A student in PCGI (physics-chemistry-geology-engineering) core year at Sorbonne University, Anaëlle started playing chess at the age of five. In 2015, she became the French Under-16 Champion, then the Under-18 Vice-Champion of France in 2017 and a member of the winning adult team in the French 2018 Championship. She is also the vice-champion of universities in France, and in September 2018 she participated in the higher-education world championship in Brazil. Despite her impressive record, she is still fascinated by the endless possibilities offered by the 64 black and white squares on the chess board.

Anaëlle Afraoui
Anaëlle Afraoui © Sorbonne University - Pierre Kitmacher

You are a bachelor’s student in the physics, chemistry, geology and engineering program. Does this scientific program help you in chess?

Anaëlle Afraoui :

I have always been good in math and it is true that chess has a lot of calculations, logic and tactics. But that does not mean that you have to like math to play chess. There are also very good players that have a literary background.

Continuing my education is also a way for chess to remain a passion. I do not want for chess to become my profession but I want to continue playing, to practice, progress and develop my strategies and my thinking. The high-level athlete program offered at Sorbonne University allows me to benefit from an adjusted schedule to reconcile the classes and tournaments. Teachers are notified when I participate in a competition and I have access to a room to practice chess.

Are you a member of the Sorbonne University chess club?

A. A. : The Sorbonne University Club "Les Fous des Tours" promotes games of reflection including chess. I played with them for the Enst & Young Grandes Ecoles trophy last year and I hope we can get a team together this year as well, especially at the French University Championships that will take place in Villejuif in 2019.

Chess has been recognized as a sporting discipline in 1999. What is a high performance sport?

A. A. : Even if chess is not a physical activity in the proper sense, it still requires endurance, concentration, reactivity and technical skills similar to what is found in all sports.

The tournaments can last more than a week and the games can last up to 6 or 7 hours in a row. With coaching sessions several times a month, I practice 2 to 3 hours a day and I have competitions every weekend and during the holidays. To prepare, I analyze my opponents’ games to adapt my playing style.

As in any sports competition, it is necessary to know how to manage your stress and your emotions to think carefully.

You must also be able to adapt to the different rates of play: long starting times and sprints at the end of the game. The finals are decisive because, when you have played for hours, the race against time is even more difficult to manage. Yet we must continue to keep all our reflexes and skills in order not to lose.

To practice, brain gymnastics alone are not enough. You must also play sports to improve your endurance. That's why I run, swim and walk. These are all necessary elements to being a good chess player.

What do chess bring you?

A. A. : Chess helps me in many areas. If the competitions allowed me to travel and meet people, the daily training has been an opportunity to develop important skills such as memorization, logic, anticipation and preparation.

By memorizing openings and finals, I improved my memorization strategies by creating cognitive maps. It has also helped me to play blindly: while my opponent announces his strokes verbally, I can play about thirty shots without looking at the board, just by memorizing the positions of the pieces on the chessboard. This allows you to play anywhere without a board or pieces.

By working on tactics, which means winning a game by forcing your opponent to make errors, I have also developed a great capacity for anticipation. I can predict up to 7 moves in advance. In chess, we call this the depth of calculation. This ability to anticipate also helps me in my everyday life, for example, to determine my academic program at the university and my professional choices.

What relationship do you see between chess and the computer today?

A. A. : The ultimate solution to the game of chess remains unreachable because of its complexity. The number of possible games is far too large to be fully stored in a computer. But the machine has dominated man for 20 years with the victory of the Deep Blue computer against Kasparov in 1997.

Practicing with computers has both good and bad sides. It gives a faster return on the best moves to play. But, unlike a chess manual, it does not explain why it's a good or bad move. Working with books in parallel allows me to find other ideas, to develop new plans of attack.

Updated on 27 NOV 2018