Chess at the chateau. Part 1: a perfect start
The beautiful playing hall at the "Château d’Asnières" rapid

Chess at the chateau. Part 1: a perfect start

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Seven weeks ago I have moved from Singapore to France to start in a new job. It has been quite a journey so far, especially since neither me, nor my wife spoke any French at the start and so navigating the daily life was not always easy.

However, one thing that is going really well for me in France is chess. Two months ago I asked a French chess player who currently lives in Singapore to recommend a club in Paris. This is how I got introduced to "Le Grand Echiquer", a chess club based in a nice Paris suburban town called Asnières-sur-Seine. The president of the club, FM Jean-Claude Moingt, was very enthusiastic and welcoming, and so in August I joined the team.

The French club championship only starts in the middle of October, so it's still a few weeks away. However, Jean-Claude mentioned that he is also organizing a rapid tournament in September that will take place in the chateau (the castle) of his home town. It sounded like a great setting, especially since I haven't played in the over-the-board tournaments for an eternity!

When I arrived to the venue, I realized that it looks even more amazing than it sounded. Imagine playing in these posh surroundings:

The tournament in progress

The tournament was held over the weekend, on 11th and 12th of September, over 11 rounds. There were 120 participants of widely varying strength - from Etienne Bacrot (2712) and all the way down to players with sub-1000 ratings. I was ranked #20 on the starting list. The time control was 15 minutes + 10 seconds per move. 

By the way, in parallel to the tournament there was also a simultaneous display by the Women World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk that ended with the score +24 =1 -1. 

Then came the usual welcome speeches by the organizers, the mayor of the city and the sponsors. I was surprised to hear that Louis Vuitton was among the sponsors, but later I found out that the founder of this company lived and died in Asnières! Finally, we sat down to play.

In Round 1 I was paired against Hayk Izikian, a player rated 1400 of approximately my age. The game was essentially over by move 8:

However, Round 2 was much more of a struggle. I was playing White against Jean-Pierre Briquet, a player who is rated 2000 in standard time controls. At least twice in the game - right out of the opening and again in the late middlegame - I felt like I was losing the grip on the position. Fortunately, both times things worked out in my favor:

I was expecting that the strength of my opponents to continue increasing gradually, but in Round 3 I was paired up to a GM Eloi Relange (rapid rating: 2454). My score against grandmasters is quite lopsided and obviously not in my favor but somehow I managed to win this time!

Round 4 was the last to be held on a Saturday, and I was playing White with IM Kamran Shirazi. He is one of the few players in this tournament whom I have actually met before - in 2007-2009 he played in a few Munich opens in which I also took part. IM Shirazi is famous for his aggressive style and highly unorthodox openings. When I sat at the board I was expecting him to throw material at me to seize the initiative, and I decided that I am not going to let him go on attack, even if it means that I would have to sacrifice material myself. Somehow that is exactly what happened, and although my play was far from perfect, it was enough to shake my opponent off balance. As a result, I won a pretty miniature in 21 moves! 

So at the end of Day 1 I found myself at the top of the tournament table with a 100% score, in the company of three grandmasters - Etienne Bacrot, Pavel Tregubov and Gabriel Flom. When the pairings for Round 5 got published, I realized that I am going to play my first-ever game against a 2700+ player!

(to be continued)