Reports | December 15, 2011 10:22

Jan Timman turns 60, and gets a biography

Jan Timman turns 60, and gets a biography

Yesterday Jan Timman turned 60 years old. Two decades among the very best, many times World Championship contender and once second in the world rankings, he is still the most successful Dutch professional chess player ever. Recently a biography on Timman was published in the Dutch language.

Jan Timman in 2007 | Photo by Winicjusz Drozdowski

Jan Hendrik Timman was born December 14, 1951 in Amsterdam. Both of his parents were mathematicians. Timman learnt to play chess at the age of 6 and soon his talent became apparent.

At the age of 14, Timman won the Dutch Junior Under 20 Championship. He qualified for the World Juniors U-20, where he finished 3rd (!) at the age of 15. In 1971 He got the IM title and three years later the GM title. Soon he would be among the world's very best players.

Timman won the Dutch Championship 9 times, and emerged as the winner in many international super tournaments, such as IBM Amsterdam 1978, Bled/Portoroz 1979, IBM Amsterdam 1981, Hoogovens (Wijk aan Zee) 1981 & 1985, Las Palmas 1981, Mar del Plata 1982, Bugojno 1984, Sarajevo 1984, Interpolis (Tilburg) 1987, Linares (1988), Euwe Memorial (Amsterdam) 1989 and the World Cup (Rotterdam) 1989.

His first success in the World Championship cycle was his win at the zonal tournament in 1978 in Amsterdam, which meant qualification for the interzonal in Rio de Janeiro in 1979. There, he almost reached the Candidates Matches.

In 1982 Timman was 2nd in the world rankings with 2655, behind World Champion Anatoly Karpov (2700). Three years later Kasparov surpassed the two, but Timman was stlll third. There was no doubt anymore: Timman was Best of the West.

He won the interzonal tournament in Taxco, 1985 convincingly and via the Candidates Tournament in Montpellier in the same year he qualified for the Candidates Matches for the first time. His first match wasn't a success: he lost to Artur Jussupow in 1986.

In the next cycle Timman beat Valeri Salov, Lajos Portisch and Jonathan Speelman, but he lost the final in Kuala Lumpur 1990 to Anatoly Karpov. In the following cycle he reached the final again, after beating Robert Hübner, Viktor Korchnoi and Artur Jussupow. He lost the final to Nigel Short, who then breached with FIDE and founded the PCA together with Garry Kasparov. Because of this, Timman played a FIDE World Championship match with Anatoly Karpov and lost with 8.5-12.5.

Timman's biggest success in rapid chess came in 1991 at the 2nd Trophee Immopar in Paris. In this knock-out tournament, Timman beat Gata Kamsky (1½–½), Anatoly Karpov (2-0), Vishy Anand (1½-½) and in the final the reigning World Champion Kasparov (1½-½). In just one weekend Timman won about US $75,000!

In March 2004 Timman won a tournament in Reykjavik and in August of that year he finished shared second at the Amsterdam Chess Tournament, behind Friso Nijboer. In 2006 Timman won the Sigeman Tournament in Malmö and he finished second at the Staunton Memorial in London.


Journalist John Kuipers wrote a biography (De geest van het spel - The spirit of the game) which was presented to the subject of the book last Friday in Amsterdam. In his introduction, Kuipers presents Timman as follows:

He's seen as one of the last romantics in the chess world. At the board the player from Amsterdam was a brilliant strategist. He dominated chess in The Netherlands so much, that he became synonym for it, and thus a worthy successor of former World Champion Max Euwe. Away from the board, he was a pleasant bon-vivant who enjoyed life to the max. (...) A true grandmaster in what he did and knew, who combined talent with genious. 

Just two months after bringing us the wonderful memoirs of Paul van der Sterren, publisher New in Chess has again published a must-read for Dutch chess fans. The author doesn't hide his admiration (and in fact starts the introduction by saying that he wrote 'a hommage to a genious chess player') and describes Timman's life and career from the moment he was born until the present day.

The book makes one thing very clear: Timman's devoted love for the game of chess. After reading the book it's hard to imagine anyone in The Netherlands who has loved the royal game more than him. And it was this love that brought Timman his many successes.

Any Dutch chess fan older than, say, 30 vividly remembers the excitement and tension when Timman was playing some important tournament at the other side of the world. De geest van het spel makes you relive these wonderful times of Dutch chess - times in which chess was so much more popular in the media, right because of Jan Timman.

Jan Timman received the first copy of De geest van het spel from the author, John Kuipers

At the book signing we recognize Jurgen Stigter, owner of one of the biggest private chess collections in the world (he has about 25,000 chess books)

John Kuipers and Jan Timman happily signing their books...

...yes, their books, as Timman's own new book The Art of the Endgame, was also recently published! (In this photo we see Tim Krabbé and Hans Böhm next to Jan Timman)

All photos by René Olthof

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, 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.


noyb's picture

Wow, 25,000+ chess books! I have a collection of about 1,000, can't imagine 25K+...

Pablo's picture

1,000 is not bad either. I have two books.

Frits Fritschy's picture

For a moment yesterday, I thought Jan Timman was the best forgotten chessplayer in the world. No mention on Chessbase, no mention on Chessvibes, nothing even on the site of the Dutch federation. Now the last two have made amends, luckily.

My first and only live encounter with him was about 35 years ago in a Rotterdam youth center, where he was analyzing with someone else (Hans Böhm?) at the same table, me coolly ignoring this, keeping on playing blitz, and passing him a joint. Being five years his junior, I hadn't found out yet (if I ever have) the subtle difference between playing cool and being cool, but well, every leader must have his followers, and follow we did. We filled our nights with chess and booze, and everything else our parents were afraid of, and nothing else mattered. Chess was a serious thing, although we had our irreverent moments. "Scientifically speaking, white is winning", we commented during a blitz game and afterwards we didn't analyze, but had a 'post mortem'. Should sound familiar to chess players over 40.
But I didn't just inherit a life style (for some time) from Timman. In chess, I learnt a lot of the writings by Euwe and Bouwmeester, but they were more like your school teacher. With the books of Timman, you were not doing your home school work, you were discovering unknown territories. No one I knew back then, as I remember it, viewed chess as a sport; it was an art, and Jan Timman was the artist you wanted to be.
I wish him all the best.

Creemer's picture

Nice little personal tribute and sketch of way-back-when. Thanks.

Roma's picture

In 1969 he visit my home in Vilnius . He gave me his signature I just can't ever forget it.
He was so good looking young well dresses man

Anthony's picture

Nice, thanks.
Does sound familiar indeed.........

Thomas Richter's picture

My personal experience with Jan Timman was just two years ago: In the break of a blitz tournament in Bunschoten, he and Yochanan Afek talked about and played through endgame studies, surrounded by a group of amateur kibitzers. Fitting with Frits Fritschy's post: In the top final group, Timman was the only one with a glass of wine next to his board - even if alcohol (beer rather than wine) was relatively common in the lower groups. Some months later Timman's live commentary together with Sokolov was, for me, one of the highlights in Wijk aan Zee. We won't enjoy it next year (= next month) because he plays himself in the B group - where he's twice older than most other participants, and 4* older than Ilya Nyzhnyk!

For a moment I was puzzled that Peter calls Timman "still the most successful Dutch professional chess player ever" - what about Max Euwe?? Research confirmed what I suspected: Euwe was an amateur for most of his career, actually working as a school teacher smiley. In this respect he was similar to Timman's western rival Robert Doc Hübner, probably the last ever amateur in the world top - currently Sadler and McShane cannot quite compete with him!?

Philipp Somrowsky's picture

Timman's a brilliant chess player, author, and teacher. He's one of the reasons why Dutch chess enkoys such a good reputation. Looking forward to this read.

Marilyn [Timman}  Gill's picture

Would like to know Jan Timman parents name as we are all related. I'm from America, Norwalk Ohio. My grandparents were Mable and Reinier Timman. Reiniers brothers were Lucas, John, Christian, I don't remember all but my daughter in Florida has the ancestry, but not Jans parents.

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