A Walk to the High Dune

The room where I was going to comment on the games from the fourth round of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee was this year at Hotel Het Hoge Duin, the High Dune, above the village. Familiar terrain. I had often stayed there in the years when I was playing myself.

Before that, we were in Hotel Kennemerduin, down in the village. It was convenient that we stayed in the building where we also played our games, but there were also disadvantages. According to the leader of the Dutch group Hein Donner, only vegetarian-pacifist vicars were able to sleep in the small cots and therefore he went back to Amsterdam every night. The walls of the rooms were thin and I sometimes wondered if my opponent could make out which opening variation I was preparing against him from the tapping of my pieces. In Russia, there was talk about microphones in the ceiling; with us there were the thin walls.

The Hoge Duin was a better hotel and the evening walks uphill were refreshing. It was only difficult in 1979, when I had broken a leg and walked on crutches.

I had broken my leg during the Olympiad in Buenos Aires the previous year, at a party at Heikki Westerinen’s room on the evening before the final rest day. I was sitting on a bed together with the Austrian Franz Hölzl and the German woman player Gisela Fischdick. “Franz, let’s fight a duel for this woman,” I had said and, with what was conceived to be a gallant gesture, I stepped on the floor and broke my right leg in two places.

While I was lying on the floor, unable to rise, the German GM Helmut Pfleger, who was also a medical doctor, was phoned and asked to come and assess the damage. Then Frans Kuijpers, captain of the Dutch team, was called. It was about 2:00 a.m., and he had been asleep, but in an emergency, he knew his duties. When he came into the room, the generous host Heikki said, “Frans, it is of course terrible what happened, but what do you want to drink?”

I was brought to the Hospital Aleman, put under sedation, and when I woke up the next morning, I was adressed by a friendly nurse in Frisian, which probably made me think that it was all a hallucination.

This year (2018), the Swedish star Ulf Andersson visited Wijk aan Zee briefly. He said that he was on his way to Köln, where his girlfriend lived. She turned out to be Gisela Fischdick. I told Ulf that old story about the 1978 olympiad and he promised me to give her my greetings. “I am sure that she will remember you from that party,” he said with a big smile.

During the 1979 tournament, I had become quite adroit with my crutches. Except on one day, when there was so much frost on the street that I couldn’t go down on my own. Cars couldn’t drive there any longer either.

But I had to go down to play chess. Tournament director Piet Zwart, helpful as always, supported me on one side and the head of public relations of the tournament Hans Bakker on the other. Piet slipped and broke a rib. Like a domino, I had fallen first and then I had dragged Piet with me. Where would the infernal chain end?

This year, when I was ready to walk up to Het Hoge Duin for my commentary on the games, the present tournament director, Jeroen van den Berg, asked me whether he should accompany me. Better not, I said. He laughed, because he knew that old story from 1979.

I walked up alone and at the top of the dune I relished, as I had relished it hundreds of times before, the view over the sea and down at the wonder village where every year almost two thousand people – grandmasters, masters and amateurs – came to play chess.

“Please, not a draw,” said one of the spectators in my commentary room. As chance had it that day, I had three games on the demonstration boards that ended as a draw by perpetual check. Giri-Carlsen, Adhiban-Anand and, in the Challenger’s group, Xiong-Jorden van Foreest. They were all quite interesting.

A few days later, in the sixth round, there was the most interesting perpetual of this year’s Tata tournament in Svidler-Carlsen.

Click here to play these games in the game viewer:

Xiong-J. Van Foreest, Tata Steel 2018
Svidler-Carlsen, Tata Steel 2018