The Importance of
Being World Champion

This article is mainly about the World Junior Championship that was played in November 2017, but when I was putting the final touches to it, I read the reports on the more recent World Rapid Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which was won by Anand.

It was a pleasure to see how jubilant Anand, a seasoned collector of championship titles, was after his victory. On Twitter he wrote: “Thanks all!! Feeling is like floating. My head keeps playing the song... we are the champions! The words ring so true. More on this moment after the blitz!”

To the congratulations from all over the world, Kasparov added a nice touch: “Congratulations to the man from the sixties, @vishy64theking, on his World Rapid title! I hope you dedicated this latest victory to everyone who has asked you when you were going to retire!” Anand reacted gracefully by tweeting that he would dedicate it to his greatest predecessors.

Obviously, a chessplayer is never too old to have his spirits boosted by a new world championship title.

The Dutch writer Harry Mulisch (1927-2010) was born in the same year and month as grandmaster Hein Donner and for many years they were best friends and almost inseparable. Mulisch was mildly interested in chess and occasionally played, but he didn’t have a too high opinion of the game. He once wrote that for every person there is a game in which he or she would be world champion, if only that game existed. Unfortunately, for most people their game has never been invented and for all those unfortunate billions, their game will never be made to measure, let alone really played.

Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995), who was a lifelong rival of Mulisch in the competition for being the greatest Dutch writer of the 20th century, had a less rosy view of mankind and gave one of his novels the grim motto: “Nothing, nothing, becomes of countless millions.”

Hermans had played chess during his schooldays, but after some painful losses he quit. On the other hand, as an adult, he made a beautiful chess set made of cigarette lighters. Shortly before his death, he said in an interview that if he would have been a chessplayer, he would have quit as soon as he had realized that he wouldn’t become a world champion.

He was an extremely vulnerable man who, as a consequence, was extremely militant. When he thought he had nothing to fear, he could be extremely courteous and generous.

I interpreted his remark about quitting chess as a sardonic message to me, and I had thought of a strong counter, but before I could deliver that, I had read in the newspapers that the great man had died.

Taking the rosy view of Mulisch that everyone is a virtual world champion, it is obvious that the world champions we know are exceptionally lucky birds. They are privileged because, by a miraculous coincidence, their game really does exist.

The World Junior Championship (for players who were had not reached their 20th birthday by January 1, 2017) was played from 13 to 25 November in Tarvisio, a small town in Italy near the borders with Slovenia and Austria.

In former times a junior world champion might think that he was the strongest player of his generation, and sometimes that was indeed the case: Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov and Anand first became world junior champion and later full world champion. Nowadays, the best young players often do not participate, because they are too busy with the competitions that are open to all ages. For example, Magnus Carlsen did not play in junior competitions after he was thirteen.

The Dutch delegation to Tarvisio consisted of GM Jorden van Foreest, who was (adult) Dutch champion in 2016, and four young Dutch IM’s, including his younger brother Lucas. Jorden was the highest rated player of the tournament. He could hope to become a world champion.

He missed it by a hair. In the last round he had to play against the Norwegian Aryan Tari. If Van Foreest had won, he would have been world champion. Tari got into some mild difficulties in the endgame, but he held the draw and became champion himself.

Tari is an 18-year-old Norwegian of Iranian descent. He is the third Norwegian chess world champion, because apart from Magnus Carlsen there is also Ivar Bern, who was world champion of correspondence chess from 2002 to 2007.

It must be a very civilized country, Norway, maybe a kind of Iceland on the grand scale. I had a look at the United Nations Human Development Index and found that, in most years, Norway was first in the world.

In the game viewer there is a game from the championship by Jorden van Foreest and one by the new champion Aryan Tari.

About the pretty move he played in the diagrammed position, Tari wrote in New in Chess: “I was extremely happy with this move, because I saw that after 23.Qe2, it would win on the spot. If it wasn’t for this move, White would still be able to put up a fight.”


Grigoriy Oparin-Aryan Tari
Position after White’s 24th move

There followed 24...Nf4! 25.Qg4 (after 25.Nxg5 both 25...Nxh3+ and 25...Nxe2+ are easily winning for Black) 25...Nxh3+ 26.Qxh3 Qxf5 and White resigned.

Click here to play through
J. van Foreest-Sorokin, Tarvisio 2017; and
Oparin-Tari, Tarvisio 2017