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I must sadly admit that the French are a nation temperamentally unsuited to playing chess. Even the French Defence, with its congenital weakness on the black squares, is suited only to positionally challenged players. France has had only three great players: Philidor, who played all his chess in London, and Alekhine and Spassky, both Russian emigres. Which makes the emergence of Joel Lautier more remarkable. On hearing that a Frenchman handled the White side of this game, one can only blink in amazement.

White: Joel Lautier

Black: Boris Gelfand

Amsterdam 1996

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.0-0 a6 10.e4 c5 11.d5 c4 12.Bc2 Qc7 13.dxe6 fxe6 14.Nd4!

A made-in-France improvement on the older 14.Ng5.

14...Nc5 15.Be3 0-0-0?! 16.Qe2 e5

Going for the win of a pawn - but his king is far from secure.

17.Nf3 Ncxe4 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.a4! Nc5 20.axb5 axb5 21.b3!

That's the way to do it! Rip open the lines of attack to get at his monarch.

21...cxb3 22.Bf5+ Kb8 23.Qxb5 g6 24.Bh3 Rd5 25.Rfb1 Qc6 26.Qc4 Be7 27.Nd2 Rhd8 28.Nxb3 (see diagram)

Material equality is finally reestablished, leaving the black king facing a gale down the a- and b-files. The immediate threat is 29.Na5 and 28...Nxb3 29.Ba7+ Kc7 30.Qxb3 leaves Black in dire straits.


The first exclamation mark is for sheer brilliance, the second for audacity, and the question mark because it doesn't work.


Quite right too! 29.Rxa4 Rd1+ 30.Qf1! Rxf1+ 31.Kxf1 Nxa4 32.Na5 also wins simply enough, but Black's 28th move deserves a flashier response than mere piece-grabbing. Now 29...Qxc4 allows immediate mate with 30.Rxb7.

29...Rd1+ 30.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 31.Rxd1 Qxc4 32.Nd7+ resigns.

The black queen is lost after either 32...Ka8 33.Nb6+ or 32...Kc7 33.Rc1.