David Smerdon | December 12, 2011 21:44

Utrecht-Groningen, Meesterklasse 2011, Ronde 3

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a brief excursion out of Amsterdam for a weekend, as the Utrecht team and I trekked to the most northern part of the country for our monthly league match. We were to face Groningen, a small student town that once boasted one of the most feared chess teams in the competition (thanks to an overly abundant sponsor). In fact, in 2006, I drew against Vassily Ivanchuk in the same match, but the financial crisis has hit chess as hard as the rest of the sporting work, and so budget cuts had left the Groningen team a little exposed.

Groningen is “so far” away (i.e. two hours by car – in Australia, we drive such distances just for lunch) that most of the team decided to stay the Friday night in the Tucan Hotel, one of Groningen’s finest and out in the middle of nowhere – but, most importantly, boasting an indoor soccer court. (Five years before, I opted to bring my girlfriend at the time to the chess match, staying at the same isolated hotel surrounded by people speaking a language she didn’t understand. A real rookie error on my part, but I must confess the evening company was a little better than my roommates this time around, Tommie and Joost. No offence, guys, but it’s hard to compete.)

The Friday night was spent in an epic two-hour ‘futsal’ (basically five-on-five indoor soccer) match between members of Utrecht and some other Dutch chessplayers. It transpires that an Australian playing soccer against Dutch guys is akin to a Dutchie trying to beat an Australian in tanning. Still, Utrecht proved the victors in the end, and at one stage I even managed to demonstrate some typical Aussie spirit with a flying rugby-tackle collision in front of goals.

Dinner with the Utrecht team is always an interesting affair, as I struggle to comprehend the fast-flowing Dutch conversation, speckled with local lingo and the sort of words not usually allowed in dictionaries. I was, however, able to follow the development of a tantilisingly controversial and vaguely politically incorrect bet between Utrecht members. Two crates of beer rest on Joost’s brave claim that he will have a higher rating than Dutch female prodigy Anne Haast. It is perhaps worth reminding of the famous gender-chess study that males almost invariably overestimate their chances against equally-ranked females in chess, despite it being a sport with absolutely zero basis for gender differences. Still, Anne and Joost currently sit at #1 and #2 for best individual performances in the Dutch league to date, so ‘game on’, as they say…

Now to the match itself. This was a crucial round for the Utrecht team, given that 2011 holds its best chance ever to win the cup, and the players didn’t disappoint. Well, at least not all. I, unfortunately, got spanked by Sergei Tiviakov in a game I would rather forget. Attempting a new line of the Tarrasch French against (it transpires) one of the world’s experts of the white side, I played a rather risky continuation in the hope of provoking an error. I quickly got up to grab a coffee, after which the Groningen chess bartender (yes, they exist) said “Oh, you’re playing Tiviakov? He never makes a mistake, you know.” That turned out rather prophetic, and I was packing up the pieces with a large ‘zero’ next to my name shortly afterwards. Martijn was similarly unlucky to be given the black pieces against Groningen’s only other grandmaster, Dan Brandenburg (who did, however, help us out in the soccer match), and went down. Dharma, punching above his weight, scored a solid draw to keep our top-order from recording a series of ducks (to use some cricket terminology).

But it’s Utrecht’s lower order that is our strength, and this was brought out once again. Swinkels proved he is more than just a terrible Dutch teacher (he has now taught me over a half-dozen phrases guaranteed to get me slapped by girls in any bar in the Netherlands), rounding out a comfortable win in one of those bizarre Kalashnikovish Sicilians that I never understand. Jelmer was a little lucky to win a black-square-dominated game; Joost played a textbook Najdorf crush to back up his audacious bet from the night before. Hans played one of the smoothest games of the round, getting a hybrid Two-Knights’ French and crashing through the middle in fine style.

That left the team needing just a point from its last three, late-finishing games, but the guys made sure to pick up a few extra valuable board points in the process. Jaap’s win against Iozefina (~Josephina) attracted the most spectators, but I can’t help but feel he was extremely lucky to see his courageous exchange-sacrifice home. Chiel played a sterling team game, always keeping the draw in reserve but allowing himself enough wiggle room in case the team needed him to go all-out for the win – in the end, only the half-point was required. Tommy played (in my opinion) the nicest game of the day, showing exemplary endgame technique in a tricky knight-and-pawns race to give us another full point.

Overall, this gave Utrecht a huge 7-3 victory, giving us the highest number of board points in the competition (though still only third overall on match points). A big effort by the guys, and I think in no small part due to the organisation of Tommy. Playing away against Groningen can be a depressing affair, but the combination of a nice hotel, boistrous dinner conversation and soccer ensures a team spirit that flows through to the chess.

And of course, being ‘only’ two hours away from Amsterdam, Tommy and I were able to make it back on Saturday evening in time for my former housemate Arlette’s housewarming party – which ultimately proved enough to compensate for my Tiviakov shalacking. But that is another story.

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David Smerdon's picture
Author: David Smerdon

David Smerdon is a chess grandmaster from Brisbane, Australia. David attended Anglican Church Grammar School and Melbourne University. To qualify for the title of Grandmaster, a player must achieve three Grandmaster norm performances, and a FIDE Elo rating over 2500. Late in 2007, Smerdon achieved his third and final Grandmaster norm. In the July 2009 FIDE rating list his rating passed 2500, so he qualified for the title of Grandmaster. He is the fourth Australian to become a Grandmaster, after Ian Rogers, Darryl Johansen and Zhao Zong-Yuan. In 2009, Smerdon won the Queenstown Chess Classic tournament.

Source: Wikipedia




PeterV's picture

Nice story. Well done, David!

Anthony's picture

lol, it's amusing how even strong males fall for the feminist ruse:

'zero basis for gender difference in chess'??

How about a 11% bigger male brain?

Women's chess is just as hopeless as women's tennis and women's soccer.

BL's picture

yep so I am tipping that you are still very single.

Anthony Migchels's picture

You're succumbing to this feminist fairytale because you believe you need to bow down to gain female attraction?

Hmmm.....women are overrated.

I know.

I married one.

Anthony's picture

PS: be a man and get rid of the political correct group think:

pat j's picture

i like how chessvibes leaves these comments up but deletes half the other comments. keep it classy!

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