Photo courtesy http://www.cappelle-chess.com
by Josh Friedel
I attended the Cappelle la Grande Open (March 3-10) in northern France with Samford fellow and partner in crime IM David Pruess, as well as with USCF expert and poker aficionado Ricky Grijalva. I know its hard to fathom any chess player being a poker pro as well, but apparently it is indeed possible. It was David and Ricky's first tournament ever in Europe, and my first non-youth event there, and it made quite an impression on all of us. Here is an excerpt from David's journal entry upon arrival (used with his permission, don't worry!):
As we waited in line to board the bus, Josh, Ricky, and I surveyed the gathering crowd of chess players, wondering what the most spoken language would be. We each guessed Russian. I noted the great number of kids there. "Wow, they start on serious tournaments at a young age in Europe," I thought. I was surprised the next day, during the first round, to see many of these extremely young faces on the top boards. What? They were IMs and GMs?? I do keep up with chess news, and I know of the existence of Sergey Karjakin, Parimarjan Negi, and Hou Yifan. But all these kids? The sheer quantity of strong youngsters overwhelmed me for a bit. I was old. Twenty five, and not 2600 fide, not even a GM. These kids probably did not even understand how you could play chess tournaments for 10 years and more and not be a Grandmaster. Were they better than me? Would I lose to a slew of fifteen years olds? I'd have to wait for the tournament to play out to know the answer to this question.
Though it didn’t attract any of the really big names, it was more than reasonable in strength. At 2466 FIDE I was seeded 85th. David, at just 50 points below me, was seeded over 100. This should give you at least a vague sense at how many strong players were there.
After the day and a half trek from Oakland to Paris, Cappelle is a mere 3-hour bus ride from the airport (well, mere for those of us who slept the whole time). Getting settled and checked in took awhile, but was made considerably easier by David’s fluent French. Though we registered a bit too late to get conditions, the organizers gave us free entry and meals. Considering our hotel was only 34 Euros a night, it wasn't a bad deal at all. The hotel was mostly adequate, even having free wireless internet. The only minor issue was the fact the bathroom was approximately the same size as my refrigerator, and the rest of the room wasn’t much bigger. For two people it would have been a squeeze, never mind three. Now I know what being in the navy in the 60s must have been like. We managed to survive the night, however, and were itching to play chess the next day.
David started the tournament with a bang, destroying three GMs right off the bat. In the first round as white he crushed Neuris Delgado's unusual a6 sideline of the Sicilian Richter-Rauzer.
After he got in an early e5, it was already looking grim. Then David sacrificed a piece to win a couple pawns and drove his opponent’s king into the middle of the board, where it was executed in short order. Pretty much an ideal game to start a tournament with especially because David was nervous at his first major European Open. He writes:
As I went to reset the board, I noticed my hands were shaking like crazy. A new chapter in my chess life had begun. It would all soon become normal. But I would do well to remember how lucky I was to start with a fear-quieting victory.
Next round David played White again against Uzbek GM Gareev. Giving David two whites in a row is not something any TD should be doing, and when he saw it he practically yelped in joy.
Gareev is an interesting player, and plays several unusual systems. This game was no different, as he employed the Icelandic gambit of the center counter. He never quite got enough for his pawn, however, and David won without too much trouble.
There was a really bizarre occurrence during the game though. In one position, Gareev played Nd2-b1 while David had rooks on a1 and d1 and a knight on a3!
The incredible Nb1 was not enough to rattle David Pruess
It was an amusing move, though it didn’t affect the result of the game. Anyway, round three he got what I figured would be a harder match-up, black against Rozentalis. The Lithuanian GM is known for being quite solid, especially with the white pieces, so it was an absolute shock when he got blown off the board in just 21 moves.
It was a c3 Sicilian where black plays an early g6, which Rozentalis appeared to be caught off guard by. He played c4 a bit too early, after which his position is rather loose. The game was still anyone’s though until he was offered a d-pawn. I’m sure he’ll deny it, but David doesn’t like to part with his pawns, so if he’s throwing one away you know something is up. Sure enough, soon after Rozentalis took his d-pawn, he got his pieces tied up on the d-file and was deftly finished by a cute tactic.
My own start was more modest, but still respectable. While due to accelerated pairings David played up first round, I was just high rated enough to make the cut. Therefore, I played a 2300 instead of a GM. I hadn’t played in a tournament since the North American Open at the end of 2006, and I was worried about being rusty. It thus came as a pleasant surprise when my opponent played the Najdorf. The f4 system, while not particularly fierce, is a pet line of mine I have great results with and can play in my sleep. Sure enough, around move 20 my position was already clearly better, with the two bishops and good attacking prospects.
Unfortunately, that’s when my rust kicked in. After a couple misjudgments and miscalculations, I let him back in the game. I declined a few draws and pushed hard, which nearly got me into trouble, but eventually my opponent forced a perpetual in the ending. Not a game that inspired much confidence, but it did manage to make me angry. It’s not easy to make me mad, but for some reason I tend to play well when I am. The next two games were my best of the tournament. I crushed a 2300 on the black side of a Vienna round 2. I stole the two bishops out of the opening, and slowly massaged the position until he snapped in time pressure.
Round 3 saw me finally playing up as white against Polish GM Cyborowski. This game I decided to do my best David Pruess impression. I played the Panov against his Caro-Kann and he chose a line that is statistically unusual, but has been played against me five times, each time by GMs. My score in the variation was 2/4, but I felt the line should just be bad, and was determined to knock its lights out this time. I have the two bishops, more space, and all my pieces are aimed at Black’s king. Why shouldn't white be better?
He deviated from my other games early by playing 15...Rc8 instead of castling. He later regretted this decision though, as he never was able to castle all game, forced to settle for Kf8. It was fun game to play, sacrificing a pawn with d5 to open the a1-h8 diagonal for my queen and bishop. The pressure proved too much, causing him to give up his g7 pawn, after which his position is barely glued together. I had a lot of ways to finish, but my 32.Rxf7 sac was the prettiest. So after three rounds, David was cruising with 3/3 against all GMs, and I wasn’t far behind with 2.5.
Jet lag sets in
Day three had both rounds 3-4, the only two-round day of the tournament. Round four was an utter disaster. As a lovely surprise that morning, our jet lag, which had been almost non-existent so far, decided to kick in and wake us up at 4 AM. Though it didn't affect us much for the morning round, at night it really took us down a notch. Poland got revenge on me for round 3, as I lost to Cyborowski’s countryman Gajewski.
I sacrificed a pawn on the black side of a Benoni, not having liked the result of the opening. I played several risky moves, but was finally getting counterplay when I blundered horribly right before time control. Instead of playing the only move, I got seduced by the chance to threaten mate in one, thus trapping my rook and losing the game pretty much on the spot. I thought maturity was supposed to kick in by 20. Maybe its 21?
David’s game was much tougher and high-level struggle, but he too suffered the same fate against Ukrainian GM Miroshnichenko. It looked out of the opening like he might be going 4-0, as he got a great position as white against another Rauzer. But then, according to David, he found out why 2600s are better than 2500s. Miroshnichenko really kicked it in gear, and slowly outplayed David to finally win a long queen ending. It was an amazingly complex games, with deep tactics and very good endgame technique by the Ukrainian.
Round 5 wasn’t very inspiring either. I managed to win against a Dutch 2300, but the game was total garbage. I played an abysmal opening, sacrificing a piece and missing a simple move that allows him to trade queens. It was understandable though, as his move was only the most natural move on the board, nearly impossible to spot for me. Then, in an ending where he was just up a piece for next to nothing, he started playing quickly and badly. How I won it still remains a mystery to me.
David also turned in what I'm sure he'd consider his worst blunder of the tournament. He got a tough position as black against the Catalan against Russian GM Landa, but then decided to do his best Josh Friedel imitation. Just when the position was turning unclear, he blundered a piece outright. Certainly not our finest hour. That night over dinner we were both in disbelief, him over how he could blunder a piece, me over whether I needed to get my glasses prescription rechecked.
To hear more of Josh's thoughts from Cappelle (Sorry to all spoiler haters... we gave away what happens in the article title), look for Part II to this article this week on CLO. Also keep your eyes peeled for the June issue of Chess Life Magazine, in which David Pruess will annotate a Cappelle win for "In the Arena."