A Willful Artist

Like a roving reporter I went first to the Manor Hotel in Amsterdam, where the Dutch championship was held, to pursue my journey a few hours later to the Amsterdam Open, played at the sports center of the University of Amsterdam’s Science Park.

The championship was posh. Its location was a stately building that in the past – since 1891 – had been a big hospital. There were skilful commentators, and to celebrate the artistic side of chess, there was a cultural program with a daily lecture by an artist or scholar about art that had some connection with chess.

On one occasion, the artist of the day did not turn up. Tournament director Paul Rump had told me that he was a conceptual artist who, for instance, had once furnished his house in the style of the Dutch modernist architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld, and then invited arbitrary passers-by on the street to come inside and smash the furniture to pieces in order to videotape the destruction process.

Not turning up for an appointment might be just his thing. I wondered if he had hidden somewhere in the commentator’s hall to make a video of the art lovers who were waiting for him. But the next day it was said that the artist’s girlfriend had suddenly ended their relationship and that the artist had found solace in going to Portugal by bike on the spur of the sad moment. But maybe propagating this moving story had been another example of his conceptual art.

The Amsterdam Open was more egalitarian. The Science Park is a big and rather desolate area, but once you were inside the tournament venue, all was well. More than 300 players took part in different groups, which made the café quite lively.

When I was there, Manuel Bosboom, one of our most imaginative players, had just won a typical Bosboom game, which he commented on with his usual bravado. Then he showed us some endgame studies from a book by Kasparian that he had brought with him. One floor higher, the endgame composer Yochanan Afek was still involved in his game, but when he would come down, he would surely be able to throw some additional pearls on our table.

Yes, it was quite nice at the Amsterdam Open, and rather a pity that it coincided with the championship. You can’t rove from one tournament to the next every day.

The championship coincided not only with the Amsterdam Open, but also with the football World Cup, Wimbledon tennis and the Tour de France, which was obviously very harmful to the press coverage. Why had the organizers chosen this exact period?

Press officer Tom Bottema explained that it was the consequence of their love and admiration for Jan Timman. The organizers had gone out of their way, perhaps too much, to book Timman as one of the participants, but their original dates, which had the championship only coinciding with the Tour de France and not with these other three events, did not suit Timman, as they were too close to the dates of the Politiken Cup in Helsingor, where he would also play.

So, the dates of the championship were changed to accommodate him. Then Timman decided not to take part after all. The organizers tried to change the dates a second time, back to what they had been originally, but that was not possible. Quite a pity. The championship had already lost Anish Giri to Biel and then also Jan Timman to Helsingor.

The favorites were Loek van Wely, who in the past had already won the championship six times, and Sergei Tiviakov, whose list of tournament victories is endless.

However, at the start of the last round the field was led by a relative outsider, Wouter Spoelman (24). He is a medical student who does not have as much time for chess as he would like. Just a day before the opening of the championship, he had still been assisting with surgery.

In last year’s championship, Spoelman had been close to victory, but had lost the tiebreak of blitz games to Dimitri Reinderman.

He is a young and gifted amateur who takes his chess seriously, but not to the point of endangering his professional career. Many people would like to see him become champion, especially as in the next-to-last round he had won what seemed to be – up to that moment – the game of the tournament; a beautiful attacking game against Sipke Ernst.

Earlier in the tournament, Van Wely had lost against young Benjamin Bok (19) and his comments on that game were: “There is not much to reproach myself for, as Bok rose above himself and played the game of his life. Naturally, next time I’ll just beat him again.”

In the last round Spoelman, a half-point ahead of Van Wely, Tiviakov and Ernst, was Black against Bok.

If Bok had played the game of his life against Van Wely, he improved on that against Spoelman, with a speculative piece sacrifice in the opening, followed by some nice quiet moves and then three consecutive hammer blows to finish the fine work. He is playing the game of his life every day, said an admiring commentator.

As Van Wely and Tiviakov both won their last round games, the championship had to be decided by two blitz games between these two. Van Wely won both games and became Dutch champion for the seventh time.

Van Wely-Erwin l’Ami, after White’s 11th move.

This is from an amusing miniature which was won by Van Wely in 14 moves. In this position L’Ami, who was badly out of form, was already lost. 

Bok-Spoelman after Black’s 23rd move.

Here Bok toppled the tournament leader with the spectacular 24.Qe6, which forced Black’s resignation seven moves later.

Click to play through the games annotated by Hans...

Van Wely-Erwin l'Ami, 2014 Dutch Championship

Bok-Spoelman, 2014 Dutch Championship