga, Jon Speelman was paired up against Etienne Bacrot (pictured) with black. The English grandmaster thus describes the start of what turned out to be a miniature win for Bacrot: “I then made the mistake of fairly quickly sleepwalking along the moves which you play against the supposed main line 5.g3, and he hit me hard on move 8 with g4!. [...] A move or so later, when I finally awoke from my slumber, I was already lost.” | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova / FIDE World Cup 2021

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Is Bacrot a Cornishman?

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

Last time, I looked at a couple of my own games from the 4NCL. I had intended to move on, partly because I didn’t expect to play again until the next 4NCL: on March 10th-18th. But the Thursday before last (February 23rd) I got a last-minute call from the captain of my Bundesliga team, Munich 1836, asking if I could play since somebody had dropped out due to illness.

Over the years, I’ve developed an increasing loathing of airports, and due to the lockdowns and playing less, I actually hadn’t been abroad for about 3 years! It was developing into a phobia, and so I thought I really ought to accept, the more so because — or perhaps despite — we were playing the mighty Baden-Baden on the Sunday.   

I was booked on the same flight as Gawain Jones, and after Heathrow terminal 5 tuned out to be less awful than I’d expected and a flight to Stuttgart, he navigated us with an app on his phone via the S-Bahn and the rain to our hotel. On Saturday, we played bottom markers Schoniach and I faced the up-and-coming young German Nils Richter. I wasn’t at all pleased with my play since I missed a couple of things I'd normally see, but it finished in a draw and so on to Sunday.

Gawain Jones, Rasmus Svane

Gawain Jones and Rasmus Svane | Photo: Bundesliga website

If Baden-Baden remained unchanged I would play Etienne Bacrot, but perhaps they would recognize the undeniable and essential need to strengthen their wimbly line-up with one of the players who’d finished on Saturday in Düsseldorf — Vincent Keymer seemed most likely — in which case it would maybe be Black against Alexei Shirov?

In the event, they did remain unchanged, so it was Bacrot, whom I hadn’t played for over twenty years when I had a couple of games in which I believe I scored 1½/2 as Black. This time though, I’ve got a lot weaker and he’s still in his prime, and he demolished me with a piece of opening preparation which I didn’t fully appreciate until I got home and had a further think about it.

In his over-the-board games (I didn’t pay much attention to internet blitz) he had been playing 1.e4 recently and so that’s what I expected, but he’s ambidextrous and chose 1.d4. I played a straight bat with a Bogo-Indian, but he surprised me a little with his fifth move 5.a3, which is considerably more potent than you might imagine.

I then made the mistake of fairly quickly sleepwalking along the moves which you play against the supposed main line 5.g3, and he hit me hard on move 8 with g4! — which he told me afterwards he’d analysed with a pupil who’d failed to play it against a 2600-plus opponent. I made a pretty awful reply and a move or so later, when I finally awoke from my slumber, I was already lost!

The diagram shows the wreckage of what I trust will be a one-off disaster. Perhaps Bacrot is really a Cornishman — one of the wreckers who used to lure ships onto the rocks with false lighthouses?


After this misery, some pleasantly pyrotechnic recent games to re-establish some cheer.


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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.