Sweets and Cookies from the World Champion

While preparing a newspaper article on the European championship in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, I couldn’t miss the pictures of the statues. They had not yet been there when I played in the Olympiad of 1972, and the first time I had heard of them was only a few years ago when I was with Ian Rogers and his wife Cathy at their apartment in Amsterdam. They had been in Skopje recently and they were still bursting with laughter about the abundance of pseudo-classical statues they had seen.

 Apparently, as part of a program to rebuild the city after the earthquake of 1963, over the course of years, the statues had been installed. How many of these huge constructs are there now? They are everywhere in the city. A common joke is that when you ask how many, the answer is that there are more statues than inhabitants of the city.


 Statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje

The landscape of the new Skopje has been compared to the kitsch of Las Vegas. But so what? I always found Las Vegas wonderful, at least for a few days, until I had to stay there for two weeks as a journalist during the world championship of 1999, when the constant jangling of the slot machines would become depressing. I think that for the 361 competitors in the European championship, a daily walk through the center of Skopje must have been exhilarating.

 The five Dutch representatives were all youngsters. The oldest was Jorden van Foreest, Dutch champion of 2016 and now 19-years old. The youngest was Siem van Dael, 15-years old.

 I had never heard of him before, but now I saw that as a six-year-old he had said in the magazine of the Limburg chess club Leudal that he wanted to become world champion when he was 32.

 It might have been a little joke. For a six-year-old, 32 years may be a distant future that will never come, a fantasy of the time when calves will dance on ice. Anyway, it showed the right spirit, at least if you think chess is important. Siem van Dael certainly thinks so. Chess is his lust and his life: he studies six hours a day, has grandmaster Sipke Ernst as trainer and does crowdfunding to finance his international tournaments.

 After three rounds, Lucas van Foreest, Jorden’s younger brother, shared the lead with 3 out of 3, but this would be the highpoint of our Dutch hopes. After the final 11th round, the four oldest Dutch players had scored 6½ points, two points less than the new European champion Vladislav Artemiev, who has had a wonderful year. Siem van Dael finished on 4½ points.

 I thought of the time when, in 1988, I played in the Spanish city Gijon in a less serious European championship, the first European Championship in rapid chess. At the time it was called “active chess,” which suggested that classical chess was passive and dull. At that time, Garry Kasparov also agitated against the institutionalization of the faster forms of chess and even contemplated sanctions against players who would take part in such frivolous events. Later he would mend his ways.

 The tournament in Gijon was won by Anatoly Karpov. On the way back on the bus to the Madrid airport, I sat next to the Russian journalist Alexander Roshal, a regular companion of Karpov. I told him that I considered myself the champion of Europe, because all the players who had finished above me came from the Soviet Union, and that was Asia. So Karpov was champion of Asia, I of Europe.

 I felt supported by the famous European statesmen Metternich, Poincaré and Adenauer, because to all three the statement “here begins Asia” is attributed. The German Adenauer is supposed to have said it after he had crossed the Elbe, the Frenchman Poincaré already at the Rhine and the Austrian Metternich when he looked from his balcony in Vienna towards the East.

 It was a brutal remark from me and fortunately Roshal had a good answer: “If you think so, you better die quickly, so that you can still imagine to be the champion of Europe on your deathbed.” I also remember the women world champion, Maia Chiburanidze, going through the bus, carrying sweets and cookies for all passengers.

 In the game viewer there is a game from Lucas van Foreest from the third round, when the going still looked good for the Netherlands.

Click here to view Van Foreest-Indjic, Skopje 2019