Not a Hundred Years

Cheerful but serious, Johan van Hulst, an honorary member of the Amsterdam chess club Caissa, of which I am an ordinary member, gave a speech at the yearly general meeting about the disappearance of true love for one’s club.

Van Hulst is a man of many accomplishments. He was recognized as a Righteous among the Nations by the Israeli organization Yad Vashem, because during World War II he saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children in Amsterdam. After the war, he became a professor of pedagogy and a prominent politician for the Dutch Christian-Democrat party. For many decades he was a very strong chessplayer.

Now he is 103 years old and it is a great effort to be at the club meeting. “I am not a hundred anymore,” he sighs sometimes. But his speech was, as we have known his many speeches through the years, both impassioned and humorous.

To another club member, Eelke Wiersma, who had won the blitz tournament that is named after Van Hulst, he said that Wiersma of course would never do what is now common practice, play one year for Amsterdam, then for The Hague, Leyden or another club with high ambitions and a full purse.

Wiersma was listening a bit abashed; maybe he was wondering if his love for the club was really big enough to decline an attractive offer. I must confess that my own love leaves something to be desired, as I was not present at the meeting myself, and what I just wrote, I learned from the club’s website.

At the European Club Cup in Bilbao, the strongest Dutch player, Anish Giri, played for the team SOCAR. The letters stand for State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic. A week earlier, Giri had played in Linares in the finals of the Spanish team championship for the Basque club Sestao Naturgas. This year he has also played in the German, British, French and Dutch competition. Johan van Hulst has loved the same club for almost 76 years, but Giri has to divide his love, like most modern top players.

In Bilbao another Dutch top player, Loek van Wely, played for Gros Xake Taidea from San Sebastian, Erwin l’Ami represented Solingen, and the rising young star Robin van Kampen played for the Icelandic Huginn Chess Club. However, there were also three Dutch teams, that consisted almost entirely of Dutch players, something Johan van Hulst would approve.

I wondered how Anish Giri came to play for the Azerbaijan Oil Company. A simple reason would be that strong teams need strong players, but when I saw a photo of the SOCAR team after they had received the winner’s trophy at the European Club Cup, I realized that there was also a more concrete reason. 

I saw Vladimir Tukmakov, the captain of the team. Not a youngster anymore (68 years old) but brisk and straight as befits the retired Soviet army major that he is. As a coach, Tukmakov led the Ukrainian team to Olympic gold in 2004 and 2010. Later he became coach of the Azerbaijan team for some years and now he is captain of the State Oil team. But Tukmakov is also the trainer of Anish Giri and at this year’s Olympiad in Tromsø, he was captain of the Dutch team.

In the past, different states were often joined in a personal union by sharing the same monarch. The Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, where the Austrian emperor was also the Hungarian king, is one example. In the same way Dutch and Azerbaijan chess life are now joined in a personal union under the reign of Vladimir Tukmakov.

In the first round in Bilbao, the Dutch champion team En Passant, without some of its best players, was crushed with 5-1 by the Russian team Malakhite. In this darkness there was one brightly shining star, the Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom, who beat Peter Leko, apparently without effort. After the match, Alexei Shirov, who had played for Malakhite, said, “Manuel Bosboom is always good for a surprise, which we have known since 1999 when he beat Garry Kasparov in a blitz tournament in Wijk aan Zee. But 5-1 is good enough for us.”

In general Bosboom is a wild and unorthodox player, but against Leko he played normal moves, active and sound. His results would probably be better if he would resign himself to sober openings, but he likes to have fun.

Click to play through the game annotated by Hans...


En Passant-Malakhite, Bilbao 2014