Where, you might wonder, is the strongest and most prestigious open in France held? Its cultural capital Paris? Perhaps the Capital of Lights in Lyon? Or how about the decidedly more sunnier climes of Marseille? The surprising answer is none of the above but little Cappelle-la-Grande, an unpretentious small town of only some 9,000 inhabitants, just inland from Dunkirk in the Pas de Calais.
Thanks to the reddish hues of a former mayor, they’ve been holding an annual Open there since 1985. It started small with just 68 players in the first year with victory going to the Polish player Waldemar Hanasz, but it soon grew to become one of the world’s top Opens; an event everyone - save from the top elite of Garry Kasparov et al. - craved an invite to play there. But now with truly mega Opens attracting the top elite and even the world champion and ex-champions - such as the recent Qatar Masters and Gibraltar Masters - Cappelle is no longer the force it once used to be; but nevertheless still a very important tournament today for the jobbing grandmaster.
And while most Open tournaments are structured as a graduated series of events depending on rating, Cappelle bucks the trend by sticking to its long tradition of having one teeming mass of participants battling it out under the one roof and the one tournament. This year’s 32nd edition of Cappelle-la-Grande attracted many of the returning regulars, with the field of 537 including more than 50 grandmasters.
The list was headed by five-time US champion Gata Kamsky, Ferenc Berkes (Hungary) and Tigran Gharamian (France) - but the US top seed put in a truly compelling performance for a rare outright victory at Cappelle, as he took the title and 3,000 euro first prize with his unbeaten score of 7.5/9, ahead of a seven-player logjam half a point behind on 7-points.
Official Photo - Alexandre Feryn
GM Gata Kamsky - GM Murtas Kazhgaleyev
32nd Cappelle Open, (7)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 Nh5?! I've never seen the logic behind this move, as it basically gives White a Trompowsky Attack with an added tempo. 3.Bg5 h6 4.Bh4 g5 5.e3 Nf6 6.Bg3 The only thing Black has achieved here is to prematurely weaken his kingside. 6...d6 7.Nd2 Bg7 8.c3 Nc6 9.Bd3 e5 10.Ne2 Much better than the automatic Ngf3 London System set-up. 10...Qe7 11.h3 e4 12.Bc2 Bf5 13.b4! White has got more or less everything he could have wished for here: mobile pawns on the queenside, a closed centre, and long-term play against d5 and e4. 13...Bg6 14.Qb1 0-0 15.Bh2 Rae8 16.b5 Na5 17.a4 b6 18.Qa2 Rc8 19.Nc4! Forcing the exchange of knights - and with it, White dominates the queenside. 19...Nxc4 20.Qxc4 d5 21.Qa2 c5 22.bxc6 Rxc6 23.Bb3 Rd8 24.0-0 Bf5 25.c4 Be6 26.Rac1 Qb4 27.cxd5 Rxc1 28.Rxc1 Nxd5 29.Bg3! A nice little move creating some "luft" for the White king. 29...Rd7 30.Rc8+ Kh7? It looks innocuous, but it is in fact a fatal error in a difficult position, as we'll soon see why. Black had to play 30...Bf8 to get his bishop into the game and avoid a tactical pitfall. 31.Kh2 Kamsky takes the safety-first route by removing his king from any possible backrank check - but he missed the clinical win with 31.Nc3! Qa5 (31...Nxc3?? 32.Bxe6! Nxa2 33.Bf5#) 32.Nxe4 Bf5 33.Qb1 Bg6 34.Rc6 and White's winning. 31...f5 32.Nc3! Now Kamsky spots it - and it is just as effective. 32...Qa5 Again, if 32...Nxc3 33.Bxe6 Rf7 34.Bxf5+ wins - and a theme we'll soon return to. 33.Qc2 Bf7 34.Nxe4! (See Diagram) Amazingly, all these tactics work because the Kazakh GM played what he thought was the innocent-looking 30...Kh7. 34...Bg6 35.Qc6 f4 36.Qxd7 Bxe4 37.Rh8+! Kamsky is easily winning, but it is always nice to finish with a touch of élan, as they would say in France. 37...Kg6 If 37...Kxh8 38.Qe8+ Kh7 39.Qxe4+ Kh8 40.Qe8+ Kh7 41.Bc2#. 38.Qe8+ Kf5 39.Qxe4+! 1-0 And of course, again if 39...Kxe4 40.Bc2#.