Speed Devils

After the Berlin candidates tournament, the big guns of the international chess world had been silent for a few weeks, but in the second half of April they went into action again. Caruana, So and Nakamura took part in the U.S. Championship in St. Louis and in Shamkir in Azerbaijan the fifth Vugar Gashimov Memorial was held with stars like Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Anish Giri and Veselin Topalov. We haven’t seen Topalov in top tournaments for quite some time. Anyway, I had my daily fix of top chess again.

Of course in-between the top tournaments, chess life is never barren. Since 2015, I have been a faithful visitor to the annual blitz matches of the young Amsterdam player Hing Ting Lai (21) in Café de Laurierboom in the Amsterdam Jordaan neighborhood.

To me a chess café is a café where you can come in at any time and meet chess players. The Laurierboom does not quite live up to this test. It is more an ordinary café where the management loves chess. They have three teams that play in the national or regional competitions and now and then there are blitz tournaments.

Hing Ting Lai is an IM who in 2015 and 2016 was the U-20 junior champion of the Netherlands. With a classical time control he is a strong player, but in blitz he is a wizard.

His first match in the Laurierboom in 2015 was against Manuel Bosboom, an IM who was known as a fabulous blitz devil and had proved so by winning his game against Kasparov in an important official blitz tournament with all the stars of the super-tournament in Wijk aan Zee 1999.

In the Laurierboom in 2015, Hing Ting turned out to be an even faster gun and he beat Bosboom 32-18. After a pizza they kept on playing for fun till 11:00 p.m.

In the official match, they played 50 games with three minutes per game, without increment. That would be the time control for the following years. In 2016, Hing Ting Lai beat grandmaster Dimitri Reinderman and the next year he lost with the smallest margin, 25½-24½, to the Dutch champion Jorden van Foreest.

This year he played against the champion of the Netherlands again, but now that was Loek van Wely, the formidable 8-times Dutch champion. The organizers couldn’t have reached higher and the match couldn’t have been more exciting.

After 50 games the score was 25-25. A two-games tiebreak followed, with the outcome 1-1. Then there was another tiebreak, of which the first game was drawn. Then Van Wely managed to win the final game, thereby putting the score at 52½ - 51½ and proving himself the best blitz player of the Netherlands, but only by a hair’s margin.

I’m always enchanted by the atmosphere. Some people make side bets. Others fight out their own blitz matches. For a better view of the main board, many have to go outside to watch the game through the shop window of the café.  


The next game is from the Belgian club competition, with a normal time control. Two Dutch champions meet. Hing Ting Lai, youth champion in 2015 and 2016, and Anne Haast, who has been Dutch women’s champion since 2014. As you’ll see, the young speed devil can also play slowly.

Click here to play through the Haasst-Lai game.