Chess enthusiasm in northern Norway

12/5/2015 – Thanks to Magnus Carlsen, chess is popular in Norway. Even in remote areas. As Thomas Robertson found out when he took a chess trip to the town of Gouvdageaidnu in Finnmark, Norway’s most north eastern county. After a long and demanding journey generous hosts, delicious foods, chess lectures, adventures in blitz, and Siegbert Tarrasch were waiting for them.

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By Thomas Robertson

Norwegian Chess is still expanding. A few weeks ago the Norwegian TV station NRK broadcasted the rapid and blitz World Championship live from Berlin. Every minute, every move and every dramatic moment in its entirety could be followed on national TV. Once again we were captivated. This was Formel 1 chess for five days in a row. We even were introduced to a new term, “slow chess”, which was used to describe classical chess games. Once again Norwegian Broadcasting had an instant success.

On the second day of the blitz tournament, when Magnus tried to defend his title, I was prevented from following the games myself. Instead, I was in a car with my good friend Tron P. Walseth, on our way to a completely different chess mission: In the town of Gouvdageaidnu, in Finnmark County, they restarted the local chess club and they wanted to celebrate and invited people to celebrate with them. Tron was invited as chairman of the Finnmark Chess Association, while I was invited as a decent chess player. At least, that’s what Tron said because he didn´t want to drive alone.

The distance between Tromsø and Gouvdageaidnu takes about six hours by car if you take the definitely fastest route, which includes driving through the northern parts of Finland. One would think that we, as Norwegians, who are fond of slow entertainment and all, would embrace a few hours on seemingly endless roads going straight forward. But one would be very wrong. Not a bad word about the northern parts of Finland, but after a while it felt like being in a never ending David Lynch video. The driver´s obvious obsession with Country & Western hits didn´t contribute significantly to the atmosphere in the car, and I was more than relieved when we finally made it to our destination early in the afternoon.

On the road again. Hours of exciting driving through
the northern parts of Finland. (Photo: Thomas Robertsen)
 

As you probably know, Norway is divided in 19 so-called counties. Norway’s most north eastern county is Finnmark. With its 48.615 km2 it´s by far Norway’s largest county and bigger than Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. At the same time Finnmark is our least populated county, and its approximately 75.000 inhabitants would barely fill up the Allianz Arena (home of Bavaria Munich) on a regular Saturday afternoon. Gouvageaidnu is a small township in Finnmark. It´s also in the middle of the traditional Sapmi settlement area and almost 90% of its 3000 inhabitants use Sami as their mother tongue.

An overview over Gouvdageaidnu (Photo: Dagbladet)

Sami and Norwegian are indeed two different languages. Still we managed to adapt reasonably well. That was mainly because the people in Gouvdageaidnu are bilingual and seemed to have compassion for newcomers who regrettably never have learned any Sami. Secondly, our local guide and host was Bjarne Gustad. Bjarne happens to be the vicar of Inner Finnmark deanery and is a kind and highly regarded man. Everyone wanted to exchange a few words and pay their respect. He praised Tron and me and explained that we were big chess stars visiting the town to promote chess. Such praise will probably never happen again, but we soon learned that the interest for chess was as great in Gouvdageaidnu as in the rest of Norway. One of the people we talked to complained that he was unable to do his work; watching chess on national TV was much more interesting.

Bjarne is also one of the founding fathers of the recently revived chess club. After a few more greetings he explained the programme for the evening and the way to the venue, Sámi Joatkkaskuvla ja Boazodoalloskuvla (Sami upper secondary school and reindeer husbandry school). The reindeer husbandry school is the only one of its kind in Norway. Reindeer herding is still the main occupation in Gouvdageaidnu and an estimated number of about 100.000 reindeer live within its borders during wintertime.

An important part of the invitation was the dinner. We were served moose Bidos, a traditional and tasteful Sami meat soup and it was really delicious. Thanks to Johan Klemet who was in charge of the meal.

We were not the only guests, a car with four chess players from Alta, 130 km to the north, had also arrived. They returned back home the same day and thus were driving more than 260 km one evening, just to play chess!

The first part of the chess program was an excellent lecture by Tron. For a good hour he talked enthusiastically about endgames and especially praised the bishop pair. With a firm hand he took us through the game Smyslov-Botvinnik (0-1) from Moscow 1948, and totally redeemed himself for the Willie Nelson marathon earlier that day. The game was shown on a big screen and everyone participated in discussions during the game and agreed that this was a great teaching method.

                              

The man of the hour. Tron lecturing on the joy of the bishop pair.
In the background the opening of the famous Smyslov-Botvinnik (0-1)
game from Moscow Tournament 1948. (Photo: Pål Nordvoll)

An attentive audience (Photo: Pål Nordvoll)

Well-fed on bidos and a true master game of the past, it seemed like everyone was eager to demonstrate their own abilities over the board. Tron quickly sat up a five-round blitz tournament and off we went. Let me assure you that the even though most of the players of the Gouvdageaidnu chess club have hardly any experience of ratings and tournament games, they all know their stuff. I don’t know if they were all inspired by two days of high-class blitz from Berlin on national television, but everyone I met threw everything and the kitchen sink at me. I have always been an advocate of the initiative in chess and I am no stranger to sacrificing material, but here I had more than enough to do trying to defend myself.

In the game against Johan Klemet I played with black and had to find ways to stop my opponent’s attack after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 d5 4.Bb5 dxe4 5.Nxe5 Qd5 6.Qa4 Nge7 7.Nxf7!?? The rather significant rating gap didn’t matter; Johan Klemet showed that he could do more than arrange great meals. He meant business and though a piece down, he surprisingly developed a strong initiative. I barely could muster enough resistance but in the end experience and some luck prevailed. After the game I pointed out that maybe White could have done better if he hadn´t sacrificed a piece right out of the opening. But Johan Klemet said that he thrived in games where he was down material and that it made him try even harder to find good moves. I guess there is a kind of logic to that, even though I still wonder if not basically gave me the odds of a piece.

And of course there is no chess tournament without some sort of controversy. After a wild time-scrabble in one game both clocks showed 0.00. White had lost on time, but black had no pieces left. Now the players disagreed whether or not White had actually taken Black´s last piece before Black claimed a win on time. There were contradictory descriptions by the witnesses and a couple of minutes went by with cheerful discussions until someone pointed out that the white king actually was no longer on the board.

Elvis has left the building. (Photo: Pål Nordvoll)

Later in the evening we went home to Bjarne, where yet another meal was waiting. We briefly browsed through Bjarne’s chess library, a collection any chess player would be proud of. He was a proponent of Tarrasch’s writing, and his notion of a “schönes, freies Spiel”. But he also had contemporary books, most notably “Positional Decision Making in Chess” by Boris Gelfand and Jacob Aagaard, as well as several books on Magnus (Carlsen). Being a die-hard Bobby Fischer fan myself, the highlight of the collection still was “My 60 Memorable Games”, even though it was the Batsford edition.

Burning the midnight oil analyzing old games of Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch.
Our host Bjarne Gustad and Tron Walseth. (Photo: Thomas Robertsen)

The next day, after we had a short discussion whether to take the route through Finland or not, we decided to take the coastal route back, even though it’s 7 ½ hours long. Choosing between Finnish roads and 1 ½ hour extra of C&W music is one of the toughest choices I’ve ever made. On the plus side we got to experience some beautiful nature. On the road to Alta from Gouvdageaidnu there is a large area called Bæskades (Beskádas in Sapmi). It is widely known and also featured in the poem “Morning over the Finnmark plateau” by our national poet Nordahl Grieg. My good friend, chessplayer and photographer, Finn Haug, has been so kind to lend us one of his pictures taken from Bæskades. Man, nature, the aurora and the Milky Way, simply breathtaking. Much like a visit to Finnmark itself.

Photo: Finn Haug

 

About the author

Thomas Robertsen is a passionate chess enthusiast who follows the great players and tournaments with great interest. He is also very fond of chess history and enjoys reading about the players and tournaments of the past. In the past three years he has been preoccupied mostly with chess administration as a Board member in the Norwegian Chess Federation. Tom also headed the sporting committee which picked players for our national teams in last year's Olympiad. Leaving the adminstration this summer he hopes to get to play more on my own. "I`m not a great chessplayer, but peaked at a decent 2275 a few years ago. Besides playing I hope to get to write more about chess in the near future."

Thomas lives in Tromsö and is the father of Sander (20) and Hannah (5). He works with children and young people as a psychiatric nurse.


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