Columns | March 03, 2010 20:46

The endgame technique of a 99-year-old

Prof. Dr. Johan van HulstHe watched Max Euwe become World Champion. He chatted with Emanuel Lasker, and saved dozens of Jewish babies during the Second World War. Last night I had the privilege to play a club game against 99-year-old Professor Dr Johan van Hulst. I couldn't beat him.

Photo: Fred Lucas

Professor Dr Johan Wilhelm van Hulst was born in Amsterdam on January 28th, 1911. He's a Dutch emeritus professor of education and a politician. Starting as a teacher and mentor, from 1942 to 1960 Van Hulst was Principal of the Pedagogical Academy in Amsterdam and in that capacity he was responsible for rescuing hundreds of Jewish babies and children from the nursery of the Hollandsche Schouwburg. For this he received the Yad Vashem Distinction in 1973. About this period he said:

"The director of the kindergarten, our neighbor, asked me if she could use the school because the nursery was full. I made available an empty room and a part of the garden. Soon, this became the flight route for the children. Many children were smuggled away from the school. Members of the resistance could just walk in and out, because the Germans did not notice the school. Probably because I deliberately acted like I didn't want anything to do with the Hollandsche Schouwburg and the Jews." Source: Verzetsmuseum

Van Hulst earned a doctoral education and psychology and graduated in 1961. From 1956 to 1981 he was member of the Senate of the Dutch government and from 1961 to 1968 Member of the European Parliament. He's a former Chairman of the political parties CHU and CDA and held many other functions. Van Hulst is also author of numerous scientific publications and books; the last was published when he was 95.

Gerard Leijenhorst, Johan van Hulst and Ruud Lubbers

Consultation between (L-R) Gerard Leijenhorst, Johan van Hulst (CDA chairman for the Senate) and Ruud Lubbers (chairman CDA for the Parliament)

In the chess world he is no stranger either. He was quite a strong player himself and in fact was once invited to play for the Dutch team at one of the Olympiads. However, Van Hulst had to decline the invitation, with the knowledge that he would lose his job as School Principal if he would play. This was the moment he decided that he wouldn't pursue a chess career. But for decades he has played in the special group for (former) parliamentarians at the Corus Chess Tournament, and won it many times, including the 2010 edition, at 99 years old.

Johan van Hulst in 2007

Johan van Hulst giving one of his famous speeches,
during the 2010 Corus Chess Tournament | Photo Fred Lucas

I play chess myself very little these days. This season I've probably played just three or four games at my Amsterdam club Caïssa. Last year the 'Max Euwe' chess club ceased to exist and its members transferred to Caïssa. On the first club night in September last year, we met with our new club members, and one of them was the distinguished Professor Van Hulst. He is an honorary member of the Caïssa Chess Club, and has been a member for about seventy years.

"I have been a spectator at all of Max Euwe's matches in Holland," he told us on that Tuesday night. "During one of the early games of the 1935 match, Emanuel Lasker was one of the spectators. I asked him what he'd think of Euwe's chances." We were listening in awe to Mr Van Hulst, a magical figure already, who saw Euwe play, who talked to Lasker... Of course we immediately asked: "What did Lasker answer?" Van Hulst, smiling: "I remember very clearly. He said Alekhine should be considered slight favourite, considering the time control they were playing."

Johan van Hulst in 2007

Johan van Hulst in 2007 | Photo Fred Lucas

Later that evening he also told about the period of the Second World War. "I was the chairman of a chess club here in Amsterdam. At the end of the 1930s the situation for our Jewish members became more and more difficult. At some point they weren't allowed to play anymore, so we decided to secretly play at their houses instead of at the club. Later this had to stop as well.

One night an SS officer walked into our club. 'I want to be come a club member and play here,' he told me. I had to think deeply, and then I responded: "Are you a Christian? You have to be a member of our Christian community too, you know.' This way I managed to get rid of him."

Van Hulst still plays almost every week. He's being brought and picked up by taxi, and needs a walker or a stick to move around. "Not long ago he had to skip a club night," the current chairman of the club told me. "The next week he came and apologized for his absence, but he had a very good reason. His daughter had turned 60."

Last night I decided to go to my club, and to my surprise I was paired against Professor Van Hulst. Remembering the many stories, and with deep respect for my opponent, I had trouble concentrating. But that's no excuse; I simply played badly. More importantly, except for the opening I believe he played quite strongly, as if there was no age difference of 65 years.

Van Hulst-Doggers
Amsterdam (Caïssa) 2010

Game viewer by ChessTempo

After the game I said: "I won the opening, you won the ending." He answered with "I'm an old man, you know. I'm getting tired after a few hours of play." Then he asked me about my rating. I told him it was a bit over 2200. "Aha! Well, perhaps I shouldn't tell you mine, then. Well, OK, it's 1600."

After that he stood up, grabbed his walker, adding "I'm satisfied about the game." He went for his coat. "I'm satisfied too," I replied, having enjoyed the evening, and feeling OK about a draw against this man. But he was quick in pointing out that this was just nonsense: "I don't think you have any reason to be satisfied!" I smiled, knowing that he was right. In the end he was the one who had won.

Johan van Hulst

Photo © Fred Lucas;
for another photo see also Schaaksite

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

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Comments

Paul's picture

Wonderful article Peter, i knew everything besides his part in WO2. Wow... deep respect and honour for the great Prof. dr van Hulst! Besides that Johan kicked my ass in 1994 playing the Vienna game with 3. f4!

CAL|Daniel's picture

A good read. Thank you.

Dennis's picture

Peter, again many thanks for writing this story, honoring a special person. A person, who is a member of our chess club longer than it exists, as he himself mentioned at the lustrum in 2006. :)

jaideepblue's picture

Wonderful, very moving article. Thank you Doggers for writing it and Doctor van Hulst for "living to tell the tale" as Marquez may put it.

bas1191's picture

@pieter nice, those things you tell about prof. Loe de Jong. He used to be a member of our chessclub in Amsterdam (Parkwijk, celebrating her centennial this year by the way) and was quite a steady defender, using mainly English setups in the opening. I vividly remember the story he used to tell about how he managed to play chess before he entered our club. During his frequent flights abroad, he used to walk up and down the isles of the airplane, demonstratively showing his pocket chess-set, until someone would invite him for a game of chess. Which would make his wife say, as he liked to quote: "What, are you prostituting yourself again?!"

ChessGirl's picture

I loved it, Peter! What a remarkable man...

Frits Fritschy's picture

Arne,
You are completely right; in the late thirties every jew felt the threat of wat was coming. But I'm not aware of any impediments for Dutch Jewish citizens before the German occupation in 1940, and that is suggested here.

bas1191's picture

@Arne Yes, Loe de Jong was a member of the Amsterdam chessclub Parkwijk, until his death in 2005. Even after the stroke he suffered in his eighties, he continued to frequent the regular Parkwijkevenings on Thursdays. We joined the club in the same year (1982) and played many games! If you like you can find out more about this old chessclub at the City Archives of Amsterdam, check out https://stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl/archieven/archiefbank/overzicht/1193.n...

Raymo's picture

Fabulous article. What a amazing man.

pete's picture

really nice reading about those old timers

Iraqi Master's picture

Well Peter maybe you will be able to beat him after ten years from now !!!
A very precise openning from you by the way, nice article.

SanChess's picture

Lovely story.

Kormega's picture

Nice article, what a man! Would have loved to see the game you played with him though.

Pandolfi's picture

Wonderful

patrick's picture

Charming article and very well-written. Thank you.

ghersengorin's picture

A wonderful article...with a lot of poésie. thank you_ thank you
best regards

noyb's picture

A beautiful and wonderfully told story, one of the best I've ever read. Thank you!

Ludo Tolhuizen's picture

I was reminded to Donner's famous article on his respect for Euwe, that he (Donner) tries to explain with a metaphor with the game of "shovelboarding" (sjoelbakken in Dutch), in which the young champion knows that the old champion, who now cannot play due to rheumatic hands, was better than the young champion will ever be.
I'm not saying that this is the case with Peter and Prof. van Hulst, but I did read Peter's article with much pleasure, happy that respect for the older generation continues to exist in these days.

pieter's picture

great article!
I played lou de jong not so long ago
and it was quite difficult to beat him as well
and had the same feeling during the game

chess is an eternal love
and keeps the mind young
ageless

Jeans's picture

I like these kind of articles among the topGM news.
I also like 8..Qh5 better than 8..Qa5 after which the queen often goes to h5 anyway.
Two years ago at Corus I had a game that was the same up to 12..Bd6 in which I also had black.
Would you have played 5..d5 after 5.Ng5, or are you a man of Traxler?

Dutch greetz

iLane's picture

Actually I saw him playing in Corus this year and took a photo of him. It was published on our club's website: http://europchess.eu/http://europchess.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/IMG...

T. Goto's picture

Thank you for this article, Peter. Many many thanks!

Vesco's picture

Nice article...

Castro is not complaining, meaning it´s a great article.

vooruitgang's picture

What an amazing man. An inspiration to us all. Thank you Peter.

Stefano's picture

Bellissimo!
Thank you, Peter.

Nizamsky's picture

What a wonderful story. No doubt chess is an amazing game ever created.

Arne Moll's picture

@bas1191: Loe de Jong? Aren't you confusing two people?

Frits Fritschy's picture

A great read, but one mistake:
“I was the chairman of a chess club here in Amsterdam. At the end of the 1930s the situation for our Jewish members became more and more difficult."
This should be "Towards the end of the war". I don't doubt Mr. Van Hulst knows this. Maybe two stories mixed up? ("At the end of the 1930s the situation for Jews in Germany became more and more difficult.")

Arne Moll's picture

At the end of the 30s the situation for Jews in The Netherlands wasn't exactly cheerful either, Frits. And as early as october/november 1941, Jews weren't allowed anymore on any non-Jewish clubs at all. Towards the end of the war, there hardly weren't any in public life at all.

Bert de Bruut's picture

@ Arne 9:20
No Bas is not mixing anything up, historian Loe de Jong was a chessplayer too,

Ritch's picture

Wonderful article. Thank you

Ritch's picture

Ah! And the Fred Lucas photos, magnificent as usual

Winterschaker's picture

I hope that when I'm 99 years old, people wont praise me for drawing with white against a patzer like Peter Doggers!

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