Napoleon Bonaparte - who was back in the news recently, with the 200th anniversary in mid June of The Battle of Waterloo - has many apocryphal chess games to his name. Back then, France ruled the world as the major chess superpower to match its military might. Napoleon was reputed to have been a “gifted player” – but academics and historians have debunked this as a myth to merely hype his strategic genius, with strong evidence that many of his games were simply “invented”.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, France was a centre, if not the epicentre of chess. Two of the greatest players of the era, Francois-Andre Danican Philidor and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais, were French, and the Café de la Régence in Paris - regarded by historians as being the world’s first chess club - was a gathering place for anyone who liked to play the game, attracting the greatest minds and luminaries of the era: Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Ben Franklin, Robespierre, and a young Napoleon.
But as the game grew in popularity worldwide, France’s place in the chess hierarchy fell. In recent years, however, they’ve had a revival of sorts with the rise up the rankings of the new young French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, commonly known to all in the game as ‘MVL’, who managed to get into the top-10. But MVL has had a bad year, with his form dipping drastically as he slipped to #26 in the world.
But MVL has bounced back again by claiming victory in the 48th Biel GM tournament in Switzerland this week, with a crucial brace of wins down the home straight seeing him dramatically retain his title - and now on the road to recovery, as he’s back to #16 in the world.
With wins over nearest rival David Navara and a floundering Richard Rapport in the final two rounds, his score of 6.5/10 was good enough for first place, half a point ahead of Radoslaw Wojtaszek - who failed to covert a final round win to share the spoils - and a point ahead of frontrunners David Navara and Michael Adams.
David Navara - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
48th Biel GM, (9)
1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 Nge7 Black is playing a reversed English Botvinnik system - Black has plenty of central control, but on the minus side he has a big weakness on d5. 7.Ne1 a6 By delaying ...d6, MVL is looking for active counter-play by planning a quick ...b5. 8.d3 Rb8 9.a4 While this does stop ideas of ...b5, the fallout is that now Black will have a solid outpost on b4 for his knight. 9...d6 10.Nc2 0-0 11.Rb1 Now White is looking to play b4 himself - and MVL soon puts a stop to this. 11...a5 12.Bg5 f6 13.Bd2 f5 14.f4?! This looks a bit premature. Instead, White had the solid option of 14.Ne3 f4 15.Ned5 with total control of the d5 outpost - there would then follow a very strategic and complex manoeuvrings. 14...Be6 15.Nd5 Nb4 16.fxe5 Nbxd5 17.cxd5 Nxd5 18.exd6 Qxd6 19.Bxa5 White may have won a pawn - but Black has tremendous compensation for it, with his wonderfully placed minor pieces and central control for his rooks. 19...f4! MVL could well have won his pawn back with 19...Qa6 , but he's not the sort of player who needs to think twice about going for the jugular with a very promising attack. 20.Qe1 If 20.Be1 Be5 21.Rf3 fxg3 22.Bxg3 Bxg3 23.Rxg3 Nf4 would have still have been unpleasant, but not as unpleasant as happens now in the game. 20...Be5! Fully exploiting the dark square weakness in White's position. This is going to be near impossible to defend against. In hindsight, Navara by now is probably regretting he didn't play 20.Be1. 21.e4 Played more in desperation here, in order for survival. 21...fxe3 22.Bc3 Rxf1+ 23.Bxf1 Re8 24.Na3 Nxc3 25.bxc3 Bd5! (See Diagram) Just look at how disjointed all of White's pieces are, as Black bishops are now working together on their most active squares, and at the same time opening up the potential for Black's rook on e8. Navara has no other option now than what he plays; which is almost an admission of resignation. 26.Nc4 Bxc4 27.dxc4 Qd2! Exploiting that White can't afford now to exchange queens, as the pawn on d2 will win easily. 28.Qe2 Rf8! 29.Rxb7 White's position is hopeless. If 29.Rb2 Qc1 with the big threat now of ...Rxf1+ winning; And if 29.Qg4 Bg7 and White can't defend against all the Black threats. 29...Bxc3 30.Rb1 Qxe2 31.Bxe2 Rf2 32.Bd3 Rd2 33.Be4 e2 34.Kf2 Ra2 0-1 There's no way to stop ...e1(Q) double check winning the house.