Two Dutch Leningraders

The polls say that if there would be a general election in the Netherlands now, the anti-immigration party PVV, headed by Geert Wilders, would become by far the biggest party in our Parliament, which to me is sad news.

I was reminded of a statement attributed to Genna Sosonko to the effect that one’s great-grandmother would have to be born in this swamp (the Netherlands that is) before one would be taken seriously by the locals.

Did he really say that? If so, it is unlikely that it pertained to the chess world. When Sosonko, born in Leningrad, immigrated to the Netherlands in 1972, he was a very strong player, but few people knew that, as he had no rating and no title. The Dutch chess community quickly recognized his gifts and gratefully made good use of them. In 1973 Sosonko won the Dutch championship and in 1974 he played for the Dutch team at the Olympiad in Nice.

A few years later, in 1979 at the opening ceremony of the quadrangular tournament in Waddinxveen with Karpov, Hort and Kavalek, Sosonko had the honor to play an exhibition game against Prince Bernhard, the husband of Queen Juliana and grandfather of our present king. Sosonko was White. The game did not last long: 

1.e2-e4 c7-b6. Genna realized that it would be in bad taste to reply with a normal move, but he couldn’t bring himself to play the ugly decentralizing c2-b3, so he played the more aesthetic 2.a2-b3, to which the Prince replied with 2...f7xe4 and a draw offer. Of course this was accepted.

To encourage Sosonko in his tournament, Prime Minister Dries van Agt said to him: “Keep step, Leningrader!”

About ten years ago, after having lived in the Netherlands for more than thirty years, Sosonko was suddenly summoned by Dutch authorities to follow an integration course. He reminded the officials of his game with the Prince and his conversation with the prime minister in 1979, signs of full integration, and was left off the hook.

By the way, it was also a sign of the importance of chess in Dutch society around 1979 that the prince consort and the prime minister were present at a small chess event. 

Like Sosonko, Anish Giri was born in the Russian city that changed its name many times and at the time of his birth, 1994, was called St. Petersburg again. And like Sosonko, he gave the Dutch chess world much joy by becoming Dutch.

So, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth when Giri was eliminated in the semi-final of the World Cup in Baku by Peter Svidler. In 43 classical games, in a period of almost four months, he had not lost a game and now it had happened at this important moment. On Twitter he took it lightheartedly, writing, “Was getting lucky, until I no longer was.”

It may be good for one’s serenity to look at chess, or life in general, as a game of dice played by the Fates, but in fact it was not by luck that Giri had qualified for the semi-final, but by strong play, and it was not by bad luck that he was eliminated, but by choosing a plan that failed. 

I think that Giri would rather have played against 16-year old Wei Yi, who had been eliminated by Svidler. During the tiebreak between Ding Liren and Wei Yi, Giri had joined the commentators for some time and showed himself unimpressed by the brutal style of the two Chinese. “Quiet moves are often better than this violence. They are not as invincible as people often think,” he said.

As in 2013, the World Cup had an all-Russian final, this time between Sergey Karjakin, who had eliminated his former compatriot, the Ukrainian Pavel Eljanov, and Peter Svidler. The difference in prize money, $120,000 for the winner and $80,000 for the runner-up, might seem a big incentive, but on the eve of the final Karjakin declared that it wasn’t of great importance to him, as by reaching the final he had already won the main prize, a place in the candidates tournament.

For Giri and the Dutch chess community there doesn’t have to be too much weeping and gnashing, as it is practically certain that he will get a place in that tournament on rating.

Click to view the annotated game.

2015 World Cup