Chess in a bar
Rapid tournament on a Friday night. Photo by Xavier Rubini

Chess in a bar

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In my previous posts I wrote about a tournament that was played in a chateau, now it's time to tell about my experiences of playing chess in a slightly different environment. During my first weeks in France the places where I played chess the most were... the bars

It all started with a conversation on Twitter. I posted a photo of a chess table that I found on the streets of Montmartre and soon afterwards I was contacted by Paul Saglier, a chess player from Paris who to my surprise speaks perfect Russian. He offered to play some friendly blitz games and so we met in a bar in the same neighborhood. We did not keep the score but it must have been about equal. We had a good time and the place was quite nice.

Blitzing with Paul

A few weeks later Paul told me about another rapid tournament that was coming up on a Friday night. It is organized every week by Xavier Rubini, a tireless chess promoter and a larger-than-life character who leads Canal St. Martin club. Apparently, the tournament for which I signed up was its 373th edition!

Evening events in Paris tend to start relatively late and this was no exception, with the first round scheduled for 8pm. There were 5 rounds to be played, at a slightly unusual time control of 15 minutes + 3 seconds per move. 

Paul told me that there were going to be several strong players at the tournament and it seems that it was indeed stronger than the usual. There were 64 players, with a few rated higher than me.

Surprisingly, there were two other players who also hailed from St. Petersburg - WGM Dina Belenkaya and Alexander Kazantsev. I haven't met them before but we quickly discovered a few common connections and we had a nice chat between the rounds. Paul was also taking part in our conversations and made a photo of our St. Petersburg reunion.

Three Russians in Paris

But on to the chess. The first rounds in such tournaments typically result in pairings with huge difference in ratings. I won relatively quickly but not nearly as fast as Alexander, who was playing on the board next to mine:

In Round 2 I won a nice miniature with Black. My opponent was clearly striving for an attack and went for the Morra gambit. I declined and offered a pawn sacrifice of my own a few moves later. White accepted but his position quickly disintegrated.

Round 3 was a completely different scenario - a purely technical game. I got an extra pawn already in the opening and nursed it all the way to the bishop endgame that ended in a zugzwang.

This set the stage for an intra-Russian clash between myself and WGM Dina Belenkaya. It was an interesting game that could have gone either way.

The loss meant that I was out of the race for the first place, but there was still one more round to go. Just like in my previous game with White I won an an extra pawn right out of the opening, but this time my conversion was quite poor. Fortunately, in the queen endgame I managed to trick my opponent.

When my game was over, the clash on Board 1 was only starting to heat up. Dina was a pawn down and playing on increment but defended tenaciously. Her opponent, FM Mohamed-Mehdi Aithmidou, could not make progress and soon he was down to the last seconds too. After that the game turned into a blitz marathon (remember that the increment was only 3 seconds per move!). Dina first snatched back the pawn and then somehow willed herself to victory in a position that I thought was a dead draw. Here is a photo of that final crucial phase, with the pawns already equal and the rooks and opposite-colored bishops on the board:

The game that decided the tournament

Dina was not the only player with a 100% score - our friend Paul Saglier also went 5/5, but had a slightly worse tie-break. I ended up in a giant tie from 3rd to 10th places. Here are the final standings.

There weren't any money prizes, so it was all about having fun and enjoying a good night out - and this was certainly achieved! The tournament ended around 1am, but some of the players didn't seem to get enough of their chess fix, so they stayed on to play some blitz.

If you are in Paris and don't know what to do on a Friday night, this is certainly an option!