An Amazing Chess Family

Like a noble family that valiantly tries to keep up a beautiful lifestyle in dire circumstances, the Dutch championship does wonders with a small budget. Always a round-robin, in its heyday it had twelve or sometimes even fourteen participants; for the last years there have only been eight. But a lot of interesting events are organized around the official championship. There is a national championship for ministers of diverse religious denominations, a championship for chess café’s, and for lovers of the bizarre there are several events where chess is played with curious rules. There is also a cultural program with daily lectures or performances.

As is the fate of poor families, in recent years the championship has moved from one location to another, but somehow the organizers have always been able to find a nice venue. This year it was held in the Tolhuistuin, a popular cultural complex on the north bank of the IJ, the Amsterdam waterfront.

The championship was small, but strong. Only Anish Giri, who was participating in the rapid and blitz Grand Tour in Leuven, was absent. But seven-time Dutch champion Loek van Wely was present and so was the young reigning champion Jorden van Foreest (18), along with Ivan Sokolov and Erwin l’Ami.

On the day of the first round, Monday June 26, a documentary was shown on Dutch television with the title De stelling Van Foreest, een schaakfamilie (The Van Foreest Position, a Chess Family). It is a special family indeed.

There are six children. Like the Polgar sisters in the past they did not go to school, at least not in their younger years, but were instructed at home by their parents, because the teachings at school were thought to be so insufferably slow that they would amount to a waste of time. Time would better be spent on chess. Their father Nicky is a physicist who teaches at the University of Groningen, their mother Sheila Timp is a software developer.

In a way, the children were dynastically determined to become chessplayers, as their grand-grandfather jonkheer Arnold van Foreest (1863-1954) won the Dutch championship three times, just as Arnold’s older brother Dirk had done.

The modern Van Foreest family, all eight of them, sometimes travelled in a big van to some open abroad, the children to play, the parents as supporting unit. Not all of the children aim at a professional chess career, but at least three of them seem to do so: the oldest of the five sons GM Jorden (18), IM Lucas (16) and young sister Machteld (9), who has no international title yet, but already plays for both a Dutch and a German club and this year became U-12 Dutch champion, not in the girl’s section, but in the general one.

The TV documentary was really amazing. It seemed as if in every room of the family house there were chess positions everywhere on computer screens of all sizes, from smartphone to home cinema screen.

It seemed to me that the film makers had deliberately included some scenes to make the point that the children, with their extreme specialization, were still “normal” in many respects. You saw Jorden with his German girlfriend lying in bed watching movies and gently quarreling about the question whether or not they had seen one of these already. His younger brother Lucas, who must have been 14 or 15 years old at that time, explained what the life of a chess professional consisted of: you live in a small house, then you go to an international tournament where all your expenses are paid, sometimes with an extra appearance fee, and on top of it you can win prize money. Then you return to your small house.

Young Machteld, who earlier had declared that it was her ambition to become far better in chess than her brothers Lucas and Jorden, was seen roller skating and expertly twisting a cooking pan in the air to serve an egg that she had just been baking. All in all, it looked quite attractive, the life of these young aspiring professional chessplayers.

At the start of the championship of 2016 Loek van Wely had confidently said that it wouldn’t be Jorden’s year yet, but he was wrong. Jorden became champion, with Loek in second place. This year Loek van Wely (44) was seen by many as a reluctant participant on the brink of retirement. Last year he had become a father. He had already acted as a tournament director and had shown a willingness to become a coach of the national team.

However, in the first round, on the day that the TV documentary was broadcast, Jorden van Foreest was terribly manhandled by his former coach Sipke Ernst in a game that can be seen in the viewer. Van Wely won his own game.

Though the next day Van Wely was beaten by Erwin l’Ami with a beautiful queen sacrifice, he worked his way to the top and before the last round he was leading together with Ernst. As luck had it, these two were to meet in the last round.

Their game ended after 100 moves as a draw. Van Wely had missed a win at least once, but undiscouraged he won the play-off and became Dutch champion for the eighth time. Jorden van Foreest finished with a disappointing score of 3 out of 7. It hadn’t been his year yet.

Click here to view Van Foreest-Ernst, 2017 Dutch Championship