Where Are the Russians?

The year 2013 was, in my country, the year of friendship between Russia and the Netherlands. The year was chosen because in 1613, Czar Mikhail I sent emissaries to The Hague to foster financial and military bonds between the two countries. In 1697 Czar Peter the Great came to Holland to learn the tricks and trades of a modern and affluent country and in 1816 Czar Alexander I had his sister Anna Pavlovna marry the Dutch king Willem II, which makes our present king Willem Alexander a descendant of the Romanovs.

Partly because of this family relation with the czars, the Netherlands recognized the Soviet Union later than the rest of the world, only in 1942 when the Soviet Union was fighting Nazi Germany and the Dutch government in exile in London could no longer deny its existence.

The yearly chess festival in Groningen, the biggest town in the North of the Netherlands, also celebrated the Russia year in 2013. A book came out that chronicled the visits of great Russian chessplayers to Groningen, starting with Alekhine in 1935, and a match between Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman was held, which proved that while many things change, some things had stayed the same. Karpov won the match.

Since then, the relationship between the Netherlands and Russia has hardened. Already in 2013 there were many incidents and protests, and if the celebratory year would have been 2014 or 2015, the festivities might have been cancelled. My personal opinion is that the European Union and the U.S., by supporting or even instigating a violent coup against the president of Ukraine, are as much to blame as Putin’s Russia for the present situation, but back to chess.

In 2015, for the first time in living memory, there will be no Russians taking part in the main group of the tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Have they been boycotted? Probably it’s just a coincidence, as in the second group two Russians will take part, Vladimir Potkin and Valentina Gunina. Still, a main event in Wijk aan Zee without Russians seems to have something lacking.

At the closing ceremony of the match between Carlsen and Anand, Putin said that his country had given ten world champions to the world. Just as many others did, I started counting on my fingers. He must have started with Alekhine and included FIDE champion Khalifman and also Tal, Petrosian and Kasparov. It seemed as if Putin, when he spoke of “this country,” still meant the Soviet Union, with Alekhine included as the prodigal son. Anyway, he spoke in the spirit of Bobby Fischer, who, during the tournament in Bled in 1961, said about Tal (Latvia), Petrosian (Armenia), Keres (Estonia) and Geller (Ukraine): “You’re all Russians to me.”

In Groningen in 2013, apart from Karpov, there were eight Russians in the Open group A. This time, at the end of 2014, there were only four; maybe they are boycotting us.

In the context of the Groningen festival, a match of six games was played between the local junior IM Jorden van Foreest, who is 15 years old, and the Dutch grandmaster Dimitri Reinderman. On his website Jorden writes that he hopes to reach the same relative strength as his great-grand-grandfather Arnold van Foreest, who near the end of the 19th century won the Dutch championship three times, just as Arnold’s brother Dirk did.

In 2011 Van Foreest had played a match of four games against me and in 2012 against John van der Wiel, and he lost both. Van der Wiel is younger than I, and Reinderman is still younger, so while his opponents get younger, Van Foreest is getting older and wiser. The natural outcome would be a match against one of the Dutch grandmasters who are only five years older than himself, Benjamin Bok, Robin van Kampen or Anish Giri.

Normally I cheer for the older player. I think it was Lev Alburt who said that the older a chessplayer is, the more likely it is that he considers Emanuel Lasker the greatest player of all time. But as I had played Jorden in 2011, when he was 12, I wanted him to do well.

But Reinderman won the match with a score of 3½-2½. The third match game, one of the two that Van Foreest won, can be seen in the viewer.

Click here to view the game annotated by Hans.

Van Foreest-Reinderman
2014 University Challenge m(3), Groningen