French League Part III
June 02, 2009 • General
Well, I’m not sure where to begin with this blog. Coming off of the high from the US Championship, I headed to France 10 days later to continue my streak of solid play. Prior to the event, I just wanted to play some good chess and get my rating back over 2700 if possible. I assumed that a score of 3/4 would be good enough, but as fate would have it, I ended up completely outperforming this expectation. Onto the games…
In the first round, I was paired against GM Christian Bauer with White. Last year when I was playing for Antibes, I played Bauer with White in a very interesting and complicated English. This time around, I decided to play 1.e4 and we entered a complicated variation of the Scandinavian. The game was roughly equal until about move 23-24 when Bauer made several inaccurate moves as he neared time pressure. I grabbed a pawn and thought I was clearly better; however, the position actually remained relatively balanced as Bauer’s knight was better than my bishop. Fortunately, he didn’t find the most accurate variation and I was able to convert the advantage into a win right after time control. Although this game was not spectacular, a win is a win. Overall this was the worst game I played by far.
The French League is interesting in that you will always have an idea of who the top few boards on each team are, but actual lineups are only announced two hours before actual game play. This makes the league very similar to the swisses in the US as players must rely more on their knowledge than pure preparation which takes more time. The second round surprised me as I got a second consecutive white against GM Michal Krasenkow of Poland. The last time I played Krasenkow, (Barcelona, 2007) I played probably the most brilliant sacrifice of my chess career thus far, sacrificing a queen for free leading to a spectacular mating net. This time around, I played the Giuco with White, however, this time around Krasenkow chose to play much more aggressively and sacrificed a pawn right out of the opening. This sacrifice proved to be rather futile as I neutralized all of his potential kingside play and duly converted it into a win.
Coming off these first two games, I approached the situation as needing to play solidly. I did not put too much stock into my two wins as they were both with White and I would have to face two formidable opponents with the Black pieces. I got a bit of a break in the third round when I was Black against GM Robert Fontaine instead of the much stronger Vladislav Tkachiev. Before the game, our team captain Arnaud Hauchard said that Fontaine would play to draw, so I simply needed to play solidly. Although I assumed that Fontaine was probably a little scared of me, I did not expect him to play for a draw from move 1! After the first ten moves in the modern, I achieved clear equality and he started to go wrong pretty much instantly from moves 11-15. After this, it was simply a matter of technique and I was able to convert a relatively straight forward endgame. After this win, I was quite ecstatic as it meant I would have accomplished my goal of returning to the 2700+ level barring a huge collapse in the last game.
Whenever I travel to France, it is rather difficult to get on the time zone, so I attempt to accomplish my studying early in the morning (3-5 AM) and then sleep until about two hours before the round in the afternoon. However, this always catches up with me on the last day when the game is always at 10 or 11 AM. The last round was no exception and I barely got three hours of sleep before my game against GM Hichem Hamdouchi of Morocco with Black. For only the second time in my career, I chose to play the dragdorf as I felt it would be one of the lines which Hamdouchi would not be well prepared for. Hamdouchi started improvising right out of the gate when he chose to play a2-a3 and then a3-a4 on consecutive moves. This led to a small advantage for me which I was later able to convert when he sacrificed an exchange which led to a scramble. Out of the time pressure he got into, I was able to get a winning position once the smoke cleared. This led to a 4th consecutive victory. The team also won a relatively easy match and we became the French champions!
Looking back at the games themselves, I was quite proud of my play in three out of the four games, having played pretty close to perfectly. In the French League, I scored 7.5/8 overall against a 2584 average for a performance rating of 3028. This led to me winning the board two medal on top of everything else. Last year, I won the individual medal for board 1, so the real question is if there is any way that I can slide down to board 3! For now, this result puts me at 2710 which is an all-time high for me. Now, I will take three weeks off before I start studying again in preparation for the World Open and the San Sebastian Round Robin. Hopefully, I can remain in form and I will see everyone then!