Reports Jun 8, 2015 | 1:06 PMby Colin McGourty

French Top 12: Bischwiller on the brink

Anish Giri’s Bischwiller have won all nine matches in the French Team Championship, including a crucial 4.5:3.5 victory against favourites Clichy, to put them within touching distance of the title with only two rounds to go. We take a look at the action, with a special focus on how the next five rounds went for the players we highlighted after Round 4.

In our “hits and misses” article we picked out three players who had done well. Let’s update their progress:

1. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime, if you recall, had finally opened with 3 wins in a row in the Top 12 after a 27-game streak without a win. Since then he’s only played three rounds, with two draws (Ragger and Sokolov) and one win (Szabo). So nothing spectacular, but steady progress.

Austria's Markus Ragger was the first player to hold Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to a draw in the Top 12... and help his team to an absolutely crucial win | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

Why has he played only six rounds out of nine? Probably he’s also preparing for the challenge ahead. As we mention in our 2015 Chess Calendar, he’s playing in the Leon rapid chess tournament next weekend (12-14 June), before the Norway Chess blitz opener takes place the very next day!

2. Ivan Sokolov

Ivan also eased off after sprinting to 4/4, adding 1 win and 4 draws, including draws against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Radek Wojtaszek.

3. JK Duda

17-year-old Duda didn’t slow down! After drawing with Wesley So and then winning three games in a row he went on to win his next three as well. They included some fine attacks – here he was finally ready to break through against Glenn Flear:


And also some exquisite endgame technique:

Duda here had tripled extra pawns against Anthony Wirig, but it was far from an easy task to win the game:

Eventually he managed. 

If Duda (in the blue T-shirt) had any doubts about whether he should have gone for the ending he didn't let them affect his play! | photo: French Chess Federation

That put Duda on 6 wins in a row, with a chance to match Caruana’s fabulous 7 from the Sinquefield Cup. Like Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik and Magnus Carlsen before him, though, Duda fell at the final hurdle. It wasn’t for the want of the trying!

Here he gave up his queen with 15.gxf6! He continued to play for a win, though he almost pushed too far and had to show some fine defensive technique:

Duda has just given up a bishop for the last black pawn and tablebases tell us this position is a draw. The young Pole showed he knew why, playing 47.b4 and 48.h5 on his next two moves to establish a fortress and then just shuffling his king and rook for the next 22 moves – Yuri Solodovnichenko didn’t give up easily!

Duda then drew with Arkadij Naiditsch in the Round 9 match against Bischwiller. Despite his efforts the team’s 5.5:2.5 loss may have confirmed Bischwiller’s title and deprived Bois-Colombes of any chance of taking silver or gold.

Another curiosity is that Duda has played his last 8 games with the white pieces!

4. Radek Wojtaszek

Things haven’t gone quite as well with White for the Polish no. 1, and we might be to blame  In our earlier report we wondered if Radek Wojtaszek was the world’s best player with the white pieces at this moment in time… he immediately went on to draw with White against 2454-rated Axel Smith, and then later with Donchenko (2570) and Sokolov (2623). Add in two draws with Black and it’s been a disappointing tournament for the Polish star, who’s dropped 16.4 rating points and nine places in the live ratings.

And now let’s update the “misses” of the first four rounds.

1. Bischwiller’s top boards

Here, as you might expect with Bischwiller standing proud at the top of the table, their top players have improved, with one exception!

Anish Giri easily beat Laurent Fressinet in what will probably be the decisive match of the whole event | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

Anish Giri put his foot on the accelerator to win four of his five games, including a crucial victory over Laurent Fressinet to take down the tournament favourites and winners for the last three years, Clichy. His one draw was against David Navara.

Etienne Bacrot recovered from three draws and a loss to go on a three game winning spurt, including a key win against Dmitry Jakovenko in the showdown with Clichy.

Etienne Bacrot hit form when it really mattered against Dmitry Jakovenko | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

Arkadij Naiditsch’s woes have continued, though. He drew three of his next four games against lower rated players and then lost to Sokolov – and not Ivan Sokolov but 2520-rated Andrei Sokolov:

34.exf7! was a key zwischenzug in a very nice finish. We should point out that 52-year-old Andrei Sokolov isn’t someone to be underestimated. He moved to France 15 years ago, but won the World Junior Championship in 1982 as a Soviet player and then the 1984 USSR Championship at his first attempt at the age of 21.

Andrei Sokolov gave a reminder that he's no average grandmaster | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

Arkadij Naiditsch has now dropped out of the 2700 club - though that's not necessarily all bad... it could save the Azerbaijan Chess Federation €20,000 in transfer fees if the current German no. 1 does switch federations as rumoured! | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

2. Sebastien Feller

Feller has stabilised in his first big event back after his long cheating ban. He followed one draw and three losses with one win and four draws, with the draws coming against strong players: Riazantsev, Donchenko, Naiditsch and Krasenkow.

3. Laurent Fressinet

Things didn’t pick up for Fressinet, who drew a fifth game in a row in Round 5 and then lost to Anish Giri in Round 6, but he did pick up two wins against lower-rated opposition in Rounds 8 and 9. That final game was memorable since Bart Michiels followed the line Wesley So had played against Sam Sevian in the US Championship:

Here, though, Laurent Fressinet played the computer’s recommended 16…Bb8 (although the computer still thinks White is close to winning) and won. Sam Sevian blundered with 16…Qe7?, but still went on to win after Wesley So blundered last. In the French Team Championship So is performing at just about his expected level, with a very solid five wins and four draws.

Wesley So has been a strong team player in the French Top 12. His next engagement is a 4-game match against David Navara in Prague | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

With two rounds to go it’s looking very tough to catch Bischwiller (note 3 match points are actually given for a win and 1 for a loss (!), but that just means each team has 9 more match points - the rankings are unchanged):

Though upsets are still possible. In Round 8 the last game of the day to finish could have seen them drop their first match point. With two wins for Bischwiller and one for Mulhouse it all came down to the “women’s board” (teams must have at least one woman, though women can play on any board). Mathilde Choisy (2182) had already missed a lot of chances by the time she reached this position against Nino Maisuradze (2279) after 104 (!) moves:

105.Ne6+! is actually mate-in-5 (replay the game and work out why here), though you can understand how easy such a mating net is to miss playing on increments after a long and exhausting game. After 105.Bxa2? the game ended in a draw a couple of moves later.

Nino Maisuradze held on for a remarkable draw! | photo: Teiki Arii, French Chess Federation

Today’s penultimate round sees Bischwiller take on Strasbourg. On paper the tournament leaders are favourites on all but the bottom board, but Strasbourg are in fourth place and haven’t scored less than 3 points in any match so far:

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See also:

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