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John Henderson
By John Henderson

Where, perhaps one might just wonder, could the strongest and most prestigious open in France be held? Could it be the City of Lights and its cultural capital itself, Paris? Perhaps even the main banking area of Lyon? Or how about the sunnier climes of Marseille? The surprising answer is none of the above, but rather Cappelle-la-Grande, a small, unpretentious town of just 9,000 inhabitants that sits on the outskirts of Dunkirk.

The reason for Cappelle’s chess fame has much to do with the reddish hues of its politicians, and in particular its once popular Communist mayor Roger Gouvart, brother of tournament organizer Michael Gouvart who, in 1985, put the town firmly on the map at least chess-wise, by developing their event into one of the strongest and most popular international opens of its kind in Europe – and the grandmaster masses literally turned out in force for it.

It could even be said that Cappelle started the more recent-day trend for the rise of large mega-bucks international opens. After the success seen in Cappelle, there then came the back to back Moscow and Aeroflot Opens held in the Russian capital, that in turn led to the creation of what’s now become the so-called phenomenon of “Super-opens” in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.

Back in 1985 in that first edition, Cappelle started small with just 68 players, reaching a peak of nearly 700 players in 2010. But lately, Cappelle – a little like the sad demise of Hastings – has fallen on hard times with a lack of sponsorship and support, and no longer the big international open powerhouse it once was, with the latest edition, the 35th Cappelle-la-Grande Open, which ran 16-22 February, attracting just 332 players with barely a dozen journeymen grandmasters doing battle for the meagre prize fund.

In the end, much like the Aeroflot Open, there was also a surprise winner, as the young Dutch IM Miguoel Admiraal navigated the waters with what proved to be a crucial fifth round win in today’s game, as he eventually edged out GMs Sergey Fedorchuk, Namig Guliyev, Maxime Lagarde and Jules Moussard to take the title on tie-break after all finished tied on 7½/9.

Photo: Miguoel Admiraal risked it all going into a dubious opposite-colour bishop ending – but it paid off in the end! | © Tata Steel Chess

IM Miguoel Admiraal – GM Jean-Marc Degraeve
35th Cappelle Open, (5)
Scandinavian Defence
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 a6 7.Nf3 b5 8.Bd3 e6 9.Qe2 Be7 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.d5 exd5 12.Nd4 Bb7 13.Ne6!! It is what is known in chess as “The Splat Moment” – there’s nothing Black can do here except try his best to avoid being quickly mated or having to resign early. But the psychological blow of such a move can often serve to totally demoralise someone into not finding a possible way out. 13…fxe6 14.Bg6+ Kf8 15.Qxe6 Ne5 The only way to avoid the mate on f7 is to quickly return the material. 16.Qxe5 Qd6 17.Rhe1 Centralising the rooks was the obvious move – but more clinical was 17.f4! that leaves Black totally paralysed, as trading queens will lose quickly after 17…Qxe5 18.fxe5 Ng4 19.Rhf1+ Kg8 20.Bxe7 Nxe5 21.Bh5 c6 22.Rde1 etc. 17…Qxe5 I’m guessing here that Degraeve didn’t even think for one moment here about trading queens. 18.Rxe5 Bd6 19.Re6 A bold choice – despite the queens off, White is still going for the jugular. 19…Bc8 20.Rxd6 cxd6 21.Nxd5 Nxd5 22.Rxd5 Be6? This is perhaps an admission that Black is still recovering from the shell shock after being rocked in the opening, as with a little care and thought, it isn’t really all over for Black – but it will take a lot of work to survive. He had to try 22…Bb7! 23.Rd2 Bxg2 24.f3! Bh1 25.Be4 Re8 26.Rxd6 and accept being forced into the very awkward ending of 26…Rxe4! 27.fxe4 Kf7 28.Rd7+ Kg6 29.e5 Re8 30.Bg3 Re6 31.c3 White has a strong extra passed pawn on e5 and the better pieces – but Black still has a solid position, an active king now, and there’s always hope for the ending with the notoriously drawn bishops of opposite colour. 23.Rxd6 The White bishops cut off the king and also the kingside rook – so major concessions will have to be made to free the king and rook. 23…Bf7 24.Be4 Re8 25.f3 Re6 26.Rd8+ Re8 27.Rd7 g5 And this is Black’s radical solution to the problems – but what else is there? If Black ‘sits’ on the position with 27…Re5 then 28.Ra7 h5 (There’s no way to defend the a-pawn now. If 28…Re6? 29.Bd5! wins on the spot.) 29.Ra8+ Re8 30.Rxa6 Rh6 31.Ra7 and Black looks forced again into an even worse version of the earlier endgame mentioned in the previous note, by having to play 31…Rxe4 32.fxe4 Re6 33.Bf2! Rxe4 34.Kd2 with a clear winning endgame advantage. 28.Bf2 h5 We’re at desperation point now – White’s rook and bishops dominate the board, and Black is still going to take some time to untangle. 29.Ra7 Rh6 30.Be3 Rxe4 Black finally succumbs to the inevitable – but it is nowhere near as good as it was when mentioned in the above note after move 22. 31.fxe4 Rc6 32.Bxg5 Bxa2 33.Bf4 Bf7 34.Rc7?! White is so sure he’s winning, he’s even willing to head for the notoriously-drawn opposite bishop ending. Well, rather him than me, as without even giving the position a second glance, I think I would have kept that dominant rook on the seventh. Better was the straight forward and simple 34.c3! b4 35.Kd2 bxc3+ 36.bxc3 Bg6 37.e5 and White can easily make progress by getting in Be3-d4 and Kd2-e3-f4 etc. 34…Rxc7 35.Bxc7 Even two pawns ahead, this ending is never easy to convert – in fact, in any such losing endgame scenario, where one side has lost pawns, I would always recommend to younger players to first see if they can somehow engineer an opposite-colour bishop ending or possibly a rook and pawn ending, as that’s your best hope to save the game. And here, White is the one volunteering up just such a scenario! 35…Bg6 36.e5 Ke7 37.Kd2 Kd7 38.Bd6 Ke6 39.c3 Be4 It is still lost for Black, but your objective here is to make the task of your opponent winning as hard as you possibly can, and I think I would have first tried 39…h4 40.Ke3 a5 41.Kf4 Bd3 42.Kg5 Be4 43.Kxh4 Bxg2 as it quickly liquidates a couple of pawns off the board. That said, White will simply regroup with Kh4-g3-f4 and look to quickly push the h-pawn up the board. 40.g3 a5 41.Ke3 Bg2 42.Kd4 Black is looking to put all his pawns on white squares, the same colour as his bishop – but its a little tricky now, as the White king sneaks round on the black squares to infiltrate. 42…a4 43.Bc7 Bf1 44.Bd8 Bg2 45.Bf6 Bf1 46.Kc5 Be2 47.h3! [see diagram] We now get the benefits of a little endgame masterclass. If the h-pawn was on h4, then there’s a more than likely chance the game would be a draw, as the Black bishop would easily be able to defend all his pawns while his king stays put on e6 blocking the passed e-pawn. But now, White creates a crucial deflection with the extra passed pawn. 47…Kd7 48.g4 hxg4 49.hxg4 Ke6 There’s no hope now. If 49…Bxg4 50.Kxb5 Bd1 51.Ka5 Bc2 52.c4 Kc6 53.e6 Kc5 54.e7 Bg6 55.Kxa4 Kxc4 The silicon-certainty of the Endgame database kicks in and tells us that ‘White wins in 26 moves after 56.Ka5’. 50.g5 Bd3 51.Kc6 Kf5 52.Kd6 Bc4 53.Bd8 Bf7 54.Bb6 Kxg5 55.e6 Bh5 56.Ke7! Welcome to the masterclass! It’s a nice little nuance from the White king as, without it, it was hard to see how to win. The reason being is that you want to avoid being pinned after 56.Kd7 Bg4 as it is not so easy to make progress now, for example, 57.Ke7 Kg6 58.Bd4 Kf5! 59.Kd6 (If 59.Kf7 Bh5+ 60.Ke7 Bg4 just repeats the position.) 59…Kg6 60.Kd7 (If 60.e7 Kf7 and the White king can’t get to d7, leaving only 61.Kc6 Kxe7 62.Kxb5 Bd7+ and a draw.) 60…Kh7! It’s the geometry of the chessboard! Because of the pin, Black can take the long way round via g8-f8 to cover the queening pawn. 61.Ke7 Kg8 62.Be5 Bh3 63.Kd7 Kf8 64.Bf6 Bf5 and thanks to the ‘magic’ of the notorious opposite-bishop ending, we are now into the realms of the game being saved. 56…Kf5 57.Kd7! Now the pin doesn’t work anymore, and White can push home the e-pawn. 57…Ke5 All is lost. If 57…Kf6 58.e7 Bg4+ 59.Kd8 and the e-pawn queens. 58.e7 Kd5 59.Ba5 1-0 And Black resigns, as Bb4-a3 protects the b-pawn, and meanwhile there’s no way to stop the e-pawn queening.

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