Time Management

In the night following Saturday March 28, the Netherlands went over to summer time and once again, the next day I saw a big public building where they had changed the clock the wrong way; one hour back instead of one hour ahead, so that they were two hours behind the official time. Last year it was our Rijksmuseum, which might have caused quite a bit of confusion to foreign tourists, and this time it was a branch of the Amsterdam public library. Handling the clock always takes some care.
In the home of the Dutch IM Carel van den Berg (1924-1971), where a group of players from Amsterdam often met to analyze opening variations, there were no clocks. As an admirer of the philosopher Heidegger, who was an enemy of modern technology, Carel did not want to be a slave of the machine. In case of need, he could make a phone call, but this was hardly ever necessary.

In an article about Carel in the Dutch magazine Matten (#9, 2011) Peter Boel wrote about the time management of Carel and two of his good friends, Tabe Bas and Hein Donner. Bas, a great chess enthusiast, had rented a room in Carel’s place and Donner was a frequent visitor.

“The day-and-night rythm was completely reversed. Van den Berg was at home, studying, while Donner and Tabe Bas were up until 4 a.m. at the artist’s club “De Kring.” Then they took a taxi to the Amsteldijk (where Carel lived). First, Carel had to show what he had come up with for de Losbladige (the opening publication headed by Euwe). Then they talked about philosophy. About 6 a.m. Carel wanted to go to sleep.”

Tabe Bas told Boel: “Then Hein and I played some blitz, but about 8 a.m. I used to become a bit tired too, and I also went to bed. I would wake up at about 2 p.m. and then I would find the big room blue with smoke, there were two enormous ashtrays filled with cigarette butts and Hein was still sitting there, all alone, playing over some games. Then Carel would enter and open the windows, and Hein went to bed.” It was a wonderful time, said Tabe.

In his tournament games Carel often experienced terrible time trouble in which his deep conceptions were ruined. It was because he was more a thinker than a player, seeking for absolute truth in cases where it could not be found. But maybe also because in his daily life he had very little experience watching the time on a clock.

I once read that Soviet players in international tournaments used to keep their watches set on Moscow time, thereby avoiding or at least mitigating the jet lag connected with traveling. I can’t really believe this, as living according to Moscow time seems extremely inconvenient for tournaments in South America. But for tournaments in the Netherlands it might work perfectly. Rounds used to start at 1 p.m there, and keeping Moscow time would make that a civilized 3 p.m. And breakfast at the Wijk aan Zee tournaments would be served till noon Moscow time, much more agreeable than the cruel 10 a.m. that we Dutch players had to suffer.

At the women’s world championship that is being played in Sochi until April 6, the Ukrainian ex-world champion Anna Ushenina arrived a few minutes late for her first tiebreak game against the French Marie Sebag. She forfeited that game, could only make a draw in the next game and so she was eliminated.

What had happened? According to a report on Chessbase, Ushenina’s phone had switched off and after it had been reloaded, it had reset the time to Ukraine time, which is one hour earlier than Sochi time. Ushenina had not noticed that until it was too late.

I wondered if this could have happened to Carel van den Berg, if smartphones had existed during his life. He was often absentminded, but probably he wouldn’t have fully trusted the fickleness of modern gadgets and he would have asked for confirmation elsewhere. A local farmer who could still feel the local time in his amputated leg, might inspire more confidence with him. 

By the way, there is a picture of Carel at the Wikipedia page about Semyon Furman. There they think it’s Furman, but in fact it is a photo of Carel, taken at Wijk aan Zee in 1971.

The finals of the women’s world championship will be played from April 2 between the Russian Natalia Pogonina and the Ukrainian Mariya Muzychuk, who untill now was always a bit overshadowed by her sister Anna. This time Anna was eliminated in the quarter finals by Pia Cramling.

The game viewer shows the second game of the first round, between Mariya Muzychuk and the Canadian Yuan Yanling. Yuan had won the first game and needed only a draw to qualify for the next round. Strangely, she played as Black a terribly risky variation, well-known to be almost suicidal.

Click to play through the annotated game:

Sochi 2015