Easter tournament in Tours
The bridge across the Loire River in Tours

Easter tournament in Tours

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Two weeks ago, I played in a small tournament in Tours, a historical town in the Loire Valley. It was organized by the local chess club, L'Echiquier Tourangeau, during the Easter weekend. I did not play in an individual tournament with a classical time control for a few years (I think my last one was the Washington State Open in 2018), so I was really itching to play. I was looking for a tournament somewhere not too far from Paris and came across the chess festival in Tours.

It is organized in a format that was completely new to me but seems to be relatively common here in France. Everyone who signs up is sorted by rating and then divided into several closed tournaments, with 6 players of roughly similar strength in each group. With this setup one does not have to worry about playing someone 500 points lower in Round 1, only to face a GM rated 300-400 points above you in Round 2 or 3.

The only problem was that I ended up being the top-rated player in the whole festival and with a good margin at that. I asked the organizers if they would be fine with that, and they did not object. As for me, I have played quite a few games with similarly rated players in the French team competitions with less than stellar results, so I thought that I could use extra practice against lower-rated players.

Last but not least, I have never visited Tours before, but I knew that it's a beautiful old town and I thought that it should be nice in the middle of the spring. And it was, indeed. Let me share a few photos that I took on the evening of my arrival:

Too bad that it was the last time that I could explore the city - when the tournament started, I ended up playing almost non-stop. There were two days with double rounds, and on the last day there was only one game, but it started at 9:00. Once all games were over, there was a quick award ceremony, and then I had to drive home to Paris for two hours. Not exactly a relaxing weekend, but then I've seen even more intense schedules - one of the other tournaments that I considered had three rounds on Easter Sunday! 

I found myself a hotel that was about 15-20 minutes' walk from the playing hall (Botvinnik would have probably approved). The tournament took place in the local chess club. I could not find any photos from this year's tournament, but there are some from 2018 and the venue didn't seem to change since then:

© "L'Echiquier Tourangeau" chess club

In the first round I got White pieces against Florian Levrebon, who was nominally the lowest-rated player in our group. Jumping a bit ahead I must say that in this tournament the rating was a terrible predictor of the actual performance. Although my first-round opponent ended up sharing the last place, he only lost one more game in the tournament and for most of it he was absolutely winning! 

With all these introductions out of the way, let's get down to the most interesting part of the story - the actual chess games!

I was not too happy with my play in the first round, as I knew that I spoiled a large advantage, but a win is a win, and I was in a good mood going into the next game. 

My second opponent was Colin Moriniaux and quite improbably I have played him only two weeks earlier in the French team championship. That game left a bitter taste - I won a pawn in the middlegame, then I missed a one-move win in a time trouble and finally I did not manage to convert a rook endgame with an extra pawn. Long story short, I really wanted to win this game, but most importantly, I wanted to ensure that this time I don't mess it up by rushing. Fortunately, this mindset turned out to be helpful.

At the end of Day 1 I had a 100% score, but so did Francois Hacout, my opponent in the Round 3! Curiously, he plays for the same team as my opponent in Round 2, so it felt like I was taking on the whole town of Gournay en Bray  The opening did not work out too well for me, but then the tide started to turn...

By Round 4 I felt that fatigue was finally setting in. My next opponent, Jacques Masset, had the second-highest rating in our group. From observing his games in the previous rounds, I knew that he has a combative, tactical style, so my main goal for this game was to keep the position relatively simple. 

With this win I have secured myself a clear victory in the tournament - I had 4/4 and the closest challenger had 2½ points - but of course I wanted to finish on a high note. 

This brings us to perhaps the most interesting game of the tournament. In the last round I was playing Ruben Coles, a 9-year-old boy whose play in the previous round made quite a strong impression. His is currently rated 1958, but, as it is often the case with the kids, it probably does not reflect his actual playing strength. After the tournament I found out that Ruben has finished 2nd in the French championship in the Under-6 category and later won Under-7 (or Under-8?). This is his photo after one of these events - here he must be 6 or 7 years old, pictured with his older brother Robin (who also played in Tours but in the next rating group): 

© La République du Centre

This is how our game went:

From our joint analysis after the game, I can say that Ruben has a natural feel for the game and a sharp eye for tactics that are really impressive for a 9-year-old. If he continues to develop at this pace, I would not be surprised if he becomes a Grandmaster in a few years! I will be actually rooting for this, as it would make my victory in this little tournament much more meaningful 

In the end I won the tournament with 4½ out of 5 and 1½ margin over the second place. I think that this score matches my expected rating performance and I am really happy that I managed to match that. You can check out the final crosstable on the web site of the French Chess Federation.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the organizers for a nice and smoothly run tournament, and the readers of this blog post for making it to the very end!