My first season in the French team championship
"Asnières - Le Grand Echiquier 2" team (on the right side of the boards) during the match with "Gournay en Bray". I am on Board 1 but out of the picture :)

My first season in the French team championship

| 6

About two months ago the 2021/22 season of the French team championship have come to an end. It was running from October 2021 to mid-May 2022.

I have moved to France in August 2021 and one of the first things I did was signing up for a chess club, "Asnières - Le Grand Echiquier", which is based in Asnières-sur-Seine, a beautiful suburb of Paris. 

This club boasts an incredibly strong first team, which features Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Kirill Alekseenko, Andrey Esipenko, Jules Moussard and many more top grandmasters. Over the past two years this team has twice finished second in the French Club Championships, known as "Top 16".

Fortunately, "Asnières" fields more than one team, and so I was assigned to the second team, which was playing in the "Nationale 2" division. The teams in this competition consist of 8 players, including at least one woman. Despite the name, it is technically the third tier of the competition, after "Top 16" and "Nationale 1". France is a very large country, so "Nationale 2" is divided in no less than 8 groups, organized by geographies. Our team was playing in the North-West group, which consisted mostly of teams from Paris and the surrounding area (although we had to travel as far as Normandy for one of the matches!) 

Judging by the average rating, our team was one of the strongest in the group. Of course, we weren't as strong as "Cavalier de Neuilly Paris", which featured two GMs, two IMs and a WGM. They were the runaway favorites to win the group and they did it with ease, winning most of their matches and drawing two.

However, we were at least evenly matched with all other teams. I was going to play on the first board, and I had the third-highest rating at 2303, behind a GM Genov (2429) and IM Tirard (2387). On the boards that followed the situation was similar. We had a lot of players in 2100-2200 range, and in fact quite often we were outrating our opponents on all boards. So at the start of the season, we were setting our goals high and were hoping to fight for a promotion.

I could not play in the first round, but the victory with the score 3:2 (in France the draws are typically omitted in the match results) seemed to confirm our expectations.

My first game for the team came in Round 2 against "Cergy Pontoise 2", and I managed to score a nice victory with White pieces:

Unfortunately, we lost that match, 2:5, and in retrospect that marked the beginning of a long slide for our team. In the rounds that followed, we lost two more matches to our direct competitors from "Palamede - Paris" and "Clichy 3". Only in Round 5 we were at least able to tie the match with "Echecs 16 - Paris". In all of these rounds I was only able to draw my games.

Then a disaster struck me before Rounds 6 and 7, which were played on consecutive days in March. A few days earlier I got sick with COVID and thus could not help my team. What was worse, these matches were against Cavalier de Neuilly Paris and Franconville 2, which would end up finishing 1st and 2nd. And yet, miraculously, our team managed to draw both of these matches with the identical scores 3:3!

At this stage, we were only fighting to avoid relegation to Nationale 3, and these drawn results were critical, but then we lost the away match to Gournay en Bray team, 2:4 (this match is pictured in the photo at the top of the post). Once again, I had to satisfy myself with a draw after missing a one-mover in the time trouble. The missed win haunted my dreams for quite a long time. 

That meant that the last round against "Grand-Quivelly" team was a must-win for us. We assembled the strongest lineup we could, with GM Anatoly Vaisser joining us on Board 1.

Contemplating my move in the last round

It was also the first time since Round 1 that I was able to score a victory for our team:

In the end, we managed to score a resounding victory, 7:1, and were able to keep our place in Nationale 2.

Hoping that we will do better next season!