Diary of a Samford Scholar: European Fall Part I.
By IM Josh Friedel   
December 6, 2007
Josh Friedel at the Rohde Open in France.
“Do you still have that huge thing of Nutella chocolate?” I asked David when he picked up the phone.
 “Uhh yeah,” he answered in a confused tone.  “How did you do?”   
“I’m coming up,” I said and slammed down the phone.  As I walked upstairs to my travel partner David Pruess’s room, random thoughts were banging around my normally peaceful brain.  Among them were “what was I thinking?” and “how could I be so stupid?” as well as “I hope David wasn’t exaggerating when he said his jar of Nutella was big as a house.”  Normally this would be an occasion for heavy drinking, but as I’m unable to get anything alcoholic down, gross amounts of chocolate would have to do.   When I got to his room, I walked in silently and sat down.  I assumed what happened would be written all over my face, but I guess David either wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t able to read my handwriting. 
“So did you win?” he asked in an excited tone.  I shook my head quietly.  “Oh, you drew, that’s too bad.”  Another shake of the head.    He looked rather confused for a moment.  “WHAT?”
“I lost.  I flagged with king and rook against king and knight,” I said softly. 
“Well… at least you did better than me, I got killed.”  And so we spent most of the night going over his game, contacting John Donaldson to confirm the rule, and abusing chocolate like we were pregnant women.  When you’ve just had one of the most ridiculous losses of your life, all you want to do is think about something else, or even better, to not think at all.

“Josh, isn’t that guy a chessplayer?” David asked me from the long line to get train tickets.  We were in Charles de Gaulle airport, trying to find our way to the Rohde Open in Sautron, and the chessplayer David spotted was Alexander Raetsky.  So I went up to him and asked in my extremely poor Russian if he was going to Sautron.  He replied that he was, and inquired as to how I spoke Russian.  Before I could respond with “poorly,” we ran into David and he switched to English as he introduced himself.  Within minutes he told us all about Sautron, which he’d been to several times.  He also invited us to a tournament he was hosting in Russia.  Five hours after we arrived, David made sure we were registered, then checked into the hotel.  It was far superior to our hotel from Cappelle, where just getting to the bathroom took feats a Romanian acrobat would find challenging.  Probably it helped that there were only two of us this time. 

By the next day, we were ready for chess.  David was bouncing around repeating “Josh, we’re going to play chess today!” over and over again, while I was downing enough espressos to keep a jet engine running for a week.  Basically, just the normal routine.  The hotel breakfasts were quite good, and consisted of various breads, meat, cheese, various coffees, horrid orange juice, and a more drinkable juice with a bunch of random fruits in it we couldn’t identify.  Better than the dinners, which ranged from decent to inedible.  They were free for us, however, and inedible has new meanings after a 6-hour chess game.  The best part of dinner though was watching this one guy serve it.  He was constantly moving, and his speech was so fast and convoluted that even the French had trouble communicating with him.  People literally couldn’t contain their laughter while talking to him.  

Alright I suppose I should talk about the chess too.  David had an excellent tournament, scoring his 2nd GM norm and tying for 1st-4th with 7/9.  After a tough loss to GM Petkov in round 4, he recovered to score 4.5/5 including wins over Bulgarian GM Dejan Bojkov, IM Peter Vavrak formerly of UTD, and myself.  There was a previous report on it, if you’re looking for the details.  For me, however, the tournament was quite forgettable.  The only round I recall was… hmmmmmm.  Not coming to me.  Actually my tournament was going alright.  I won as white against a 2200 round one, I gave up a 2nd round draw as black in an exchange Ruy against a 2300, not all that bad.  I won round three against a 2000, and a crazy round four game as Black against Kamran Shirazi, an IM formerly from the US, now living in France.  It was a 1. Nf3 game, which turned into an open Sicilian with colors, reversed.  After a long series of complications, I decided to sacrifice a piece to open up his king, and was eventually rewarded when I ran his king across the board, then forced the win of his queen.


 Though not a perfect game, I felt I calculated through the complications well enough, and that I could be ready for a good run.

However it was not to be.  Whatever that means.  I lost a long, tough game to GM Farid Abbasov of Azerbaijan.


  I got a slight edge out of the opening, and nursed it into a near-winning one.  However, I used my time rather poorly somehow, and I ended up in time pressure.  While I found no knockout blow, I was playing fine until the last two moves where I made two horrid blunders in a row, f3 and g4.  After these moves I’m simply much worse, practically lost.  I was holding for a while, but eventually I got into time trouble yet again and blundered a piece.  Quite a frustrating performance.  I rarely allow time to get in between me and a win these days, as in my view it’s really a stupid way to give up a game.  Of course, considering what would happen later in the trip, this one didn’t seem so bad. 

However, the loss wasn’t the last bad part of my day.  After the game, which was the longest of the round, we were rushed to a party hosted by the mayor of Sautron for the titled players.  Can you imagine chessplayers being treated like this in the US?  Anyway, it was a very nice affair, which is probably why I felt very out of place.  After losing a tough game, however, it’s tough to appreciate such things.  All I want to do after a tough loss is get food and relax.  Both things were difficult there, as food and sofas were scarce.  Finally I made it through, however, only to find out upon arriving at the hotel I was paired with David. 

Playing your roommate is always a no-win situation.  Especially if you draw.  In any case, it is tough to play someone you’ve spent many hours studying with and know really well.  In the past we’ve tried to steer the game from positions we’ve studied, and play from there.  In Miami David played the Catalan, and I played into it, both things we normally don’t do.  This time it was a 4. Nf3 Nimzo, and unlike our last game that was a fairly peaceful draw, the position sharpened rather quickly. 


At first I was doing well, but then had a bad oversight leaving him up two pawns.  It still wasn’t clear, though, and at one point I even thought I was.  Unfortunately, what could have been a fascinating game ended rather abruptly when I made yet ANOTHER horrid miscalculation, forgetting his queen could move more than one square at a time.  Not one of my better days, but at least I helped propel David into a tie for first and his 2nd norm.  And I hold no grudges.  If somehow he should turn up dead in the next few months, I will not have been the one responsible.  After that I’m not making any promises, but that’s another story.  So after the two losses, my norm chances were pretty much dashed.  My humble goal at this point was to win the last three games and finish respectably. 

Unlike my other goals this tournament, such as “make my last norm,” “break 2500 FIDE,” and “visit a French burlesque show,” this one I was able to accomplish.  First I won as white against a 2000 in an f4 Najdorf.  My opponent played unusually, and sacked the exchange to try to justify it.  It proved not to be enough, and though he did have lots of angry looking pieces pointing towards my king, he was unable to do anything.  The next game was probably my favorite of the tournament.


 My 2250 opponent played the center game, a nearly archaic system, and soon an approximately = ending was reached.  I outplayed him to reach a position where I had a nice two bishops advantage for no counterplay, which I eventually converted in a picturesque manner.  It was especially nice cause my opponent played the whole game rather quickly, and didn’t see that his king was being filleted by my two bishops until I actually checked on a4.  So one down, two to go. 

While my counting skills may not have improved since my previous trip to France, I was hoping my finishing abilities were, as in Cappelle I collapsed towards the end.  And indeed they were.  I won my last round against a Hungarian IM fairly convincingly.

I was helped along a bit when he fell into an opening trap in the Ruy Lopez, giving me the two bishops for nothing, and along with them a pleasant advantage.  After opening the a-file, I gained control of it with Karpov’s Ba7 idea.

Josh just pulled a Karpov, with 24.Bb6-a7!

Or perhaps I should say Ba7, a la Karpov.  Whatever it was, it worked well, as all his pieces were pretty passive.  He tried to mix things up by throwing his kingside pawns at me, but this only created more weaknesses, which proved quite fatal. 


So while the tournament as a whole wasn’t amazing, I finished on a strong note, and felt quite ready to do battle in Germany.

Of course, there was the usual collection of interesting characters, as there often is.  Slovakian IM Peter Vavrak stayed at our hotel, and we got to know him quite well.  He looks at chess much more psychologically than most, and loves to use it to good effect.  For example, while he’s normally quite a solid player, against David he sacked two pawns and moved his pieces past the 4th rank.  While it didn’t end up working out that time, his approach to the game has caused me to be more wary playing against psychology majors.  However, not even all the psychological prep in the world could have made me ready for what would happen in Bad Weissee.