22nd-29th July: 15th Saint Affrique International Open, France

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Saint Affrique is a town of rivers, mountains, bridges, pétanque, chess, cheese and wine. It is situated in south of Aveyron area, where Roquefort cheese is made, in the Midi- Pyrénées region.

Saint Affrique grew up in the 6th C. around the tomb of the bishop St. Africain and in the 12th C. a fortress was built on the neighbouring rock of Caylus.

The town has 5 bridges over the river Sorgues, which cuts through seven hills: des Anglais, de la Quille, de la Fous, de la Serre, des Cazes, de Nougayrolle et du Rocher de Caylus. The land area is 110.96 km² and there are 8300 inhabitants. It’s the birthplace of the musician and inventor Pierre-Augustine Sarus (1813-1876) and the mathematician and politician Émile Borel (1871-1956). (Source: www.vivreaupays.fr).

Saint Affrique
Le Pont Vieux (the old bridge) was built in 1270 and is classified as a Historical Monument.

“A Room With A View”: from my window.

A metallic creation of Gavroche.

Place de la Liberté: another metallic creation.

When I was told that there is an international tournament in Saint Affrique every summer I was surprised as I had never heard about it before. And as I like to write about things people have never written about I decided to visit the town for a holiday, explore the Aveyron area and practice my French but with no intention of playing chess!

I travelled via Montpellier and before getting to my final destination I had time to enjoy the city’s impressive Antigone district architecture created by the Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill (born December 5, 1939).

Antigone district: Cross to the arcade and shopping centre Polygone and all your money will soon be gone...

Antigone district: a scene overlooking the Polygone arcade.

Antigone district : Place de Thessalie.

Antigone district : Insulae.

Place de la Comédie.

Place de la Comédie: Opera House.

Finally I arrived in Saint Affrique! The general welcoming atmosphere made me feel like home and I decided to play but with one condition: if I felt tired I would not continue the tournament, my wish was granted! And so I played 4 games only and after all, this trip was meant to be my holiday...

The tournament was run smoothly and many activities were organised. 201 players, even from India, took part in the 15th St. Affrique International. The winner was Moroccan GM Hichem Hamdouchi and the lady’s prize went to Indian WGM Nisha Mohota.

I scored 2.5/4, lost my second game against English Grandmaster.

Glenn C. Flear Glen C. Flear vs. Meri Grigoryan

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3

It is worth to mention that my opponent was concerned about my Albin Counter Gambit! But I so wanted to play e5!

2. ... Nc6 3.e3 Bg4 4.Nbd2 e5 (Yes!) 5.h3 Bxf3 6.Nxf3 e4 7.Nd2 f5 8.c4 Nf6 9.a3 g6 10.Qb3 Rb8 11.cd5 Nd5 12.Bc4 Na5 13.Qa4 c6 14.Be2 (14.b4 and Qa7 not ideal) 14. ... b5 15.Qc2 Bh6?! (Once I played it I realised that I missed a simple 21. Kf3! Well, 15. ... Rc8 is more subtle, if 16.0-0 then Bd6 with idea Bd8, Qd6 and advancing the K-side pawns, if 16.Nb3 Nb3 17.Qb3 Bd6 18.Bd2 Bb8 then 19.0-0-0 but that’s a different story which I didn’t bother to follow!)

16.b4 Be3 (Well, I have already said “A”! But my opponent apparently had second thoughts about his next move...) 17.ba5 Bf2+ 18.Kf2 Qh4 19.g3 e3+ 20.Kg2 Nf4+ 21.Kf3! Qh5+ 22.Kf4 and White won eventually.

“When not to chase after a mirage combination!” – a good teaching stuff for my pupils.

Round 5: Hichem Hamdouchi vs. Aarthie Ramaswamy
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. Bd3 d5 5. Nxe5 Bd6 6. O-O Bxe5 7. dxe5 Nc6 8. Nc3 Nxc3 9. bxc3 O-O 10. Re1 Qh4 11. Qf3 Be6 12. Rb1 Rab8 13. Bf4 Rfe8 14. h3 a6 15. Kh2 a5 16. Qe3 h6 17. Rg1 g5 18. Bg3 Qh5 19. Rge1 f5 (Yet another mirage chase which started two moves ago) 20. exf6 Bxh3 21.Qc5 b6 22. Bg6! Qxg6 23. Qxc6 Bg4 24. Qxc7 Rbc8 25. Qxb6 Rxe1 26. Rxe1 Rf8 27. Qd4 Qh5+ 28. Kg1 Rd8 29. Re7 Rd7 30. f7+ 1-0

Final standings:

# Name Country Title ELO Points
1 Hamdouchi Hichem MAR GM 2576 8
2 Degraeve Jean-Marc FRA GM 2520 7.5
3 Flear Glenn C. ENG GM 2479 7.5
4 BOUDRE Jean-Pierre FRA IM 2329 7
5 DELORME Axel FRA FM 2317 7
6 MOHOTA Nisha IND WGM 2332 7
7 LEJARRE Ludovic FRA FM 2359 6.5
8 DAVID Vincent FRA FM 2390 6.5
9 PETROSSIAN Armen FRA 2392 6.5
10 PRIE Eric FRA GM 2518 6.5
11 HAMDOUCHI Adina-Maria ROM WGM 2287 6.5
12 COLLAS Silvia FRA IM 2393 6.5
13 VAN ELST Andreas FRA FM 2294 6.5
14 JANEV Evgeni IM BUL 2488 6.5
15 COLLAS Didier IM FRA 2458 6.5

Winners from previous years:

2006: GM Jean-Marc Degraeve (ELO 2540, FRA)

2005: GM Anthony Kosten (2522, ENG)

2004: Viesturs Meiters (ELO 2487, LAT)

2003: GM Jean-Marc Degraeve (ELO 2541, FRA)

2002: GM Alexander Delchev (ELO 2557, BUL) 265 players

1992: IM Didier Collas (FRA)

Playing hall: la Salle des fêtes

Mohota sisters: Swati and Nisha in front of the Salle des fêtes. One of the sisters will marry soon and if I keep my long hair by then, then I will most likely attend her Indian wedding. For a week I was the girls' interpreter as their landlady knew nothing but "Hello!". Before this trip I didn't dare to add French on my CV but now - voila!

Aarthie Ramaswamy plays against the tournament winner Hichem Hamdouchi, who, by the way, came 3rd in Montpellier Open this year.

Adina-Maria Hamdouchi vs. Jean-Marc Degraeve.

WGM Silvia Collas.

I finished my game early and was playing with Silvia Collas' one-year-old son Anthony.

Mohota sisters: Swati and Nisha in full concentration

GM Glenn C. Flear vs. WFM Meri Grigoryan.

Clockwise front left: Armen Petorsyan, Nisha Mohota, Eric Prie, Aarthie Ramaswamy, Lejarre Ludovic, Meera Sai Ravi.

Chief arbiter: Mr. Stephen Boyd

Myself and arbiter Maya Todorova

Couscous night out: some are already waiting for their dessert

Couscous night out: 3rd from right is the organiser Allain Herrero, myself, Nariné and her husband Armen Petrosyan

Couscous night out: le petite Anthony, who couldn’t keep still, with his parents Silvia and Didier Collas, who won the very first Saint Affrique International Open in 1992, and Uncle Ivan

After a nice dinner follows the traditional pétanque!

The annual summer fête: the brass band entertaining visitors

Video clip:The band is playing off the stage "Emmenez-moi” by beloved Armenian Charles Aznavour

Can you imagine a fête without crêpes?

... or without roast potatoes?

Gateau a la broche, Aveyron’s speciality

Roquefort: visiting the cheese caves with friends

Legend has it that the cheese was discovered when a young sheperd, eating his lunch of bread and ewes' milk cheese, saw a beautiful girl in the distance. Abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he ran to meet her. When he returned a few months later, the penicillium roqueforti mold had transformed his plain cheese into roquefort.

26th July: boat trip on the river Tarn

"Steer to port-side!"

While on the boat trip my camera‘s eye caught up with this “birdie”.

I enjoyed myself enormously and I am looking forward to my next Saint Affrique trip!

Technical info:

You could actually play in Montpellier International open and then go to Saint Affrique, so you will have 5 days to explore the surroundings and witness the annual summer fête.

How to get there: via Montpellier or Nîmes and then by bus or via Saint Rome by train and then by bus.

Report by Meri Grigoryan