Return of an Old Hand

Recently I found an old notebook with newspaper cuttings about the zonal tournament in the Dutch city Wageningen in 1957. I was thirteen years old at the time and I collected chess game scores.

Some of the articles were signed by Lodewijk Prins, a prominent Dutch master who was the chess correspondent of the newspaper Het Parool. Other articles, which were unsigned, came from the Dutch Press Agency (ANP). As Prins had an idiosyncratic and inimitable style, it is obvious to me now that the ANP articles were also written by him and that he had worked for two employers. Well done! A chessplayer has to make a living and that was not easy then. I suspect serving two masters wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.

Chess amateurs in the Netherlands were rooting for Hein Donner, who was fighting for a place in the interzonal. Prins, a lifelong enemy of Donner since they had played a training match in 1951, faithfully gave Donner his due in his articles and even made a good impersonation of sympathy. In the end, Donner shared third place with Bent Larsen. They had to play a short match for a place in the interzonal, which eventually would go to Larsen.

For my collection, I had also written down some games by great players such as Keres, Euwe and Alekhine and one played by myself in a match between two Amsterdam high schools. How dreadful was the play of the boy from the other school. He must have been one of the best in his school, otherwise he wouldn’t have been on the team, but he really had no idea. But I was even more shocked by the notes to the game that my thirteen-year-old self had written. Ridiculously self-assured, while in fact I was a very timid boy, and often completely off the mark.

By the time I had collected a hundred games, I was happy and I thought that they would keep me occupied for a long time to come.

Nowadays my database contains almost six million games. I am using the app Follow Chess, the most handy of the many ways that we have to follow every tournament of interest live on the internet. On my screen I see 40 games from today’s round of the Aeroflot tournament in Moscow, where my countrymen Benjamin Bok and Jorden van Foreest are playing. I am two mouseclicks away from the women’s world championship or the Grand Prix tournament in Sjarjah, and in the evening, I will watch Batavia Blitz in Amsterdam. Following all the games of a blitz tournament live is exciting, but also hard work.

There is a lot more to see and you wonder how we could ever do without the miracles of modern technology.

But honestly, visiting a tournament in the flesh is still better. I am a faithful visitor to the annual Batavia 1920 tournament, which is played in a nice cafe in the heart of the oldest part of Amsterdam. I was amazed to see the name of the German GM Eric Lobron on the list of competitors of this year’s ninth edition, as he hadn’t played in a serious tournament since 2004. He is 56 years old, which means that he left serious chess far too soon.

In the blitz tournament, which served as a substitute for a drawing of lots, he started with 6 out of 6 and then he perhaps paid the toll of slightly advanced age, finishing with 6½ out of 9 games.

In the second round of the main tournament, with a classical time control, he was playing Lucas van Foreest, the younger brother of Jorden. Eric was in full concentration, as I used to know him in the past.

After the first time control I wanted to have a small talk with Eric to share some fond memories of other tournaments and other bars from time long gone, but he had left his board. Where to find him? How could I forget? Of course in the smoking room of the cafe.

In his game he had a small advantage, queen against rook and knight, but it looked like a draw. While he was fighting like hell to make something out of nothing, I had to leave him.

At home I asked my wife, “Do you remember Eric Lobron?” “Oh yes,” she said. “That handsome young German. Is he still as handsome as that?”

His game against Lucas van Foreest can be seen in the game viewer, but as it has 129 moves, I don’t really recommend playing over everything.

Here is the critical position.

Lucas van Foreest – Eric Lobron
After White’s 116th move

The computers say that Black would be winning after 116...Ke7 117.Nxe5 fxe5 118.Rxe5+ Kf6, which can’t be true, as I don’t see how Black can do better than winning White’s bishop for his h-pawn, which wouldn’t help him. Anyway, Eric would have fought on valiantly, playing for tricks, for many moves.

But in fact he played 116...Kc7?? and after 117.Rc5+ Kd6 118.Rc6+ Ke7 119.Rc1 his queen was trapped and ten moves later he had to resign.

Click here to play through:

Lucas van Foreest – Eric Lobron

Batavia 2017