Sun, Beer, Blitz

It was quiet on the streets in the center of Amsterdam on Sunday May 8, a quiet that exists there only when an important soccer match is going on. In emotional moments when great chances are missed or grabbed, the quiet is broken by waves of sound from the pubs. When I used to live in the city center, I could follow the soccer scores at home by just listening to the roars from the pubs. I had become a real connoiseur of the sound waves. Obviously a goal by the home team would produce a different wave than one scored by the opponents, but you might think that the roars connected with a home goal would be similar to those of an enemy miss. In fact it was never a problem to tell them apart.

That Sunday two soccer matches were played that would decide which team would be champion of the highest Dutch league, the one from Amsterdam or the one from Eindhoven. During my walk I saw people who had not found a place in one of the the crowded cafés standing outside, peering through the windows to get a glimpse of the television screen inside. I was also on my way to a café, but not to watch soccer.

The chess café Laurierboom is located on Laurierstraat in the heart of Amsterdam, very near to Lauriergracht, a canal that occurs in the opening sentence of the most famous Dutch novel, Max Havelaar: or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (1860) by Multatuli. That sentence goes: “I am a coffee-broker and live at No-37 Laurier Canal, Amsterdam.” 

The café is not really dominated by chess or chessplayers, but it is serious about chess, with three teams in the official Dutch team competition.

That day there would be a match of 50 blitz games between the Dutch junior champion Hing Ting Lai and grandmaster Dimitri Reinderman. Because of the soccer matches, there were not as many spectators as the event deserved, which meant that I had a good sight of the board. 

Hing Ting Lai, who is 19 years old, had played a similar match a year ago against Manuel Bosboom, an IM who has a great reputation as a blitz player. In 1999 Bosboom beat Kasparov in a blitz tournament in Wijk aan Zee, and not because of a blunder by Kasparov, but by strong strategic play. 

Lai had won his match against Bosboom by 32-18. Strong as Bosboom undoubtedly was, it was thought that this year Lai should meet a more difficult opponent, the Amsterdam GM Dimitri Reinderman. Indeed Reinderman did a bit better than Bosboom, but not much. This time Lai won 29½-20½.

Meanwhile on the pavement outside the café, Bosboom was playing his own casual match against IM Albert Blees. The sun was shining. There was beer on the table. Not wanting to spoil the relaxed atmosphere, they had given themselves 5 minutes for the game, like my generation did in the old times when life was slow.

During a short pause in his own match Reinderman (43) came outside and said reproachingly to Bosboom (53), “You’re getting old. You used to play with 3 minutes.”

Hing Ting Lai is young and not easily tired. The day before in Rotterdam he had won the Dutch junior championship for the second consecutive time. There he had also helped with the production of the daily bulletin.

Something similar was done by the great Dane Bent Larsen around 1960: during the day playing in the Hoogovens tournament (not yet in Wijk aan Zee but in Beverwijk) and in the early hours of the night helping the staff with the bulletin.

Reinderman said that in blitz Lai has the strength of a strong grandmaster. Not yet in classical chess, but surely this will come. In the game viewer you see a game from the Limburg Open against Christian Bauer, a French GM who had about 300 ratingpoints more than Lai.

Organizers from the Café Laurierboom were wondering whom to invite to become Lai’s opponent in blitz next year, until someone reminded them that there is a very strong GM living in Amsterdam: Yasser Seirawan.

Click here to play through the annotated game:


2016 Limburg Open, Maastricht