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Cappelle - Final Wrap-up

Mar 11, 2009, 2:43 AM 10

Now that the tournament has come to an end, I finally have the time to recount how it began.

One year ago, I was on a travelling spree, excited about all the new places that chess was giving me a chance to see. Sleeping soundly on planes, and greeting one new land after the next with an enthusiastic effort to learn elements of its history, culture, and language. But on February 26th, I disembarked at Charles De Gaulle distinctly uncomfortable and poorly slept, as has become standard for me now. I was equally discomfitted by the mild three hour bus ride from Paris to Cappelle the next day, and felt tremendous relief as we quitted the bus and entered the Palais des Arts, with the feeling of recognition of a homecoming, even though I had only spent 8 days of my life there previously.
We were greeted in a most friendly manner and hustled without delay into the dining hall, where I recognized the entire volunteer staff from two years ago. Such friendly people! In the closing speech 8 days later, the Mayor informed us that the volunteer spirit was an essential element of the Town and Region, and the service these smiling people provided to one or two hundred chess players daily was certainly a strong testimonial to that claim. There was yoghurt, and bread, and water, and fruit waiting on the table as well as the Cappelle signature: endless wine bottles. This distinct Cappelle tradition attracts a certain type of bon-vivant (as well as probably some number of morbid-vivants) to the event year after year; and the American contingent kept awed tabs on a kind of competition in both the extent and speed of consumption demonstrated by the most hardened of the participants (measured in bottles and bottles/minute). After the welcome dinner, we were distributed about the countryside by a number of shuttles and buses, and found a most welcome surprise at the end of our day: a room much more spacious than the one Josh and I had stayed in two years previously.
The next day our first game was at 4 pm and there were no advanced pairings. It was the one day with the latest starting time, and the one day that we could not prepare for the game by studying the opponents' games and our opening lines. We profited by heading into town after breakfast. Last time we had been in a hotel apparently in the middle of nowhere. Now our hotel was in the midst of an important port city. Directly about us were waterways, bridges, quays, a fresh seafood market. A five-minute walk brought us into the commercial downtown, where we sought (fruitlessly) restaurants with vegetarian options, and a supermarket. But we did see a number of beautiful old buildings, and a wonderful open square in the town center: Place Jean Bart (Jesse later wikied the man whose refined statue dominates the place; it turns out he was a commoner who managed to elevate himself due to his flair for naval war; his record includes capturing 386 ships). As we approached the plaza, I heard some familiar chords, and soon we had identified the music pumping out of a small minivan: "Oh let the sun beat down upon my face--"  Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. I was pumped up by the time we reached the individuals responsible. It turned out they were the "Anti-Capitalist Party," and that they were out there every Saturday to stir up opposition to the people-last policies of Sarkozy's administration. One leaflet wealthier, we continued our promenade, with "oo-ooh, yeah-yeah; oo-ooh, yeah-yeah-eah" still echoing in my head.

What happened between rounds 1 and 6 you can glean pretty much from my onsite blog posts. Now let me summarize some of the final results:
One very nice young man that we were hanging out with, Jon Ludvig Hammer of Norway, is an extremely talented young player whose fame has been overshadowed by the fact that Norway has one even stronger player in his year: Magnus Carlsen. At this tournament, the Hammer was dishing out some serious punishment, as in this short crush of a solid GM:


Hammer was up on the top boards for the entire tournament, and you could tell he was aiming for first place; none of us were willing to bet against him, but it was a tough field, and in round 8 he finally "faltered" giving up a draw that few others would be embarassed by, but which had him in paroxysms. Another anglophone friendly foreigner was GN Gopal, also a talented young Grandmaster. He was extremely fortunate to escape from Josh in one of Josh's more creative efforts from round 7:


These two players met in round 9, and this time, it was Jon Ludvig who was lucky to escape a dubious (lost) position. So luck had evened out (for them; I still deserved to win every game I lost, but fate can be cruel). Josh had by far the best tournament of any American, even though we all finished with about the same score. He was playing very strong opponents for the last 5 or 6 rounds, and managed to finish the tournament undefeated. After this event, he will want to work on his conversion of advantages, since Gopal was not the only one who can consider themselves fortunate to have gotten half a point from the Panda. He does not, however, need much work on his defense, witness this bit, the last game to finish in round 9, with Josh out of time, and playing off an increment of 30 and then later 10 seconds per move:


My tournament of tough and close struggles came to an end with the marathon in the Bird's opening from round 6. My last three games were all fairly decisive wins for one side. Here they are, with some notes from me:





One last story. I was on BART leaving the SF airport, talking with a gentleman I'd met who needed some assistance with directions, a little bit out of it since we had left the hotel in Dunkerque 27 hours ago; when a man approached me and said something I could not follow about pawn to king two. I understood that he had seen my chess.com hat, but I thought he was one of these non-chessplayers who comes up to you and says pawn to king four as if to start a game, but really to test if they can embarass you for your nerdiness. Pawn to king two instead of pawn to king four would be a typical mistake in that context. However, he persisted in trying to get a message through my foggy head, and finally I understood: he was telling me the answer to that day's daily puzzle on chess.com!! WOW. I'd just run into a fellow member on public transit thanks to my beloved new hat. That was sweet. And appropriate, since being back means, I'm back to work for chess.com! I think the articles have been awesome so far, and I'll try to keep the goodies flowing.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed support during the event, particularly Irina who sent me opening explanations, and Erik who told me several times to stop worrying about work. A beautiful tournament, a beautiful week; chess is truly a joy.

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