The Grandmaster of Publishing

by Stefan Löffler
2/1/2021 – Since the 1980s, the town of Alkmaar, twenty kilometres north-east of Wijk aan Zee, has been the home of "New in Chess", the best chess magazine in the world. A biography of its founder and long-time publisher Wim Andriessen (1938-2017) is now available. Stefan Löffler has read it. | Photo: Hidde Andriessen

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When Wim Andriessen founded Schaakbulletin in 1968 and shortly thereafter gave up his secure job at the college, many were quick to call him insane. Berry Withuis, a veteran of chess journalism, openly mocked him: "If you want to throw away your money in the Netherlands, you either waste it on women or create a chess magazine." After all, the local chess community was way too small to allow for a second publication to survive beside Schakend Nederland, the official magazine of the local chess association.

And indeed, Schaakbulletin never really made any profit. However, Andriessen's advertising in the magazine helped him to sell a considerable numbers of chess books, which he also published. He later advertised his newly established chess store and mail-order products, as well. In 1984, Schaakbulletin evolved into New in Chess. It subsequently managed to find subscribers in over a hundred different countries and is widely considered the best chess magazine in the world. To this day, part of its funding is derived from the aforementioned book publishing house and store. The man who started it all and built it up from scratch is barely known outside of the Netherlands. Teacher and chess player Martin Coers has now compiled a biography on behalf of Andriessen's heirs, who have also taken it upon themselves to edit the book. In December, it was finally published in Dutch. A literal translation of its title would read "Master of Chess, Grandmaster of Publishing". A remarkable career for a man who dropped out of school at age 16.

Wilhelm Fredrik Andriessen was born into a working-class family on the last day of 1938. His father was a typesetter at a printing company. Andriessen himself studied to become a technical draftsman. His younger brother Cees taught him how to play chess. In his prime, Andriessen was probably among the 500 best players in the world. One time, he even managed to reach the final round of the Dutch National Championship. One of his best games was played during an invitational tournament in 1967 against Lubosh Kavalek, who would later go on to win the tournament.

 

He sent this game with notes to Schakend Nederland, where it was printed with a condescending commentary, as if doing so was an act of mercy. After all, the games of Grandmasters from all around the world were usually the games they decided to publish. Prior to this, Andriessen had already suffered another slight from the publication: In a report detailing game results, he read that a game to which his opponent had not appeared had been filed as a draw. After his formal complaint, the result was adjusted. Now, both he and his opponent received a zero. After all, they argued, the game had not been played. 

It was impossible to let Dutch chess go on like this. There would be no more submissive bowing to the powers that be. Together with two students, Andriessen founded Schaakbulletin in his home town of Wageningen. The fact that he had learned a lot about offset printing techniques while studying draftsmanship at the agricultural college now became a major asset. His writing experience was acquired during his time as a chess columnist for Volkskrant. The first issue was presented at the end of August 1968 during a rapid tournament in Arnhem. Local chess events, particularly the performance of the Hoofdklasse, the highest Dutch division, which had always been neglected by Schakend Nederland, were finally being documented and receiving the recognition it deserved.

A cut-up chessboard, the cover of the first 1968 issue, was one of many designed by Wim Andriessen's younger brother Cees, a renowned abstract painter and illustrator

The beginnings of Schaakbulletin were fairly unspectacular. Games, results, tournament reports. In an effort to gain more subscribers, the magazine began reporting about bridge and draughts, as well. "They seek to sympathise with heretics," Hein Donner grumbled. But then again, the Grandmaster had at least acknowledged the publication. For its fortieth issue, Max Pam conducted an amazing interview with Donner. The Grandmaster, whom Andriessen had not dared to contact in the past, now offered to write for his magazine.

Donner's witty, at times polemic, but never boring pieces played an important part in Schaakbulletin developing literary ambitions in the 1970s and eventually becoming a legend. Hans Ree had a knack for controversial commentary, as well. Max Pam kept contributing wonderful interviews. Tim Krabbé explored curious chess trivia. Alexander Münninghoff concerned himself with Russian publications. Jan Timman analysed games.

With Andriessen's early support, Jan Timman (front left) became part of the editorial team. | Photo: Hidde Andriessen

Andriessen had begun supporting the young man from Amsterdam who dreamed of a career as a world-class player early on. To provide him with the peace and quiet required to write a book about the World Championship games between Fischer and Spassky, he even granted Timman access to his new house, which he had not moved into yet. In 1976, Andriessen made Timman editor in chief, a position that came with a stable monthly wage of 1000 guilder. Genna Sosonko also owes a lot to Andriessen. After immigrating from the Soviet Union to the Netherlands through Israel in 1972, he spent several months living with Andriessen, who introduced him to Dutch life and got him a job working for his publications.

Genna Sosonko's (right) first residence after immigrating to the Netherlands in 1972 was Andriessen's (left) house. | Photo: Hidde Andriessen

Andriessen always had a great deal of respect for the Grandmasters Donner, Timman and Sosonko. With others, he frequently got into arguments. He had a habit of constantly pestering his associates with new ideas. Looking back, he described himself as a hothead.

He used to work eighty hours a week. Over the course of a day, he would consume up to forty cups of lukewarm coffee. His dream of the magazine finally becoming profitable upon reaching 3000 subscribers did not come true. However, the books as well as the store, which was added to the editorial office after relocating to the Amsterdam working class neighbourhood of De Pijp, made enough money to pay the bills for a while. For a few years, the house at Jan Steenstraat 104 became a hub for chess intellectuals.

In the early 80s, they got into financial trouble. Andriessen found a business partner, with whom he moved the editorial office and store to Rotterdam. Just a few months later, their cooperation ended in a fight. It was only thanks to Elsevier that they did not end up in court. Jan Verleur, a chess enthusiast on the company's managing board, wanted to launch an international chess information system with a dedicated magazine and book production, and was looking for means of cooperation with the Yugoslavian Chess Informant. Thanks to Verleur, Elsevier payed Andriessen's disgruntled business partner what he was owed, took over funding and hired crucial staff members.

In February of 1984, a dummy of New in Chess was published, with the first sales-issue following in September. From this point on, the magazine became a monthly publication, available both in English and in Dutch. Timman, Ree and Krabbé remained as writers from the original team. Donner was confined to his bed following a stroke. The journalistic careers of Pam and Münninghoff led them away from the world of chess.

The cover of the final issue in April 1984 was designed by Alan de Geus

The dummy for New in Chess. Initally, the magazine was published monthly by Elsevier and was available in a Dutch and an English version.

The new editorial office was located in Hilversum. However, after sales did not grow as quickly as initially expected, and the very next year, Elsevier decided to pull out of the project and to release Andriessen back into self-employment. To cut costs, Andriessen gave up the Dutch publication and reduced the number of yearly issues to eight. He took on a mortgage on his house, reluctantly sold his collection of chess books and moved the editorial office to a more affordable locale in Alkmaar. As had previously been the case with Schaakbulletin, the cost of the widely praised but undeniably expensive magazine was compensated by profits made from book publishing and mail-order sales.

New in Chess 01/1984

The first ten years of New in Chess coincided with the peak of Timman's career, and although the official editor in chief had no time to work on the magazine, interest in his person still helped the publication. That said, Andriessen could count on Bert and Invy van de Kamp, and most of all on Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam with his brilliant interviews. It was also Ten Geuzendam who managed to find a successor for Andriessen: Allard Hoogland, who had originally come from the conference business.

The transition happened gradually. In 2000, Hoogland started taking over company shares. For a long period of time, they cooperated on the publication. In 2008, Wim Andriessen left New in Chess. He never regretted his choice of becoming a chess publisher. "I owe everything to chess, my freedom most of all."

Marten Coerts: Meester in het schaken, Grootmeester in het uitgeven. 221 pages, € 24,95. Only available online at http://www.grootmeesterinhetuitgeven.nl

Links

New in Chess

- Translation by Hugo B. Janz


Stefan Löffler, a journalist and International Master based in Vienna and Lisbon, is member of FIDE's Education Commission, a consultant at ChessPlus Ltd. www.chessplus.net and Programme Director of the London Chess Conference: www.londonchessconference.com.

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