IN the 18th and 19th century, 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 was a gathering place for anyone to play the game, including Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte.
As the game grew in popularity worldwide, France’s position as a chess superpower fell. Though the Russian-born Alexander Alekhine, world champion from 1927 to his premature death in 1946, became a French citizen in the 1920s and played for France in the first Chess Olympiad, he did not inspire a renaissance of the game in his adopted homeland.
However, in death he might, as the first leg of the Alekhine Memorial at the Louvre Museum in Paris ended with the French revolution of their top two players, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet, giving Russia’s top two, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and six-time national champion Peter Svidler something of a Les Misérables time of it, with an unlikely brace of wins.
The French also had more to celebrate: Vachier-Lagrave’s win over Svidler put him in the sole lead as the tournament moves to the Russian State Museum in St Petersburg. And, in today’s game, when was the last time you saw Kramnik (with white) being totally annihilated by a player from outside of the Top 20?
Standings: 1. Vachier-Lagrave, 3.5/5; 2-5. Fressinet, Gelfand, Adams, Aronian, 3; 6. Anand, 2.5; 7-9. Ding Liren, Kramnik, Vitugov, 2; 10. Svidler, 1.
V Kramnik - L Fressinet
Alekhine Memorial, (5)
1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nc6 3 d4 Bg4 4 Nbd2 Qd7 5 h3 Bf5 6 c3 e5 7 dxe5 0–0–0 8 e3 Nge7 9 g4 Bg6 10 b4 h5 11 b5 hxg4 12 bxc6 Nxc6 13 e6 Qxe6 14 Nd4 Nxd4 15 cxd4 Be7 16 Bg2 gxh3 17 Bf3 Bf5 18 Qa4 Kb8 19 Ba3 Bh4 20 Nf1 g5 21 Rh2 g4 22 Be2 Be4 23 Rc1 Bg2 24 Qa5 Rc8 25 Rc3 Bxf2+! 26 Kxf2 Bxf1 27 Kxf1 g3 28 Bf3 gxh2 29 Ke2 Rhg8 30 Bc5 a6 31 Bh1 Rg2+ 32 Bxg2 0–1