When I started playing in the French league in the mid-eighties, there were twelve teams in the top division and the games were played over six week-ends.
An expansion to sixteen teams, at the beginning of the nineties, had mixed success. The presence of additional teams opened up the event to more clubs, but fifteen games proved to be too expensive for the sponsors. So this was reduced to eleven games in the following manner. The sixteen teams were divided into two pools of eight, and after a first round-robin phase, the top four from each pool met to decide the championship and podium, whereas the bottom four from each pool battled it out to avoid relegation. These eleven matches were played at first over four week-ends, and then later, during three long week-ends (3, 4 and 4) for a total of 11 matches in a season.
And so it stayed for the best part of two decades, but the powers that be have pressed for a new formula of twelve teams playing a round-robin over eleven days. This reminds me of the Russian top division.
Only the observations of those present will give an indication of whether this dramatic change is an improvement.
There are certain advantages (reduced travel costs, organisation, marketing), but certain players (non-professionals, or perhaps semi-professionals, family members etc.) will struggle to get such a long stretch away from their normal activities.
All the games are played in one short period and in one location, whereas in the past the matches were played around the country. The organisation is thus simplified (one venue instead of 7 to 9) but less direct contact is made with players, fans and clubs in the regions.
Another unforseen result is the limited geographical location of the teams in the top twelve. The south and west are absent with the exception of Marseille-Echecs. Traditional teams such as Cannes, Nice and Montpellier have dropped out of the top flight due, in large part, to financial difficulties in recent times.
The three promoted teams for next season's competition are from Deauville (North coast), Bischwiller (East in Alsace) and Grasse (Provence). So there will be another southern team in 2012!
There were once 16 teams of 9, then this was lightened to 8 players. Now we are down to 12 teams of eight, which has reduced the number of slots available for players wishing to play amongst the elite. However, as partial compensation, the equivalent of the second division now has 36 teams and the standard there is almost as high as in the first division from a generation ago!
Other national leagues have also changed their structure in order to find the 'ideal formula'.
In Spain, a ten-team round robin over nine days was dropped a few years back in favour of a twelve team two-phase event.
In Britain a twelve-team round robin (played over five week-ends) has been replaced by a sixteen team two-pool system (modelled on the former French system?), but one played over five week-ends.
So there is no consensus on the best system and it wouldn't surprise me if all these three countries changed their mind again sometime this decade!
The Germans have a large country, but have maintained a sixteen-team (fifteen player round robin) over eight week-ends for as long as I can remember. They at least know what they prefer!
As for now, the automobile museum in Mulhouse is the venue for the 2011 event.
Here are the leading players of the twelve teams. One particularity of the French league are certain rules concerning the nationality of the players.
One French female is obligatory, and the squads should have a majority of French nationals on the team sheet. So three 'non-French' maximum in any particular match.
|Loek Van Wely||NDL||2675||68|
|Marie Sebag||FRA||2504||16 (women)|
Evry Grande Roque (South of Paris)
|Le Quang Liem||VIE||2687||49|
|Sophie Milliet||FRA||2388||75 (women)|
* Present, but unable to play as a result of a court ruling. He is alleged to be involved in a cheating ring with Cyril Marzolo (Marseille) and Arnaud Hauchard (also Evry), who have also been banned. A controversial issue that has split French Chess.
Guingamp (North-West in Brittany)
|Jean-Pierre LE ROUX||FRA||2523|
Clichy (Paris Suburbs)
|Almira Skripchenko||FRA||2462||34 (women)|
Rueil-Malmaison (Paris suburbs)
|Jordi Magem Badels||ESP||2569|
Marseille Echecs (deep South)
Strasbourg (East in Alsace)
Vandoeuvre (East in Lorraine)
Mulhouse (East in Alsace)
Metz (East in Lorraine)
So 20 of the World's top hundred ranking list participated.
More details about the French league can be obtained from the Federation web-site: