A Strong-willed Champion

In the past, on the ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to the northern part of Amsterdam, people from the other side of the river used to joke that they went to Siberia. Jan Donkers, a friend of mine who was born and raised in the North, published a book in 1996 with the title Zo dicht by Amsterdam (So Close to Amsterdam). Yes, it was close, it was part of Amsterdam and the ferry took about five minutes to bring you there, but with the title of his book he implied that in reality the distance was immense and that he lived in a different world.

When he went to high school, he had to take the ferry every day to the other side, and once he told me that during these six years, not one of his schoolmates ever took the trouble to visit him at his home. Amsterdam-North was out of bounds.

All this has changed. Now, when I am on the ferry, on my left at the other side of the river is the film museum Eye, a true modern palace of cinema. There is a retrospective of Billy Wilder's movies going on, but my trip has another purpose, the Dutch championship.

Right in front of me is the Tolhuistuin, a new complex of conference halls where the Dutch championship was played in the first week of July. The terrace is festive, with a beautiful view over the river IJ. Inside the tables are briskly set for dinner.

Then we descend into the entrails of the building, where the playing hall, the commentary room and the press room are. I think it was the Dutch grandmaster Hein Donner who wrote about an international tournament a long time ago where, in a Spanish hotel, the chess players were hidden behind a screen during meals, so that the other guests were spared the sight.

Our wise national coach Hans Bouwmeester, who had not become merrier after years of experience in the chess world, used to say on such occasions, “Well, of course we stay here at a reduced rate.”

In a way we were at the Dutch championship at a reduced rate, as nowadays it has only eight participants. It used to be twelve, or sometimes even fourteen. But no matter. Where two or three chess players gather in the name of our game, there am I, even if it is in the basement.

Sergey Tiviakov received his invitation for the championship only a few days before it started. He was asked to replace Benjamin Bok, who had fallen ill. Tiviakov was in Russia for a family visit. He did not hesitate, rebooked his flight and arrived in Amsterdam just in time.

Of course, he had not prepared for the tournament, but for him that might be less of a disadvantage than it would be for others. Tiviakov has a very idiosyncratic opening repertoire that is not based on sharp theoretical variations but on quiet lines that for the greatest part have been developed and refined by himself, and that he knows extremely well.

From the start he took the lead and he finished with 5½ out of 7, 1½ points ahead of Erwin l’Ami, Jorden van Foreest, Erik van den Doel and Ivan Sokolov.

He is a man of strong opinions, both in chess and in ordinary life. At the beginning of this century, on his many distant journeys, he took photographs of UFOs, auras and creatures from a parallel world, and he was disappointed that the Dutch chess players were not open to his insights. Only last year he tweeted a photo of a UFO that had been spotted in Spain, and he also distributed a Russian article that contradicted the Dutch investigation into the crash of the MH17 flight.

The Dutch might say that Russians believe the strangest things, while Russians might think that the Dutch would call every insight a conspiracy theory if it doesn’t conform to their prejudices. Tiviakov calmly goes his own way.

He was born in 1973 and when he came from Russia to the Netherlands in 1998 he already had a great career behind him. In the Netherlands, he became the national champion in 2006 and 2007, and in 2008 he was the champion of Europe.

After 2009, there was a period of estrangement between him and the Dutch Chess Federation. At the Dutch championship of that year, after the drawing of lots, he arranged with his opponent of the last round, Sipke Ernst, that they would make a draw without playing. The reason was that Tiviakov did not want to miss the first round of the Croatian team championship.

When the arbiter of the Dutch championship learned of this arrangement, he obviously did not agree and said that both players would be forfeited if they persisted in their plan. The result was that Tiviakov dropped out of the tournament after three rounds. He would only return to the Dutch championship five years later.

He is the most tireless traveler of the Dutch chess world, even surpassing Max Euwe, who loved travelling, but for the greatest part of his life had to combine that with a job.

Tiviakov has won dozens of open tournaments on all continents. I haven’t really checked it, but I believe him when he says that in 2004 and 2005 he set a world record that still stands: 110 consecutive serious tournament games with classical time controls without defeat, often against top players.

Recently he has become the trainer of Machteld van Foreest, one of the talented Van Foreest siblings. She is 10-years old, but is already Dutch champion among youngsters (boys and girls) up to 14-years old. She wants to become a world champion.

There is a lot one can learn from Tiviakov, including patience, patience and more patience. I don’t think that he will try to persuade young Machteld to adopt the style that he adopted himself at a much later age. For a young chess player, impatience may also be a virtue.

The game viewer shows Tiviakov’s game from the penultimate round against last year’s Dutch champion, Loek van Wely. Tiviakov’s victory assured him the 2018 title with a round to spare.

Click here for Tiviakov-van Wely, Amsterdam 2018