French Teams 2015 – Top 12 – Rounds 10 & 11
As I wrote earlier, the tournament is demanding physically and mistakes due to fatigue were expected. So it was not a surprise for me to see three (!) 2700+ players lose in Round 10.
Naiditsch lost with white to Sebag, his 4th loss in the tournament, 3 of which were with white. A dismal -3 result for him, but as a consolation he won the French title with his team of Bischwiller.
Even more surprising was So’s loss with white against Fedorchuk. Fedorchuk is a tough player, winner of many open tournaments, but to beat So with black in 31 moves by mating him is quite a feat! So unexpectedly (but perhaps not so much, in view of the possible fatigue) broke down in 2 moves:
The third 2700+ victim was Navara. More strange stuff from the big guns, as he also committed an uncharacteristic blunder.
In Round 10 Grasse finally managed to win the second match, with a well-planned strategy the night before – we put our more solid players Llanes and Szabo on the upper boards, and our more successful players Michiels and Apicella on the lower boards. It paid off handsomely, as we drew on the upper boards and won on the lower.This was the only chance to keep us in contention, but not all things depended on us.
The last round was exciting only for the teams fighting to avoid relegation – Grasse, Metz and Vandoeuvre, with the latter two playing between themselves. For Grasse the ideal scenario was Metz to beat Vandoeuvre and victory over Evry.
We had the same strategy as in the previous round, the only difference being putting Szabo on 7, expecting him to play their female player IM Milliet. We had Michiels and Apicella in the middle, trying to win the match there, while avoiding losses elsewhere (with the exception of our last board, where we were heavily outrated). This was the first match where I served as a captain and it was a very interesting experience, as I tried to concentrate and feel every position and understand how the match was going. I also had one eye on the match Metz-Vandoeuvre.
It started well, with a draw on board 3 between GMs Relange and Llanes. We were black there, so it was a good start. The other games, for quite some time, were balanced. In the meantime Riazantsev of Metz blundered badly and lost to Solodovnichenko. While our match was balanced (but always having in mind that we will lose on board 8) Vandoeuvre was finishing the job themselves – Iordachescu lost to Donchenko on board 1 and Fiona Steil-Antoni (who was having a great tournament) beat Benmesbah (rated 100 points more than her) on 8. With the draw on board 4 Vandoeuvre needed only 1 more draw to secure a drawn match and avoid relegation.
Meanwhile in our match something completely unexpected happened. One of the arbiters approached and informed me that the game Moussard-Apicella is actually irregular – the white player had played 1 game more than the number of legally allowed games one player can play in one season for a club. Hence not only we win the game, but also the team loses one point, hence 2 points in our favour! But by that time things had gone badly for us – Dorfman lost a solid position to Fedorchuk (mostly due to fatigue, he also lost in the penultimate round) and the expected loss on board 8 was a matter of minutes. Szabo couldn’t do anything against Milliet and Michiels even though tried until the very end (his game was the last one to finish in the whole tournament!) he couldn’t beat GM Fargere. Eventually the match officially finished in a tie, 1-1 with 6 draws although we actually lost 2 games and won none! Not to feel altogether bad, Vandoeuvre made the necessary draw and secured their stay in the Top 12, thus making the result of our match irrelevant. Yet I cannot escape the feeling had the arbiters told us about the irregularity at the beginning of the match, things would have been different – a different match strategy was possible and an additional pressure on Vandoeuvre would have been apparent.
Truth be told, I think that we didn’t really deserve to save ourselves – we lost the direct match to Vandoeuvre and we missed a lot of opportunities. So next year back to Nationale 1 and a fight to win it and return to Top 12.
The final ceremony was well-organised, with the French national anthem played when the champions Bischwiller went on stage. The food was excellent, the wine was equisite and the French were at their best making yourself feel at home. For now it’s au revoir Top 12 and hope to see you again in 2017!