Newsmen's Rivalry

In the good old days when Dutch newspapers were affluent and willing to spend money on chess, I was allowed to travel around the world to report on important chess events for the newspaper NRC Handelsblad. My colleague Gert Ligterink did the same for another newspaper, de Volkskrant. We were good friends and still are. Sometimes I made hotel bookings for us both.

Nevertheless, there was also some professional rivalry. We both wanted to be the best. Maybe because we had had so many conversations about chess, our views were often similar.

I think for both of us the world championship match between Kasparov and Kramnik in 2000 was the last important event to which we were sent. After that, with no world champion Kasparov around, no candidates’ matches for Jan Timman, and newspapers cutting their budgets, we were forced, like most chess journalists, to find our content on the internet. 

At first I found this a great loss. I dearly missed the conversations with other journalists and players. But nowadays, when I look on the internet at empty spectator’s rooms or visit the press room of the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee, I am skeptical about the added value of being on the spot. You meet your colleagues, bent over their laptops, watching the internet coverage of an event that occurs under the same roof. At least at Wijk aan Zee there are always hundreds of ordinary players to talk with.

My good-natured rivalry with Ligterink remained after the demise of our shared travels. Some Dutch newspaper readers regularly buy the Saturday edition of both his and my newspaper. Not especially for us, but the chessplayers among them will read both our columns. One can imagine their irritation when they find that these columns sometimes have the same game or even the same story.

It’s not a conspiracy between us, but you can’t call it coincidence either. Often there is an obvious “game of the week,” which then might lead to the same kind of “story of the week.” 

There are always readers who think that we duplicate on purpose and quite a few of them became forever convinced of a conspiracy between Gert and me in the week that we both gave a game by Anish Giri from the German Bundesliga. An obscure game from the Bundesliga, could that really be explained without prior consultation?

Through the years my sport editors at the newspaper have received letters that went more or less like this: “I understand that both Ligterink and Ree are well past the age when they should have been pensioned, but this is no excuse for them to ease their workload by conniving to give the same game, so that each of them will have to analyze only one game and invent only one story every two weeks. Please give these weary guys their well-earned pensions and kick them out!” Up till now our editors have not budged. 

But it is wise to avoid suspicion if possible, and I am helped in this by the fact that I have to file my Saturday column on Friday and Gert Ligterink has to do it on Thursday. Most of the Dutch chess columns are in a special supplement of the papers, while mine is on an ordinary news page.

So, when last year during the Qatar Masters Open I gave the game between Magnus Carlsen and the Chinese Li Chao, I knew that no other Dutch chess columnist could have it in his paper, at least not on that Saturday.

A week later I looked if Ligterink had published the game after all. He hadn’t, and in his place I would not have done so either, as trying to emulate a rival newspaper a week later, might inspire angry letters. But let me not rejoice. The newspaper world is in perpetual flux and for all I know, next month I might be in a color supplement with minimal space allotted, just big enough for Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick. Or I might be nowhere at all.

Anyway, the game in the viewer is really wonderful. I was reminded of it recently when I saw the position before 24.d5 on the cover of the recently published book Best Fighting Games of 2012-2015, by Arkadij Naiditsch. A fine move, countered by a brilliant concept of Li Chao that only just failed.

Carlsen-Li Chao
2015 Qatar Masters