2022 French Chess Cup
"Asnières - Le Grand Echiquier", the winners of 2022 French Chess Cup

2022 French Chess Cup

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Last weekend the finals of the 2022 French Chess Cup (Coupe de France) took place in Paris. The Cup is a knockout-style competition with the teams made up of four players. It ran from October 2021 to the end of May 2022 and involved about a hundred clubs from all over France. I have participated in it, representing my club, "Asnières - Le Grand Echiquier", in three consecutive rounds (from 1/32 to 1/8). I got a chance to travel to different parts of France for the matches, including a 4-hour train ride from Paris to Toulouse! - and scored a respectable 2.5/3, despite playing Black in all three games. However, the level of competition increased with every round, and starting with the quarterfinal I was out of the rotation, as our club switched to an all-grandmaster lineup. 

The semi-final and the final of French Cup took place on Saturday and Sunday, in parallel to the last rounds of the French Women Top 12 competition. The venue was somewhat unusual, as the chess players were hosted in the posh offices of the Boston Consulting Group, in a nice area of Paris, surrounded by the embassies of different countries. 

In the semi-final on Saturday our team was facing the team "Chalons en Champagne" and the match went down to the wire, despite the rating advantage that we had on all but the last board. In the end, the fate of the match was decided by the victory of the former Candidate Kirill Alekseenko, who defeated his opponent in a crazy game that could have easily gone the other way. It was an incredibly complicated fight, and I am afraid I can't really do it justice, but it was definitely entertaining!

We lost on Board 4 and the remaining two games in the match were drawn, but according to the regulations, in case of a tied match the team with the victory on the higher board advances, so luckily, we were able to squeak into the final!

The other semi-final match between "Clichy Echecs 92" and "Tremblay en France" was also decided by a victory on Board 2, with the other three games being drawn. I found it very interesting from the theoretical standpoint, as the same variation occurred only a few days earlier in the Candidates tournament!

This paved the way for a final showdown on Sunday between "Asnières - Le Grand Echiquier" and "Tremblay en France". I decided that on such an occasion I should support my teammates, so instead of watching the live transmission I made a pilgrimage to the venue.

The final round in progress, with GMs Jules Moussard and Yannick Gozzoli in the foreground

I arrived when the games were just getting out of the opening. On Board 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was bravely trying to dismantle Vladimir Malakhov's Berlin Defense. Alas, despite his best efforts, he had to settle for a rather uneventful draw.

However, on other boards the fight was raging on. On Board 2 Kirill Alekseenko once again created a lot of tension on the board. For most of the game, I was quite concerned about the soundness of his position and the engine indicates that I was not wrong. However, Kirill seems to thrive in the complications - one might say he is the Lord of Chaos indeed! - and in time trouble he managed to land the decisive blow.

We were also in trouble on Board 4, as Yannick Gozzoli mishandled the opening and allowed Kacper Piorun to land a spectacular tactical blow on move 17. However, a few moves later GM Piorun had a bit of a blackout, which allowed Yannick to escape with a miraculous draw:

It turns out that grandmasters also blunder - only they don't do it nearly as often as us, mere mortals!

The last game to finish in the match was an epic struggle on Board 3, in which Jules Moussard created a masterpiece of positional play:

With this victory our team secured a 3:1 victory in the match and thus won the 2021/22 French Chess Cup! It was the second time in a row that "Asnieres" came out victorious (although in the past two years the Cup did not take place because of Coronavirus pandemic).

In the Women competition the "Clichy 92 Echecs" team won the title by defeating "Monaco" and "Mulhouse Philidor" in two consecutive matches.  

"Clichy Echecs 92" team, the winners of the French Women Top 12 competition

With this, the 2021/22 French chess competitions have officially come to a close. Congratulations to all the winners and looking forward to the next season!