A Dutch Chess Syndicate

Every Saturday morning my mailbox – the old-fashioned wooden mailbox, not a digital one – almost spills over with the big weekend editions of the Dutch newspapers NRC Handelsblad and Volkskrant. In the first one I have a chess column and in the Volkskrant the chess column is written by my colleague Gert Ligterink. 

I always read him with pleasure and interest. Nevertheless, I open the section with his chess column always with some trepidation. Not because we are competitors and both of us want to write the best article. You win a few, lose a few, that’s not a big deal. No, the important point is: will he have the same game in his column as I, and even worse, will he have the same diagram?

It happens rather often. Great minds think alike, you might say, but chess fans who subscribe to both newspapers – and apparently there are quite a lot of them – are not amused. They feel they get one column for the price of two and they suspect a conspiracy. They think that Gert and I consult about the game we will both choose for next Saturday’s column. The idea of the conspiracy theorists is that one of us will annotate the game and the other will copy the notes with some slight change of phrasing.

Sometimes I am addressed on the street or in a bar: “You did it again!” Sometimes I get angry letters. I try to take them as compliments, signs that I’m read. But there are also more troubling reactions: letters to the editor insisting that we should be fired. 

One recent letter to the head of the sports department of my newspaper went more or less like this: “Both Ree and Ligterink are past the age of retirement, but that’s no excuse for them reducing their workload by half. So please pay them their well-deserved pensions.”

Apart from the universal Dutch State pension, there are no pensions in our line of work and anyway, my ideas about retiring are summed up by Dylan Thomas’s classic lines: 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

On Saturday October 15 there were four Dutch chess columnists who had the same game. To my detractors I could say that this time a telephone call to Gert Ligterink had not been enough. We’d had to organize a four-men video conference.

The game was from the last round of the tournament on the Isle of Man, won by R. Praggnanandhaa, an 11-year-old boy who, in May this year, when he was still 10, became the youngest IM ever. The previous record holder was Judit Polgar, who was 11 when she gained the title.

Praggnanandhaa was born in Chennai, so I suppose that like his fellow townsman Anand he doesn’t have a first name and a surname, but only one name. The R that is usually added to his name is the first letter of his father’s name. By the way, note that the name Anand is enclosed in his own name.

With his score of 5½ out of 9, his TPR on the Isle of Man was 2529, a decent grandmaster level.

It is true that the German-Paraguayan grandmaster Axel Bachmann has played better games in his life than the one that is shown here in the game viewer. It isn’t easy to play against an 11-year-old child. I was reminded of the Ohra tournament in Amsterdam in 1989, when I had to play against a girl of 13 and made the decisive blunder already on the 13th move. The girl’s name was Judit Polgar and I wasn’t the only grandmaster in the tournament who was troubled by her youth. 

Click here to view the game Bachmann-Praggnanandhaa