No Chance against the New York Times

The fifth round of the Tata Steel tournament was moved from the sacred hall of Wijk aan Zee to the NEMO museum of science and technology in Amsterdam, a huge building at the waterfront near the Central Railway Station, designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. It’s mainly aimed at kids, who are prompted to do experiments to discover the wonders of science, but also for adults it can be be a cheerful and educational visit. 

I was sitting in a coffee bar of NEMO with an old friend whom I had not seen for quite some time, when Magnus Carlsen passed our table in a hurry. “He is just walking around here,” said my friend in wonder. “I could have touched him.” He got a second chance when Carlsen returned from the restroom on his way to the tournament hall, but my friend was too civilized to touch him. The possibility had been good enough. 

I realized how wonderful it must be to be famous, like Carlsen, and thereby make everybody happy, just by your presence. And I thought about Ludwig Erhard (1897-1977), the German Bundeskanzler who had been the architect of the German economic recovery after WW II.

Once, at a state dinner, he was chatting with the lady next to him about how during the war as an army officer he had to take refuge in a bombshelter and was extremely irritated by the wailing and whining of the other people there. So much, he said to the lady, that only with great effort he had been able to prevent himself from exclaiming: “Have no fear! Ludwig Erhard is with you!”

The aura of invulnerability that the future German Chancellor Erhard – born for the job it seems – already presented when he wasn’t yet famous, must be the natural state for Magnus Carlsen.

That day in NEMO it seemed as if he could walk on water. Against Loek van Wely, on his 23rd move in an equal position, he sacrificed a piece. Afterwards he explained that he was not objectively lost after that sacrifice and that he was speculating on Van Wely’s severe lack of time.

Van Wely played fast; he had to. Carlsen also played fast, to keep Van Wely on the run. At some point Carlsen was dead lost, but in the end the inevitable happened. In extreme time trouble Van Wely blundered and lost.

Playing over the game here in the game viewer you might think that it’s not a jewel. But seeing it live, watching the tension on their faces and the quickly changing positions on the big screens behind them in the beautiful playing hall, was quite exhilarating. 

For the last three years the Tata tournament has had two days of travel for the top group. When the question is raised if the top players enjoy the temporary change of venue, the answer is always that they are professionals and accept the necessities of their job. As a journalist and spectator, I do enjoy the variety.

The tenth round was played in the Railway Museum in Utrecht and what was said about NEMO can also be said about this museum. It was a beautiful carnival, with hundreds of kids playing chess in the luxurious Orient Express carriages or solving chess puzzles set up in rows of tablet screens. Strangely and fortunately, the playing hall with its stage set of impressive locomotives, was very quiet.

In the press room, I talked with the Australian GM Ian Rogers and his wife Cathy. They probably won’t agree, but I consider them half-Dutch or rather half-Amsterdammer, as they bought a flat here many years ago where they spend much of their time.

We were talking about the fatwah that wasn’t, the spurious news item that had spread like a wildfire around the globe about the supposed ban on chess in Saudi Arabia on order of a great-mufti. It had originated with some tweets by Nigel Short, who is keenly followed by British media since Short wrote that female brains are not well-suited to chess or maneuvring a car. Short, they think, stands for hustle and bustle and good fun.

Rogers had read the tweets and had done what a good journalist should do: he e-mailed the Saudi Chess Federation, asking what was going on. The reply came ten minutes later. Yes, the mufti had been critical about chess, but it was all old news, based on a TV program from some years ago. No worry, all chess events in Saudi Arabia would go on as scheduled.

Short retracted his alarmist tweets more or less, but the international news media wouldn’t let go of a juicy story and stayed at it for several days.

Ian said, “I thought that I would be able to let truth prevail, but that was naive. When the nonsense had been in the New York Times, truth had no chance anymore.” I told him that my newspaper also had gone for the juicy story. Trusting Ian, I had warned them that it was a non-issue, but they had preferred to trust the New York Times, the fools.

Nigel Short tweeted that more than a hundred international media had reacted to his tweets. Was it so wonderful then to have led them all astray? But I must confess that in his place I may also have felt a sense of roguish pride. 

With Ian Rogers, I also talked about the advance of the Chinese in chess and about the nice game of the 16-year-old Wei Yi against David Navara. Ian told me that Navara had shown him a nice variation, a refutation of an alternative defense that at first sight might seem to have saved his game. Navara had said: “Had I known then that I would lose, I would have chosen to lose in this beautiful way.”

Play through the annotated games:


Tata Steel 2016

Van Wely-Carlsen

Tata Steel 2016