Verbal highlights from six days at the venue
This might be a bit inspired by “Chess in Tweets” – with one difference: While Eric Reem’s effort to collect-compile-select material from the Twittersphere is certainly appreciated, this article has mostly quotes that – to my knowledge – aren’t available anywhere else on the Internet. At least in English, many already appeared in my German reports on Tata Steel 2015, collectively available here. Some are from press conferences, I use only the answers to my own questions. In some other cases, it was a matter of being at the right spot at the right moment, often with no other reporters nearby – sometimes it was pure luck, sometimes I pushed my luck a little bit. One interview was partly held in the bus from Wijk aan Zee to Beverwijk and the train from Beverwijk to Uitgeest. At one occasion, a casual chat (initially not meant to be published) resulted in an interesting and possibly exclusive quote.
It was my seventeenth year in Wijk aan Zee as a spectator, and the second time as a reporter with access behind the scenes. It might be relatively unknown to an international audience that Wijk aan Zee isn’t just one or two (formerly three) GM tournaments but a chess festival also for hundreds of amateurs. I always also paid some attention to these amateur events, be it only because I know a number of participants (at various levels from top group to the lowest group 9) personally. I will also have one (actually two) amateur quote(s), and some interviews with grandmasters that were hardly mentioned in other reports. For those only interested in a Carlsen quote: there will be one at the very end, but not an exclusive one – throughout the event, he was hard to catch and largely monopolized by Norwegian TV. The title photo shows a player who – to put it mildly – didn’t join the fight for first place in the A group. But in my opinion Baadur Jobava was the most entertaining player during, after and even before his games. And now in rough chronological order – Day 1-6 corresponds to rounds 1, 2, 6, 8, 11 and 13:
At the venue, I was first greeted by tournament director Jeroen van den Berg, then by someone standing next to him whom I first didn’t recognize even though the face looked somehow familiar: It turned out to be Nick Schilder, Dutch singer/songwriter and new ambassador of the Dutch Chess Federation for various upcoming chess projects – including chess in achterstandswijken. A term a bit hard to translate: “ghetto” or “slum” might be too strong – available Internet translations are “depressed/disadvantaged district”, referring to areas with high unemployment, criminality and often also many foreigners. Nick Schilder actually is a hobby chess player, for the time being unrated but estimating his level as Elo 1800-2000. He had already visited Tata Steel 2014. There was a small press conference in Dutch where he was asked about being an ‘official’ chess player since then: “It might have hurt me. Earlier when I played team competition games for Volendam I might have been underestimated – someone composing songs like ‘Rosanne‘ can’t possibly play chess!? I often play chess on the Internet until after midnight – something my girl-friend doesn’t really appreciate.” Later he also appeared on Dutch TV. Asked about how he again became a chess player (he had already played chess from the age of 5-13): “Someone suggested that it is easier to seduce girls playing the guitar than playing chess. Once I had a girl-friend, I could pick up chess again. Moreover, when my hobby music became my profession, I needed another hobby: chess.”
This TV appearance was mentioned on Twitter by our next “guest” Anish Giri – rumors say that Nick Schilder once could select whom he wants to interview, picked Giri and they became friends. Giri also held the first formal press conference in English. Press conferences were generally at 5:30PM right after the time control – a matter of improvisation to find someone who is already (and still) available at that moment, often it “made sense” to invite a player who had just faced, and didn’t lose against Carlsen. I recommend to watch the entire press conference, not only because it set the stage for my own question. TR: “You live in the Netherlands, Tukmakov [his current coach, already mentioned earlier in the press conference] is Ukrainian. How do you actually work together?” Giri: “In the modern age it’s not a big difference where you live. He is flying into Holland. We have lots of training sessions in Papendal, a nice area which is Olympic space of Holland. I can also do some physical activity. And of course via Internet.” Earlier, Giri had called himself “not a fitness monster”, mentioning that he struggled to keep up during walks with his coach (age 69). I had heard of ‘Papendal’ (near Arnhem) via my other hobby running, as the Dutch running top uses the same facilities.
Earlier during the round (I wrote ‘rough chronological order’, didn’t I?) I had talked to first press officer Tom Bottema, then (his suggestion but I might have done it anyway) tournament director Jeroen van den Berg. Both got the same question: “There are no Russians in the A-group, many people on the Internet (most recently and most prominently GM Tkachiev) make a link with MH17. Can you comment on this?” Both pointed out that there are two Russian players in the B-group, and denied any political reasons. van den Berg: “I got lots of comments already and quite some praise, but it simply isn’t true.” TR: “OK I will write this, but I don’t know if all readers will believe it.” van den Berg: “They can think whatever they want … .”
Then the first coincidence: I returned to the press area one more time, basically just to pick up laptop and coat to call it a day for today. Then I saw Baadur Jobava (and some other people whom I didn’t recognize) in the corridor. Jobava: “I had calculated lots of things but completely forgot about Kc4 – fuck fuck fuck! Well, it was the first round, I often mess up in the first round!” I don’t remember anyone else cursing in such a good mood, with a big smile on his face … . What had happened? Jobava had pressed with black against Ivanchuk for most of the game. Then he voluntarily and unnecessarily transposed to a lost pawn ending, and resigned immediately.
It starts where it ended on Day 1, with some Jobava quotes and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave joining the conversation. They had drawn a rather uneventful game in 22 moves. I saw Jobava in the corridor and asked “Better than yesterday!?”. Jobava: “Today was real fire on the board – of course I am kidding. I was happy with a draw.” MVL (whom I first hadn’t seen, he was ‘hiding’ behind Jobava): “He tried to get a worse position but didn’t quite succeed.” TR to Jobava: “When will we see ‘the real Jobava’?” Jobava: “What’s the real Jobava, when I am [puts an imaginary glass to his mouth]?” MVL: “Yeah I know what he means, this guy can hold a draw even when he is drunk!”.
Later a short interview with Erwin l’Ami, shortly after the moment in the press area captured by Alina l’Ami. David Navara and Anne Haast analyze their game from the B-group. Then Aronian and Giri appeared – their game ended in a draw, while waiting for their interviews they joined this analysis (just outside the picture, Aronian is interviewed by Norwegian TV). Then Timman and l’Ami arrive and will analyze their game (also drawn). Afterwards TR to Erwin l’Ami: “Maybe a silly question (flauwe vraag) – what are your ambitions this year?” l’Ami: “Silly question, I haven’t thought about it at all! Play some nice games, and we will see what happens. In the B group anyone can beat anyone.” TR: “But there are two clear Elo outsiders?” l’Ami: “Yes, but today Ari Dale will probably hold a draw against Shankland, and he was better for most of the game [with the black pieces].” TR: “Would you like to play again in the A group?” l’Ami: “I would enjoy the challenge, but it is more relaxed like this.” In the next round, Anne Haast (the other Elo tailender) would beat Timman with black in a surprisingly one-sided game – this was well before Timman’s total collapse in the last three rounds.
I had missed round 5 in Rotterdam – too far away for me for a day trip! Today, there were few ‘dead moments’ in the press area: several games finished quickly, some (but not all) players showed up, namely Giri (quick draw against Radjabov) and Robin van Kampen (quick win against Ari Dale, who played like a clear Elo outsider [only] in the mid-part of the tournament). TR to Giri: “Yesterday in Rotterdam you played against Jobava. I won’t ask you about this game – even if one could write books about it – but about your press conference with Jobava in Tashkent. What was your opinion then, and what do you think about it now?” Giri: “It was OK, something else than players who always only say ‘I try to play the best moves’ or ‘I take things one game at a time’. [echoing what he had said in the press conference about Carlsen calling him a coward]” Van Kampen: “We need more trash talk between world-top players!”. Based on what had happened after their game in Rotterdam, there seems to be no lasting bitterness between Giri and Jobava whatsoever.
Later it became crowded in the corridor: Caruana-Carlsen was over (0-1), reporters were hoping to catch Carlsen – he was monopolized by Norwegian TV, then in a hurry to leave to watch a football game in Amsterdam (Ajax-Groningen). Caruana left immediately, nobody bothered him (it is Wijk aan Zee policy to not disturb losers, all reporters complied). Aronian also walked by, I asked him about his game against van Wely: “it was a draw, unclear but probably correct” [not the most memorable quote, but for the sake of completeness]. Then Jobava passed by, addressing the crowd with “Have a nice evening, guys!” or something similar – he had lost again for a current score of 0.5/6.
Loek van Wely had a different opinion about his game against Aronian (“at some stage, he was toast!”) – the objective truth might be somewhere in between? I got to talk to him, and he more or less defined the topic of the interview. TR: “I couldn’t follow everything, how did Caruana lose against Carlsen?” van Wely [who looked at this game on one of the computers]: “Sometimes Carlsen plays brilliantly, but my loss against him was of course completely unnecessary!”. TR: “You had told Norwegian TV your strategy for this game? [play solidly, and hope that Carlsen would overpress]” van Wely: “Yes, and it worked perfectly!” TR: “But what went wrong? You burned lots of time on various moves … .” van Wely: “First I saw a variation with some advantage, this wasn’t enough for me. Then I played something else and overlooked his reply. Then I was disappointed and couldn’t focus for a quarter of an hour [the Dutch term baalkwartiertje is hard to translate].” TR: “And this baalkwartiertje was missing later on?” van Wely: “Well …”. TR: ” ‘It wasn’t enough’ means that you wanted to beat him?” van Wely: “Yes, I thought I will catch him!” TR: “Do you know what Europe Echecs wrote about this game?” [“Un défaite bien triste qui a toutefois le mérite de relancer le champion du monde. – A pretty sad loss which nonetheless has the merit to wake up the world champion.”]. He didn’t, his reaction when I told him “Ah, those Frenchies ….”.
This was just Part I, unknown to me at the time van Wely also gave the press conference. He obviously got similar questions from Tom Bottema, mine (only question from the audience) was a different one: “A few years ago you took a so-called sabbatical – the only time you missed Wijk aan Zee but then you played a lot for someone who is supposedly taking a break. Can you comment on this?” Only the start of his answer: “Sabbatical for me means taking it easy, Wijk aan Zee isn’t easy. Then I played a tournament in Curacao to have a good time. Maybe you consider it chess, I considered it going to Curacao.”
I also got another short quote from Erwin l’Ami: “I drew a quiet game (against Potkin).” TR: “After all the adventures yesterday?” [I won’t write about the actual chess being played, but round 5 in the B group was completely crazy] l’Ami: “Yes, taking it easy for a change ….”.
To be continued
Photo gallery: “Cast” in order of appearance